Sermon for Epiphany 5A – 5th February 2023

Isaiah 58:1-12; Ps 112:1-10; 1 Cor 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatlands. To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. A community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

Words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book “Discipleship”. He points out that any who want to be disciples, have the responsibility to witness to the world, for he says, as disciples:

now they have to be what they are, or they’re not following Jesus. The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act which separates them from the world – or it’s not discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

For Bonhoeffer, the church must be visible, not for the sake of being the centre of attention, but for the sake of standing out. Christian communities must live by the standards to which Jesus is calling them, which are contrary to the norms of society, and in doing so they’ll stand out. For example, if they choose to forgive and don’t become violent, their actions will be noticed and perhaps not liked. 

By contrast,

a community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

As a result of their public actions, Jesus says that his disciples may be hated and thrown out, just as he was, but public action’s essential to live the life of a Disciple. When Jesus tells his disciples that they’re “the light of the world”, it’s not a statement about what the Church should be, but what it must be. The Church, Jesus tells us, is like a “city built on a hill”, drawing all people to its light. 

But individual disciples are also to be like “portable lamps” (the Greek word Lychnos), carried around by their owner, shining wherever they go. As Jesus tells his disciples

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

His followers are to be a community of faithful witnesses, with a righteousness that

exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”.

Matthew 5:20

But beware there’s a spiritual danger here. As St Teresa of Ávila warns, it’s easy to become focused on doing things because we want our goodness to be noticed, and not because we’re driven to reveal God’s Kingdom. We should do good for the other not for ourselves.

From the outside, it can be hard to distinguish between someone whose good deeds are done because of a love of praise for themselves, and someone whose unselfconscious goodness is offered solely to glorify the Father, no matter the cost. From the inside, however, the two are quite different: if we’re truly acting in ways that transmit the light of the Father, it’ll be a matter of indifference whether our part in it is evident to others, it’s the deed that matters and not the one doing it.

The “bushel” Jesus mentions isn’t a unit of measurement, Jesus is referring to a basket big enough to cover up the lamp and by so doing rendering it ineffective.

In Churches the world over there are at perhaps 3 bushels. The first might be an inferiority complex. Maybe a lack of confidence by comparing ourselves and what we do to what other churches might be doing or to the good old days when this church fuller on a Sunday with lots of children and younger folk. The inferiority bushel can block out God’s light.

The second bushel may be looking inwards concentrating only on internal matters. While necessary, if they become the main focus and an excuse for not getting on with God’s real work, then they’re a bushel that can prevent our light from shining.

The third bushel may be the “if only” church in our heads. This sort of bushel is seductive because it seems so positive and feels so good. Holy longing for an imagined future can provide inspiration, however, to become a reality it needs to be realistic and requires concrete congregational action in the present to become a reality and without that it’s just a another bushel.

Can you hear the incredulous tone in Jesus voice, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel”. Ridiculous! Jesus is clear: we’re not doomed to being distracted and drained by the bushels of inferiority or self-absorption or fantasy. Bushels can only block out the light if we put them there.

Our focus should always be on reflecting Jesus’ light in the world the

light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t overcome”.

John 1:4-5

We need to

let our light shine before others

Matthew 5:16

and then as Isaiah says:

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. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations.

Isaiah 58:8-12

So how do we focus on looking outwards and letting our light shine when there are many things in our world to lament at the moment: the climate crisis, the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, the energy and cost of living rises proving so hard for many, inequality among people, poverty, racism and much suffering?

A couple of years ago our Lent Study explored Lament in the Psalms and considered its importance. We know that at times Jesus wept and expressed sorrow, and as we focus on his time in the wilderness, up to his persecution and death, lament seems appropriate: lament as complaint, as resistance, for justice and innovation and as newness and hope. Lament can allow us to express the love of God in so many ways and keep us hopeful and outward looking; helping to let our light shine forth. 


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