January 17 2016

2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Psalm 15

Matthew 5:1-12


Essa Kahn was a 51-year-old cleaner who worked at the Serena hotel in Gilgit, Pakistan. He earned about 21,000 rupees ($AUD 277) per month.

One day when he was working in one of the hotel’s rooms, he discovered a safety deposit box with $100 notes in it.  The whole cash in the deposit box was worth $AUD 51,500 (which was a significant amount of money in Pakistan). The money belonged to a Japanese NGO worker who accidentally left the cash in his hotel room.

But, instead of keeping the money for him himself, Mr. Kahn immediately alarmed his hotel manager about the cash. The money was soon returned to the Japanese worker who, I suppose, must have been so relieved once he received the money back! For his action Essa Khan was honoured in a special ceremony held by the Governor of Punjab. He was also named a ‘national hero’. In an interview Essa Khan told the reporter who interviewed him that he never considered keeping the money.

This story went viral in the internet. Many people were inspired by Mr. Khan’s remarkable honesty, especially in this age when the pursuit of wealth is worshipped at the expense of one’s integrity and honesty. A cleaner in a developing world who had been living on a subsistent level chose to miss an opportunity to be rich! He was a “fool” by this world’s standard, but to many others and to me he gave assurance that integrity and honesty are not archaic words that have passed their used by date; that integrity and honesty are still things that no amount of money could buy.

Our reading from Psalm 15 sounds like a liturgical response in a service in the Jerusalem temple. “Lord, who may enter your Temple? Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?”[1] asked the Priest in the temple. “Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right,”[2] was the answer from the congregation.

But Psalm 15 wasn’t only another order of service amongst other orders of services; the Psalm reflects God’s demand not for religious observance, but for righteous living. Jewish faith, now and then, is always linked to ethical living. For the Jews the way to find God’s favour is by living according to the covenant that God had made with them. No offering or sacrifice in the temple could free the people of Israel from their obligation to live righteously.

As Christians however we sometimes forget about the same ethical demands that are put upon us. Our theology, which we inherit from the time of Martin Luther’s Reformation in Europe, focuses mainly on God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “Sola Gratia”, said Luther, “We are saved by God’s grace only”; and we often misunderstand this affirmation of faith as a permission to neglect God’s demand for us to embody our salvation in our righteous living; to pursue a life that is Christ-like; to become the kind of people that Jesus preached in what we now know as his Sermon of the Mount.

As the result of this misunderstanding, our lives have often been ‘divided’. We may be ‘good and nice’ people in the church, but not necessarily outside of it. As followers of Jesus sometimes we sadly imitate our society where what is preached is often not congruent with what is done.

The missing word here is ‘integrity’. The Advanced Learner’s Oxford Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”[3] Without a doubt this definition tells us about what is often lacking in our world today.

But it is the second definition of integrity in the dictionary that I would like to draw your attention to. Integrity, according to the dictionary, is “the state of being whole and not divided.”[4] I believe this is the true definition of integrity.

Integrity is indeed about wholeness. What we preach must be in congruent with the way we live. Psalm 15:2 of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible says that “Those who do these (righteous) things shall never be moved.” Indeed living righteously with integrity will keep us strong and faithful in the face adversity and temptation that the world offers.

“Never be moved” however doesn’t mean that those who live righteously would never suffer or be hurt. Psalm 15 also declares that ‘the righteous’ are those who “always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.”[5] Indeed Jesus himself said, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires....”[6] Integrity and honesty come with a price.

Indeed, friends, holding on to our principles sometimes means giving up the comfort and even security that we enjoy in life. But as followers of Jesus we must obey him.

Saying, “Yes,” to Jesus and his Gospel means saying, “No,” to everything else that is against the values of God’s Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. And the other way around is also true: saying, “Yes,” to the madness of the world means saying, “No,” to Jesus and His Kingdom.

Therefore I thank God for a person like Essa Kahn who kept his honesty and integrity thus his sanity intact in a world that is often full of madness. A person like him reminds us that we too can be ‘sane’ in a world that is often ‘mad’; that we too can become ‘whole’ in a world that is often ‘fractured’. Jesus once said, “You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”[7]

The options are before us. Like Essa Khan, let us make the right choice. Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Psalm 15:1 (Good News Translation)

[2] Psalm 15:2 (Good News Translation)

[3] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th Edition)

[4] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th Edition)

[5] Psalm 15:4 (GNT)

[6] Matthew 5:10 (GNT)

[7] Matthew 6:24 (GNT)