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 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. 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
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Somehow my righteousness, and that of my community, must exceed the most ardent practitioners of the law. The jots and tittles remain in place, but I am also called to search thoroughly, to see the whole in its layers of depth and meaning and context; to love the spirit of the law over and beyond the letter of the law. For example: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Isaiah 58:6-8 Loving the law can't help but draw the devotee into a wider consciousness.
And then? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.... 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. Isaiah 58:9-10
I've got to awaken from the comfortable, respectable cocoon I've woven for myself (meditation one) and submit my heart to the purifying fire (meditation two) acting boldly in my own setting (meditation three), to shine like a burning lamp to the world.
Ever hopeful and struggling, your -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) saltness These are the standards, the values and the priorities of the kingdom of God. Too often the church has turned away from this challenge and sunk into a bourgeois, conformist respectability. At such times it is almost indistinguishable from the world, it has lost its saltness, its light is extinguished and it repels all idealists. For it gives to evidence that it is God's new society which is tasting already the joys and powers of the age to come. Only when the Christian community lives by Christ's manifesto will the world be attracted and God be glorified. So when Jesus calls us to himself, it is to this that he calls us. For he is the Lord of the counter-culture.
-John R.W. Stott b.1921 Christian Counter-Culture (1978)
Was it Light?
Was it light? Was it light within? Was it light within light? Stillness becoming alive, Yet still?
A lively understandable spirit Once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait.
-Theodore Roethke 1908-1963
Giotto, Return of Christ to Jerusalem, 1310, detail
We no longer have to ask ourselves if we are approaching a state of emergency. We are in the midst of it, right here and now, and we expect the future to mirror the past.... It is in the midst of this dark world that we are invited to live and radiate hope. Is it possible? Can we become light, salt, and leaven to our brothers and sisters in the human family? Can we offer hope, courage, and confidence to the people of this era? Do we dare break through our paralyzing fear? Will people be able to say of us, 'See how they love each other, how they serve their neighbor, and how they pray to their Lord?' Or do we have to confess that at this juncture of history we just do not have the needed strength or the generosity? How can we live in hope so as to give hope? And how do we find true joy?
-Henri Nouwen 1932-1996 Clowning in Rome
Loving you, O God, brings its own reward here on earth, as well as the eternal reward of heaven. And failure to love you, even when we can offer a thousand excuses, brings its own punishment. By becoming mirrors of your love, by wearing the mask of your likeness, and by allowing you to make us perfect, we can know the joy of heaven, even while we abide here on earth. Our consciences are sullied by our many sins; cleanse them, that we may reflect your infinite brightness.
-William Saint-Thierry c.1085-c.1148
The Inner Light
He that has light within his own clear breast May sit i'the centre, and enjoy bright day: But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the midday sun; Himself is his own dungeon.
John Milton 1608-1674 The Inner Light (Paradise Lost)
"A City Built Upon a Hill Cannot Be Hid" Giotto, Legend of St. Francis, 1297-99, detail,
Meditation Two (insight) lightness The Mystic's Prayer
Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame, O Master of the Hidden fire! Wash pure my heart, and cleanse for me My soul's desire.
In flame of sunrise bathe my mind, O Master of the Hidden fire, that, when I wake, clear-eyed may be My soul's desire.
-William Sharp 1855-1905
Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out. -Hugh Latimer to Nicholas Ridley, as they are about to burn at the stake 1555
Meditation Three (integration) let your light so shine
And the other picture which the Lord Jesus Christ holds up to us: "Ye are the light of the world": we hear these words and are reminded by them that we worry about something that ceases to exist in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. What are we worrying about? When I read out the names, a little while ago*, did we not think: "Alas and alack, will this wind, this storm, that is going through the world just now, not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and put it in a safe nook."
It is only during these days that I have realized - that I have understood - what the Lord Jesus Christ means when He says: "Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick! It is not your business to worry about whether the light is extinguished or not by the draught." We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is His concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away - hidden away perhaps with a noble intent, so that we may bring it out again in calmer times - no: "Let your light shine before men!"
-Martin Niemoller 1892-1984 from a sermon just before his arrest in Nazi Germany *Church members missing or arrested
Giotto, Legend of St. Francis, 1297-99, detail
The Last Word
The city of God cannot remain hidden. Brothers and sisters, the city of God will not be blown down by the storm. It will not be conquered even though the enemy take its outer walls. The city of God will stand, because its strength comes from on high, because the Lamb is with it, and so it will remain firmly established.
-from Niemoller's sermon (above)
Salt and Light
Some people seem to embody the Sermon on the Mount. They are like table salt enhansing supper's good flavor. They are warm lamps in the household lighting the dark corners. Sometimes you think they might be angels, disguising themselves in ordinariness, anonymity, and incongruously irritating habits.
Some are like cities set upon a hill - beacons relaying hope and challenge from hilltop to hilltop - torch to torch, light to light- against the darkness. They lean into the danger of the times in which they live, giving their lives to principles larger than themselves - dissidents, truth-tellers, reformers. Many sit in solitary confinement, or have been sentenced to hard labor, silenced by powers so enormous as to have swallowed up the light and broken the man or woman of truth.
How many lights to the world gutter like a failing candle through sheer poverty and want? How many salts-of-the-earth shiver in refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East, or waste away by starvation in Somalia or Northeastern Nigeria or South Sudan? Or, for that matter, what blessings of hope and love diminish in any neighborhood in any part of the world for want of necessities of body and mind, soul and spirit?
Arrogance, indifference, laziness stealthily hardens the heart into its own pleasant dungeon lit by its own selfish light.
God have mercy! What can I do? Isaiah answers:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
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.
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:6-12
This season of Epiphany not only invites us to perceive the Light, but to become lights to the world, neighborhood to neighborhood, hilltop to hilltop. God help us.