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Sunday 6th February 2011: Shine, baby, shine!

On the front page of the pew bulletin there is a little picture of a saint holding a lantern in his hands. I chose it because of the famous passage we have as our gospel where Jesus describes his disciples as “the light of the world, the salt of the earth and a city built on a hilltop.”

I chose the hymns on this theme as well, the theme of light, or the light of Christ.

And when I chose the hymns I noticed that many of them had another theme, the theme of justice and mercy and good works done in the name of Christ.

You may remember that last week we heard the passage from the prophet Micah where has asks, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” That’s where our first hymn came from. We’re talking about justice, mercy and lives full of righteousness.

This is also what Isaiah is talking about in the first reading we heard. The Lord told Isaiah to shout, with a voice like a trumpet, to tell the rebellious people of Jerusalem how their lives had gone wrong. “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

In the same way the psalm is a call for right living, for people who delight in God’s commandments. “Light arises in the darkness for the upright; gracious and merciful is the righteous one.” The message is plain to read. Act generously, give to the poor, guide your lives with justice and mercy. Do these things, says the psalmist, and you will be blessed by God and everybody will see that you are blessed by God. Those who are wicked will be consumed with envy and rage; they will die, eaten up by malice, eaten by their own evil thoughts.

And back to the gospel, listen to Jesus’ words. “Whoever breaks one of the least of God’s commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

As you know, the scribes and Pharisees knew the whole Law of Moses inside out. There was no little rule or regulation they did not know. Every moment of every day was taken up with obedience to the commandments of God. And Jesus says we have to do more. We have to do more or else we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

I could sum up this message by saying, “Do what is right and you will live; do the wrong thing and you will perish miserably.”

But if I said that, I would be wrong. The crucifixion of Jesus makes me change my mind. I cannot speak about rewards for good behaviour and punishment for bad behaviour any more. Jesus’ death on the cross was so utterly unjust that it makes our ideas of justice sound ridiculous. St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, which we heard today, says, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God with lofty words or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Christ Jesus, and him crucified. I came with weakness and fear and trembling.” If anyone thinks that they can completely explain the crucifixion of Jesus, using human wisdom, then they are wrong. The crucifixion is like a cyclone which comes roaring in from the sea and rips our ideas and our wisdom and cleverness to pieces and leaves us weak and fearful and trembling, like St Paul, calling out for help.

St Paul says that our help comes from the Lord through the Holy Spirit, for, he says, the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. It is only the Holy Spirit who can make sense of the crucifixion of Christ. Many people who have been through a flood, or a fire, or a cyclone have a different way of looking at life. Things which were important before are now of little value or interest. Their lives take on a new value, a new meaning. Relationships with family and friends grow in importance and significance. Very often the way people behave is changed, there is a new understanding of community, of working together, of trust, of what it means to be neighbours. Of course, this does not happen to all cyclone survivors, I am comparing a cyclone to the crucifixion to show that both disasters can be change people’s lives for the better.

I want to make the point that the crucifixion can change the way we think about good deeds and righteousness. Paul says that “no one completely understands what is truly God except the Spirit of God.”

And, he says, we have been given this same Spirit of God “so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Perhaps Paul should have said that the Spirit brings life to the gifts God has given us. Instead of using our God given gifts because that’s what we’re supposed to do, we can use our gifts because we like using them, we use them with love and joy.

Those people in the psalm who gave freely to the poor did not say to themselves, “If I give to the poor, then I’ll get into heaven.” Instead they were saying, “Hey! I’ve got all this good stuff! Here, take some and see for yourself how good it is!”

The people in Isaiah’s prophecy who were “pointing the finger” at those who were different would stop and say, “What’s to prevent us being friends and working together?” Christ’s crucifixion and God’s Holy Spirit can change our lives so that we shine as naturally as a lamp on a lampstand, giving light to all in the house. Jesus says, let your light shine out. Rejoice in your gifts, have fun, be playful, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify to your Father in heaven.

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