Text of the sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 5, 2017) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Did you know that you are made of glass? It’s true! Now, of course, I don’t mean that you’re made of glass in the idiomatic way; it’s not that you’re easily offended or that your baseball career was cut short because you have a “glass arm.” Nor do I mean made from actual glass that once was sand.
Those caveats aside, you and I are made of glass. God spun the molten glass onto that hollow rod and blew, shaped, and molded each of us into being. If somehow you were to scour clean all the layers of accumulated grime — all our misplaced priorities, all our missed chances, all our grubbing and selfishness — then you would uncover God’s glass. Indeed, each of us is transparent beneath the grime of everything that separates us from God (which, by the way, is another way to “sin”.
With God’s help, we can scour clean some of that grime to come closer to being the transparent people God always envisioned, people who are windows through which the light of God shines. First, we need to celebrate the beautiful truth that we are, in fact, God’s glass; that we are, in fact, the vessels of God’s light that have been mentioned in previous weeks. We are, in fact, the light of the world, as Jesus claims in today’s Gospel reading.
Second, we acknowledge that our glass is covered in grime. It has lost much of its transparency. The light is shining, but the window is obstructed. We cause some of this grime through our actions and inactions. Some of the grime accumulates simply because we are mindlessly complicit in the big and little sins of the world. The rest happens due to apathy, lethargy, and complacency; we haven’t cleaned in a while, so the window gets dirty.
So first we celebrate that we are God’s glass and then we confess that we do not emit nearly as much light as we are designed to do. Third, we participate with God in the act of scouring. This calls for attention, dedication, and practice — not to mention elbow grease. But I assure you there is no greater goal in this life than to be a window through which God’s glory shines. Truth, reconciliation, love, blessing — all the good things in this life and the next spring from this goal.
The prophet Isaiah knew this. He saw in today’s first reading an accumulation of grime due to a willful misinterpretation of the meaning of fasting. First he accuses his generation of going through the motions of fasting — the outward appearance that seems all well and good but is really covering up the light. His accusation comes in the form of several rhetorical questions, for which the silent answer is a resounding “NO!”
“Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
Notice that this certainly sounds like a textbook fast. I’m sure people in Isaiah’s day felt like they were on the right track with such outward signs. But Isaiah sees this as more grime accumulating, rather than more light shining. A fast, he says, should be a way to uncover the window beneath the grime. A fast, he says should look like this:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…
When we participate with God in this kind of life — affirming service, the grime wipes away and the window is revealed again. And, as Isaiah’s next words say: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
We are God’s glass. We are covered with grime. But we have every opportunity to partner with God to scour away the grime and shine as God always intended us to do. There are three small examples of partnering with God that I want you to remember: being friendly in the grocery store line, standing up for a victim of bullying, and welcoming someone to church. Three small examples of partnering with God to shine as light in this dark world.
Let’s look at them and give them a little more weight. The first was: “In the line at the grocery store, you choose to not be annoyed that the person ahead of you is taking too long.” It’s really just a minor inconvenience after all. Most of the things that send us towards negativity and broken relationships start as minor inconveniences. But by choosing not to be annoyed, by choosing instead to shine with God’s light and let the oh-so-tempting anger pass, we can allow God to turn inconvenience into blessing.
The second has happened every year since the invention of P.E.: “In gym class when you stand up for the kid who’s being laughed at because he can’t climb the rope.” Is this not a child’s first attempt at standing against oppression and injustice? Is this not an elementary school version of Isaiah’s true fast?
And the third, appropriate for this morning: “At church when you see a new face in your pew and you exchange a kind word of welcome.” I can’t think of a better way to be a window of God’s light than to cultivate a welcoming spirit, both here in the safety of our church home and out in the wilds of the world.
Turning inconvenience into blessing. Standing against oppression and injustice. Cultivating a welcoming spirit. These are merely three ways that we partner with God in scouring away the accumulated grime that keeps us from shining. And in so doing we help God’s kingdom shine even brighter here on earth. We can accomplish each of these ways and so many, many more in the small actions of the day and in the big events of our lives if we apply our attention, dedication, and elbow grease to the practice of being God’s glass.
So celebrate that we are, each of us, windows that God has designed to shine God’s light through. Confess that we do not emit nearly as much light as we are designed to do. And participate with God in the act of scouring, in the daily call to return to transparency. “Then,” as the prophet Isaiah says, “your light shall break forth like the dawn.”