Today we are looking at the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 9, 2020. The readings assigned for this Sunday are Isaiah 58:1-12; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; and Matthew 5:13-20. There is a common theme that runs through all these readings, I think. The theme is, “Just get out there and do it!”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if 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. The 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.Isaiah 58:9b-11
If you do my work, God says, it will be accomplished, and you will receive guidance and fullness.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling…so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:1-3, 5
Paul knew that his efforts were weak and trembling, but he still followed through, because he trusted that God would use his weak efforts for something amazing. And, of course, they did.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? … You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid….let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.Matthew 5: 13-14, 16
Jesus tells his hearers that they are salt and light, and that salt and light are useless unless they are used. Just get out there, and be the salt of the earth! Be the light of the world!
What a message! You are important! You matter! You have gifts that need to be shared with the world! But people living with depression know better than that. They know that they are not useful, that they are weak, and broken, and that such words don’t apply to them. It’s just part of living with this disease. Some of us almost hear voices, voices that tell us, “Don’t listen to that garbage. You know that you are worthless. Don’t listen to the pastor today. She’s wrong. She doesn’t know you well enough. She doesn’t know that you’re the exception to this rule.”
So how do you reach out to them? It’s not easy; those dark voices can be very convincing, and they live with the person for quite a lot more time than ten or fifteen minutes once a week. But the trick might be to try to give them tools to talk back to the voices. Perhaps you could remind them that God has claimed them, yes, even them. That God’s voice is stronger even than the voices in their heads. Perhaps you could remind them that one way to lessen the effects of depression is to get out of their own heads, and be of service to others. It’s hard to focus so much on yourself when you are doing something for someone else, and sometimes it’s precisely that change of focus that can help. Studies have shown that volunteering is one of the most rewarding and healing activities for people with mental illness.
Perhaps you could even offer some activities, some concrete things your listeners could do with their time over the next week or month.
Those in your congregation who have mental illness are every bit as much children of God as everyone else in your congregation. And they are just as capable of serving God with all of their being. But they need to hear this over and over again. All of us probably need to hear this over and over again, because there are so many voices outside us that tell us we’re worthless. But perhaps people with mental illness need to hear it more, because they also have extra voices within that repeat these same things.
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