RCL A Epiphany 5
Isaiah 58:1-9a, Psalm 112:1-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Saint Matthew 5:13-20

The Gospel today, the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, makes it quite clear to the disciples then and to us now that they and we are to leave a mark on the world. By our deeds we are to influence the world for good. In fact, our deeds are to be such that those deeds can hardly escape notice. Those deeds are to be as difficult to ignore as a city built on a hill. And, furthermore, if we fail in good works, we are as useless as flavorless salt or a lamp whose light is concealed.

But wait. There is more. We are to keep the letter of the law until heaven and earth pass away. Our righteousness, Jesus declares, must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, or we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I say to you that these words of Jesus are an example of what I had in mind some weeks ago when I told you in a sermon that it is much easier to buy into John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance than it is to buy into all of the responsibility that Jesus confers on each one of us. And here is a large pallet of that responsibility: we are to change the world for good, and we are to be righteous, as righteous as the scribes and the Pharisees until heaven and earth pass away.

But I hasten to say that even this very large dose of responsibility is good news, or, at least, a sign of the good news that Jesus gives to the first disciples and gives to us as well.

And part of that good news may be drawn from what Jesus means by the passing away of heaven and earth. He doesn’t mean the end of time or the end of the world as it is often understood. He means, I believe, the turning of the ages that came with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those first disciples and we are living in the new and final age foretold by Isaiah as a time of a “new heavens and a new earth.”[1]

Meanwhile, during Jesus’ earthly ministry and in our time as well, the kingdom was and is breaking in and interrupting ordinary lives and business as usual. And while Jesus’ mission remains within the framework of the law but with significant expectation of the age to come, which comes when Jesus returns “in glory to judge the living and the dead.”[2]

And so here we are. As I see it, Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit empower us to be and to fulfill all that Jesus requires of us. This certainly is not a claim John could make. But it is certainly a claim that Jesus makes and fulfills whenever any one of us affects the world for good and acts righteously. We should expect what we do in his Name to be worthy of him and to meet his requirements. We should recall that he made us and made us for good so that the whole world and all people of good will would be reconciled to him. Whatever we think about this enterprise or how it is going may simply be irrelevant to its final outcome. God is good, and through the first disciples and through us, God is writing a good story, whose end surpasses what we think it will be.

[1] Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22.

[2] The Nicene Creed, page 359.

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