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Feb 5, 2023 — Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 581-9a (9b012); Psalm 112:1-9 (10);
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13016); Matthew 5:13-20
By Rev. Jim Purdue
The theme of light permeates three of the four lessons for this Sunday, and it forms the background of the Pauline lesson: spiritual enlightenment. But Isaiah’s lesson is the bedrock upon which both the Psalm and the Gospel lesson build. For Isaiah, God had a serious bone to pick with Judah and Jerusalem. God was upset because Judah described themselves as God’s chosen, but they didn’t live up to the name. This Sunday, religious folk in any “Christian” nation that uses the lectionary could have a field day pointing the finger of shame at their governments and cultures.
But God’s vision would be fixed on the four fingers pointing back at the religious folk themselves. Here is the preacher’s dilemma: how to express God’s anger in this reading, without coming off so self-righteous that the congregation tunes it out.
Anyone calling themselves God’s people, or any nation praying for God to bless only itself (Isaiah 58:2), has some big, righteous shoes to fill. To Isaiah, God’s people were in complete rebellion against God. And yet, they continued to believe they were righteous or upright. (v.20)
In fact, Judah had a false concept of righteousness, which was divorced from God’s understanding of justice. To God, a true fast was not just a brief diet coupled with some prayers. It also meant cutting back on a diet too rich, allowing people to suffer from injustice, rot in prison, and starve in the streets.
We can assume that Isaiah’s words were denied by Judah, just like those sitting in pews might do today. People cry for a second opinion when they don’t like the first, and there are plenty of false prophets out there assuring folk that God is on their side and America is the new Israel. The preacher’s task this Sunday is to climb out of the echo chambers in which America’s Left and Right live, and instead honor Isaiah’s prophecy. To listen, then speak, as a prophet does.
Isaiah has provided us with three passing glances at this daunting task. First, God asked, “Do you think fasting is like a bulrush bowing down? Is that what you call an acceptable fast?” (v.5) We call bulrushes cattails. They sway and bow down to the wind, but then they pop up again, unchanged. Humility without real change for the common good means bowing down when we think God is looking, and then popping right back up unchanged.
Second, God had raged for several verses about the problem caused by Judah’s turning a blind eye to injustice, all so it could do something “religious.” Judah was acting like justice was not also a religious thing. True fasting means not to hide oneself from one’s own kin. (v.7)
For me, this verse fits well with preaching about changing “kingdom” into “kin-dom” in the phrase “Kingdom of God.” All those people God had referred to by their miserable conditions were Judah’s “kin.” “King” refers to power; but “kin” refers to connection, to being of the same bloodline. All in this lesson who suffered were also descendants of Sarah and Abraham. In the New Testament, that kinship would exist in the church because all shared in the one Spirit.
Third, in verse 8 we find the word ‘dawn.” Learn the right way to fast, and practice it. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.” Dawn is one of life’s most dramatic experiences. This connects with Matthew’s “You are the light of the world,” (v. 14) and with the Psalmist’s “They shall rise in the darkness as a light for the upright: they are gracious, merciful, and upright.” (v. 4) Each of this week’s readings confirms that the light of God’s people comes because of lives that are righteous. (Matt. 5:20)
Jim is a retired clergy member of the Iowa Conference and missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries.
5 febrero, 2023 — Quinto domingo después de la Epifanía
Isaías 58:1-9a (9b-12); Salmos 112:1-9 (10);
1 Corintios 2:1-12 (13-16); Mateo 5:13-20
Por el Rvdo. Jim Purdue