On Jesus As Prophet

On Jesus As Prophet

On Jesus as Prophet
February 5, 2023
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Isaiah 58:9-12
“Isn’t 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, and to break every yoke? 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, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. a Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

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.”

Today’s sermon is titled, On Jesus as Prophet.

In the back of my car, I keep things for emergencies. In an old milk crate, you could find jumper cables, an ice scraper, a roll of paper towels, and a black leather bag that contains a bible, a reflective safety vest, a portable communion set and a black shirt with a white collar. If I go far from home, I throw a sleeping bag in there, just in case my car breaks down. Of all the things in the milk crate, it’s the black shirt with the white collar that I have used the most. I call it my “come-right-this-way” shirt because when I am wearing it, the world opens up before me. Doors to emergency rooms, in particular, open without question. No one asks me my name or my relationship to the patient; no one asks me anything, honestly. They most often say, “Come right this way.”

Sometimes, after I have made use of my come-right-this-way shirt I have had to stop at the grocers or run another errand. In such cases, I usually take off the white collar in order to avoid the extra attention. It can be very distracting, not for me, but for everyone else. The come-right-this-way shirt is a uniform, not unlike one that distinguishes a law enforcement officer, or a firefighter, a nurse or a doctor. People notice and most often they give deference with a smile or a nod of the head; other times I can clearly tell it makes some people nervous. More than once I have taken off the white collar right there in the store and slipped it in my purse. I just wanted to grab the milk and bread and get back to work, not be a walking reminder of when the last time was that someone went to confession.

Jesus of Nazareth had no such uniform. When he climbed up the hill and began to preach and teach, I imagine that, at a distance, he looked very much like everyone else gathered there on that hill. We can only imagine whether it was the words he was speaking or whether it was the way he was speaking those words, or both…something caught the minds and hearts of people who heard him.

In this moment on the hill, Jesus is a prophet in the fullest sense of the word. His words echo the same sentiment we heard from the beloved prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived 800 years before Jesus. Isaiah, along with Moses and Abraham, is among the most revered. (I don’t think Isaiah needed a come-right-this-way shirt.) In the passage we heard this morning, Isaiah is writing to a Jewish community that has recently returned from exile in Babylonia. Isaiah, like many prophets before and after, was seeking to impress upon the Jewish people that fasting and ritual were important but too many were observing the laws and rituals without fully living into the spirit of the law. Isaiah points to a different kind of fast, one that loosens the bonds of injustice, undoes the thongs of the yoke, and lets the oppressed go free. Isaiah gets very specific in how people should be living according to the law, saying, “Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin.” “Then,” he says, “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”

All too often, Christians claim that Jesus gave us the “golden rule” to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was taught this rule, as were many generations of Jews before him. The golden rule arose some 800 years before, from the time of Isaiah and the writing of the book of Leviticus where we find in chapter 18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

But Friends, can we love our neighbors if we, ourselves, are unloved? We are instructed “do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone.” But can we forgive if we are not forgiven? Can we seek peace if we are not at peace within?

Jesus was not only a prophet, Friends, he was a philosopher. He knew that at the beginning of his public ministry, he knew that what his people needed most of all and above all else was reassurance. Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with a blessing, the Beatitudes, we considered last week. Jesus blesses the people and assures them that even though they are oppressed and poor and in mourning, they are seen. They are acknowledged. They are worthy. “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world,” he says. It is music to their ears, I imagine.

Jesus is reminding them, and it comes as a reminder to us, too, that who we are and what we do matters. A little bit of salt goes a long way in bringing out other flavors. And the light from one candle flame can be seen from a mile and a half away. “Let your light shine,” Jesus says.

In closing, I leave you with this thought: we have been through a very intense few years, coping with a global pandemic and signs that we are still suffering are all around us. The increase in violence and intolerance are the symptoms. Now more than ever, we could use the blessing of a prophet. Now more than ever, we could use the reminder that we are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world. Now more than ever, it is important for us to remember our own worth, so we can see the worth in others…no exceptions.

Pastoral Prayer

God of all the seasons of our lives, I thank you for being with us in all we face. Help us to remember to look for the light of your guidance in every situation that challenges us. If we are in need of help, may we be just as gracious in our receiving as we are in our giving. In ways we seek healing, guide us to what heals; in ways we seek knowledge, guide us to sources of wisdom; in ways we seek meaning, guide us, Lord, to the people and the things that will bless us so that we, in turn may be a blessing to others. For our families, our town, our nation and all of humanity we pray for needs to be met, we pray for prosperity and we pray for peace. As we look to Christ for direction, may we remember the words of this prayer he gave us so long ago… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.

I leave you with the following words from Ephesians chapter 5: “Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and justice and truth.”