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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
5 February 2023
Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
I got my first cell phone only when I came to Our Saviour, and I got it only because I believed it was important that I could be reached for emergencies while I was still commuting.
And I still have it.
Most of you, I imagine, also have a mobile phone and so you know what I have had to learn and what I may still have to learn. I am not speaking of turning off roaming when I am out of the country, or how to install apps, or how to take a screenshot, or which version of English to choose for Google map directions, though I did learn those things. I am speaking of not having my phone distract me, like when I want to look something up but see another app, open that instead and then wonder why I am holding my phone in the first place. Or not killing spare time with browsing the internet or social media. I still have some ways to go, and to me the best solution seems to get rid of my phone altogether. But maybe not yet – though it is tempting – if only for the reason that made me get a phone in the first place.
But our phones aren’t the only place we can get lost. A couple of decades ago it was channel surfing, which may still exist today, regardless of how you get your TV. Besides, human beings have always been good at wasting time with peripheral things so we would not have to get to the important things, or the things that give us displeasure, like filing our taxes or dealing with bureaucracies in general.
But then again the amount of information available today is new and seems infinite, so much so that one can get lost in it. And even though it sometimes is difficult to find dissonant voices, the amount of information at our disposal is always a good reason for doing nothing, to wait for even more information, for another study, and the expert opinion, which in turn warrants our need for more information. Global warming a case in point. But there are many examples and I bet we could all come up with our own.
The thing is that information only gets you so far. And knowledge only gets you so far. Are we surprised that our educational institutions turn out experts in their respective fields who are unable to relate the part to the whole?
I am not suggesting that people who do gutter installations have to be really smart, though there is no reason why they wouldn’t be, but this isn’t about being smart anyway, this is about the ability to connect the dots, to see the whole picture instead of only bits.
The first house we owned was built in 1912. We bought it because of the neighbourhood, because we were just able to afford it, and because more of the work the house needed was on the outside than on the inside, which meant we could move right in. One of the jobs we got done were new gutters. The house was two and a half stories high, so the gutters were high up and we could not inspect them. When not long after the gutters had been replaced we ended up with squirrels nesting in our attic and in our walls, and Jackie actually caught one inside our house, I thought it interesting that the people who had replaced our gutters must have seen that our soffits were rotting but had said nothing. I guess they had only been hired to do the gutters.
Being a Christian is not about having lots of information, which is why the Bible is not primarily a text book from which to gather information, but a book that tells a story, a story that includes us and our story, and that also turns out to be our story.
Being Christian is not about knowing stuff, like knowing Luther’s Small Catechism, or knowing Bible verses by heart, or having a clear picture of the travels of the Apostle Paul, though these are good and useful things.
The Scottish Poet Edwin Muir talked once about why his childhood experience of church had been so bad. He said, “the Word made flesh is here made words again.”1 The life with God had been reduced to propositions, to knowledge, to information.
But being a Christian is about becoming, about being, about sharing in God’s being, which is why in the sacrament of Holy Communion we not only receive the forgiveness of sins but we share in the life and being of Christ. In Holy Communion we do not receive the dead body and blood of Christ but the living Christ who forms us into his living body, his community, his church.
Being a Christian is about being in God and God living in us.
When in our reading from 1 Corinthians Paul speaks about wisdom, he sounds a bit like Jesus who says, that the Father has hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and has revealed them to infants. (Matthew 11:25) So when Paul says, “So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God,” (2:11) he says that all knowledge and all being is in God and we cannot invent it or ourselves by whatever means. True life and true wisdom rest in God. Therefore the goal of the life of a Christian is to dwell in God.
At the beginning of our passage Paul says, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (v.4-5)
It is all about God. In God is the fullness of being, even on the cross, for Paul knows nothing except Christ crucified. (v.2)
The Sermon on the Mount is difficult for us to hear for it seems to call us into a life we do not feel capable of. We are intimidated and there are parts of the Christian tradition that has relegated its instruction to those the tradition calls saints.
But in our Gospel reading Jesus neither exhorts us to know things nor to do things. Rather Jesus says to his followers that they already have a share in him, already have being in him, for they are the light of the world and they are the salt of the earth. It is about being and becoming, about living God’s promise.
The church Father Irenaeus once said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. He wasn’t thinking about sunsets, or the PNE, or bungy-jumping, or whatever people may associate with being fully alive. He also wasn’t talking about the catechism or about information. He was talking about God dwelling in us and us dwelling in God as the goal and destiny of our lives. And dwelling in God removes all estrangement, from ourselves, the world, and each other. Dwelling in God allows us to see the world as God sees the world and love the world as God loves the world. That is the gift and the promise.
Thanks be to God.
1 Quoted by Malcolm Guite in conversation with Russel Moore, Malcolm Guite’s Hope for Hurt Christians (The Russell Moore Show), https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/malcolm-guites-hope-for-hurt-christians/id1074011166?i=1000595175104