Worship Service for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, which is landing on February 5, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. We are trying out a new hymn out of the All Creation Sings hymnal, so the music for that piece will be in the bulletin, along with the usual order and words of worship, the liturgical music also out of the ACS book, the remaining hymn numbers (but not the words or music) out of the ELW, and the full sermon. All the words and perhaps unfamiliar music will be on your screen, and the sermon is also on this page after the worship video.

If you would like to enhance your worship experience online, you may have a few elements with you in your space. You may wish to light a candle for most of the service, that can be extinguished after the sending hymn with the altar candles. And if you would like to participate in communion, you’ll need something small to eat and drink ready to consume at the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given when that time comes.

May God’s all encompassing love shower you with blessing and peace, this day and always!

O Lord, by the power of your Spirit, open our eyes and understanding of your truth.  Help us to receive your commandments as grace that our obedience to you and your righteousness be fulfilling and joyful, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

About a week ago I came across this interesting movie on Netflix that you may have heard of or even seen.  It’s called “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” Basically, it is a whodunit type movie that stars quite a few big names, with about 4-5 of them coming from various Marvel properties, which is what caught my eye from the beginning.  I thought the movie was really interesting not just in its story, but in the structure that the movie takes in telling its story.  And no, it’s not like that Kaleidoscope choose-your-own-adventure type show I talked about a few weeks ago.  From the very first scene of this movie, the main theme is introduced with the playing of Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor, which I’m sure all of you are as familiar with as I was, which was pretty much not at all.  And movie’s creators figured that no one would know anything about this piece, so they actually explain what it’s all about in the movie, with the help of none other than Yo Yo Ma:

Cool, right?  So a fugue is a tune that plays over and over and on top of itself at different times and maybe different pitch and stuff like that to create something much larger and more beautiful than the original tune by itself.  I found it fascinating that a musical number could do something so simple as play itself over on top of itself as the foundation, and sound like something completely different with much more depth and intricacies than just itself by itself.  And the really cool thing is that at first glance, it seems like the introduction of the fugue has nothing to do with the movie (or this sermon for that matter), but as the movie began to peel back the layers of the characters, the stories, and the events as they unfolded, what was revealed was a very complex and structurally and artistically beautiful movie, much like how that little fugue does as the music progresses.  

And all this layering and building on itself kind of reminded me of cooking, which, like music, I’m really not good at.  But I am able to appreciate how ingredients can work with each other, how these seemingly bland pieces of the puzzle can mix together and create something more beautiful and tasty than each individual thing on their own.  And with my limited knowledge of cooking, I always see at the base of all this, the foundation of flavour, the one ingredient that I feel like I personally can’t really live without, is salt.  I know, heart disease and all that stuff is a worry when we have too much of it throughout our lives, but just the right amount?  Oh boy are we ever talking about delish.  I know, I might be more of savoury snack guy than most, but I think everyone that can taste anything would instantly recognise the absence of salt.

To me, salt is that main ingredient that ties all the other ingredients together.  Salt is the foundation that is built upon in such a way that makes that dish delicious.  Salt, like the original tune of the fugue, is seemingly insignificant until it is mixed with everything else and is recreated and revealed as complex and beautiful.

And salt is what Jesus says that we are, of the world, in the world, and for the world.

Upon hearing this, being regarded as this important and even imperative ingredient, most of us might be like, “us? Salt? Nah we’re too insignificant, too powerless, too miniscule in the great grand scheme of things to really be considered as important as salt of the earth.”  And I totally get that.  I often feel the same way.  I look at myself, an outsider in so many respects, a Canadian born of Chinese descent who doesn’t really belong in either culture, a horse with no name.  And I can’t see how I could be able to make a difference anywhere or for anyone. 

But this is the beauty of Jesus’ analogy of our identity.  Salt in itself doesn’t seem significant.  It doesn’t sound at all special or meaningful.  Just looking at a grain of salt and it doesn’t look like it would or could amount to much… by itself.  And the salt cannot be anything but salt, it cannot change its properties or physical make up or even its function.  So I wonder if salt would think highly of itself.  I wonder if salt could walk around its counterparts on the spice rack and think that it’s all that.  I wonder if salt would hold its head high and see itself as the foundation of all that is flavourful and tasty.

I know, that sounds kind of ridiculous.  But the point is that it isn’t up to our self-perception to determine who we actually are.  It isn’t up to our self-esteem to solidify our place in the world.  It isn’t up to our attitudes, our beliefs, our self-righteousness to decide our identity as God’s people, beloved and forgiven, redeemed and saved, invited and welcomed salt of the earth.  Salt that cannot lose its saltiness, cannot change its position in the bigger picture of life, cannot be anything but what it is destined to be: salt. 

This declaration comes during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount right after the passage we got last week, the Beatitudes.  And just like that portion, the tone that Jesus takes here is indicative.  He is telling it as it is.  He isn’t giving a condition, a command, or a requirement.  But he is saying you are the salt of the earth.  You are the foundation upon which something beautiful is built.  You are an imperative ingredient that ties things together.  You will fit together with others that perhaps are seemingly as insignificant as you might feel yourself to be, adding to the complex layers and facets of fullness and meaning in our collective community and story of life.

Still, it sounds kind of wild that little ol’ us could be that significant.  But this is the gift and grace of God.  This is what we are called and empowered to be in the world.  This is who we are as God’s people, brought together in community, working together to proclaim and live the good news, recreated together to be the body of Christ in the world.

This is the righteousness that Jesus talks about that is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Just saying those kinds of words in that climate would have been super daunting and overwhelming.  But this righteousness isn’t one of discipline, good works, and pious obedience as we might think.  Rather, this is God’s righteousness of grace, forgiveness, and welcome into God’s kingdom for all people.  It is a recognition of who we are and whose we are.  It is the knowledge and acknowledgement of God’s work of redemption and salvation in the world.  It is the acceptance of God’s love for us all, bringing us together, full of value and worth, and given the identity of the blessed salt of the world, vessels of God’s light beaming into the darkness, revealing to all the fullness and wisdom of God’s justice, peace, and love.  Not necessarily through our accomplishments or skills and talents, but by our very being God’s people, not perfect but forgiven, not alone but welcomed, not insignificant but made to be integral parts of this great mosaic of history.

See, by ourselves maybe we might not seem like much, but together… together is when we shine, how we make a difference, where we are truly something beautiful, layered throughout the world, built on each other and building each other up, adding meaning, flavour, and God’s righteousness in community, relationship, and throughout all of the life that truly is life… that is a life full of joy, peace, and hope, living with God and each other in the love and communion of the Holy Spirit.

In this season after the Epiphany, may we see the significance in ourselves and in each other, that we might accept and believe the declaration of who we are as the salt of the earth, shining the light of God’s righteousness in all the world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.