The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Epiphany V...Kingdom time...

“Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp 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 in heaven. 

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these 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."                                                                                                           
                                                          -Matthew 5:13-20, NRSV


This Gospel begins a three week course reading of Matthew’s fifth chapter that will conclude on Epiphany VII with: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew speaks here of Jesus’ example and our behavior in response to Him, encouraging a sequence from Jesus manifesting Himself as rabbi and Savior, to our responsive behaviors manifesting Him in World. In pragmatic, accessible images, Matthew 5 admonishes us to strive for authenticity:

 

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

 

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp 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 in heaven. 

 

But beyond authenticity, Jesus recalibrates our vision to see what our mental chatter and mindless petty distractions often miss: The Kingdom of God.

 

The Kingdom is a recurring theme for Matthew. In the present readings, he steps away from his formulaic “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...” or “The Kingdom of Heaven is as if...” and he opts instead for describing conditions- the symptoms, if you like, of His ministry’s completion pointing us toward a deeper Truth:

 

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these 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."

 

The Kingdom is now. We don’t have to die to win, we have to live to win. Jesus tells us that since the Kingdom is already as well as not yet, we are not rehearsing or ramping up for the commencement of something. That something has already begun, we’re on the record now, and the fulfillment of that something will not happen only in the sweet by-and-by....we do not get off that easily. We do not simply have to hold on in tooth-grinding determination until we die. No, I believe Jesus is coaching us to understand a different Truth- the Truth that the Kingdom is fully manifested when we, right here, right now, humble ourselves before God. The Kingdom in fact cannot fully come until that takes place.

 

 Presiding Bishop +Henry Knox Sherrill made clear Matthew 5’s point:

 

“The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.”

 

 When we each apprehend “the fact of Easter,” the Kingdom about which Jesus is teaching begins in us individually. As “the fact of Easter” is more and more widely acknowledged, the Kingdom about which Jesus is teaching spreads out across time and nations and peoples until, finally “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” is neither a metaphor nor a fond hope, but a literal report...the Kingdom of Heaven is manifested and clear here and now, not there and then. We hear Jesus say: 

 

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these 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." 

 

And when we understand what He’s saying, we know Bishop Sherrill is right: “...the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice” to live as Kingdom people right here, right now. The question becomes not “Can we?” but “Will we?”

 

Love you. See you in Church.

 

FBC3+, 5 February 2017, being The Fifth Sunday after The Epiphany