Today in the Spirit: Epiphany 5A

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At the end of the Beatitudes we heard last Sunday, Jesus makes a dramatic shift from the third person Blessed are those to the second person Blessed are you, and there he stays throughout the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. In Epiphany 5A we hear in the assigned Gospel reading Matthew 5:13-20 You are the salt of the earth and You are the light of the world as if to shake us free from any temptation to distance ourselves from the cutting edge of the sermon introduction. The OT reading in 2 Kings 22:8-20 narrates the spiritual shaking free and awakening of King Josiah upon hearing the words of the Book of the Law. The appointed Psalm 27, as the psalms often do in the liturgy, gives the worshiper the voice of the Spirit to declare with “David” The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? Continuing this week through the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives testimony in the appointed reading 1 Corinthians 2:1-6 of wisdom from God that is in him and us through the Holy Spirit.      

The Collect

O Lord, our heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion, that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

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Your Heart Was Responsive (2 Kings 22:8-20)

“‘But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.” And they brought back word to the king. (18-20)

In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches that whoever does [the OT commands] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). The OT reading presents King Josiah as a model of one who is eager to do just that. Upon hearing the law of God in some lost scrolls, he completely changes the course of his reign over the nation of Judah. His zeal displayed throughout this whole section of 1 Kings can be characterized as hard-edged and even violent. But note the words of YHWH (through the prophetess Huldah) describing Josiah this way: your heart was penitent [or responsive NIV], and you humbled yourself before the LORD. That word penitent in Hebrew is more literally “soft” or “gentle,” or even “weak.” What we learn is that those who are obediently uncompromising, strict and far reaching in their service to God are those most open and soft in heart for receiving the word of God. We see this same quality in many of the Bible’s greatest saints, and most prominently in Jesus himself who goes as far as Golgotha, though a bruised reed he will not break (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20). Devotionally, the exhortation here is for us to put aside any notion of following God by tightly wound determination of our own and to adopt instead a pliant humility to hear the word of God and act on it. Today, Holy Spirit, stir up in me the zeal of Josiah arising out of weakness and converted into strength.   

Let Your Heart Take Courage (Psalm 27)

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! (10-14)

Because of what appears to be two distinct tones of voice in this psalm, some commentators believe it to be two separate songs that have been joined together. Maybe. But it is also possible that what we see here is “David” passing through a spiritual crisis: He starts by declaring his complete trust in YHWH, even in the face of enemies on the battlefield (vv.1-6); then he laments as he considers a different crisis–something more personal, possibly even something to do with family (vv.7-12); finally, he shakes off fear, returns to his senses (vv.13-14) and concludes: I am still confident in this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living (NIV). We can all relate to cycles of wavering in our faith. We may be, like David, strong in one arena and weaker in another. Money matters may not bother us much, but maintaining perspective in our personal relationships is a constant burden. What we find, thankfully, is that in every situation God is light and salvation. Where are you just now finding it difficult to shed the notion that Jesus has abandoned you? Today, fortified by the Holy Spirit, as David does in the psalm, confess your fears, let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! 

That We Might Understand (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (12-13)

Paul makes a critically important point for the Christians in Corinth (and by extension all of us) to understand: the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not sufficient for human beings to perceive the saving hand of God at work. The spirit of the world holding the human mind captive to error does not permit us to grasp the importance of the message Christ crucified (1:23). Hence the quotation from Isaiah: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. To the church in Corinth self-imploding through divisions, Paul urges them in effect: “We have been given not only the body of Jesus but also the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit–so, for God’s sake, use it!” The writing is complex; we must work to grasp what Paul is saying and put it into practice in our daily lives. So often in our relationships with friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ, we find ourselves falling back into the wisdom of the world–judgment instead of grace, resentment instead of forgiveness, division instead of unity–as if for us the blinders have never been removed. It is not true, insists Paul. Today, through the Spirit who is the gift to us of Christ’s own mind for every situation, let’s think through what we have learned on Sunday from this reading and apply it to what may come on Monday. 

Let Your Light Shine (Matthew 5:13-20)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (14-16)

It happened again: A person who was once active in the church and suddenly left us without explanation, called after many months to ask if I would do a funeral for a family member. Every carnal instinct in me wanted to respond “No way!,” or “Sure, this is my charge for NON-MEMBERS!” What God made clear to me, however, was that to act on the situation in that manner would amount to putting the light of Christ in me under a basket. If I should really let Jesus’ light shine before others in this case, I must take any desire for personal revenge or point making out of the equation altogether. To glorify Jesus would mean forfeiting personal rights, however justifiable they may be to hold. Only then would I earn the right to be heard loud and clear–and what that former member, and her family, should hear is the precious Good News. So in what situation now are you being called to put aside personal satisfaction in order to pull your light out for others to see? Today, Holy Spirit, speak to us clearly about what you want us to do to make the Son of God shine in every situation.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

January 30, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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