Bible Study: 5 Epiphany (A)

February 9, 2014

Alan CowartVirginia Theological Seminary

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, 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 in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12); Psalm 112:1-9, (10); 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16); Matthew 5:13-20

Isaiah 58:2-9a, (9b-12)

God wants something more for us. God calls the prophet to point out the futility of fasting, worship, religion that does not make a difference in the current world. The idea of humbling ourselves is not to call God to pay attention to our posture: “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” God thinks of this worship as serving our own interest.

God is interested in something more: God wants to make a difference in the life we live. Humbling ourselves in worship is about lining our interests up with God’s interest. And God is interested in making a difference today in the real pain of the world.

So what we do each day and how we treat each other matters. It is not enough to fast or follow the law as if it were a list of “do this” or “don’t do that.” The ordinances of God (that is, the commands of God) are to “treat people in this way,” “serve God in this manner.”

It is in seeking justice today, in this world, and sharing bread that we are healed. It is in covering the naked and living a life of relationship that we hear God saying, “Here I am.” We serve God when we seek after the things that God seeks. We are healed by God when we seek to heal the world around us.

When we line up our motives with God’s, our hearts with God’s purpose, our yearning for God’s end, then we shall be redeemed. Then our light and healing will break through. Then God is there, with us, as God has always been.

We are all busy. Where in your life do you need to slow down and take a closer look at what is happening in the lives of the people you intersect? Who comes to mind?

God talks about fasting to loosen “the bonds of injustice.” Who in our society needs more justice today? How can you pray for them today?

Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

This psalm continues to explore what righteousness looks like. We know that “those who fear the Lord” are happy and secure, and “their hearts are steady.” The psalmist speaks of enduring faith and a lasting relationship with God. The righteous have hope in a future, “in the end they will look in triumph.”

A recurring theme in the psalms is the contrast between the righteous who follow God’s commandments and the wicked who stand against God or seek to do us harm. But this psalm barely mentions the wicked. In the end, they will be of no consequence; they will “melt away” and come to nothing.

Instead, the focus is on the result of living in righteousness. And this way of being is not simply about a right relationship with God, but also with those around us. It is striking that in addition to helping those in need and focusing on following the commands of God, those who delight in God’s commands “rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” It seems the focus is on living righteously with our neighbors and sharing the light we have found, which is a result of fearing God. This is the righteousness that will endure forever, that will be called “upright.”

If you have warmed yourself with the light of God, how can you share that light with someone else this week?

1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)

Paul reminds the Corinthians of their first meeting. The gospel was proclaimed simply, in an accessible way. The essence of the gospel is Jesus. The words are not as important as their content. The God who died on the cross is the central message. This is an Epiphany message. The child born and revealed to the magi is the child crucified and revealed to the world.

Paul adapts his message to the audience but is clear that not everyone “gets it.” Those trying to gain control of the young congregation by aligning with different factions (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17) must now align themselves with the principal message of Jesus crucified. It is a simple message but perhaps too simple for some. The message of the gospel doesn’t always make sense by our standards. And if we think of God’s love for the world in purely mathematical ways, it will never add up. It is something that must be experienced. “For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?” The experience of God is brought about by God, initiated by God and revealed by God.

How has your life been changed by an experience of God?

Matthew 5:13-20

Today’s gospel reading is near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and provides a bridge between two important sections of this long discourse. Jesus has concluded the familiar beatitudes “blessed are the poor ” and here identifies his audience more specifically: “you are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world.” I have always been struck that he didn’t say “You are like salt” but that salt and light are who we are. Our interactions in the world matter.

Many of us feel used up, tired. Salt that is no longer salty is useless. But here’s some good news: We can’t not be salt; we can only stop acting like it. We can only stop being salty to the world. God’s light is never extinguished, we can only choose to hide it or let it shine.

Jesus continues this idea when he speaks about the Law and the prophets. We think of the law as a way to measure the rightness or wrong-ness of our or someone else’s actions. But like the Old Testament reading today, the law identifies who is already living in right relationship with God. Jesus makes his point when he says that he fulfills the law. Jesus has a high regard for the law, for the relationship with God that it identifies. Those who follow Jesus, who seek to live in right relationship with God and with the world will discover that they remain salty, and the light of Christ will be revealed in their life.

Think about where your daily actions reflect your experience of God.

We are the light of the world. Where do you choose to hide rather than shine your light?

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