I finally went to see the movie “Hidden Figures” on my day off last week. It tells the story of thirty black women, who, in the 1960’s worked for NASA as mathematicians. They were called “computers” because they calculated the trajectory of space flights beginning with John Glen’s first flight into space to the landing on the moon and the space shuttle. These women worked behind the scenes but were absolutely essential to the program. The movie focuses primarily on three of the women: Katharine Johnson who calculated the space flights, Dorothy Vaughn who was the first black female supervisor in NASA and she hired and trained other black women to be computer programers, and Mary Jackson who became the first black female engineer in NASA. The story describes the challenges these women faced from outright racism and sexism, which they met with tenacity and grit and perseverance and confidence in their worth and value. During the day they worked hard to overcome near impossible obstacles. On the weekends and evenings the movie portrayed them as fun loving, respectable, church going, family women who danced, and sang, and hugged their children. The movie is a snapshot into a whole community of black people supporting one another with joy and faith through the challenges of maintaining their integrity even as the world tried to suppress and oppress them.
Our readings this morning from Isaiah and Matthew describe the life of faith, of discipleship, of a people called to live God calls them too.
In the Isaiah reading the people are not living as God desires. Their faith is superficial, their piety lacks substance. They are going through the motions doing what they think will please God but they are doing it without introspection and thus their actions are meaningless. Isaiah calls them to look deeply at their lives, to take an honest look at them selves. True fasting, he says, is never done to meet one’s own purposes, but rather to connect one’s actions with the deeper desire of God. For example, fasting is not always the absence of food, it may be the forgoing of ego and selfish desires in order to make room for God’s desires to fill one up. Instead of fasting, God calls these Israelites to feed the hungry and cloth the naked, to live an active life of faith.
In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul is saying something similar. Paul calls these people out on their fake piety. He strongly reminds them that when they set aside their egos and open themselves to God, the Holy Spirit enters into them. Paul says when the Holy Spirit moves into one’s being, then one “will have the mind of Christ.” This is what happens when one sincerely and honestly looks at one’s words and actions and makes the effort to change from self-focused to God-focused. It is realized when one takes on the challenge of respecting the dignity of every human being.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is teaching his disciples about their role in bringing forth God’s kingdom. True to form Jesus uses food to make his point, speaking about the importance of salt to bring out the full flavor. Be salt, Jesus tells the disciples, (and therefore he’s telling us, too). Be salt, be the ingredient that brings out the fullness of God in the world. Be the seasoning that enriches the flavor of life. Be salt.
Then Jesus uses his second favorite image, light. Be light, he says. Be the light that is born in the darkness to lead the way through. Be light, shine forth, be the beacon that lights the way to true life.
The point of all of our readings today might be summarized in this quote from the Archbishop William Temple, “The Church is the only organization that exists for those who are not its members.” In other words, as disciples, and as a church community, we are not here for ourselves, we are here to do God’s work in the world. We come here, like the people in Isaiah, to practice our faith in order to have an authentic understanding of who we are and what we are to be about. These practices of worship are intended to open one up and instill in one the mind of God, and then to send one out into the world to be the salt, to be the ingredient that transforms a bland reality into its fullness of life.
In an era when anxiety and uncertainty are prevalent, I am tempted to hunker down and withdraw, to just wait it out and hope for the best. I feel a strong urge to just look the other way, losing myself in knitting, or preparing for the birth of my grand daughter, or some other activity that distracts me from life. However, if I am to be the person God is calling me to be, if I am to live fully, if I am to continue to build the kind of world I hope for for my grandchildren, the kind of world that I think God desires, then I need to be engaged in the world as it is in order to work to transform it. I need to be willing to do the hard work of introspection, to examine myself, my words and my actions, and consider how I might live more fully in and through God’s desires. How can I avoid the temptation to shame, name call, or blame others? How can I focus on myself and try to be the best version of myself that I can? How salty can I be?
At Christ Church our mission, our call from God, our discipleship, is to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. It’s a call grounded in scripture, sustained by our baptismal covenant, and one that is authentic to who we are. One might say that by living into this mission we are being salty, flavoring the world around us with love and compassion.
a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 5A: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20