Hush- Not Yet

Lauren Belfer’s novel And After the Fire is a story that plays with time. In this instance, theimages interplay of past and present superimpose upon each other. Traced through events in 18th and 19th century Berlin, Belfer chronicles the fate of a previously unknown Bach Cantata from the chaos of 1945 Weimar to present day New York,  Her narrative moves seamlessly from the present back into various periods of the past before reemerging again into the present time.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you so all I can say is that Belfer not only plays with the interweaving of past with the present but explores the tension between preservation and suppression, between making known and keeping secret.

As they were coming down the mountain Jesus ordered them, “tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”. 


Writing about the Canadian Charles Taylor, to my mind one of the towering figures in contemporary philosophy, Joshua Rothman in his recent op-ed in the New York Times wrote that Taylor:

has explored the secret histories of our individual, religious, and political ideals, and mapped the inner tensions that cause those ideals to blossom or to break apart.

images-1Taylor’s massive opus A Secular Age, which one summer I dedicated myself to working through, explores the historical, religious, and political developments that have led to our arrival in the current secular age. He contrasts how in 1500 it was impossible not to believe in God with the impossibility for many today of holding such a belief, exploring how the culture of the West has moved from one position to the other.

In the long 400-year emergence of our current secular Western mindset, Taylor notes the gradual transition from what he terms the age of enchantment to the age of disenchantment, the term he uses to refer to our current predicament.


The Biblical narratives are the product of enchantment mindset. To the enchanted imagination, God is most frighteningly present in the physical structures of the material world. Divine power not only inhabits objects and places, it makes itself felt through the relational spaces that separate one person from another. It even penetrates our inner worlds of intention as we human being struggle in the tensions between good and evil, between God and self.

The enchanted mindset understands God’s dwellings in spatial terms of up and down, in and out. An expression of the spatial nature of God’s presence in the world is the idea that God inhabits sacred mountaintops. Human encounter with God requires a laborious journey up to the mountaintop where God dwells and where the encounter between divine and human takes place.

imgresOn the mountaintop, God conceals Godself in thick cloud while simultaneously self-revealing in blinding light. On the mountaintop Peter, James, and John experience an epiphany of the divine Christ, after which they must negotiate the even more perilous path down the mountain carrying the experience.  They must carry the remembrance of what they have seen and yet, at the same time practice a kind of forgetting.

Many have been perplexed why Jesus so insistently binds his companions to the silence of secrecy? I am reminded of Belfer’s novelistic exploration of the tension between preservation and suppression, between making known and keeping secret.

The easiest explanation for Jesus binding his companions to secrecy is that the time is not yet right. Events on the mount of the Transfiguration are only at a midpoint in a longer process towards the dénouement of his ministry.

As they were coming down the mountain Jesus ordered them, “tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”.


The Transfiguration story is a halfway point for Matthew and the other gospel writers. It marks the transition when Jesus leaves preaching and teaching in the Galilean countryside and turns his face towards to Jerusalem.

The event on the Mountain of Transfiguration is also for us a halfway point between Jesus’ birth and death.  The Transfiguration is a momentary glimpse through the space-time continuum as it were into the unity Jesus enjoys with God. Yet, at this stage of the journey, it must be preserved in secrecy, for the journey is only halfway through.The danger for us is to play with time in an unhelpful way, to impose the future onto the present before we are ready for it.

Jesus’ point to Peter, James, and John is that they are not yet ready to bear the full realization of what they have witnessed on the holy mountain. The danger for them is that the transfiguration becomes a high point, a peak experience that they hanker endlessly to return to; a state for which they yearn rather than a stage through which they emerge.

If I had revealed the plot and ending of Belfer’s story I would have spoilt your experience in reading it. Yet, when it comes to the gospel we know the plot and how it ends. This distances us from the day to day experience of living through the story and its power to interact with us as it unfolds.  We miss the point that this story must be lived through in temporal time, one day at a time. Because, at the level of everyday experience, like Peter, James, and John, we find that we too are not yet ready for the full implications of its ending.

The Transfiguration bookends the Christmas-Epiphany season. From here on we move into a different section of the spiritual journey. The landscape becomes rocky and desert-like as we journey down the mountain into the season of Lent.

Our upcoming encounter with the themes of Lent will show us just how ill prepared we are to receive the fullest insights of the Transfiguration. Lent offers the opportunity to open more profoundly to the transformation process that will prepare us for the last great epiphany of Jesus’ earthly life – his death and resurrection.


If God was powerfully present within the material structures of the enchanted age, God has been locked outside of the structures of our disenchanted age. For us, the material universe is an experience of being alone.

Yet within our disenchanted age, the Church’s calendar continues to move us along a journey taking us from Jesus birth to his death and into new life. The Bible despite being the product of enchanted imagination still offers us the only narratives which have the power to shape and fulfill our otherwise disenchanted lives.

Transfiguration is not a state we yearn for, but a stage we emerge through as we journey onwards into the processes of personal and community transformation. Yet for that to happen we have to possess the courage to place God and the center of our living and loving. Can we? Will we? These questions will go to the heart of our study over the next six weeks.


A sermon for Epiphany 7 from John Reardon. John is a former Catholic priest fulfilling his internship at St Martin’s as part of his application to have his priesthood recognized in the Episcopal Church.

You Are God’s Temple

One of my favorite short stories by Flannery O’Connor is entitled, “Temple of the Holy Ghost.” It tells of two fourteen-year-old girls from a convent school making a weekend visit to relatives out in the country. These young pseudo-sophisticates facetiously address each other as “Temple One” and “Temple Two,” based on the nuns’ admonition that if a young man should “behave with them in an ungentlemanly fashion in the back of an automobile,” they should say, “Stop, sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost!” During their stay in the country, Temple One and
Temple Two are escorted to the local fair by two local boys. When they return home, they tell their twelve-year-old cousin about their encounter with a reality to the likes of which they had not been exposed before. They had gone to a tent in which the male audience went to one side while the female audience went to the other, only to have a person in a blue dress show them how this person had been endowed with both male and female bodily parts.

O’Connor wrote in the mid-twentieth century, at a time when our culture had not yet reached our current, if inadequate, sensitivity and respect toward intersexed persons. In O’Connor’s world, such people were still the stuff of circus shows. But O’Connor’s vision cuts through her culture to make this individual, whom she labels a freak, a prophet whose difference reflects the glory of God. The intersexed person tells the audience, “God made me thisaway and if you laugh He may strike you the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain’t disputing His way. I’m showing you because I got to make the best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen.” The two schoolgirls do not know what to make of what they have seen, but their younger cousin hears the message.

The cousin is a thoughtful and intelligent girl. She has ambitions of becoming an engineer, but reflects that she should go further. O’Connor writes, “She would have to be a saint because that was the occupation that included everything you could know; and yet she knew she would never be a saint. She did not steal or murder but she was a born liar and slothful and she sassed her mother and was deliberately ugly to almost everybody. She was eaten up also with the sin of Pride, the worst one. . . . She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick. She could stand to be shot but not to be burned in oil. She didn’t know if she could stand to be torn to pieces by lions or not.”

This girl, so capable of honest self-appraisal, imagines a scene in which the intersexed circus performer preaches. She pictures the preaching and response, with the preacher saying, “’God made me thisaway and I don’t dispute hit,” and the people saying, “Amen. Amen.” “God done this to me and I praise Him.’ ‘Amen. Amen.’ ‘He could strike you thisaway.’ ‘Amen. Amen.’ ‘But he has not.’ ‘Amen.’ ‘Raise yourself up. A temple of the Holy Ghost. You! You are God’s temple, don’t you know? Don’t you know? God’s Spirit has a dwelling in you, don’t you know?’ ‘Amen. Amen.’ ‘If anybody desecrates the temple of God, God will bring him to ruin and if you laugh, He may strike you thisaway. A temple of God is a holy thing. Amen. Amen.’ ‘I am a temple of the Holy Ghost.’ ‘Amen.’”

Saint Paul tells us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” What a striking image. We can easily picture beautiful churches, temples, and other houses of worship, with all the ways their architecture designs them to point toward the sacred. But how often do we stop to contemplate that each of us, and all of us together as the Church, are tabernacles in which the Holy Spirit dwells? And that in every human being we encounter, we meet someone created by God and called by grace and thus deserving of the respect we would give to any temple? To be in this kind of relationship with God is to be called to holiness, called to be transformed to be like God in God’s holiness, that dimension of wonder, separateness, purity, awe-inspiring power, and great mystery to which we advert when we use that word.

To be in this kind of relationship with God is to have one’s world turned upside down. Paul says, “If you think you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” Leviticus intersperses God’s mandates with the starkly repeated statement, “I am the Lord.” This is not a set of instructions but a characterization of what it means to be in covenant with God. Don’t do a savvy thing like maximizing the efficiency of your farming. Leave something deliberately because those other Temples of the Holy Spirit, the poor and the alien, need to eat, too. Don’t do a smart thing like using all your personal advantages and privileges to your own advantage, but refrain from taking advantage of those other Temples of the Holy Spirit, the deaf and the blind. Don’t use your cleverness to manipulate your listeners with well-crafted falsities. Honor those other Temples of the Holy Spirit by speaking the truth and behaving fairly and honestly in all things.

Jesus amplifies the message even further. To be in a relationship with God, to get a sense of how God’s lordship over creation works, you have to be more than a little foolish by any worldly standard. Put up with insults and injuries. Do more than is asked or required of you. Give to those who beg and lend without checking out the creditworthiness of the borrower. Love not only your friends but your enemies. Greet those you don’t even know.

To be in relationship with God is to be a holy freak and a holy fool, a temple of the Holy Spirit through whom the graciousness of God shines upon a world whose values desperately need to be turned upside down. It is to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells within ourselves and within others, and thus to see and honor God’s presence in all the temples set before us. It does not mean we have all the answers to the complex problems of our world. But it does open our eyes and hearts to seeing the world from God’s perspective and setting priorities accordingly.



On the Threshold

Sermon From the Rev. Linda Mackie-Griggs for Epiphany 6

I have been told that I am a perfectionist. Fair assessment. I’ve found that being a perfectionist is both a gift and a source of anxiety. That which makes me the go-to person in the office for proofing bulletins is the same thing that makes me fret for days if a typo gets past me. It’s a blessing and a curse: Whether this is a trait that will be life-giving or soul-sucking is a choice; one that I regrettably seem to be faced with on a pretty regular basis.

When we hear about blessings and curses in this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we see even starker choices:

If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, … then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you imagesare entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear… I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This is the conclusion to Moses’ farewell address to his people before they cross the Jordan into the Land of Promise. What has come before is what as known as the “second law-giving” that comprises the bulk of the Book of Deuteronomy; an expansion of the Ten Commandments that details how the People are to live in right relationship with their God. Undergirding it all is a single theme: That the people should be faithful to the One God. And No Other. And a corollary to this is that there is to be a bright line of separation between those who worship the One God and those who don’t.

Deuteronomy, like all of the other books in the Bible, did not originate in a vacuum. It is a product of its time and culture; probably written over the course of the late 8th through the late 6th centuries BCE. The portion we read today was written well after the establishment of Israel, and after the traumatic period of the Exile when the Temple was destroyed and the people of Israel were taken into captivity in Babylon for seventy years. In other words, the Deuteronomist (as the writer is sometimes called) had the benefit of hindsight when writing this account of Moses’ speech. The Jews read this in the context of what had happened to them in the Exile and concluded that unfaithfulness to God’s commandments resulted in tragedy:

You shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

As a genre of literature, Deuteronomy is also a product of its time. It was once thought to be in the form of a kind of treaty that was imposed by a stronger party upon a subjugated one. But later scholars determined that in form and structure this is a more mutual arrangement; a particular kind of covenant with the People that requires the assent of both covenanting parties. According to W. Sibley Towner, the book of Deuteronomy’s chief purpose is to win the assent of the People by laying out the argument that faithfulness to God is to their ultimate benefit as a community. They will prosper and become numerous in the land that God is giving them. They will have blessing, life. Lack of faithfulness, according to this covenant, means curse, adversity, death. Towner notes that as persuasive arguments go this is admittedly a hard sell, but the Deuteronomist knows that there is a great deal at stake—the very survival of Israel.

In the book of Joshua, Joshua puts a similar choice before the People: choose this day whom you will serve… The People seal the covenant, saying: we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God. But interestingly, this sealing of covenant doesn’t happen in Deuteronomy. The People are commanded to choose, but the narrative doesn’t record their response to Moses’ imperative, as it does in Joshua. This is a significant omission. This covenant demands a response—a choice. What will it be, life or death? Blessing or curse?

The lack of response isn’t an omission. It’s an invitation. God’s People are called to make the choice of blessing or curse, life or death, not just at that single point in time, but continually henceforth. To be faithful to God, then, is to be ever mindful of God’s call to faithfulness and to choose, at each fork in the road, the way of life and blessing. 

It gives a whole new meaning to the words of Moses: I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. Today. Right now, and now, and now. Whew.To choose life and blessing is to choose the way of justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness. Love. To choose life and blessing is to choose to be part of God’s Dream of reconciliation with God, Creation and one another. Every moment of every day.

The Deuteronomist, in leaving space for the People’s response, has shown them and us a door that is wide open. This is the Good News: that all of God’s beloved children stand perpetually on the threshold of Kingdom welcome.

This is the blessing–the Good News. But I confess that I am troubled by something. There is a risk inherent in the message of Deuteronomy that can’t be ignored. Since we are required to engage critically with Moses’ message and its implications, that means we must acknowledge not only the blessing in the passage but the curse as well; and that is the bright line separation that I referred to earlier between the People who believe in the One God and those who don’t – us and them.

But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish…

As many of us discovered in our reading of The Story last year, the commandment to worship only the One God and to shun the worship of idols resulted in, to put it mildly, violent confrontations between the People of Israel and, well, everyone else. How do we reconcile this with a God who loved all of Creation into being and called it Very Good? Who commanded His People to care for widow and orphan and to welcome the stranger? Whose chief commandments are to Love God and Love Neighbor, and who called His people again, and again to return and never gave up on us?

We are left to struggle with how to reconcile competing messages from the Deuteronomist. Fortunately, a life of faith is defined by questions and wrestling, often leaving us with more questions than answers. Here we wrestle with our belief in a Trinitarian God–Father, Son, Spirit– that is defined as diversity in relationship; that Trinitarian God having created a world in his image, a world that reflects that image by teeming with diversity. Deuteronomy’s message of faithfulness to that God goes head to head with the writer’s own tendency to Other, that is, to pervert the blessing of diversity by equating difference with inferiority, even evil.

A critical reading of Deuteronomy, then, invites us to consider that God’s command to exclusive faithfulness carried with it negative consequences that were born of the human tendency to Other; that is to see the world from a fearful dualistic (us vs. them) perspective. Having written in an era when the consequences of the Peoples’ lack of faithfulness resulted in destruction and exile, it is perhaps not surprising that the Deuteronomist felt the need to pin blame on idol worship—on Others.

Ironically the Christian household has done its own version of othering by saying that Jesus’ objective in the Sermon on the Mount was to correct a flawed Commandment. This perspective risks opposing Christians and Jews by implying that the Gospel somehow invalidates the Hebrew Scriptures. This does our rich Jewish foundation a grave disservice. In last week’s readings, Jesus said that the Commandment isn’t the problem—it’s the execution that’s the problem. Using vivid and admittedly provoking images, Jesus calls his disciples to listen more deeply to the commandments, not to disregard them; to recover the life-giving roots of God’s call to his people—a call that asks us not to Other one another but to use our hearts as well as our minds to discern God’s vision for us. Jesus is in effect validating the open-ended nature of the Deuteronomic covenant, saying that every day we are called to choose to cross the threshold toward the Way of compassion and reconciliation. And when we choose that way—the way of blessing and not of Othering, we do our part to help realize God’s Dream.

Beginning on Tuesday in our Atrium you will see an example of what this can look like. We have an interactive exhibit created by a South Providence organization called Youth in Action. In their own words, “YIA envisions a world where young people are at the forefront of positive social change and believes that with their natural ability to innovate, capacity to lead, and desire for positive change, that world is possible.” In a time when youth are often Othered– denigrated as naïve, lazy, narcissistic, frivolous, or disrespectful of authority, this is a group of young people that has chosen to counteract that narrative; to be a blessing to each other and to the community through their leadership, their stories, and their belief in a better world. I encourage you to spend time engaging with their work.

I will leave you with a story of another group faced with a choice of blessing or curse: A young lawyer got on the subway in Manhattan recently and was dismayed to see that Swastikas and anti-Semitic insults had been drawn with Sharpie on every advertisement and every window of the car. His fellow passengers were just staring at each other uncomfortably, unsure how to respond.

Then somebody stood up, pulled some tissues out of his pocket, and said, “Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.” Immediately people all around the car reached into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and hand sanitizer, and in very short order all the hateful words and symbols were gone.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

We stand on the threshold of the Kingdom, not just as individuals but as a society. History has shown that we tend to take two steps forward and one step back. And sadly sometimes the other way around. But we have been assured from the beginning and in the fullness of time through Jesus Christ that God’s mercy is bountiful and the invitation to faithfulness stands firm. The door to life and blessing remains open.

Take a look




















Rule of Law and Life of the Spirit

We are always looking for the limit of our responsibility, the point beyond which we are no longer required to respond, the point at which we can rest easy acquitted from further claims being made on us. I remember as a first-year law student, my Legal Systems tutor telling us that the key quality of a well-drafted law lies not in the responsibilities it lays upon us but in the protection, it affords by delineating clearly the limits of its application. This makes the rule of law clear and predictable. But when applied to our spiritual life this approach encourages something called legalism. Legalism, sticking to the letter of the law impoverishes us in the spiritual life.

This goes to the heart of what Jesus is saying in the Gospel for this Sunday in Matthew 5:21-37  I hope you might follow this link to refresh your reading of this passage before going further. This passage is from Jesus’ teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. Here he appears to extend the application of the commandments of old relating to murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths. Extending the application of the commandments to judge not only our actions but our secret intentions as well, how will any of us reach the bar he appears to set?

Jesus confronts the legalistic approach to the commandments of old, which many in his time had confined to the strict letter interpretation according to which virtuous action was simply refraining from: killing, committing adultery, treating one’s wife as a chattel to dispose of at will, and appealing to an idol instead of to one’s personal honesty and integrity as the guarantor of one’s trustworthiness.

Jesus’ uses hyperbole –obvious intentional exaggeration, not to raise the bar to an unreachable level but to show us what living law looks like when compared with a legalistic approach. Legalism, i.e. dead letter interpretation turns the commandments into relational barriers, i.e. I am obligated to do only this much, or go this far in my dealings with others. Instead, Jesus is concerned with spiritual law as an agent for transformation and expands the notion of virtuous action to include our intentions. We are not transformed simply by refraining from doing harm. We are transformed only when we struggle with our rage, desire, greed, and our tendency to treat others as mere objects to be manipulated to fulfill our own needs.

It’s not whether we achieve the goal that matters. It’s whether we struggle with the baseline intentions that impoverish our relationships. Through the grace-filled transformation of our base intentions, we collaborate in God’s vision of what it means to live relationally and thus to experience life in all its fullness. Jesus’ approach to Scripture is to transform it from a noun to a verb. Scripture, something static becomes scripturing  – something alive and dynamic and ever changing; capable of guiding us in the present context of the lives we live. Only in this way can the commandments of old continue to guide understanding and action in each new generation.

Preserving Salinity


Stories shape identity. We come to know ourselves through the stories we build to explain our lives to others and ourselves. Each of our life stories comes in multiple versions, for as anyone who has attempted an autobiography will discover the way we currently construct our story is not the only way we can tell it. Each version depends on what is remembered and what is forgotten, what is included and what is left out.

Our identity is also shaped by the external stories of our ethnic, racial, and cultural identity histories. These lay claim to us. For instance, our culture has a powerful secular materialist story that has the most powerful claim over us. This is the story of the autonomous individual imbued by nature with gifts of intelligence and guile, who by the sweat of his or her own brow carves out a life of self-sufficiency and material success. Modern materialist culture assumes that to be successful all we need is the determination to be self-made people. Note how social capital (societal infrastructure) is normally left out of such a story.

All of this raises questions:

  • Who do we tell ourselves we are?
  • Given that each of has more than one way of telling our story, which is the principal story that lays claim to us?

A short chemistry lesson

images-1Salt can’t lose its salinity unless the chemical bond between sodium and chlorine is broken. As one of the most stable of compounds, only an electric charge is able to loosen the NaCl molecule. Thus when salt is dissolved in water it enjoys a greater volume as it is released from crystal form, but it remains essentially salt in all its savory-ness.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ tell his disciples: you are the salt of the earth. Describing someone as the salt of the earth creates an identity. This person is wholesome, true, and above all else effective and fruitful.

More troubling are Jesus’ words: but if salt loses its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything and is thrown out and trampled under foot. Does Jesus not understand that salt can’t lose its savor?

Jesus would have observed how salt was collected from saltpans. When dried out the substance in which the salt was embedded still contains a lot of impurities. While salt as sodium chloride can’t be dissolved away it can be leached out. Heavy rain would leach the sodium chloride out of surface layers of the saltpans leaving the residue of impurities that are essentially tasteless. Like fine sand, it was good only as material to loosely gravel a pathway where it would be trampled underfoot.images

Jesus has a habit of taking ordinary things to create stories of the spiritual life. So he takes salt – something crucially important in everyday life as a savory for food, a preservative of meat, a fixing for dying cloth, as a staple commodity in commercial transaction – Roman soldiers were often paid in salt in lieu of coin. The leaching of salt from the surface of the saltpan becomes an evocative metaphor for a loss of spiritual fruitfulness. While still looking like salt, without taste the residue is good for nothing. In terms of human behavior, it’s not difficult to see where Jesus is going with this.

Identity revisited

Through our stories, we identify ourselves. Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth. Maybe we can’t lose our saltiness but like the saltpans after heavy rain, our saltiness can be leached out of us – diluted by the prevailing personal and cultural stories that claim us.

Many of us espouse storylines that promote independence and self-sufficiency as a primary value shaping our view of ourselves and of others. Most of us easily fall under the spell of storylines that shape our view of the world as a place of competitive scarcity. As a nation, we increasingly give allegiance to the storylines that make us fearful of the stranger and thereby more tolerant of simple, authoritarian solutions to complex multilayered problems. Many of us now seem to believe that the story of commercial business success and its competitive values of the unfettered self-interest are the primary attributes for good government. When we place ourselves at the center of our stories we easily forget that means justify ends not ends justify means, forgetting that justice cannot be achieved through oppressive measures.

Saltiness in action

If the gospel story has a claim on us what kind of transformation does it open us to? Isaiah 58 offers some guidance on what preserved saltiness in action looks like.Isaiah confronts the people of Israel’s collective image of themselves as faithful in worshiping God. They believe they are faithful. They complain that God does not see of their faithfulness, nor note their scrupulous observances. God retorts: Look, you can bow your head like a bulrush and lie in sackcloth and ashes all you want but you serve your own interest on the fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. In other words, ritual observances without the saltiness of social action will not attract God’s attention. Israel’s true worship has become diluted by self-interest.

Further Reflections

Competing storylines, each laying claim over us, like the spring rains upon the saltpans dilute our saltiness, washing away the effectiveness of the gospel message, the good news story that opens us to a larger, deeper and clearer vision of our role in society.

Isaiah declares God’s call to fight injustice. Isaiah understands injustice to be a systemic evil that privileges:

  • the few over the many,
  • the rich over the poor,
  • the advantaged over the disadvantaged,
  • the insider over the outsider.

Religious observance without the saltiness of a social conscience is self-serving and connives with oppression.

Undoubtedly the gospel is a hard message to follow because it confronts us again and again with our own easy conformity to storylines that insulate us to the social evil in which our blindness makes us complicit. The gospel challenges us to understand that our own self-interests are best served when we are concerned for the interests of others.

In this highly complex world of ours, each of us feels powerless to effect change beyond traditional personal acts of charity. To use the biblical metaphor, individually we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger. Yet until we ask why the hungry have no food and the naked are unclothed, why the stranger is forced to leave her home, we change little. Hélder Câmara, who as archbishop of Recefe from 1964 – 1985 opined: When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.

Note, it is to a whole people Isaiah speaks. Jesus speaks to the community of his disciples. The you addressed by both Isaiah and Jesus is the collective you. Worship is always communal. Worship bears fruit in communal action. In worship, God addresses us as a community so that community becomes the vehicle for saltiness in action. Communal action is always social in nature.

Jesus said you are the salt of the earth but beware of losing your savor. To preserve our saltiness from personal and cultural dilution we must first get our storylines straight and recognize that if we are followers of Jesus, the primary storyline that has a claim on us is the storyline of the gospel, the good news; this good news story calls us to


think global and to act local.

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