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Title: “Dressed in Love”
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Date: Third Sunday before Lent 05.02.23 4.00pm
Readings: Isaiah 58:1-a, 1Corinthians 2:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God is not satisfied with appearance.
God wants the garment of justice.
God wants his Christians dressed in love.
That beautiful sentence by Oscar Romero compliments perfectly the words of the prophet Isaiah that we have heard this morning, who was called by God to address a community distracted by the appearance and trappings of religion, rather than the real heart of it found in justice and love.
Isaiah is straightforward in his condemnation of those who may pay lip-service to God through ostentatious acts of devotion and high-handed morality and posturing, whilst ignoring the needs of the world on their doorstep. It’s clear that the community he is speaking to, serve their own interests rather than considering the welfare of their neighbour, they oppress their workers, they quarrel and fight, they are not following the commandments of God and their ‘fasting’ is self-serving and self-agrandising- something to be seen to be doing. In essence, their religion is all about them.
Is not this the fast that I choose? Provokes God: To loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your house, to cover the naked?
If these acts of justice and love are part of the faith response, then your light will break forth like the dawn, and the Lord will be with you. It is only by clothing ourselves in justice and love that we will become children of light.
It’s surprising how simple all this sounds, and yet even today we find it hard to embody and live out. God calls us to turn away from self and instead, to turn towards Christ, and through that turning, we love God and our neighbour with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Jesus, teaching his disciples on the mountain, extends this theme, and he reminds them and us of our purpose as his people: You are to be salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. He chooses two simple images to help his disciples understand how they are to live out their faith. These images offer an illustration of the world-shaping, community-influencing task of the church. Both salt and light effect their work by working beyond themselves. Salt is used to make something else taste better- it is not the main object of our perception. We put salt on the chicken to make the chicken taste better, it is not the central ingredient. Equally, we use light to see something else, we use a torch to find a missing coin, we use a lamp to see the path in the darkness, we look at the world by means of light. Salt and light are not the focus of our perception but the enablers of it. So if Jesus calls us to be salt and light, what does this mean as we live out our lives as Christians in the world?
The suggestion is, that by being salt and light, one task of the church in the world is to effect for good the culture we are part of and enable Christ to be seen within it: We are salt to flavour and light to illuminate the world we inhabit. The Christian is to help the world taste and see that the Lord is gracious, the Christian is to enable others, through their own words and actions to see God’s kingdom of mercy, peace and love. We are influencers and shapers to the glory of God. But we are also called to perceive the injustices in our world, and align the world we live in with the values of the kingdom.
Again the community of faith is called to be a bearer of justice and love, as indiscriminately as the salt which flavours our food and as the light of a city set upon a hill. No-one is excluded from God’s message of love which was given for the world in all of its fullness. Our witness to justice and love is not to be hidden away, our worship of God today, shaped through our baptism and through the eucharist, should always turn us outwards in service and proclamation.
Our witness to justice and love can influence and shape the world we live in and also shape the life of church when it has tendencies to self-service. How our own church needs justice and love this week, lest we become a scandal to the world and an offence to God’s love. If we are not a church for everyone, perhaps we are not a church at all.
The church that Jesus calls us to be is one of outrageous generosity, radical inclusion, fulsome diversity, self-less hospitality, through loving our enemies, through simple truth-telling, and through justice and love for all people. That message of justice and love does have something to say to a world beset with inequality, division and selfishness and it has something to say to a church which is often guilty of the same.
Our task, in all truth, is always a deceptively simple one: in a world of change and doubt, we are called seek the Kingdom first above all other allegiances. To this end, each morning as we dress for work, for school, for our daily activities, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and clothe ourselves with justice and love, living with courage and determination to inhabit our calling to be salt of the earth and a light in the world: to the glory of the one and only living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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