I'm not sure if everybody realizes this. But I'm not the only minister here at Douglas UCC. We actually have seven ordained ministers in our congregation. That's really amazing for a little church like ours. But as we heard, in our words of integration and guidance this morning, we actually have way more than seven ministers in this Church. This whole church is filled with ministers, all of you sitting here today, all of you watching on YouTube, you are all ministers. That's your calling. It is.
Now, the word minister comes from a Latin word, which means servant, because all of us are called to serve the world, to minister to the world, by shining our own unique light, sharing our own unique gifts with the world.
We hear a lot about this word calling in ministry. Sometimes they call it a vocation. The word vocation has that Latin root word vox meaning voice. But this voice, this calling, where's it coming from?
You know, in the United Church of Christ, we say God is still speaking. But where's the voice coming from? Well, the voice is an inner voice. Some call it intuition. Some call it an inner knowing. Some call it that “still small voice of God,” that scripture says is within you.
So in order for you to hear that voice, to hear that calling, you have to get still, you've got to quiet the mind. That voice speaks in the silence. That's why scripture says “Be still and know.”
When you get still, and you listen to that voice within you, it will guide you, it will lead you, and it will teach you.
Jesus, we know was a great teacher. Many call him the master teacher. He knew that many of his students were not well educated. They couldn't read and write. And so he often had to use metaphor, as he does today, by calling them ‘Salt,’ and ‘Light.’
Jesus's followers were people who were taught that because of their lot in life, they were powerless, and they were worthless. And Jesus came to say, ‘No, within you, is this power, this worth that is greater than your understanding.’
The Latin word for teaching for education is educare, to draw forth that which is within you. That's what teaching, what education is. Jesus, the master teacher wanted his students to find that worth – that salt and light – within them, and to bring it forth.
In the modern world, we understand the light metaphor, but not many of us understand the salt metaphor, because today, we mostly just use salt on our food. But in Jesus's day, salt was very precious, and it was very valuable. In fact, in Jesus's day, salt was used as currency. The word salary comes from the same root word as salt. Okay? It was precious.
Why was it so valuable? Well, you know, in Jesus's day, there was no refrigeration. So people needed salt to preserve meats and fish. It was also used for medicinal purposes. So it was very valuable. And of course, people in Jesus's day also used it to flavor their food, to bring zest to their food. With this metaphor, Jesus is trying to tell his students, you are valuable, you are worthy. You are precious. You are to bring your own zest and flavor to life to preserve and protect and to heal.
Such a beautiful metaphor. And then Jesus immediately follows that up with, ‘You are the light of the world.’
A few months ago, you know I was talking about Carl Sagan, the scientist who said you are made of star stuff, that the light of the cosmos is within you. The same thing that Jesus said.
But you know, if I went to a bunch of Christian churches this morning, and I interviewed people on the way out of church, and I said, who is the Light of the world? Most of them would say, ‘Jesus!’ Very few would say, “I am.”
I am the light of the world.
That's what Jesus came to teach. Unfortunately, most of us didn't get that message at church. Instead, we heard the opposite. We heard, you're not the light. You're bad, you're broken, you're sinful, you're in need of fixing. So we find it hard to believe that we're salt and light. Not only from our upbringing in church, but through our society through our social media, which tells us we're not good enough. We're not worthy enough.
Jesus came not to tell us that we were broken. Jesus came to tell us that we were whole, holy, precious, that there's this great light that is within us. But most of us find it hard to believe.
And I think that's why Henry David Thoreau famously said, ‘Most people go to their grave with their song still in them.” Most people never get to shine their light, they hide it under a bushel basket.
Why do you think that that is? Well, the contemporary spiritual writer Marianne Williamson says, it's not our darkness, but it's our light that we're most frightened by. And she has a really famous quote, I've read it to you before, but it bears repeating. She said. “It's our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we're powerful. beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, fabulous, talented? Actually, who are you not to be those things, because you are a child of God. Your playing small, does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. You were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within you. It's not just in some of us. It's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
I love that quote, so much. I want to get it framed for my new office. Because I think it's such a wonderful reminder of what it means to be the church. It's to shine our light, to be all that we were created to be, as I say in our benediction every Sunday.
In our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, we heard Jesus didn't come and tell the people, you can be salt, or you can be light, if you accept me as your personal Lord and Savior. No, he says, “You are salt.” “You are light.” It's already within you. You just forgot it. And I came to remind you of your magnificence.
Another woman of wisdom like Marianne Williamson, I was also inspired by her words this week. Her name is Reverend Nicole Pavelka. She's actually one of our UCC leaders. And this is what she wrote. “Maybe you were born for such a time as this one. Christians refer to it as a calling. Yogi's call it dharma. Whatever you call it, it's your higher purpose. So live it. The constant barrage of news media may be keeping you unfocused. Perhaps you're feeling helples, in the face of unrelenting turmoil and injustice in the world. But you were born for such a time as this. I think of my many friends who have made signs and stepped weary feet to pavement to protest in recent years, some of them for for the very first time, I think of my friends who have had difficult conversations over dinner tables with their loved ones, listening to their uncomfortable thoughts, and speaking up to challenge their assumptions in a spirit of truthful love. I think of the once-meek people, who many have never imagined calling their elected officials, and now they're making regular calls. You were all born for such a time as this one. So live your calling, your dharma, your purpose. If we all do this, if we all do some small part, we will continue to build the Beloved Community.”
I love that so much. That's our calling. That's our purpose. Another spiritual writer, Caroline Myss, says “Maybe all of our preparation, all of our life experiences all of our spiritual reading – maybe it's all in preparation for this moment in time. In all of human history, you were born now, because the world needs your unique salt, your unique flavor and your your unique light.
The world needs it. So let us do what we heard in our first scripture reading this morning from Isaiah. Don't hold back, shout out like a trumpet. Loose the bonds of injustice, set the oppressed free, then your light will break forth like the dawn.
That's how our light breaks forth from us. When we work for justice and peace. When we shine our lights and heal the world, bring our love, our salt, our purpose to life.
And so my friends at Douglas UCC, you people of salt and light, may we go forth this day with a renewed purpose of shining our light and healing the world. Let us be bold. Let us be courageous. Let us be truthful. And may we be light.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Rev. Robert von Treba, pastor of the UCC church in Holladay, Utah
I don’t know if you often think of yourself as a minister, but that is one of the foundational claims of the Protestant church — the priesthood of all believers – the recognition that all and not just a special few are called by God to carry out the ministry of the church. Yes, we ordain some people to be pastors and ministers who have received special training in pastoral and educational functions, but their task is to guide, instruct and enable the ministry of the members of the community rather than to do the work of ministry on the church’s behalf. Thus, you don’t just participate in ministry, you are a minister. You are a bearer of God’s welcome. As Jesus tells his disciples in this small little section of the Sermon on the Mount – “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.” You are a minister of the presence of God. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say you can be salt or you can be light. He says you are light, you are salt. You are made up of light and salt, of hope of possibility, of flavor, of zest, of that which brings out the essence of what is. There is something native to you, something already within you, something you were born with that is meant to be shared simply for the sake of sharing it. I think what Jesus is getting at here is different than what many of us learned to believe about vocation or calling from our experience in church – that is, the idea that calling is something that happens outside of us, that is external to us. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be. Thomas Merton calls it “true self.” Quakers call it the “inner light.” No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. Our job as a church is not to maintain an institution. It is to bring our genuine light and our irresistible flavor into the world.
What did you think?