Screen Time Gospel

Epiphany 5

Year A
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

I don’t like doom and gloom… or fire and brimstone… and some of you may not know that I grew up… believing that TV evangelists like John Hagee… and Jerry Falwell… and now Franklin Graham… represented all of Christendom… but I’ve come to resonate so much more with the idea of Original Blessing… than with the idea of Original Sin… so much more with light than with darkness… so much more with faith than with doubt… so much more with order than with chaos… but we find ourselves in the midst of some chaos at this time in our nation… don’t we…

There are choices we make… and there are consequences to those choices… to the physical… emotional… and spiritual choices we make… both individually… and corporately… and let’s remember that God held Israel as a nation… much more accountable for its corporate behavior… than for its individuals’ behavior… and it seems to me… that the corporate choices we make… like whether we hold our leaders accountable or not… matter much more to God… than do our minor… moral foibles… like ripping up a speech as soon as it’s over…

There are consequences to the physical things we do… like running a stop sign and t-boning another car… to the emotional things we do… like using other people as emotional washing machines so we can feel better about ourselves… and to the spiritual things we do… like seeing what we want to see… and hearing what we want to hear… and choosing not to be salt and light…

And I have to say… what’s going on… reminds me yet again… of the passage in Matthew 16… when Jesus questions the Pharisees and Sadducees about how it is… that they know how to interpret the appearance of the sky… but cannot interpret the signs of the times… and I wonder if… like Jonah… we too have been consumed by that which keeps us from seeing what’s going on around us… and behaving righteously…

Verse 2 of today’s reading from Isaiah… clarifies for us… that what’s righteous is what’s good for the community… again… it says… day after day they seek me… and delight to know my ways… as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness… and did not forsake the commands of their God

Even in Ch. 1 of Isaiah… the prophet spoke God’s words when he wrote… I have had enough of burnt offerings… incense is an abomination to me… my soul hates your appointed festivals… they have become a burden to me… when you stretch out your hands… I will hide my eyes… when you make prayers… I will not listen… remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes… and learn to do good… seek justice… rescue the oppressed… defend the orphan… plead for the widow

John Shea writes… when we fail to do these things… we are lost potential… gifts that may not be developed… a high calling that may not be heeded… when this happens… people lose their flavor… because when Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth… he is not talking about the kitchen salt shaker… he is talking about our potential to add flavor to the world…

And Jesus adds… Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets… I have not come to abolish… but to fulfill… a few days ago… The Rev. Diane Stier shared an insight that I think can help us understand what Jesus meant…

When most children learn to color… they use coloring books… and they learn to stay within the lines… it’s a type of formation… that contains within it… the possibility of drawing outside of those lines… because once they become artists… once they learn the subtleties of light and shadow… and different color pallets and media… when they learn how to delicately use the single hair… of a sable-hair brush… they no longer need the lines to guide them…

And after Diane said this… someone else chimed in… and when we learn how to cook… we follow recipes… and we learn to measure ingredients… and to time things carefully… but once we become chefs… once we become familiar with dry and liquid ingredients… with how they combine and interact with each other… and how to use herbs and spices… we no longer need to follow recipes to the tee… but can improvise…

The Law is like that… it is the paidagógos… the guide… who keeps us in line until we can keep ourselves in line… as we come into increasing awareness of the Mind of Christ… and then we can improvise… color outside the lines… try new food combinations… but always remain guided by the basics… the underlying principles and eternal truths… that would make it impossible for us to riff in ways… that would invoke the art critic’s… or the food critic’s… or the Prophets’ ire…

On nights when there’s a full moon… what we’re actually seeing is sunlight reflected off of the moon… in John 8:12 Jesus declares… I am the light of the world… in today’s Gospel… Jesus says that we are the light of the world… because we are light reflected off of Jesus… because the light of our good works gives others light by which to be guided… the light of our good works will draw others who will see in them… not the goodness of the human actors themselves… but the reflection of the Divine source… so we are salt and light because God… whose children we are… is committed to making the earth and creation… something new… and last weekend… Two Churches and Holy Trinity contributed a small part to this righteousness… when this salt and light reflected off our collective conscience… and we made note of the 4,278 cans (and units) of soup… collected for the hungry…

Now my iPhone has an app called Screen Time… which is like an electronic conscience… it records how much time I spend online… records how much time I spend in every single app… it calculates daily and weekly averages… and shows the percentage of time this week compared to last week… it shows how many times I picked my phone up… and on which day I picked it up the most… it even lets me set limits for myself… like coloring book lines… app by app… or by total use…

I wonder how it would be if we had an app… that told us how many times we fed the hungry… or clothed the naked… or healed the sick… or welcomed the marginalized… an app that helps us eliminate partisan labels… an app that helped us be more nuanced in our discernment… so that the only label we needed to use… the only litmus test we needed to apply… for every practice… or policy decision… or law… was whether it embodied righteousness for all people… and strove for justice and peace… and respected everyone’s dignity… but mostly… whether it fundamentally reflected the Gospel… whether it reflected the prophets’ hearts… and God’s love…

After all… when we gather at this altar rail… we are not exactly the same… when we gather at this altar rail… we are not of one mind about every issue… but when the light of Christ… in the form of bread and wine… moves down into the darkness of our bodies… we are transformed and made new… and God is at work… simultaneously directing this process from within us… and at the same time… drawing all of us towards divinity… and the final fulfillment of God’s plan for all of creation…

Because I can tell you… electing either a Republican… or a Democrat in November… will not save us… Jesus has already done that…

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family, and who believes that diversity was never intended to be divisive. He serves as the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan and the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, and on the ELCA's North/West Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, "Open Hearts, Open Church."