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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources 

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany Year A, Colour = White


Introduction

On this particular day in the church calendar, we stand at the end of one season and on the threshold of another. We’re finishing up Epiphany, a special time when we have thought about the light of Christ shining out in the world.

We are marching towards Lent and on March 1 Ash Wednesday, we will begin a new season of Lent. Lent is a time when the word "repentance" takes centre stage, when we examine our own lives in the light of Christ, when we allow his light to shine within us. The liturgical colour will change to purple, the colour of repentance, for Lent is the time when we examine and seek to change.

Now, there are places over which we don’t want this light to shine, places we don’t wish to have lit up so brightly. Darkness covers many sins, after all, many failings. And, maybe, we’d prefer the dark to the light - if we’re honest with ourselves. But that is what Lent and repentance is all about, recognising where we need to change.

First we saw the light of Christ at Epiphany, now our light needs to shine within, and then we can shine outwards.

Opening Verse of Scripture

Psalm 118:19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Loving God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you: help us so to know you, that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may truly serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship

God our Father, whose Word has come among us: may the light of faith, kindled in our hearts, shine in our words and deeds; through him who is Christ the Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Methodist Worship

Almighty God, by whose grace alone we are accepted and called to your service: strengthen us by your Holy Spirit and make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Common Worship

God of our salvation, help us to turn away from those habits which harm our bodies and poison our minds and to choose again your gift of life, revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Common Worship Additional Collect

 

First Bible Reading Isaiah 58:1-9 (9b-12) 

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Second Reading  1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him” –

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Gospel Reading Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Post Communion Prayer

God of truth, we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands the bread of life: strengthen our faith that we may grow in love for you and for each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

Listen to any news broadcast and you will immediately be aware that the world is an uncomfortable place at the moment, division is evident all over the world. Violence and unrest have become the norm and science and technology are being used increasingly for the wrong purposes, whether this is for creating bigger and more powerful weapons or to infect our communications with fake news and viruses. This is a really important moment when we need God’s people to be an influence in the world. Today Jesus words remind Christians that they are salt and light in our society, they are there to make a positive difference. Jesus draws three metaphors from daily life to describe the role of his disciples. salt, a lamp and a city. Like salt, the disciples are to add zest and flavour to life. Like a city, they are to be visible for others to see. Like a lamp, they are to enlighten others.

Jesus has a remarkable ability to take ordinary things from life and use them to illustrate deep spiritual truth. The point about these images is that all three stand out and all three make a difference. Christians are people who are there to change our society not just reflect it. So can you think in what ways your faith causes positive change around you? This is not a question which should discourage us, there will probably be lots of ways, that you might not even be aware of! In the midst of busy lives, looking after work, family and other responsibilities we might feel as though we can barely hold the everyday things of our own life together. If we are all running as fast as we can just to keep up, how can we be the salt and light that the world needs?

Be encouraged, Jesus tells his disciples that they are salt and light. They might not feel as though they are changing everything but they are all fingers that point to God. Salt is such a seemingly insignificant and tiny element but it is a good metaphor for the ordinary Christian. We may feel insignificant, but in the divine scheme of things, we have a part to play. Salt may not change or affect the whole world, but it certainly affects the smaller world with which it comes in contact. You may feel inadequate for the task, but so have all God's real leaders, from Moses to the Apostle Paul. Paul described himself to the Corinthians as "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling...." He most likely felt like a lot of us, quite intimidated by the responsibility of being an ambassador for Christ, but he was salt because he had working in him "a demonstration of Spirit and power"—the very power of God!

We all feel daunted by the task of being salt and light, but we must not worry that we won't measure up. All we are asked to do is to walk each day with Christ for it is not ourselves that we proclaim, it is Jesus that we take to our world. Charles Royden.

 

Meditation

We take salt for granted, yet miss it when it is not there. Yet too much salt can be harmful, so it must be used cautiously, it makes you stop and think how much to use, too little and it's bland, too much and its inedible!

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

Salt is often an unnoticed part of our language, with the phrase 'worth their salt' coming from a time when soldiers were paid in salt, which was then a valuable commodity, used for preserving foodstuffs as well as seasoning them.

Quotes on light are easy to find, here are just a few to guide your own thoughts;
Don’t curse the darkness — light a candle. Chinese proverb:
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” Anon
“Light, even though it passes through pollution, is not polluted. St. Augustine of Hippo
“When you walk towards the light, the shadow of your burden falls behind you.” Kahlil Gibran
“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle.” Anon

Hymns

  1. He who would valiant be
  2. Take my life and let it be
  3. Forth in they name O lord I go

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Lord Jesus Christ
You are the Light of the World:
Light up our lives when we are in darkness.

In the darkness of our uncertainty —
When we don’t know what to do, when decisions are hard to take:
Lord, give us light to guide us.

In the darkness of our anxiety -
When we are worried about what the future may bring,
When we don’t know where to turn:
Lord, give us the Light of Your Peace.

In the darkness of our despair —
When life seems empty, when we feel there is no point in going on:
Lord, give us the Light of Your Hope, In Your Name we ask it. Amen.
Jean Good


Thank you God
for those who shine like a light in our darkness
those who reveal the potential in each one of us
those who give us the courage and confidence to act for good.
Thank you God
for every glimmer of goodness,
for every rumour of righteousness,
for every breath of kindness,
for each incandescent glow of love in our world.
0 God, grant that as we reflect on the experiences that happen to us
your truth and your presence may illuminate our sorrows and our joys.
Let love’s unconquerable might unite all God's people in service to the Lord of light.

Lord Jesus:
You call us to be Salt and Light;
Salt in a world that is tilled with Your richness,
yet many lead insipid lives.
Light in a world that is aglow with Your brilliance,
yet people walk in shadows.

If we are able to be the salt of the earth,
help us to add flavour to the lives of others,
to sprinkle all that we do with Your love,
so that others may savour Your goodness.

If we are to be the Light of the World,
help us to walk in the brightness of Your footsteps,
to shine each day with just a little of Your radiance,
so that others may feel their darkness lifted.

When we feel insipid and lacklustre,
when Your call is too hard for us,
enrich us again with Your sweet taste,
set us on fire with Your Spirit,
so that we may be once more Salt and Light. Jean Hackett

 

Additional Resources

 

Commentary

On this particular day in the church calendar, we stand at the end of one season and on the threshold of another. We’re just finishing up Epiphany, a special time when we have thought about the light of Christ shining out in the world.

We are marching towards Lent, althought this year there is a much longer march than usual! On "Ash Wednesday," we will begin a new season of Lent. Lent is a time when the word "repentance" takes centre stage, when we examine our own lives in the light of Christ, when we allow his light to shine within us. The liturgical colour will change to purple, the colour of repentance, for Lent is the time when we examine and seek to change.

Now, there are places over which we don’t want this light to shine, places we don’t wish to have lit up so brightly. Darkness covers many sins, after all, many failings. And, maybe, we’d prefer the dark to the light - if we’re honest with ourselves. But that is what Lent and repentance is all about, recognising where we need to change.

First we saw the light of Christ at Epiphany, now our light needs to shine within, and then we can shine outwards.

So Jesus draws these three metaphors from daily life
1. “salt,”
2. “a lamp” and
3. “a city,”

to describe the role of his disciples.

  • Like salt, the disciples are to add zest and flavour to life.
  • Like a city, they are to be visible for others to see.
  • Like a lamp, they are to enlighten others.

All three metaphors, provide lessons on discipleship. Jesus used ordinary images to convey extraordinary things. Of course that is the secret of a good sermon! His ability to take ordinary things from life and use them to illustrate deep spiritual truth.

The point about them is that all three stand out and all three make a difference.

Some theologians have suggested that salt cannot lose its savor, but this is not true. Impure salt, dug from the deposits of the Dead Sea could lose its saltiness as the sodium chloride is dissolved or evaporated. Jesus is also using a play on the Aramaic words here, Tabel means salt and Tapel means foolish. The point Jesus is making is not about the chemistry of salt but rather using a play on words to show that is a disciple is not bearing witness appropriately in the world then they are worthless and migth as well be thrown out in the street, where they tended to throw their rubbish before there were bin collections !

The purpose of being a disciple is to bear witness in word and deed, just as obviously as the reason for a lamp is to give light. The disciples are to give light to the world, the entire world. Jesus uses the word Kosmos,which shows that he sees himself as being not just for Israel but for all nations, all people.

So go on, in what ways are you different because you are a Christian? How is your life different because of your Christian faith?

Christians we know believe certain things and that is really important. However we spend so much time fussing over the details of belief, rather than questioning what difference, if any, our belief makes. That is in itself interesting because most of the time people outside the church do not really bother about what we believe, thay are more interested in how we behave. So today Jesus asks us how our belief actually makes a difference.

As an example, what difference does it mean that to you that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Hopefully it will bring to you hope and perhaps even confidence, that Jesus can, out of the rubble of our lives, rebuild and remake us, for there is no power greater than his. So, how does your faith challenge you and move you to a different place. Are you changing your environment or just reflecting it ?

Jesus tells us that our task is to allow others to see, in the brightness of our lives our heavenly Father at work. It is to God, and not to ourselves that our lives must point.

So here you are you come to church with all of your worries and cares and the preacher says ‘its all down to you.’"you are the salt of the earth...light of the world." Now you are to be responsible for it all!? You are to stand out like a beacon for all to see, a shining example of model Christian behaviour. Most Christians can barely hold the everyday things in together. It would only take one thing to go awry in life and the delicate stack of cards that you balance each day comes tumbling down. We are all running as fast as we can just to keep up.

To keep our heads above water we come to church on Sunday looking for strength, solace, guidance and some spiritual charge that will enable us to roll up our sleeves, go back out there and face the daily grind. What do we hear in this hassled state today? Jesus says ‘You are salt of the earth...light of the world."

Sounds too big for me; more like a job for the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, another Mother Theresa or the Dali Lama -someone with clout and a big voice. Someone who speaks, or makes a visit to foreign lands and the world sits up to take notice.

But - Jesus challenges us to seriously consider our calling to the world. For better or worse, we have been chosen by God to address others with the message we have received. We may communicate the message with words, but as the ending of the passage suggests, we are also to do it by our good works. Our good deeds are to witness to what we believe. When people see them they are to be drawn to their source- our God. We disciples are, like it or not light of this world.

To put it another way, we are fingers that point to God. Our lives are to be such that when people see us they look to the direction we are pointing.

Even though many of us have been told to "watch our salt," nevertheless, salt, in moderation, is a very good thing. It makes food tasty. What's encouraging is that salt is such a seemingly insignificant and tiny element. It's a good metaphor for the ordinary Christian. We may feel insignificant, but in the divine scheme of things, we have a part to play. Salt may not change or affect the whole world, but it certainly affects the smaller world with which it comes in contact.

You may feel inadequate for the task, but so have all God’s real leaders, from Moses to the Apostle Paul. Paul described himself to the Corinthians as "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling...." Is the mighty and famous Paul being disingenuous, pretending such human feelings of inadequacy to attract attention or sympathy? I think not. He most likely felt like a lot of us, quite intimidated by the responsibility of being an ambassador for Christ. He must have felt quite naive as he went to the sophisticated Corinthians with the seeming improbable gospel message of Christ's resurrection. But he was salt because he had working in him "a demonstration of Spirit and power"-the very power of God!

With this power in him he was salt of the earth; before he became the famous Saint Paul, he was "weak and fragile." In fact, his writings reveal he continually felt that fragility, but continued, despite his limitations, to be salt- he sprinkled himself generously wherever he would find someone to listen or speak to or teach. Paul did a very basic thing: though he was fearful and trembling he simply spoke from his experience of God and trusted in the gift he had received.

We too have to be more than just fitting in with what is around us, we are supposed to make a difference as we act and speak. We are to be salt and light too. We are called not just to reflect society but to change it. If we simply absorb the prevailing attitudes around us, then we are like thermometers. Christians should not be simply indicators of what is happening around. Instead we are called to be like thermostats, we are supposed to be able to change the temperature of society, not just measure it.

Liberal optimism supposed that given the right conditions humankind could change itself. However, humankind is not evolving into a better species. Optimism has pervaded different generations, such as towards the end of the last century, you may know the words of Friedrich Nietzsce (1844-1900) who said

'The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.'

The same can be said for Dawkins more recently who has embarked on an aggressive crusade to rid the world of religion which he has described as 'impoverishing and limiting, not enriching'.

Liberal optimism supposed that given the right conditions humanity could become so much better. Yet education has not brought an end to violence, instead we build better weapons and devise more skilful means to kill. Human endeavour has manufactured machines that are capable of producing amazing results, yet we use them to make people redundant, poor and without dignity and jobs.

Jesus is clear that the world cannot simply be left to turn out right, it requires treatment. We are lights in this world in that we have the one true light. Humankind has searched for answers, which it is doomed never to find. And yet we have the one true light and it is our task to make Him known to others. There is a way to God and a very simple one. It is to know one person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, He is the Son of God and He came from heaven to earth to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to illuminate the darkness, to expose the cause of darkness and to make a new way of living.

If we feel daunted by the task of being salt and light. If we think that we won’t measure up, then fear not. For all we are really asked to do is to walk with Christ. It is not ourselves that we proclaim, it is Jesus that we take to our world.