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Salt and Light !?!

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February 7, 1999      PRELUDE               ANNOUNCEMENTS               Psalm 27 -- "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (v. 1).            


*OPENING HYMN                                 It is Well with My Soul                                        # 453

*INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER   Luminous Spirit, we thank you for placing in us the glow of your glory that increases in brightness as we cooperate together and as we share your love. Remove the grimy film of sin from us so that the gospel light might shine through. In Jesus' name.       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 debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.  *GLORIA PATRI    SCRIPTURE READING  (Isa 58:1-11 NLT)  ""Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Tell my people Israel of their sins! {2} Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to hear my laws. You would almost think this was a righteous nation that would never abandon its God. They love to make a show of coming to me and asking me to take action on their behalf. {3} 'We have fasted before you!' they say. 'Why aren't you impressed? We have done much penance, and you don't even notice it!' "I will tell you why! It's because you are living for yourselves even while you are fasting. You keep right on oppressing your workers. {4} What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. {5} You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like a blade of grass in the wind. You dress in sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD? {6} "No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. {7} I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. {8} "If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. {9} Then when you call, the LORD will answer. 'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply. "Stop oppressing the helpless and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! {10} Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day. {11} The LORD will guide you continually, watering your life when you are dry and keeping you healthy, too. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

OFFERING  (2 Cor 8:7 NLT)  "Since you excel in so many ways--you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us--now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving."   *DOXOLOGY

*PRAYER OF DEDICATION             Our Father, grant that we translate our spiritual gifts into signs of your grace, so that what you have asked us to become may be reproduced in the lives and service of all those touched by what we are and do.

CHILDREN'S STORY TIME   "This Little Light of Mine"

CHORAL ANTHEM                PRAYER  O God, we thank You for Your loving patience and mercy. Even though we choose to go astray You are constantly calling us to come home. Give us the ears, Lord, to hear Your voice. / So often we have chosen to move in the directions of the world and yet we wonder why we have no peace or why You do not seem to hear our prayers. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to remember it is often we who close the door to Your blessings and it can only be through our repentance that the doors to our hearts are reopened.  ///  O God, in so many ways You have set before us the promises of Your eternal nourishing strength and power if we will but give our lives to You. Help us have courage, Lord.  /  So often we have given up Your Peace because we would rather try to live life in our own ways. And so often instead of taking courage in Your presence and standing on Your promises we have moved with the wind trying to make life as easy as possible. Forgive us, Lord, and help us stand firm as witnesses today of Your Love. // O God, we are so humbled when we consider You have chosen us to carry Your message of redemption to all the nations. Give us the courage and strength to be faithful servants.  /  Sometimes we have been so slow to reach out to those hurting and in need of your Gospel. Too often we have elected the comforts of life over reaching out to help others. Too often we have hidden our witness when sharing Your word would have been so redemptive. Forgive us, Lord, and give us the courage to be Your light high on a hill. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

*PREPARATIONAL HYMN             He Keeps Me Singing                           # 359 v.1,5

SCRIPTURE TEXT     (Mat 5:13-20 NLT)  ""You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. {14} You are the light of the world--like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. {15} Don't hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. {16} In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. {17} "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. {18} I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved. {19} So if you break the smallest commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. {20} "But I warn you--unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!"

SERMON                                            Salt and Light !?!

   A man gets fed-up at real or imagined discrimination and takes out a semiautomatic pistol on a  commuter train and opens fire, killing and wounding several people. Some teenage gang members get into an argument at a shopping center. Later, one of the disputants is gunned down in the parking lot by a rival gang member. There has been a dramatic rise in youth violence in the past few years and every day we hear stories of innocent people being victims of random violence. The frustrated, the abused and the criminally insane observe much that they dislike in the world and respond with assaults. Christians too look at the world and behold a great deal that disturbs us, but if we follow the Lord's teaching, we will respond with salt. Jesus proclaimed, "You are the salt of the earth ..." (v. 13). We don't have salt; we are salt. When we are frustrated, we need to pour out the salt that we are -- pour out the patience, the forgiveness, the helpfulness, and the love -- which is able to preserve the world and make it a more savory place in which to live. But the salt can lose its flavor, according to Jesus, just as Christians can lose their saltness, by getting mixed up with salt-substitutes.

   You are the light of the world (v. 14). Salt is made to be tasted; light is that which enables us to see and to be seen.  The image is communal. Together we are salt and light when we are in Christ. As with the salt, the light is to benefit others; it is not to be hidden but put in the public place so that all can see. The Lord told his disciples: "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (v. 16). The light that we are is a gift from God and not a result of our good works. Strictly speaking, what Jesus is pointing to are good fruits rather than good works. Good fruits are products of the light while good works can sometimes be viewed as attempts to generate the kind of light which makes one noticed. We are called to let the spirit of Christ shine within us so that others can see that the good that we do is an outgrowth of the light of God.   As light, we are to dispel the darkness and light the way that leads to the Lord. The transforming power of God's Spirit in our lives cannot exist in a closed circuit but goes out into the world.

            From Basement To Craft Fairs  Doris was most comfortable when she was busy at work in her secluded spot in the basement of her parents' home. She had been born with a deformed left arm which wasn't of much use to her; She had studied art and in that she excelled. Her quiet personality stemmed partly from her physical impairment and partly because she hadn't received much encouragement to excel in anything.

   She had her little workshop in the basement, where she spent a good deal of her time. She cherished the hours spent there because she was doing the one thing she felt confident she could do well -- painting. Yet even her parents weren't much aware of -- nor appreciative of -- her growing artistic ability.    During her last two years in high school and the two years following graduation, she devoted increasing time to oil and acrylic still life paintings. As she looked out of the basement half windows at the familiar Wisconsin countryside, she captured ever more vividly the seasonal changes and the varieties that nature offered. The completed unframed canvasses were standing in ever thickening rows beyond her little nook in the basement. Doris' secret talent was clouded by only one fact -- she was the only person who knew about it.    That is, until her favorite cousin Denise came to visit. Denise was quite the opposite of Doris -- a bubbly personality, outgoing and adventurous. She hadn't seen Doris since her high school graduation and now Denise had come to spend a week with her. Doris would not have shown her cousin all those canvasses stacked in the basement, but Denise's inquisitive nature soon led her to the dozens of paintings that stood facing the walls.    "Doris, where did these paintings come from?" Denise asked, remembering that Doris had taken a few art classes in high school. "Did you do this wonderful work?" Denise asked with her hands on her hips.

   "They're nothing special," Doris tried to apologize.

    "Wrong! They're marvelous!" Denise argued. She spent the next half hour quickly going through one stack after another, while Doris stood by a bit embarrassed. "Doris, you need to get these paintings out where people can see them and buy them,"  "People will buy good paintings like these."

   Doris objected, offering timid apologies for the paintings and her talent. But Denise would have none of it. "There's arts and crafts shows everywhere during these summer months, and I'm going to help you get these paintings out where people can see them," Denise challenged. And for the next few weeks there was no stopping Denise. She extended her visit beyond her original plans. "I don't have a job yet anyway for the summer," she rationalized. "I want you to sign your name to every one of these paintings," she instructed Doris.    After four weekend arts and crafts shows, more than two dozen of Doris' paintings had been sold. As she and Denise headed back to Doris' home on a Sunday evening, Doris reflected the warmth of her feelings as she admitted, "I guess people do like my stuff."    "Well, like I said, you have to get it out where people can see it," Denise commented as she gave her cousin a hug. /////  We may never know how important our light is to someone else:  Viktor Frankl, the father of logo therapy, had a psychiatric practice in Vienna, Austria, when he was interned by the Nazis for being a Jew. Through his sufferings and by observing the suffering of others he came to the truth that a person can put up with anything if she has some purpose or meaning for which to live. A purpose that kept Frankl going was to write of his experience. In his book, Man's Search For Meaning, he tells how a distant light helped him through the hellish darkness of his incarceration. The camp was the picture of ugliness with its squalid dormitories, smoke spewing crematoriums, and treeless grounds bounded by barbed wire. The apparent hopelessness of the situation caused many to give up the ghost in despair. But in the distance, there was a house surrounded by trees. Early in the morning on cold winter days, the glow emitting from that farmhouse served as a beacon of hope. Frankl envisioned a normal family gathered around the hearth. The lights had not gone out in all the world and one day the present darkness would be overcome by the light. /////

   In Florence, Italy, over five centuries ago, the architect of a great cathedral built into the edifice a most ingenious device for determining whether the edifice has shifted on its foundation. A brass plate was built into the floor so that when the sun descended through a particular portal at a specific time on June 21st of each year, it would beam for a few minutes off of the plate. Should the sun fail to strike the plate, it would be a sure sign the foundation had shifted. So far, every sunny June 21st, the sun has not failed to illuminate the brass plate. If we are in proper relationship with the Son of God, we will reflect the light of his love and grace, not only for a few minutes but every day. If we linger in the darkness, it is a sign that our spiritual foundation has shifted. Possibly like that of God's people in the time of Isaiah.  Today's Isaiah passage focuses on the relationship between ritual acts (specifically, fasting) and the relationship of God's people to himself and one another. The people complained that their ritual acts of fasting produced no demonstrable effect in securing God's aid. They mistakenly thought that their ritual acts would obligate God to grant their wishes. Their religion was centered on ritual to the exclusion of relationships. Religion means, literally, that which binds together. Thus, religion is essentially about relationships. The point that Isaiah was trying to make is that relationships are what matter to the Lord. When our actions isolate and imprison people on the borders of society, we can't expect God's favors because ritual and relationships are out of sync. Ritual symbolically portrays the relationship between God and the people and is only valid when it flows from a relationship of trust in God that, in turn, is manifested in relationships of caring for others. Ritual without loving relationships is an attempt to manipulate God.

   This passage was written at the time when the city of Jerusalem, indeed the very fabric of society, lay in ruins. The prophet gives some excellent advice on how to rebuild and repair the nation in a manner that would bring lasting security. He wisely realized that cities are not composed primarily of streets and buildings but of people and relationships.   Isaiah instructs us how to create a world of shalom. For starters, liberate those in bondage (v. 6). Then, share with those in need (v. 7). The old adage is true: Society is only as strong as its weakest link. Only a society that cares for all of its people (a just society) will remain strong and secure.

Jesus said that his followers were light and that our function is to shine before others. However, you have to be turned on before you can emit light. Christ has given us his Spirit which we have to share in the present moral and spiritual darkness.  There is no life without light, there is no seeing without light, there is no color without light  In order for us to live eternally, we must receive the light of Christ.  God is the source of this light -- we merely receive and reflect the light  Let the light of Christ shine through you

*INVITATIONAL HYMN                 "God Of Grace And God Of Glory"                  514

Merciful God, save us from enforcing your Law   with small-minded absolutism and heartless legalism. Save us from abolishing your Law   with liberal permissiveness and unfaithful indulgence. Grant us instead,   the ability to live out the spirit of your Law,   as your Holy Spirit infuses us with Christ's   wisdom, love, and faithfulness.In Christ's name we pray.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION        Ldr: You are the salt of the earth.

Cng: May our witness be faithful,         so that the world may taste your truth, O Lord.

Ldr: You are the light of the world.

Cng: May the light of your love illumine us,  and shine through our actions and our words.

Ldr: May the Lord bless you with opportunities         to be salt and light in the world,

        in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Lesson 1: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)   Sermon Title: Connections

   Sermon Angle: Isaiah devalues religious ritual that doesn't make loving connections with other human beings. Relationships are the main issue here. Studies have shown that most Christians are not able to translate their relationship with God to everyday relationships. This sermon will explore how connections can be made between the sacred and the ordinary.    Outline:   Introduction -- Do you ever feel that the things we do here on Sunday don't connect with what you do the rest of the week? You are not alone. In fact, Isaiah highlights that very problem. He condemns the isolation of religion from daily life. How can we change this sad state of affairs?    1. Establish a strong relationship with the Lord   2. Express that relationship formally in authentic ritual or worship (ritual that expresses your inner relationship with God and your outer relationship with others)    3. Express that relationship informally through loving human contacts

   George Gallup discovered that people are less inclined to affiliate with the institutional church today than they were a decade ago, even though more of them confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He theorizes that one important reason is that most people cannot make the connection between Christian faith and daily life and the churches are not equipped to help them. Gallup holds up the prospect of some significant membership growth if we can help people integrate faith and life.

Note: We may think Christ foolish for entrusting us with being salt and light, yet that is exactly what Christ has done.  May we be faithful to his purpose.

___ Matthew 5:13-20 contains three separate pericopes, each of which are quite capable of standing on their own.  This might be emphasized for the congregation by having three different people read the lesson.  Break the text into the following three parts: (1) 5:13; (2) 5:14-16; and (3) 5:17-20.  Since each of these texts are fairly brief, they might be presented from memory by the three people.

Responses to the Word

___ After a sermon challenging the congregation to be salt and light for the world, hand out small lights shaped out of salt dough.  Ask the congregation to set the lights somewhere in their home where, in the weeks ahead, they will be reminded of the Lord's words.  The lights could be shaped like candles, lanterns, mideastern oil lamps, or even lighthouses.  A group of youth or adults could make enough lights for each household to have one.  A salt dough recipe is printed below for convenience.

Mix equal amounts of salt and flour.  Moisten with water until it has a consistency that can be easily molded.  Add food coloring to the dough if you wish.  After the lights have been molded, let them dry.  Thicker objects need longer to dry.  A low oven can be used to help the drying process.  When the lights are dry they can be shellacked to make them last longer.

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