Weekly Prayer:

O God of light, your searching Spirit reveals and illumines your presence in creation. Shine your radiant holiness into our lives, that we may offer our hands and hearts to your work: to heal and shelter, to feed and clothe, to break every yoke and silence evil tongues. Amen.

Focus Scripture:  Matthew 5:13-20

[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 hidden. 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 fulfil. 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.”

Focus Reflection: Working a difference in the world

If we are salt, then we won’t just find comfort and assurance in being something but will find our purpose and identity in participating in the doing of something significant, and that something will work a difference in the world around us rather than simply conform us to the values of the culture that surrounds us. “Any church that adapts itself so completely to the secular world around it that its distinctive calling is forgotten has rendered itself useless,” Douglas Hare writes. And if we are to “be” light, it is really God’s light that is shining through us, he says, for we are “not the light itself but only the window through which the light is to be seen,” as we do the works of healing, justice, and mercy that are “indelibly etched pictures of the Father’s love.” That, truly, is beauty restored, just as God wills.

All of this talk about doing and identity is certainly central to the part of the text about the law, given the way it has shaped and strengthened the people of Israel, and the church as well. The temptation for Christians has been to judge the Pharisees rather than to share their struggle with the question, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her sermon, “Exceeding Righteousness,” of “how to remain obedient to God in a changed world.” Matthew’s community faced dramatic changes and the turmoil that always follows, just as we find ourselves in a world changing at a bewilderingly rapid pace, and we feel the need to grab onto a rock of reassurance, something we can hang onto.

Focus Questions:

  1. What are some of the “indelibly etched pictures” of God’s love that your congregation has drawn?
  2. How is your congregation being “salt” in its setting, right now, in turbulent times?
  3. Is surpassing “conventional” righteousness too much of a challenge?
  4. What is the connection between what we do and who we are?
  5. Do economic “hard times” change the call that we have to righteousness? Why or why not?

This reflection is from the Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews, retired after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.