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This Week's Sermon !

May 21, 2017, -

Isaiah 40: 1-5
Isaiah 12 (p880 VU)
Matthew 5: 13- 16

“Out of the Saltshaker”

While I’m no fan of classical music, and not that familiar with most of it, I can’t hear those verses from Isaiah without hearing the opening movements of Messiah by George Frideric Handel. Based on texts from the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible it is one of the most frequently performed pieces in the world. As I recall, it begins with a lone tenor singing “Comfort ye” and concludes about three hours later with “Blessing, and honour, glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen”

The words of this prophet called “Isaiah” were originally addressed to a dispirited people beginning to lose hope they would ever return to their ancestral lands. As a nation they had spent 40 years in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses (an entire generation) but by this time about 150 in exile (several generations).

The words are a very lofty promise of preparing a highway through wilderness. These days, the last thing I want to hear is more words about road building. Those of us who must spend a part of each journey, by car or on foot, dodging dozers and evading excavators on Holmes Hill, are tired of the activity of road-building. Yet, when its done it will be great. One level sidewalk, one perfect street and underneath pipes that will last. I guess it proves the truth of the saying, “No Pain, No Gain”. In the last few weeks those of you who are Tim Hortons customers have also had to find new routes to get your daily caffeine fix! Somehow though, I think you’ve all been successful!

The book of Isaiah was not written by a single person; it’s really at least two books with two separate authors. There are two separate “main” themes: punishment and restoration. The first 39 chapters are about the inevitable consequences of the people’s unfaithfulness. In the 40th chapter we see a shift to restoration. Yet, we must not forget that the punishment was not without cause. The Good News of God is not that we can do whatever we please: the Good News is that the God who forgives us is a God who calls us into a true relationship; one of faithfulness and justice.

The passage from Matthew is part of a larger passage often called, “The Sermon on the Mount.” The sayings read today are well known but have we ever given them more than a passing thought? In the Hebrew Scriptures the nation of Israel was often referred to as a “city set on a hill”, or “a light to the nations”. They believed they were a chosen people, even if their actions, as recorded in the scriptures, leave us scratching our heads.

The prophets kept telling them that their identity as “chosen” was properly seen as one of special responsibility, rather than privilege.

Light and darkness are powerful images - powerful contrasts, and were even more-so in the time before electric lights.

In the Roman Catholic church there is the tradition of the Easter Vigil - an hours-long service during which a new Christ candle is lit from a fire on the church grounds and carried into the darkened church. I believe that it is this flame that blesses the baptismal water and eventually this light grows from one solitary flame to the flames from candles carried by each worshipper. Then the faithful carry the Christ-light into the world.

It is no accident that we celebrate the birth of Jesus at the winter solstice; theologically the light is coming into the world at exactly the same time as the Northern Hemisphere has been bathed in the depths of darkness and then begins, once again, to add minutes of light, instead of subtracting them. Apart from religion it is an important part of the cycle of the year and has been observed in various forms since the dawn of civilization.

Most of the world’s major religions have a festival of lights whether it be the Jewish Hanukkah, or Hindus, Sikh and Jain celebration of Diwali, a festival where they light lanterns and small earthen lamps to awaken awareness of God and the triumph of good over evil. Muslims, whose religion is closely related to our own, speak of Allah as the source of light - inspiring, motivating and guiding God's people.

As I have said the power of light, in the midst of darkness, is an awesome thing.

Every year 1989 groups of people all over Canada have gathered for candle-light vigils to remember the women who died at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. It’s hard to believe that its been 27 year since those 14 women were gunned down because they were women daring to study engineering. The day has become a “Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women” and vigils are held at countless locations, especially universities.

The South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu writes about the power of candle-light in his book, “Made for Goodness”. He describes how apartheid in South Africa was not brought down by guns or by violence but by a change of heart caused by prayer, by faith and by candles.

You see, in the Apartheid era, as a sign of their hope that one day the evil of apartheid would be overcome, the people lit candles and placed them in their windows so that their neighbours, the government, and the whole world would see them.

The government did see and they became afraid. A law was passed making it a crime to put a lighted candle in a window. The irony of this was captured by the children who joked, “Our government is afraid of lit candles!"

Indeed they were right to be afraid. Eventually those burning candles, AND the prayer and hope behind them, changed the wind in South Africa. Morally shamed by its own people, the government conceded that apartheid was wrong and dismantled it without a war; the apartheid government was defeated by hope, symbolized by the flame of many candles.

Salt has been used for centuries as a preservative and a flavour enhancer. I know many people who remember the flakes of salt fish hanging somewhere in the house and their mothers or grandmothers putting up meat by salting it.

To state the obvious, salt must be shaken over your food in order to enhance it. It benefits no one to keep it in the saltshaker where it may spoil if it becomes damp or contaminated. A little goes a long way.

I think that one of the most common reasons for a lack of action, on many frints, is a feeling that what we do cannot possibly make any difference. When we look at the example I cited earlier about South Africa and the change brought about by prayer, faith and candles, we are assured that each prayer and each act of daring to place a candle mattered.

While we will not eradicate poverty in Hantsport by bringing Kraft Dinner for the food bank or raising money for the school breakfast program we can help one family or one child (and for that one family or child, we make a big difference). Together we can advocate for living wages and better working conditions and if there are enough of us doing it for long enough with prayer and persistence it will turn then tide.

We do have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of people in this community and elsewhere but we have to shine our lights and shake our salt. Hiding it or keeping it to ourselves will do no good at all!

While knitting may not seem to be a task that can make much of a difference, those who receive shawls from the ecumenical prayer shawl group say they are much appreciated and make the world of difference in their lives.

While a group of farmers getting together to use their antique tractors to grow a crop for the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank may only seem like a drop in the very large bucket of need, the people it does feed are fed. The petition to support sustainable local agriculture in the countries often in need of food will go a long way in helping these farmers to feed themselves in a sustainable way.

Today is the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine. What does prayer do? Pope Francis has said, “Christians pray for the poor and then feed the poor - that’s how prayer works.” When we combine our prayers with our actions, including feeding of the poor and our advocacy for the poor, we will -over time- be able to accomplish a great deal. Famines often don’t just “happen” they are caused by global warming, warfare, political unrest, agribusiness taking over small farms for corporate gain, inappropriate farming practices, or a myriad of other issues, some of which can be addressed if we have the will. We can persuade our government through things such as the Foodgrains petition on supporting sustainable agriculture in developing countries. Today we pray for those who are starving because of famine and in our prayer we seek to address those reasons. The salt of their tears can become our impetus to act where we can.

As a people of faith we are called to be both salt and light in our communities, and in the world.

Sometimes we are called to be like Kayla who is GOING to Ecuador to build a school so children can learn what they need to in order to be productive citizens; sometimes we can support the Kaylas of the world, and sometimes our call is to support those organizations and people whose work is much closer to home.

We are all called to be salt and light.

We are called to support those things that will enable the salt-shakers to spill out the flavour and the candles to be lit so that all can see we worship a God whose will is that all people will have life and have it abundantly.

Amen.

1995- 2017 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.





For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church
journeywithjesus.net

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!


Links to My Other Pages at this Site

  • Sermon Ideas 4U Sermon Archive Site!
  • My Main Page
  • The Kings United Pastoral Charge
  • Who is Beth Johnston
  • An Anniversary/Memorial Service Sermon
  • A Sermon for a "Covenanting Service"
  • Sermon on Teenage Suicide
  • Story Page (Called 'Q')
  • Various Links to Other Pages I Like
  • A Teaching Communion Service