Beacon United Church – July 9, 2023
Welcome, Announcements and Celebrations
Introit: Jesus Bids Us Shine VU #585
Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
like a little candle burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, so let us shine,
you in your small corner, and I in mine.
Acknowledgement of Territory
We are gathered for worship on the traditional unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We give thanks to the Mi’kmaq people who have walked on this land for many years. Their relationship with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality. We acknowledge their stewardship and care of this land.
Acknowledging the territory where we gather and the people who have traditionally called it home is only one way to continue to live out the United Church’s Apologies to the First Peoples of North America. May we, as a local congregation and a national church, seek other ways to work toward right relations, and move towards becoming the community that God calls us to be together.
Lighting the Christ Candle – Jesus said that we are the light of the world and that we should not hide this light. We light this Christ candle every week to remind us that the light from Christ shines in us and through us for all the world to see. Let it shine!
Call to Worship
One: Happy are those who worship the Lord and delight in God’s precepts.
All: They rise before dawn as a light to the upright.
One: They are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
All: They shine their light before others for all the world to see.
One: They will never be moved.
All: Let this be our worship.
Welcoming God, we have come to this place to worship you. We know that we can worship you anywhere and at any time but we come here this morning to gather in community. We know that your light shines brighter when we come together. As we sing, pray, listen and reflect, help us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit working within us as individuals and as a congregation. As you guide us along new paths, we acknowledge that we are led by your light. May we be encouraged to let your light within us shine for all the world to see. Amen.
Hymn: A Light is Gleaming VU #82
Prayer of Confession
God of all ages, we listen for you calling in our lives and try our best to respond. You call us to be the salt of the earth but sometimes it feels like we have lost our flavour. Help us to be the seasoning that this world needs, working to seek justice and making sure that your work is being done. You call us to be lights in the world but sometimes we feel like our light grows dim. Help us to plug into the energy we can receive from time spent with you and then energize those around us who are feeling low. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus the Christ, the true Light. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Even when we think we have lost our saltiness and our brilliance, God seeks to use our talents in a world that needs to be reminded of the flavour and light of God. Forgiveness is a gift we receive from God and helps to restore us to be the salt and light that the world needs. Thanks be to God.
Introduction to the Scriptures
A call to righteousness and a call to shine God’s light unites these readings. Isaiah calls for a fast of righteousness: loosing the bonds of injustice and breaking the yoke of the oppressed. Jesus calls us the salt and light of the world and warns that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Prayer of Illumination As we listen to the word of God, help us realize how blessed we are when we live according to what we hear. Let us shine for all the world to see, for we truly are the light of the world when we reflect God’s word and feel God’s presence. Amen.
Celebrating the Word:
Hebrew Scripture: Isaiah 58:1 – 12
True and False Fasting
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your 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 dwell in.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:13-20
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Favourite Hymn Selection: I Saw the Light
I Saw the Light
I wandered so aimless life filled with sin.
I wouldn’t let my dear Saviour in.
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light. R
I saw the light. I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.
Just like a blind man I wandered along.
Worries and fears I claimed for my own.
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight:
Praise the Lord, I saw the light. R
I was a fool to wander along.
Straight is the gate and narrow the way.
Now I have traded the wrong for the right.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light. R
© Sony/ATV publishing used by permission Onelicense #A723756
Reflection: Being Salt and Light
When I was eight years old, my parents built a cottage in Pugwash. Pugwash is famously, among other things, home to the Windsor Salt Mines. A trip into town usually included seeing at least one truckload full of salt headed to the dock to be loaded onto the salt boats. From our cottage on the Northumberland Strait, we watched the salt boats come and go. The picture on the screen is a picture of a salt boat at the wharf in Pugwash that coincidentally appeared on one of my Facebook pages last week. The Windsor Salt Mine is in the background. The mine also gave tours. I don’t think they do anymore but one time our family went on a tour of the mine. I was probably around the age of ten. I don’t remember much about the actual tour except that when we left, they gave us a box of salt – not a small sample but a full box of Windsor Salt. I remember thinking what a generous thing that was for them to do. Of course, salt is now a plentiful resource and judging from the many truckloads and boatloads that we saw daily, a box of salt was a small token.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Typically, when we think of the Sermon on the Mount, we bring to mind the Beatitudes. As we read the Beatitudes, we notice that the language changes towards the end from ‘Blessed are they’ to ‘Blessed are you’. The emphasis switches from a third-person reference to the second-person tense. Some theologians say that ‘you’ is meant in the plural sense and not the singular. ‘You’ refers to the church as a whole community. I would argue that it is as meaningful in the singular sense as it is in the plural.
So, Jesus moves directly from listing the Beatitudes beginning with “Blessed are they…” to the eleventh verse in Matthew Chapter 5, stating, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” This leads right into today’s passage, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” Whether meant in a singular or plural sense, Jesus is directly addressing the people gathered in front of him.
Jesus’ intent in preaching the Sermon on the Mount was to get people to see that faith was more than just a cerebral process or a thinking thing. Faith must have character or flavour and must be seen and demonstrated. He wanted the people gathered, including his disciples, to understand that faith required action to be taken. Discipleship for the original twelve disciples and for us today, means that we need to have the knowledge but we also need to act. Knowledge without action is an impediment to achieving the kin-dom God envisions. We have a lot of information about God and about Jesus. We amass a lot of information that we call theology. But we have to be the activity of God in the world as modeled by Jesus. Knowledge without action perpetuates systems that promote racism, sexism, oppression of the poor, ostracizing the marginalized and overlooking the hungry. The church is broken when we channel our efforts on doctrinal statements rather than focusing on activism. Jesus is calling us to live out our identities as salt and light.
What does this mean? You are the salt of the earth. The phrase ‘salt of the earth’ is understood today as a good and honest person. How often do we hear, especially when someone dies, that they were the ‘salt of the earth’? In Jesus’ time, salt was not as abundant as it is today. People in Jesus’ time were not able to watch the salt boats and salt trucks come and go like I did in Pugwash. Salt was difficult and expensive to get. When Jesus urged people to be salt, he wanted them to be a valuable necessity for preserving and enhancing a healthy, wholesome and abundant human life. Salt was and is basically used for three purposes – to heal, to add flavour to things and to preserve. We have more sophisticated medicines now but soaking in salt water or gargling with salt water is still a remedy used by people today. Salt has healing properties. Salt is needed to add flavour to foods. A friend of ours bakes bread. One time, he gave us a loaf of bread and asked what we thought of it. We told him that, honestly, the flavour was not the same as usual. He admitted that he was trying to cut down on his intake of salt so he halved the amount of salt added to the bread. It made a significant difference. When baking, salt reacts chemically and works with the other ingredients to create flavour. If you cut back, it changes the chemistry and therefore the flavour. Thirdly, salt was and is used for preserving. In Jesus’ time, pickling or preserving was used as a primary means of keeping foods because there was no refrigeration or other preservatives. Today, we preserve things more as a hobby than a necessity.
When Jesus asks us to be salt in the world, what does that mean for us, today? Well, if salt heals then we can work at being healers in a world that seems so broken or ill, at times. We don’t all have to be doctors or nurses, but we can work on healing some of the brokenness in the world. There are many injustices and many hurts that need people to take action by speaking out, or doing something tangible. By remaining silent and still on issues, we are perpetuating the hurt and the injustice. Being salt, means that we are there to help with the healing. Sometimes salt will sting in a wound and we need to be prepared for that but that’s okay. The sting is how we know it is working.
Secondly, salt is used to enhance the flavour of food. The salt and the food work together to create something savoury. As salt, working in our world, we have the responsibility, as disciples of Christ, to work with others to enhance the kin-dom of God. Every day and in every way, we should be focusing on how we can improve the quality of life for other people. A few months ago, a friend of mine called and was excited that the report on Long-term Care Facilities was released by the Federal Government. She was involved in creating this report and was very happy and proud that it was now in existence. Of course, now it is the responsibility of those who read it, to make sure the recommendations are implemented. She is urging that everyone read it. There are many, many examples of how we can improve or enhance this world. We need to work together as churches and as citizens of a community, a province or the world to ensure that we enhance the flavour of the situations that we encounter.
As a preservative, salt keeps things from spoiling. Creator God has gifted us with a wonderful space in which to live, work and play. We are tasked to preserve this great gift and to do all we can to encourage others to do the same. Many have been ringing the alarm bells, yet we still edge closer to environmental disaster. As the present stewards of the earth, it is our responsibility to preserve the natural elements for generations to come. We are also called to preserve history and tradition. Sometimes things become outdated and stale, but there are others things that we need to preserve and pass along. Think of what has been passed along to you, especially in terms of your faith and your beliefs. Just like we preserve our family history and pass it along, we also have a responsibility to preserve our Christian family history and pass along the stories and the values to future generations.
As I thought about the gospel reading for this week, I was reminded of the riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” This riddle emphasizes that with our senses, things need a catalyst and there has to be a response. Similarly, we could ask if salt that loses it saltiness is it really salt or if a light is hidden, is it really shining? A popular Children’s Time activity for this scripture is to light a flashlight or lamp and then cover it with a bowl or basket. The point, of course, is that the light is still shining but it is not useful if no one can see it. At the time when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, light was a precious gift. It was before the invention of electricity so people mostly relied on daylight or candles. But light does not always mean the absence of a physical darkness. Being the light can mean that we illuminate the reality and the truth. Light helps show us the shape of things and the nature of what is really there so that we can identify situations and avoid dangers. Shedding light on a situation does not change what is there, but it does help give us a truer perspective. Once we are able to see a situation clearly, that is when we need to be prepared to take action, if needed. Sometimes light will expose what we don’t want to see but of course, once we see it, we cannot unsee it. Once we see it, we can either put it back under the basket or we can take action.
Well, some of you may wonder how many times people actually light a light and then cover it up. Jesus, of course, is talking metaphorically. Lights can only be hidden if we hide them. A light cannot hide itself. When Jesus addressed the crowd from the side of the mountain, remember that he used ‘you’ in the plural sense. So how do we, as a church, hide under a bushel? In some congregations or churches, their bushels become their identities. We shine well within a small area but often we are not willing to extend that light beyond our familiar boundaries. We cling to the known and are not willing to risk into the unknown. My reading on this text mentioned three common bushels that congregations often hide under. The first is the bushel of inferiority. This happens when a congregation or a church compares themselves to another and thinks that they can never be that good. This results into slipping back into what is familiar and not even trying to do some of the ‘good’ things that the other church is doing. The second is being self-absorbed in internal conflict. Some churches get so caught up in conflict amongst their own members that it causes the conflict to be the focus and not focusing on the work that they are really being called to do. The third bushel is almost the opposite of the first one. That is, church has the fantasy that they are so good and are doing so well that this good feeling creates a bushel. The congregation does not look at doing anything new or different and stays stalled in their ‘good place’. By shining our individual and collective lights, we can unmask or lift the bushels and disarm the power that they have over us.
Isaiah addresses the fact that sometimes we ask God to fill our orders. Using prayer for a narrow, self-generated agenda is like shining a light under a bushel. Isaiah says that when our focus becomes less on ourselves and our own needs and more on the needs of others, “then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you…”. Isaiah writes of the blessings we receive when we humble ourselves and trust that God will set the agenda of our lives. Isaiah looks at fasting as something that we do in order to bring blessings to others. We often think of fasting in terms of depriving ourselves of something and focus on the hardship it will bring to us. Fasting is a meditative practice in several other religions. Maybe we don’t need to give up food. Perhaps our challenge can be, “What can we give up that will end up being a blessing to others?” How will your light shine? How can we make our church shine in this community?
Salt and light are already elements that are inside of us. Salt is most effective when used with other elements. Light needs to work with a poorly lit environment to brighten what already exists. Being salt and light means letting our core essence to be more evident in a world that desperately needs flavour and light. Neither salt or light exist for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when they are poured out or used. We are the tastiness that adds salt to the lives around us. We are the light that makes plain or illumines the way of justice. Matthew 5:16 says “let your good works be shown.” In this way, we will have what Paul describes as the mind of Christ.
Hymn: O Radiant Christ, Incarnate Word VU #84
Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is our call to action. Let the offerings we now bring in the forms of monetary gifts, our time and our talents, be put to active use in God’s creation. Our offerings will now be brought forward.
Offertory Hymn – MV#191 What Can I Do?
What can I do? What can I bring?
What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
Copyright 1988 Abington Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense #A723756
Radiant One, source of every good gift, we thank you for the light you shine in our lives; we praise you for the joy you bring to our hearts. Receive the gifts we bring before you this day, that they may address situations of injustice, feed the hungry and free those who are oppressed. Bless this offering and the ministries it supports, that your light may chase away the shadows in places lost to hopelessness and despair. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Minute for Stewardship – Stephen Sollows
Prayers of the People
Creator God, you have given us so much. We praise you and thank you for all the beauty that is around us and within us, as well as the grace and the care that we receive from you. We are so thankful that you are always with us through the good times and the times that are more difficult. When we are joyful, you are there in the midst of our celebrations. When we are down, you are there for us to lean on, to listen to and you inspire and comfort us. We pray this morning for those who are sick or injured; and for those who are recovering from or waiting for surgery or medical help. Help heal those who are suffering physically, mentally or spiritually. Comfort those who are mourning as they cope with the new reality of being separated from loved ones or from situations that have involved loss. Protect those who are vulnerable – the children, the poor, the abandoned and the abused. Surround them with your love and help them to see that they can find comfort in you. We pray for our world leaders, as well as our national, provincial and local political leaders. We pray that they will show wisdom, courage and grace in their decision-making and their relationships.
Today, we pray especially for our church. Help our church to be a beacon on a hill, a lamp shining in the darkness. Help us to be salt, flavouring and preserving our community and the world around us. Give to each us the vision to see your mission and equip us with the energy to be salt and light to all of those we encounter as we live our lives. We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, the true Light of the World, who taught us to pray saying,
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Hymn: Go, Make a Diff’rence MV #209
Commissioning and Benediction
You are the salt of the earth; so, go and be salty.
You are the light of the world; so, go and let your light shine.
May your thirst for justice and righteousness be like a city on the hill that cannot be hid.
Go with the blessing of the one who makes us salt and light; with the guidance of the one who showed us the way; and with the presence of the Holy Spirit who moves with us as we explore new directions. Amen.
Choral Blessing– MV# 212 Sent Out in Jesus’ Name
Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now
to make the world the place in which the kingdom comes.
Sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now
to make the world the place in which the kingdom comes.
The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love, of justice and of peace.
The task is ours to do, to set it really free.
O, help us to obey, and carry out your will.
Ó Copyright 1988 Abington Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense #A7237