INVITATION TO THE TABLE Friends from near and far, come to the table of Jesus Christ! You are all invited! Where is this table? Where can we find it? This table in the sanctuary points the way to Jesus, but the table in your heart is where you will meet him. So finding the table of Christ is really finding your own heart? Yes, the table in the sanctuary is set with bread and cup, but the table in your heart is set with your desire and with Jesus’ love. As we all share with one another at this table, you share with Jesus in the table of your heart. Amen.
CLEARING THE WAY The table is set, the food is ready. Are you ready? I wish I understood more fully. Sometimes the way ahead is shrouded by shadows. If only the way ahead was clearer! The light shines over this table, and Jesus’ light shines in your heart. The light is filled with beauty and joy, and Jesus offers it to you this morning. Come to the table! We welcome his light! Amen.
FORGIVENESS, HEALING & GRACE AT THE TABLE When we don’t understand, Jesus explains it. When we get lost, Jesus takes our hand. When we can’t see, Jesus lights the way. Amen!
SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 5:13-20
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“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.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
MESSAGE AT THE TABLE “The Lamp Stand” Rev. James Renfrew
There are at least a month’s worth of sermons in this short passage, about salt, about light, bushel baskets, lamp stands, a city on a hill, and about what it means to fulfill the Law.
What does it mean for Christians to be like the salt of the earth? Salt was a preservative that kept food from spoiling, especially before refrigeration was invented. Do we use salt to preserve food anymore? Not so much, but I can think of one example – pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved by salt. Too much salt is not good, vengeful armies used to salt the fields of their enemies so nothing would grow, and with hypertension my doctor tells me to limit my salt intake. What does Jesus mean by “salt of the earth”? I’ve heard the phase used to describe someone one who is genuine and down to earth. Maybe this is what matters in the invitation to communion, not people who are perfect, but who are genuine, people who are what they are, because that’s where Jesus begins.
And how about what Jesus says about the Law? Is he talking about New York State or federal laws? And that we should be law-abiding citizens? No, the Law he is referring to is the Law of Moses, the over six hundred rules and regulations attributed to God that we find in multiple books of the Old Testament, laws meant to define and shape the lives of the Jewish people long ago. Jesus was often accused of breaking these laws by his opponents, like healing the sick on the Sabbath day of rest, or overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. So what did he mean when he says he came to fulfill the Law? Can you fulfill the law by breaking it? When in students at my college held a sit-in at the main building, they were breaking the law. The reason they were sitting in was to pressure the college to reconsider a plan to demolish a beautiful old campus building. We broke the rules by not leaving the building as directed, but we served a greater rule by preserving that old building. I still have the protest sign that we displayed. And instead of tearing the building down, they improved it and it’s a beautiful building today that is the home to the Department of Philosophy and Religion, the department where I studied.
I could talk about “you are the light of the world”, and that would be a good topic during the church season of Epiphany, in which we are encouraged to see ourselves as the same light that shone in the star over Bethlehem, the same light that was in Jesus, the same light that gives hope to people in dark places all over the world.
I could also talk about the bushel basket that might cover that light, and how, without meaning to, we sometimes are like that bushel basket dimming the light of Christ. The last time I used this basket as a prop some of you experts informed me that this is not a bushel basket at all, but you get the point!
Instead, what I am going to talk about, is not the light, not the bushel basket, not the city on a hill, not the Law, not the salt, but the lamp stand.
A lamp stand may not be what you think it is. It’s not a table lamp or a long-necked lamp like you might have in your home. A lamp in Jesus’ time was an oil lamp with a wick set in the oil and maybe a small flame. What kind of oil? Maybe fish oil, I don’t know! To cast enough illumination, it needed to be placed on a high spot in the house. If placed low it would not give enough light.
A few minutes ago we installed a new team of church leaders, and all that we ask of you is to be the lamp stand upon which the light of Christ is lifted up. We give our church leaders many different tasks to complete, but the most important thing in all you do is to lift up the light. In you let other people see the light of Christ that surrounds you, that is in you, then you are leading the rest of us.
And , of course, it’s not just elders, deacons or trustees, it’s all of us. What can you do to lift up the light of Christ? What could you be doing that would inform the people around you that you are a person of Christian faith?
It’s not just for others, to be the lamp stand is also for ourselves, because we need better illumination to see our way forward, to find our way to the table and other places during dark times. It’s what God said at the dawn of Creation, and it’s what God says to you, to the world, today, “Let there be light!”.
SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Jesus said “I am the light of the world”. He also said, “you are the light of the world”. At the table we come to his light, at the table we are amazed to find the light in ourselves. At the table we share the light with each other and with the world around us.
The bread and the cup we share are instruments for sharing the light. The bread and the cup are the shining music that chase away the darkness. The bread and the cup are offered by Jesus Christ to you for the healing of the world.
It was a dark night when Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, but what they remembered and passed down to us over the centuries was not the darkness but the light of his love.
And so we pray for all of the places in our lives where more of his light is needed, the places in need of healing, the places in need of forgiveness, the places in need of justice, the places in need of peace, the places in need of hope.
In the bread and the cup, Jesus is not hesitant or stingy about what he offers us, he offers his love in abundance, he offers his love beyond measure, he offers enough to fill every dark corner of your life.
We don’t have to understand it all, we don’t need to prove our worth. That we have worries, and injuries, that we have hopes and dreams, is how he begins.