That Old Flame

A SERMON ON THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EPIPHANY
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 under foot. “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.

Children’s Time: Have you seen any Canadian Geese yet? Soon you’ll be seeing a lot more of those geese around here. I learned this week, that Canadian Geese lose their feathers in the Spring. And it happens just after their young hatch. So, at the moment the mother is needed most, she is bound to the land just as her goslings are. At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’ coming as a human being, to stay with us until we’re ready to fly. Bring down the eternal flame… why do we have this here in worship. It’s always lit and it’s always burning to remind us that God is always with us. What a comfort to know that God is with us every day. That’s a reason to let our lights shine!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I expected to see a lot of green and gold today. Showing your team spirit on Super Bowl Sunday is a family tradition in many homes, although in my home, we wore purple to show our team spirit. I’ve been told that I’m the first pastor, in a long line of spiritual leaders at Holy Cross, who hasn’t been a Packer fan. What can I say? It’s hard to get into the spirit when my team went from “first-to-worst” all in one season! So, yes, I’ll root for the Pack today. They’ve come a long way this season, and it should be a good game (plus, I like the Steelers even less!).

So, how do you “show your colors” as a person of faith? If there’s one thing we can all agree on is that we share the same “team spirit” of God! As St. Paul writes (with a little help from me): “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, Vikings nor Packers! You are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The difference between the Super Bowl and church is that you’re a spectator for one game – and for the other, you’re on the team! This is what letting your light so shine before others is all about. It’s about kindling a flame of love in the hearts of others just by being you. We’re told from a young age that it takes something special to do that – a certain charisma – to move the hearts of others… A certain charm or elegance is required – going to seminary – being a good public speaker. Well, that’s just not me… So we ease back in our chairs to listen to the sermon and play “armchair quarterback” with our faith.

But no one sits on the bench in Jesus’ team. Everyone has a light to shine and a role to play. Paul warned the Corinthians about this when he said:
“I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”

Somewhere along the way, we were taught that we didn’t have what it takes to follow Jesus. …when all it takes is just dropping whatever was keeping you from shining in the first place. That light was there all along. Every week when you go out the door you bring that “team spirit” with you!

Anthony de Mello, who was a Jesuit priest and mystic, once told the story about a guy who invented fire. As soon as invents the art of making fire it he takes it to the village in the mountain and teaches them… to use it for cooking and for keeping warm… they were so grateful, but before they could thank him he disappeared… He went to another tribe… and did the same there – taught them how to make fire. The people were very enthusiastic… but the priests were threatened by his popularity… so they poisoned him. The villagers were suspicious of it… so they made a portrait of the man and placed it on an altar and required them to venerate the great inventor fire, and the tools for making fire… the worship went on decade after decade, century after century… but there was no fire. De Mello concludes: You want to know what prayer is? Fire! Whatever brings the fire – that’s prayer. (I wrote a song about this and played it in worship Sunday with the band – see below)

For us, what brings the fire is our namesake: the holy cross. The instrument of death inflicted upon Jesus, for the sake of the whole world. “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”

The fire is within us by virtue of our baptism. The fire is within us through this simple meal of bread and wine.

It is our duty and our delight to share that with others! So stand up! And let it shine!

I love the story Corey Booker (mayor of Newark, NJ) told at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast last month. He recalls his elementary school teacher trying to motivate her students one day by saying, “Alright, stand up if you’re stupid!” And after a long pause, one boy in the back stood up. “Boy, are you stupid?” the teacher asked. “No, I just didn’t want you to be standing alone.”

How are you going to shine your light unless you start from within yourself? We often make excuses that we can’t change so-and-so… and that’s well and good… but that’s not what we’re called to do… “They” are not the problem. We’re called to start with ourselves. It’s the silence and the inaction of the good people that keep tucking that light under a bushel basket.

Booker concludes: “The world you see outside is a reflection of what’s inside of you.” In other words, if you see only a world going to pot, that’s a reflection of what’s inside. But if you look and see God… then your light is shining bright.

Thanks be to God for the light inside us – for losing her feathers while we learn to fly – for shining through us the light of Christ for all the world to see.

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit. Come with fire and with joy. Kindle that light within that we may shine for all to see and find their way back to you. Amen.

OLD FLAME by John Stiles (click here to listen)

There was a man who no one noticed
Until they saw what he could do
He gave them fire, warm and lovely
And placed a flame inside each one of you…

The people didn’t know if they could trust him
The leaders said he had to go away
They poisoned him and made it look like justice
And built a shrine to worship him that day…

As the years went by the fire went away
Even though they knelt and bowed their heads to pray
And they wonder why they’re lonely every day
Come on bring that fire, Lord we pray…

(instrumental)

As I look into my heart I know it’s true
There’s a fire waiting just for me and you…

So give me something to believe in
A little light to show the way
I’ll pack it up here in this suitcase
I’ll open up and share it, that old flame…

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3 Comments on “That Old Flame”

  1. Joseph Fromm Says:

    Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a “disciple.” But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. The only difference from other men is that Jesus is “awake” and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God. In addition, the author’s statements on the final destiny of man give rise to perplexity. At one point, he speaks of a “dissolving” into the impersonal God, as salt dissolves in water. On various occasions, the question of destiny after death is declared to be irrelevant; only the present life should be of interest. With respect to this life, since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality. Good and evil are simply mental evaluations imposed upon reality.

    Consistent with what has been presented, one can understand how, according to the author, any belief or profession of faith whether in God or in Christ cannot but impede one’s personal access to truth. The Church, making the word of God in Holy Scripture into an idol, has ended up banishing God from the temple. She has consequently lost the authority to teach in the name of Christ.

    With the present Notification, in order to protect the good of the Christian faithful, this Congregation declares that the above-mentioned positions are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.

    The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Notification, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.

    Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 1998, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.

    + Joseph Card. Ratzinger

    Prefect

    http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2011/01/18/should-i-read-books-by-fr-anthony-demello-sj

    Like

    • bluejeremiah Says:

      Thank you for this clarification on de Mello’s writings. I found this link also helpful, which includes the following disclaimer from the Catholic Church, once the ban on his writings were lifted:

      “The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”
      http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2065/is_2_51/ai_56063940/

      Like

  2. bluejeremiah Says:

    …just to recap my take on this: If you’re looking for orthodoxy, don’t start with de Mello. But, if it’s fire you desire…

    Like


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