STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 5, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
WORSHIPPING AT HOME TOGETHER
Call to Worship Psalm 96: 8 & 9 and Leviticus 2:13
Bring gifts and celebrate,
Bow before the beauty of God,
Then to your knees—everyone worship!
Present all your offerings with salt,
because salt is a sign of God’s covenant.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
You are the designer of the cosmos. From the greatest galaxies to the tiniest atom, all things have been born from your imagination and will. You have provided for our needs. You’ve given us a wonderful country in which to live. We are housed, clothed and fed. We are so grateful for these essential gifts. You also give us gifts which we rarely see or consider. Our Earth is placed in an orbit around the sun, exactly where it’s best to bring us light and heat. Nature is maintained in an eco-system that cleanses itself and provides us with air and water. Our bodies are held in balance with many things contributing to our health – water, minerals, proteins, hormones. One of the elements which we find everywhere, contributing to life, is salt.
You have made us to be spiritual salt in our world. We confess that sometimes we are flavourless. Our own spirits can be dull. Our love for you, half-hearted. We our zest for life and our passion for living, learning, and sharing the love of Christ in our complicated world ebbs. We do not greet each new day as a gift and an opportunity. We do not open ourselves to serve you or look for times and places to do so. On the other hand, we confess that sometimes we’re too salty. We overwhelm people with our need to be helpful. We try to do the emotional work of others, instead of trusting you and them to grow. We can be controlling, imposing our ways and ideas on others in an effort to protect them. Sometimes our energy spills over into an “it’s all about me” stance and we can be “too much”.
Forgive us. Help us to be “just like salt”.
As we worship today, renew our saltiness. Help us to exalt your holy name, to worship with feeling, with thoughtfulness, with focus and with willingness. Father, we love you, we worship, we adore you – may we glorify your name in all the Earth, through Jesus our healer, our saviour, our joy. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Mark 9: 49 & 50
“Just as a sacrifice is purified by salt, everyone will go through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with each other.”
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, feed us with your Word, so that we will feed a spiritually hungry world with the full flavour of your love and grace. Amen.
“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” Matthew 5: 13 NRSV.
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage” The Message
2 Kings 2: 19 – 22
Colossians 4: 5 & 6
Some years ago, a woman came into a small grocery store and asked the owner: “Do you sell salt?” The owner replied, “Ha! Do we sell salt? Come look.” He showed her a whole side wall—nothing but salt. Then he took her into the back room where wall to wall was covered with salt. Next, he took her down into this huge basement and there, floor to ceiling, aisle after aisle, was nothing but salt. He said, “Do we sell salt? Actually, no, but you should meet the salesman from the salt company – can he sell salt!!”
Perhaps if Jesus had told us to sell actual salt, some of us would have been extremely successful. Instead, Jesus told us to “be” salt. The phrase the “salt of the earth” is used to describe good, honest, generous, humble, hard-working people. When we hear it, we often conjure stereotypes of farmers or country folk. Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “you are the salt of the Earth”? Was he simply suggesting that we hang a straw out the corner of our mouth, bake a pie and pay our taxes or was there more? To grasp the fullness of what Jesus meant when he described his followers in this way, we need to think about the features of salt.
Salt is everywhere. It’s in the oceans. It’s in the soil. It’s in us. All creation needs a little salt to keep it balanced. The human body retains 4 oz of salt, more if you have a salt addiction. Without salt our electrolytes don’t light. In the ocean, salt plays a significant role in the Earth’s climate. Salt water provides about half the oxygen for our planet. In the soil, low amounts of salt produce larger more abundant crops and helps plants to resist pests and disease. So, the first thing we know about being salt is that it’s innate. Salt just is. I think that’s why Jesus declared “you are the salt of the Earth” rather than asking us to strive to become the salt of the earth. We can’t become salt. All our efforts won’t transform us into salt. We are what we are. By the grace of God, we are salt. Salt is pervasive. Years ago, I had met a couple and after a few encounters, I told them, with great appreciation, “you are salt of the earth kind of people”. I’ve never said that to anyone before or since. What did I mean? I meant they lived and shared their faith in such a genuine way that I experienced Christ through them. There wasn’t anything put on, pietistic or pretentious about them. That’s not to say they hadn’t their share of flaws, trials and spiritual discipline, but like salt, the integration and expression of their faith was natural and present. It just was and they just were. Salt is also helpful in that it creates balance. A little salt is good. Too much salt is destructive. Too much salt and our arteries harden (salt addicts beware!). Too much salt and plants burn and die. Too much salt in the water and…well, they don’t call it the Dead Sea for nothing. Sometimes when we want to be helpful, we are too much. We do the job, solve the problem, take over the task or make the decisions for someone. This is negating of a person kills their soul. Too much “help” leads to death. To be like salt, we add just a pinch – a little support, encouragement, instruction, or acceptance so the other can live their life and bear responsibility or credit for their choices and actions. When we add just a pinch of salt, we restore balance to the soul or situation of the other. They grow. They become more confident. They have less anxiety and more peace.
Salt heals. When my mother was a child she lived in a beautiful village (Popoli) in the mountains of Italy. Flu season was tough. Chest infections were common, particularly during the war when proper nutrition was lacking. In peace times, my mom’s family spent the summers at the beach on the Adriatic Sea – a body of salt water. The first few days were spent healing as the salty water drew out the phlegm from her body. As salt we are healers. There are many ways we heal. Some heal people’s bodies by cleaning, treating, and tending to their ailments. Others heal memories and emotional wounds by listening, caring, and praying. Others heal people’s spirits with the hope of forgiveness, a passage of scripture and the good news of God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some are healers of creation. Like the bowl of salt that Elisha threw into a poisoned stream, we are salt to our environment. We live in the hope of saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” Often, we don’t see ourselves as healers. Years ago, a catty person made a strong verbal personal attack against me, which wounded my self-image and my self-esteem. It was destructive. I had been mocked and declared worthless; I felt it. I needed healing. A lovely friend listened to my injured spirit and then brought healing by saying, “Sabrina, you’re more than that – you’re also a healer”. In that situation the healing was a gentle awakening to an aspect of myself of which I was unaware. We know that on an open wound, salt can sting as it purges away the pus so sometimes a healer needs to cause pain before the healing comes. Operations, digging into one’s past, hearing the word of God, fighting for creation are all painful. The healing process stings, and most people don’t like to cause pain but we all agree that health and wholeness are worth it. In the end, we don’t heal anyone. Elisha didn’t take the glory for healing the spring. God is the true healer, but we can be the salt in the bowl through which God works.
Salt preserves. When I was a kid, my grandmother would buy a hug leg of salted ham – prosciutto (yes, the whole leg!). At the time, this delicacy was a secret. You couldn’t buy a tidy little package in the grocery store like you can now. You had to have connections. They may have been mafia connections for all I know, but it was worth it! Salting meat preserves it. If done correctly, it will last forever. In a hot dessert country like Israel, before the invention of refrigerators, salting meat and fish was the norm. Without salting, the meat would get tainted, rot, and attract maggots quite quickly. It seems harsh to compare people or the world as a whole to a decaying carcass, although it is a descriptive illustration of the impact of sin. The wages of sin is death and before that happens there is a process of personal, moral, spiritual, and/or social decay. To prevent this decay, we need to be saved and preserved. The most obvious way a Christian can be a preserving salt is by bringing people into a relationship with Christ. Sometimes we do that by speaking about the gospel; that is, telling people how the death and resurrection brings God’s forgiveness and reconciles us with God. At other times, it’s a process. We invite a friend to church where they experience Christ’s love, hear the message, and have opportunities to learn and grow. Living the gospel and caring for people is yet another way people are drawn into community and come to experience the grace. As with meat, when a soul is preserved it lasts forever. The second, more temporal way we are a preserving influence is by upholding the dignity of God and of people who are made in God’s image. As the world attacks the God revealed in Jesus Christ and diminishes our faith, we live to be ambassadors of God’s excellence and the goodness and grace of our faith. Without exalting and worshipping God, there is no basis to uphold the dignity of human beings. Without God we have no dignity. So, first of all, our salt is sprinkled on God through our devotion and worship . (It’s interesting that in the Jewish Law, offerings to God were sprinkled with salt before being burned). Secondly, there are many broken people in our world who are treated as lesser human beings, abused by parents or a spouse, crushed by poverty and hardship. They are being destroyed not only by their own sin, as we all are, but by the sin of others. As we treat people with dignity their humanity is preserved. While this doesn’t ensure eternal life, it does lead to wholeness and freedom – not only for the individual, but our whole society. We are salt to all.
Finally, salt tastes good – thus the addiction. It adds flavour to bland food (imagine a potato chip without salt) and it brings out the flavours in other foods (it’s almost time for fresh tomatoes!). This past week someone used the word “gusto” to describe the vigour with which some hymns are sung. “Gusto” is the Italian word for “taste” as in “flavour”. As salt we are to live with gusto, bringing out the flavours of life and adding energy to our world. Connected with Christ we worship with gusto – singing every hymn from the depths of our heart and drawing out both the meaning and the feeling they convey. We are fully alive with the abundant life Christ gives. Likewise, we’re engaged in our world. Not only do we stay informed, but we get involved. We make our voice heard when change is needed like the person in our congregation who spreads salt on the world by writing letters and calling into talk shows. Further, we enjoy the beauty of the Earth, taking time to notice and drink in everything around us. We laugh and have fun, living the abundant life Christ offers. When live like this we add a pinch of salt to every person and situation we encounter.
Jesus ends this observation with a word of caution, The NRSV reads, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can it’s saltiness be restored.” That’s an odd phrase because salt cannot lose it’s taste – it’s always salty. However, in ancient Israel salt is laid under the tiles at the bottom of outdoor brick ovens to keep them hot. Over time the effectiveness of the salt breaks down and the tiles won’t hold their heat, so the old salt is thrown out and new salt put in. Perhaps, it was believed the salt was less effective because it had lost it’s flavour. The Message may come closer to Jesus intent, “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage”. There are many Christians who have lost their saltiness; their faith bores them; their lives bore them; they live for themselves; they diminish others; they don’t read scripture; they stay home from worship (even when they’re allowed to go); they don’t share their faith; they doubt their beliefs; worst of all, they doubt God. If we lose our saltiness – if we are no longer naturally pervasive, if we do not heal, if we do not preserve, if we do not live and worship with “gusto”, if we do not do all these things in the name of Christ and for his Kingdom, we’re useless – we might as well be dirt.
The long and the short of this scripture is: “Jesus said that we should be just like salt” – so, Stay Salty!!
Questions for Reflection
Do you know anyone who innately lives their faith and through whom you experience Christ?
Is your faith natural or is it something you “put on”?
What kind of healer are you?
How might you be useful in preserving someone?
Do you live with gusto? (Do you worship and sing with gusto?)
Are you salt in our world or are you losing your saltiness?
Lord God, we offer ourselves as salt to the world. May we have the flavour of godliness, so that we will be useful in your Kingdom, bringing the “gusto” of abundant life through Christ to the lives of others. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of abundance – we thank you for the generosity of your saving grace in Jesus Christ without which we would be trampled under foot or good for nothing. Instead you cleanse and heal us, you preserve and save our lives, you fill our spirits and make our lives abundant! You are with all and through all and in all. In you alone do we live and move and have our being. Thank you!
We thank you for the gift of life on this planet, with all it’s wonders. Even out our own windows we see signs of your beauty and presence. In the intricacy of an insect, the majesty of a tree, the delicacy of a flower, the warmth of a summer’s day we know that you are God. Your truth is all about us – give us eyes to see.
We thank you that you chose to include us in your kingdom, asking us to be the salt of the Earth. Often, we reduce this honour to being “nice”; help us to open ourselves to living and sharing our faith in such a genuine way that others will experience Christ through us. May we be vessels of your healing to that which needs to be whole. May we be the voice of one crying in the wilderness of our world, “Jesus saves”. May we lift up others by treating them with dignity. May we live our life with abundance and worship you with “gusto” and may our passion and joy spill over to all we meet.
We pray for your Church throughout the world that whatever challenges we face, we would do so with unwavering faith, with hope, with conviction and with your peace. Be with our churches as we re-open, helping people to adjust and keeping our buildings and people safe and healthy. Be with those churches who are cautious in re-opening out of love for one another; we miss one another, increase our desire to be together as it is easy to fall into habits of isolation. Bind us, unite us, and keep us strong.
We pray for the many people who have been viewed as “less than” and are seeking equity and dignity. May we be a part of that healing. Make us salt in a world that can be unjust, violent, hopeless, lacking in direction, void of ethics, immoral, abusive to others, corrupt and evil.
We pray for those we love especially those who do not know or worship you.
We pray for those who are lonely, weary, or fearful.
We pray for those who are ill or anxious.
We pray for those who grieve.
We pray for those whose gentle spirits make them prey in a harsh world.
Thank you for hearing our prayers in love and for walking with us on life’s journey, just as you walked the Earth in Jesus Christ, through whom we pray saying…
Invitation to Mission
We are the salt of the Earth; we go into the world so that others will taste and see that the Lord is good.
May the Triune God bless and keep you. Amen.