God’s DNA in You, Isaiah 58:3-9a, Matthew 5:13-20, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Seminary Sunday), February 9, 2020
In recent years, DNA testing has become an important part of our culture. In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick became the first scientists to formulate an accurate description of the DNA molecule’s complex structure.
On June 26, 2000, President Bill Clinton congratulated those who completed the human genome sequencing, and acknowledged DNA as God’s creation. He said, “Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.”
DNA, simply defined, is the material that governs each person’s inheritance of eye color, hair color, stature, and bone density, along with many other human traits. The cells of the human body contain a complete sample of a person’s DNA. A single string, or strand of DNA is packed into a space roughly equal to a cube 1/millionth of inch. Basically, every part of the human body is made of these cells and each contains a sample or complement of DNA identical to that of every other cell within a given person.
When I think of the complexity of DNA I think of David’s words in Psalm 139, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (14) Some would have you believe that the human being is the result of an evolutionary process or some other such nonsense. However, the marvel of the human body declares the work of a Creator rather than natural selection or evolution.
That Creator is revealed to the world in the face which is reflected in our very own mirror every morning. He is part of our DNA. We are told in Genesis “God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (1:26)
And then, we are even baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not only do we have His DNA, we have the name of Jesus now. It is more than simply an assumed identity, Christ now lives in us. In the same way we have our earthly father’s, or earthly father-in-law’s, name on our driver’s license and every legal document that we sign.
I don’t know if you have had this experience or not, but when I look in the mirror, the person I see staring back at me increasingly has some of the same DNA, some of the same characteristics of my father and grandfather. When people see me, they say that they often see something of my parents or grandparents.
Yet, the whole idea of nobility and bloodline seems outdated, and even a bit medieval. More and more it seems we strive for merit, in which a person can be judged by his or her own competency and character. At least that was the way it is supposed to be. We resent the thought of folks getting into the exclusive universities for no other reason than their parents are wealthy alumni or have cheated the admission process. We have always celebrated the idea that a man or woman can rise up from humble beginnings and achieve something great by perseverance and hard work.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with that, but the old cliché that the apple does not fall far from the tree is more closely along the lines of what we hear today from our readings. We are God’s children, His family, with His DNA, and as the head of this house, He imparts a certain stamp to us and to our lives.
Our Old Testament expresses some pretty serious moral injunctions regarding the way that we treat our neighbor. It considers them as real worship. In our Gospel Jesus urges us to let our light shine before men so that they give thanks to our Father in heaven.
As a Child of God we have God’s name, for good or for ill. Do others see God in us too? Or have we obscured Him, and tainted His name with our own sinfulness?
Unfortunately, it’s possible, and all too common, for our worship, prayer, and praise to become tools for manipulation, in order for us to try to twist God according to our will and not His. Such is the behavior described by Isaiah for us today. Israel trusted in their fasting as a means of motivating God to answer their prayers and petitions.
God responds, “…Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?” (5), and clearly His answer is No! God labels Israel’s “days of fasting” as unacceptable to Him. It is way too easy for the people of God make a great pretense of loving the Lord. They approach Him daily, weekly, or less, with their worship and rituals, and want to seek His guidance, counsel, and approval only when necessary.
But the prophet Isaiah, call by God to cry aloud, boldly and emphatically has the words of law, judgment and condemnation against Israel. They’ve deceived themselves into believing they are a righteous nation and an obedient people, and can expect God’s deliverance and blessings.
How often does such an attitude infiltrate our relationship with the Lord? We deceive ourselves into believing that our good works and righteous deeds earn extra credit before God and thus motivate Him to hear our prayers and grant our requests. We use our good deeds as bargaining chips in exchange for God’s blessings. We rely on our good works to get our voices heard on high.
But yet it is only God that has solved the world’s greatest problem by the gift of His Son and the generous and gracious sacrifice He made on the cross.
Jesus exemplified God’s kingdom when He healed the sick, comforted the grieving, fed the hungry, and more. Now we too, can solve problems with gifts and sacrifice. As citizens of His kingdom, as holders of His DNA, we are still about His work even now when we do the same things and care for the same helpless folk today.
Contrary to our culture’s common misconceptions, God is a forgiver of sins, more than He is the One who doles out justice. At least that is how He would have us glorify His name. We too, are a Gospel people who forgive and reconcile with sinners, even the ones who hurt us.
We look a little like our Father in heaven, we resemble His Son. We have His DNA. Our righteousness exceeds the holiest people we know. How shall we do this? It seems like our readings this morning might be laying an impossible burden on us.
Begging for mercy is a good place to start. We let the full weight of His law fall upon ourselves. But we do so because we have a greater Gospel to proclaim. The pointed, heavy law is always met with an equally pointed and weighty Gospel.
Remember that actions often speak louder than words. Jesus speaks terrible law, but He does beautiful Gospel. Immediately after He speaks the hard words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus descends the hill and touches a leper, healing a broken man.
Jesus emphasizes our shining role. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14–16).
Now God places us in our church, community, and vocations to display His will and His works. Through our righteous works, we are to be a light shining in the midst of darkness, offering hope and healing, redemption and renewal to a wandering and wayward world.
As members of the Body of Christ, with His DNA, we, like him, are “not to be served but to serve.”
A day acceptable to the Lord is a day when we display the ingredients of brotherly love. We do not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, but we put our brother first. We do not seek to be first, but to be last.
A day acceptable to the Lord is a day when we embody the servanthood of Christ and look first to the needs of others and not to our own needs. It is a day of sacrifice as we share the bounty of our blessings with those who struggle along life’s journey.
We go to Church not because God needs it, but because we need it. Here God forgives our sins, restores us into a right relationship with Him and others. In this place God feeds, loves and cares for us. That is why we are here today. We are lost without Him. Even here, left to us, we would poison it, but God is stronger than us, so His love prevails
The true worship of God, the worship which delights God, is not found in singing the right songs or even chanting the right prayers; although, He likes it when you sing and when you pray too. But the worship of God which really gets Him going is first when you walk humbly before Him. The highest worship we bring on Sunday morning is the confession of our sins, not the songs we sing. He has come to forgive us, declare His love once more, and embrace us.
The fool who thinks he has heard this all before is akin to the fool who tells his wife he loves her and figures he has that taken care of and never needs to say it again. That does not work in marriage, God knows it, and He is there to tell us He loves and forgives us because we need to hear it each and every day.
What sustaining and comforting words are proclaimed to us at the end of our Old Testament text! God says, “Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” (9) Our DNA kicks in and our voices are heard on high as we place our trust in the gift of grace that God has given to us in Jesus Christ and His atonement by death on the cross. God assures us that He is not one who is far off and out of reach, or out of touch, but He is near to us and stands more ready to answer our prayers than we are ever ready to ask them. Amen.