Set Upon a Hill, February 9

Set Upon a Hill

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; February 9, 2020


I confess that I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last week, though I trust many of you did.  I did, however, make sure that I watched the ads created the Super Bowl.  They’re always worth the watching.  Those thirty or sixty second shots are traditionally the most expensive advertising opportunities TV offers each year – because so many people will see them, including me, who won’t even watch the football game.


The one that especially caught my eye was an ad for New York Insurance Company.  The ad talked about love, saying that ancient Greek had four words for love:

Philia is the love of friends.  Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, named by William Penn, a Quaker, lover of peace, who knew his Greek.

Storge is the affection we feel for family members. 

Eros is romantic love, the love that gets all the attention later this week on Valentine’s Day.

And then there’s Agape.  New York Insurance claimed that agape is love in action.  The ad then declared that their insurance allows people to put their love in action, identifying agape with the security their company offers through purchased insurance policies.  It was a beautiful ad.  But it wasn’t the whole truth about love.


The ad caused much consternation among preachers and theologians.  C.S. Lewis, whom you may know as the creator of the world of Narnia, identified these four loves in the Greek of the New Testament, in his book, The Four Loves.  His understanding of agape, appreciated by many other Christian thinkers as well, is that it is not love that’s available for purchase. Agape is self-giving love, made most obvious in the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Free grace, not purchased insurance policies.  But theologians didn’t buy ad time for the Super Bowl, so New York Life has a leg up today on the public’s understanding of agape.


The words of Jesus we heard in today’s reading are his encouragement to the church to be an ad for the gospel, to embrace marketing.  You are salt, he said.  Get salty!  You are light, and light isn’t useful tucked away in a corner somewhere.  You light a lamp and put it on a stand, on a desk, to give light to the whole room.  You sang the song in Vacation Bible School, in Sunday School, and we still sing it today –

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!

Hide it under a bushel? No!  I’m going to let it shine!


But we often do hide our light in the church.  We’re in a different time now than those first hearers of this word were.  We live in a culture that thinks it’s already saturated with the message of Jesus Christ.  So we need only live the gospel among ourselves, because everyone already knows about the gospel, and if they want to be part of a church, they are.


Except almost none of that assumption is true.  First of all, many people do not, in fact, know the gospel story.  Some people haven’t heard of Jesus at all – Christmas is Santa, Easter is bunnies, and Jesus is someone that matters to people who hang out in oddly-shaped buildings.


Second of all, some people have heard the gospel as judgment and fear and have turned away to search elsewhere for love and joy.  I know we have friends who find meaning in the stars or in the power of rocks and the wisdom of trees.  I’m glad they’re looking for meaning, but somehow the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ hasn’t been communicated effectively.  We have a better story, a better and truer offer of what life is for.  Jesus offers us meaning and purpose and abundant life that will not end.  It’s all in love.  It’s what we bask in and what we do.  That agape love isn’t only for people who can afford insurance policies. It’s for the world, all of us, offered freely and graciously from God.  We know this.  We live it everyday, and we find our hope and our way of life in it.  But we don’t always let it show.  We are far too willing to hide our God’s love and grace in us under a bushel so it only illumines our own lives and not the lives of others.


A friend saw graffiti on a wall in Argentina.  It read “The church needs marketing.” There are those who feel such a thing is not sacred, not appropriate, but basically, the church engages in marketing regularly, pretty heavily.  Each of our churches has a Facebook page to communicate what’s going on in the church and to offer encouragement and love day by day.  Catskill UMC has a website, with information about the church’s calendar and pictures of what’s been going on, and weekly sermons for those who aren’t here on Sunday mornings.  The New York Conference has a carefully constructed logo, which incorporates the cities and the rivers and the mountains of our whole conference.  And the whole United Methodist Church has been marketing itself with recognizable logos and tag lines for years.


But the real marketing the church needs, the marketing plan that Jesus set before the crowds thousands of years ago, is you. You.  You are the light of the world.  When Jesus lives in your heart, you are the best advertisement the gospel can have.  Because you shine.  You shine with the love and grace of Jesus.  Together our shining selves are what will make people notice the gospel.  Let your light shine so that people will see your good work and give glory to God.  Our light could be shining brighter here in Palenville and Catskill.  I know that people don’t know there’s a church here, and they certainly don’t know why there’s a church here.  We tend to be quiet, reticent, unwilling to speak out about the amazing love of God that energizes our lives.  We know the gospel is good news.  We know, too, that our neighbors are often not open to hearing about our interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans, or even our best rendition of O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.  But most people are willing to be loved – to be listened to, to be cared for, to share stories over a cup of coffee downtown or talk about their dreams on a break from shoveling snow.  Letting the light of God’s love shine means putting effort into caring about people, especially people we don’t yet know.  How else will they see the love of God in action?  That’s what the best of marketing the church is about – loving one another and letting that love shine, set on a lampstand, so the whole community can see that we are Christ’s hands here in this place.  People of God, followers of Christ here in Catskill – let your light shine, so that people may see your good works, your love and care, and through you learn to see God and to know God’s grace.  Amen.


Isaiah 58:1-12

58Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet 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 ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.


5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?


6Is not 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? 7Is 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?

8Then 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. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.


If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.


12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.


Psalm 112

1Praise the Lord!

Happy are those who fear the Lord,

    who greatly delight in his commandments.

2Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

     the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3Wealth and riches are in their houses,

      and their righteousness endures forever.

4They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;

     they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

5It is well with those who deal generously and lend,

     who conduct their affairs with justice.

6For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

7They are not afraid of evil tidings;

     their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

8Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;

     in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

9They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; 

     their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.


First Corinthians 2:1-12

2When I came to you, brothers and sisters, 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. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.


Matthew 5:13-20

13“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. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For 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. 19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

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