Sermon for Epiphany 5, Year A, February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:109, Psalm 112: 1-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

          Paul writes, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.”  Clearly, he wasn’t a seminary professor or a theologian.  Believe me, seminary professors and theologians do love using lofty words.  And, to be honest, many Episcopalians and Episcopal Priests do as well.  We use names for things that are confusing to even some of the members of our own church. 

          If you were to invite a Baptist friend to church and tell them you would meet them in our narthex, how many of them would not have a clue you were referring to what other churches refer to as their lobby – ours is small, so it is more of a  foyer, than a lobby.   The narthex is the entrance into our nave.  Nave, yet another term that might confuse guests.  Other churches refer to their nave as the sanctuary.  But for students of traditional church architecture, the sanctuary is the area around the altar – beyond the altar rail.  The congregation sits in the nave and the choir in the chancel.

The term nave is Latin for ship, an early Christian symbol, and an apt description of what the inside roof of a Roman Basilica looks like.   Thus, we use the term nave for what others now refer as a worship center – which is includes of all the parts of where we worship. 

The tradition of the Episcopal church includes the use of Latin and Greek names.  For communion or “The Lord’s Supper, we use the Greek word Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.”  How many people from other faith traditions do you think know what the Eucharist is?   In a time when fewer people are attending churches, the words we use here are incomprehensible to many outsiders.  If you like our language, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we change the names we use.

          Even before seminary, I enjoyed learning to call the communion cup a chalice and the plate a paten.  I loved learning the different names for the different parts of our worship space.  I loved learning about our traditions – and I love our traditions.  However, we do need to keep in mind what Paul is saying and avoid using lofty words around visitors who may not understand what we are saying – as if it makes us appear wise. 

          In our reading from 1st Corinthians, Paul seems to make a distinction between wisdom and knowledge.  He says he did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom.  Instead, he tells them he is speaking from his knowledge of Jesus.  This was a conscious decision on his part.  He 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.” 

          Paul’s message comes from the Spirit.  Many would say he was moved by the Holy Spirit to say the actual words he spoke.  I would agree that Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, but the Spirit did not put the words in his mouth.  The words came from his heart and from his own experience.  Paul is often confusing, but he is clearly devoted to spreading the good news of God’s love for us.   His words, he says, come not from “human wisdom” but are “taught [not dictated] by the Spirit.”

          Likewise, what we know about God, we know because we have opened ourselves, our hearts, and minds to God and have experienced God in our lives.  Many speak of their relationship with God as deeply personal – and it is.  But it is also communal. 

          Paul writes to the church in Corinth for that reason.  And, we are here for that reason.  We need each other to explore and consider how God is calling us to serve.  Elsewhere Paul writes of the church as being the Body of Christ suggesting we now carry his message of love and forgiveness and share it with others. 

          Here Paul says we have the mind of Christ.  And, in so much as we use our eyes to see the needs of others and are moved to help, we do have the mind of Christ.  When we reach out in love and offer our help, we are serving as Christ to others.  In the gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples:

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. 

I have seen your light shining before others as I have watched our community meal teams serve the individuals and families who come here on Wednesday nights.  I know your light shines when I hear of how you volunteer for non-profits because you want to make a difference.  And, because I have seen and heard of the care and compassion you have for patients, students and the people you serve as part of your professional careers.   Paul speaks of demonstrating the power of God and this is what he means.  Actions can speak louder than words, and our actions are a light to those who are surrounded by darkness. 

          Contrary to what Paul said, I do believe he is prone to using lofty words – but he is effective at spreading the gospel because he speaks from his heart and acts with love.  I have seen that same love here as I have witnessed our members reaching out to help others.  Together, we are the body of Christ in this community and nothing in impossible for God.  On the parish surveys, you said that mission, serving people in our community, is important to you.  This tells me that Christ is here making a difference in our lives. 

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the gift of each other and this community of faith.  Help us to seek first to do your will.  Help St. Paul’s shine forth your love, that we might be a light directing others into the joy of your fellowship – those present today, those who are unable to be here, and those who are surrounded by darkness. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.