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You are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World

A worship service led by Kevin Adams and Pearl Shangkuan based on Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We give special thanks to André Thomas for his contributions as a consulting director and his encouragement of our student musicians.

You Are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World

Prelude: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” From Ekklesia: Seven Biblical Tone Poems for Solo Organ, by Brenda Portman
Text: Brenda Portman © 2021 Brenda Portman
Music: Brenda Portman © 2021 Brenda Portman
Used by permission.
Led by Alexis VanZalen 

About this piece, from

Commissioned by Martin Ellis of Portland, Oregon, Ekklesia was conceived as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a composer of primarily sacred music, I found it impossible to divorce the idea of hope for the future from my faith.

“Ekklesia” is a term of Greek origin that encompasses the community of all believers in Christ – that is, all denominations, all languages, all nationalities – who are called to represent the kingdom of God and to be a light in the darkness of this world.

This cycle of short tone poems for solo organ is based on seven Scriptures that reveal clues about the true identity and purpose of the Ekklesia, providing meaning and direction in the midst of the challenges that we face. In a world filled with pain and suffering, we must look to Christ, our Hope, for the anointing to bring restoration where there has been devastation, beauty where there were ashes, and gladness where there was mourning. (Isaiah 61)

The image of an ancient city on a hill, at night, with bright lights illuminating it for all around to see, was the inspiration for this piece. It begins with a trumpet call, as if a watchman is sounding an alert. The ensuing figurations alternate between irregular sixteenth-note figures and steady eighth-note punctuations suggestive of the many lights dotting the skyline. . . . [Here] the juxtaposition of the 8’ trumpet stop on one manual and an 8’ flute combined with the Cymbale on another manual is an unusual combination meant to sparkle or shimmer in a quirky sort of way.

A chorale-like section comes towards the end of the piece, representing the strength and solemnity of the hilltop city, standing alone and immoveable despite the darkness around it. . . . This metaphorical city, which cannot be hidden because of its elevation and its brightness, is to represent the Ekklesia, which has now been restored, set free, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, shining brightly in a world of darkness and bringing hope to others who are still in bondage.

Song: “Keep Your Lamps”
Text: Spiritual, PD
Music: Spiritual, PD; arr. André Thomas © 2005 Hinshaw Music, Inc.
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Pearl Shangkuan and Calvin University’s Women’s Chorale 

Call to Worship and God’s Greeting
Led by Samuel Aldridge and Joanna Wigboldy

Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”
Text: Reginald Heber, 1827, alt., PD
Music: John B. Dykes, 1861, desc. David McK. Williams (1887-1978), PD; introduction adapted from Piet Post © Edition "ARS NOVA," Goes (Holland), 1963
Led by Alexis VanZalen

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Pardon
Led by Evan Treimstra and Satrina Reid

Anthem: “Walk in the Light”
Text: Refrain by George D. Elderki, PD; Stanza by Charles Wesley, PD
Music: Traditional, arr. André Thomas © 2005 Choristers Guild
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Pearl Shangkuan, Sean Ivory, and the Calvin University Choirs 

Prayer of Illumination
Led by Kevin Adams

Song: “Blessed Are the Poor”
Text: Adam M. L. Tice © 2021 GIA Publications, Inc.
Music: Kate Williams © 2021 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Pearl Shangkuan, Sean Ivory, and Calvin University’s Campus Men’s Choir 

Scripture Passage, Sermon, and Prayer of Application
Led by Kevin Adams

Song: “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
Text and Music: Kathleen Thomerson © 1970, 1975 Celebration
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Sean Ivory 

Led by Levi Huizenga and Sophia Pani

Anthem: “If I Can Help Somebody” arr. André Thomas
Text: Alma Bazel Androzzo © 2020 Lafleuer Music Ltd.
Music: Alma Bazel Androzzo, arr. André Thomas © 2020 Lafleuer Music Ltd.
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Pearl Shangkuan, Sean Ivory, and Calvin University’s Capella 

Led by Kevin Adams

Song: “This Little Light of Mine”
Text: African American spiritual, PD
Music: African American spiritual, arr. Nolan Williams Jr © 2000 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. A-703303.
Led by Sean Ivory

Sermon by Kevin Adams

Kevin Adams A desperate woman entered a building known for its kindness. She was broke. She was hungry. She was cold. She was without a place to live for her and her two-year-old daughter. And when she began to tell her tale, the veteran of the streets of her urban city had heard many tales before, but this one was particularly sordid, particularly painful. The things she had done were despicable in a way he hadn't heard in a long time, and he was grieved for her and for her child, and that the world has such circumstances in it. Finally, after she finished what she wanted to say, there was silence for a long time. And after the silence, he said the only thing he was thinking of at the time—not something he had pored over for years and years, but what was there—he said, “Have you ever thought of going to the church for help?” Years later, he says, “I'll never forget the expression on her face,” the utter bewilderment and astonishment that he would ask such a stupid question. “The church!” she said. “The church? Why would I go to the church? They would just make me feel worse. What good is the church?” she asked.

It's a question a lot of us ask. Some of us ask from the outside. “What good is the church?” we ask, reading about the Crusades and the inquisitions, reading about ecological catastrophes done in the name of Jesus and dominion of his people? From the outside, we think, “What good is the church?”

Others of us wonder from the inside, “What good is the church?” I have a friend who started to go after a lifetime of not going to church, he started to go to our church and casually, by accident, not on purpose, he told one of his coworkers what had happened. She was asking on a Monday morning, “What did you do this weekend?” And he said, without thinking, “I went to church.” And she said, “Church! You, in church? You've got to be kidding me.” And then with a snide look, she said, “I hope you're not giving them any money!”

Some of us wonder about the church from outside, some of us from inside, some of us as leaders. It's tough to be a leader of the church any time, but especially now. There are some leaders in the church who say, “If I have to talk about masks one more time, I'm never coming back.” Others are saying, “If partisan politics control my church in the future like they control it now, I think I'll find a job doing something else—anything else.” Some Sunday mornings, lifelong lovers of the church are saying, “I'd much rather dig into a plate of waffles than a worship service. I'd much rather read The New York Times or do Wordle or something besides go to church. The church—what good is the church?”

Some of us have received disappointment from the church. Like Matthew 25, we were hungry, and the church drove by in its shiny SUVs. We were in prison, and the church forgot to visit us. We were lonely, our parents divorced, and what we heard from the church was, “I'm sorry, you can't be divorced and be a full member of this church.” More creative people, it seems, live in Hollywood, more industrious and thoughtful people teaching universities, more generous people serve at the United Way. But the church? What good is the church?

But Jesus shares no cynicism of the church. He isn't discouraged. He isn't anxious. He isn't afraid for the future of the church. Jesus looks at some Palestinian peasants on a hillside, and he says some of the most remarkable things ever said in the history of the human race. He begins, as we've been learning week to week, remembering service to service this week, he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” He says, “Blessed are those who are mourning, for they will be comforted.” He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” And on he goes, some of the most beautiful, most poignant, most unforgettable words ever uttered by a human being. He says this to ordinary people, uneducated people, illiterate, probably, people, ordinary peasants who live below what we would call the poverty line, who are remarkably unremarkable.

You might imagine he would give such people marching orders. You might imagine he would give such people a to-do list. You might imagine he would give some people three ways to improve their life, five ways to improve their marriage, eight ways to live a virtuous life. He does none of this. He doesn't stack up piles of obligations on them. Instead, he tells them some of the most remarkable things ever said. He says to them, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world,” he says. “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

People twist Jesus’ good words. People always twist Jesus’ good words. Sometimes we are the ones who twist Jesus’ good words. I heard a story a while back of a woman who pulled up to a red light. It was a beautiful June day. The windows were down, her music was on, and she was reveling in being alive—until someone else pulled up next to her. This person looked in a crazy, confused kind of way at her and then back at her steering wheel, to her, and back, and she thought, “What have I done? Did I cut her off two blocks back? Does she not like my music? Is my brake light out?” But just as the light turned green and they pulled away, something entered her car, and it bewildered her. A couple blocks later, she pulled off to see what it was. It was an evangelistic tract urging her to give her life to Jesus. “Give my life to Jesus?” she said. “You guys are crazy, you Christian people.” She called it “Torpedo evangelism" and didn't recommend it for anyone—not for anyone you like, let alone for someone you don't like. Torpedo evangelism. But by God's good words, many, many live as salt and as light.

Maybe you've heard of William Wilberforce, who some people think single-handedly (it's never singlehanded) abolished slavery in Britain and then the British Empire. Over and over again he published legislation; over and over again he was defeated. He lost votes. He lost friends. Eventually, he lost his health. But he didn't eventually lose. He overthrew the practice, and slavery was abolished in the British Empire. He lived for decades as light.

Maybe you've heard of Dame Cicely Saunders. Dame Saunders was a nurse in a hospital when she found it despicable what people do to people who are dying. Once the doctors realized they can't do anything to make you better, they neglect you, she thought. So she knew, being a veteran in a hospital, that people didn't listen to nurses. So she became a doctor in middle age and founded what you and I know as hospice ministry. Have you ever been part of hospice ministry alongside someone you love? It is remarkable what hospice nurses and caregivers and volunteers do as they come alongside your family and walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. They are light. They are light.

Maybe you remember that Desmond Tutu passed away just a couple weeks ago. He was a remarkable example of someone who was salt and light, someone who spoke against apartheid and then spoke against the leaders who followed the leaders of apartheid, who managed and forgave as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. He lived as salt and light.

But maybe you think those are grandiose people? Those are well-known people. Those are popular people. What about ordinary people? What about the person I'm sitting next to or behind? Or what about the person in my very seat? Well, what about them?

One of my good friends on this earth is a woman named Emily Brink. Some of you have heard of her. She is ordinary by some measure, but extraordinary by many others. If you meet her, she is full of life. She overflows with joy, and she has energy that's boundless. In her 80s, she does. One day on Facebook—I'm her Facebook friend—and I saw her and her 80-year-old sister in front of Grand Rapids’ airport, holding a sign with a bunch of other people. The sign said “Immigrants are a blessing, not a burden.” And I wanted to get in a plane and fly to Michigan, but I called her instead.

Or maybe closer to home, I read this past week about a vice president—well, not read; I talked to them—a vice president of a multinational company. His specialty was supply chain operations. Supply chain operations, which is in the news lately as ship after ship after ship stacks up in the ports in the United States and other places as well. He said “I'll never remember, never forget the time when I was talking to a top-tier multinational company vice president, and we were talking about the supply chain.” And he said to this vice president, “I want you to make money. I want you to be able to pay your employees a livable wage. I want you to be able to pay your employees’ health care.” And that vice president of this multi-tier, multinational company started to weep. Nobody had ever told him something like that before. Nobody had ever told him “I want your employees to flourish.” He was light.

If I could magically transport you to California on this beautiful, blustery Michigan day, I would introduce you to a whole list of saints in our church, people who don't really realize they’re saints. One is named Roger. Roger served as a deacon, he served as an elder, and he served for almost twenty years coordinating our ministry to folks experiencing homelessness. His wife started or helped maintain an English as a second language ministry outside of our church. Today Roger’s deep in—or not deep, but beginning his 80s, beginning his 80s—and he calls himself the chairman of our church. The chairman, as in he moves chairs for weddings, and he moves chairs for funerals, and he moves chairs for Ash Wednesday services. He is, he says, with a glowing face, the chairman of Granite Springs Church.

I wonder as I talk about Emily and Desmond and Roger, if people come to your mind, people who are light, people who are salt. I wonder if someone you look at in the mirror most mornings could also be a candidate to be salt and light as well.

A remarkable commentator on the book of Matthew and an extraordinary human being who I got to meet at Calvin's campus a few years ago named Dale Bruner says this passage is nothing less than Jesus’ ordination of his disciples for worldwide ministry. In fact, Jesus says it, Dale points out, in plural: it's really “You folks are the salt. You folks are the light.” Because Desmond is not light by himself. William Wilberforce was not light by himself. Emily is not light by herself. Nor do you need to be light by yourself, but we’re light as part of the community. Maybe that's why the early church, as part of some baptism services, anointed people not only with oil, not only gave them fresh clothes, but gave them salt as well to say you now are part of the community that is the salt of the earth.

I don't mean for these stories of hope and light to minimize that desperate woman's pain or to minimize what the church has done to you. It's ugly sometimes what the church does, even to people it loves. But just as a reminder that when Jesus looks at you and he looks at the church, he's not cynical. He's not anxious. He's not exhausted. He's not wringing his hands about what will happen. But he's bullish. He says you are salt and light. He says that to us, just like you said to the Palestinian peasants on that hillside: you are salt and light. He says that not because we deserve it to be said, not because we've achieved five goals and memorized ten verses. He says it because he himself has made it so. In the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friends, let's pray. Father, in a world of anxiety, in a world of fear, in a world of discouragement, in a world of disdain, we thank you for the message, the good news, that because you are light, we can shine with a reflection of your light as well. Let us live freely, joyfully, contagiously as salt and light, not because we have to, but because by your Spirit we can. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.