Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Salt of the Earth

Canon Chris Chivers leads worship to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from All Saints Church, Cambridge.

To mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Sunday Worship comes live from All Saints Church, Cambridge. It is led by the Principal of Westcott House, the Canon Chris Chivers and the preacher is the Revd Dr Jane Leach. The music is directed by Calum Zuckert with musicians from the Cambridge Theological Federation and the organist is Jonathan Clinch.

Producer: Katharine Longworth.

38 minutes

Script

Opening Anno: BBC Radio 4. This week Sunday Worship comes from the Cambridge Theological Federation as they celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at All Saint’s Church in Cambridge. The service is led by the Principal of Westcott House, the Revd. Canon Chris Chivers and begins with a chant from the ecumenical community at Taize, The Lord is my Light.

Music (3 mins): The Lord is my light (Taize) - 3 mins max (with sax and choir)

CC (1'20"):
Good morning and welcome All Saints Church is on the site of Westcott House, a member of the Cambridge Theological Federation which unites Christians from the Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and United Reformed Church traditions for worship and for shared teaching and learning together with the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide and the Woolf Institute which exists to foster dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims. We are delighted to welcome our preacher the Rev. Dr. Jane Leach, who is the Principal of Wesley College, the Methodist Theological College, here in Cambridge.
 
Each year since 1908 churches across the globe have observed an octave - eight days of prayer - that we may be one in our common discipleship of Jesus Christ and our witness to him in the world. This year the theme, salt of the earth, comes from a phrase in the Gospel reading we shall hear later - perhaps the earliest expression of faith for Christians - the Beatitudes.

It must often seem to the world that Christians spend quite a lot of time in disagreement one with another. Of course arguing things out is part of the rabbinic heritage that's fundamental to our identity. But when so many Christians are being oppressed and persecuted in the Middle East right now, the argumentative and scratchy way in which some conversations are animated detracts from where the real focus ought to be. Back in the fourth century when the church was arguing about infant baptism, those who were for and against it nonetheless found common cause in their understanding that our unity in Christ always takes precedence over our disagreements. Why? Because the unique Christian claim is that Christ redefines what it means to be human for everyone. Here in this place ...
 Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away
 
Hymn (2'55"): Here in this place


SPEECH:

Orthodox rep (25"):
O heavenly King, Comforter and Spirit of truth,
You that are in all places and fill all things,
The Treasury of blessings and the giver of life:
Come to dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain,
And save our souls, O good One
All: Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill towards all.
 
CC (30"):
That was a prayer from the Orthodox tradition. One of the areas on which we focus ecumenically in the Federation is the shared teaching and learning that leads to public ministry lay and ordained and a deepening of shared faith for all students who come to share our life. In the first epistle of Peter Christians are reminded that they are all chosen as a royal priesthood and as God's own people.

Reading (30"):
1 Peter 2: 9-10 (Westminster)
 you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.

CC:
“You are a royal priesthood”.  Yesterday, I asked a group of students from different Christian traditions what this means to them: 
 
CC:
Now, in unity of voice, we sing the hymn, “God of Mercy, God of Grace”

Hymn (2'):

God or mercy, God of grace

SPEECH:

CC (30"):
One in joy and light and love. It's an aspiration for Christians, it's no less than a divine call that we be one, but it's not yet a reality of course. I asked the same group of students to help us think about the challenges of living the Beatitudes - the Gospel reading we shall hear in a few moments - in a world crying out for peace and wholeness, and what it means for the call to embrace such a vision to come from the fractured body of Christ's church. Given the differences of culture, tradition and belief within Worldwide Christianity as it’s embraced in the Theological Federation in Cambridge I pressed them on what happens in practice. When the archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, talks about ‘good disagreement’ what does that really entail?
 
Discussion Insert  (3') as intro into reading
 … possible sax coming out of insert

Reading (1'30"):

Matthew 5: 1-16
[two voices alternating beatitudes and then alternating salt and light) - ERMC and Lady Margaret Beaufort]
Voice 1: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Voice 2: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Voice 1: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Voice 2: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Voice 1: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Voice 2: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Voice 1: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Voice 2: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Voice 1: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Voice 2: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Voice 1: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
Voice 2: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others. So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

JL (8 mins): Sermon

Salt of the Earth.  This is the phrase chosen from Matthew 5.13 as the theme for this year’s Octave of Prayer for Christian unity that ends today.
‘You are the salt of the earth’ is the whole sentence, and, according to Matthew’s gospel, it was first addressed by Jesus to his disciples at the conclusion of the Beatitudes we’ve just heard. 
And yet this is no pat on the back for the chosen few for it comes with a warning: ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.’
Anyone who watches Masterchef knows that, however good your dish; however well-chosen the ingredients; however well the food is presented on the plate, if you have forgotten the seasoning there’s likely to be disaster because it’s the seasoning that brings out the flavour.
Salt was used in the world that Jesus knew, for seasoning and for all kinds of other purposes – for preserving food and as an antiseptic; it was a metaphor for eating together and it was associated with sacrifices and unbreakable bonds.  And these many associations have led people to reflect on the possible meanings of this passage from many different angles – are we called to preserve Christ’s teaching? Are we to consecrate ourselves as holy to the Lord? Are we to be a salve for the wounds of the world?
In the text as we have it though, Jesus refers only to the taste of salt and not to its other properties. And in this lies a puzzle because any chemist will tell you that salt is salt.  Its taste is one of its essential properties and it cannot, by definition, lose its savour.
So what is Jesus meaning by suggesting that salt can lose its saltiness?  Some have argued that whilst salt is always salt, it can become so contaminated by other substances that it ceases to be useful. And if you keep a salt pig, rather than a salt cellar, then you will be familiar with the point at which you realise that the salt has got so many foreign bodies in it that you want to throw it away. 
Is Jesus meaning that his followers should keep themselves separate from contaminating elements? Separate from the world with all its confusions and complications and compromises or they will lose their essential identity?
If this was Jesus’ meaning, then the verse about salt is very oddly coupled with the verse about light:  ‘A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’. There is no sense here that the light can be for itself. By definition, it is for the darkness. 
Coffee is drunk a lot in student life. And, if anyone has ever given you a cup of coffee and put salt in it instead of sugar, you will know from bitter experience (as I know from having been the one who made that cup of coffee for an unsuspecting visitor), that salt is not for use in high concentrations but is for sparing use to enhance the taste of other things.  Kept separate, salt cannot do its job – in fact it is literally unpalatable.
So perhaps Jesus is saying here that disciples all concentrated together on internal matters and not focusing on their role in the wider world are likely to be pretty toxic. Even if this is not what Jesus meant – I guess many of us have experience of what happens when we turn in on each other, fighting over things to which we attach huge importance, whilst losing sight of God’s vision for the whole inhabited earth, where there is so much work to do: where people die in their hundreds of thousands of malnutrition; where people live in war zones and under regimes of terror in fear of their lives for who they are; where whole countries will disappear as sea levels rise... if we were really being salt and light would we not be known for our radical interventions to tackle these ills – is it not when we retreat from political and social realities that we lose our essential identity becoming bland and useless?
For if we look back only a few verses in Matthew’s gospel it is the expansive horizon of God’s compassion and justice that is laid out before us in the beatitudes: the word used is blessed or in the Greek – happy – but can we also say, ‘like salt’ are the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those persecuted for seeking justice? 
Yet we are not likely to be persecuted if we keep to ourselves.  We are more likely to be ignored: our light not shining; the seasoning we might bring, untasted.
Yet, even if this version of what Jesus was saying appeals to us: ‘don’t get bogged down in the minutiae, concentrate on the big picture’; ‘don’t huddle together, be engaged in the life of the world…’ there is still a problem with his words - for we all know that even if salt cannot cease to be salty, a Christian presence doesn’t necessarily promote peace.  In fact, sometimes Christians are at the heart of the problem.  And in this Theological Federation here in Cambridge, as we struggle sometimes to communicate as Christians, let alone to work together with the Jewish and Muslim members of our community; we of all people ought to be aware of the pain of our fractured and often destructive common history and present.
So how can Jesus say to us: You are salt (which doesn’t lose its saltiness) but if you do lose your essential character, you are good for nothing.  Surely Jesus, of all people, knew the fallibility of his disciples and of all human beings… what impossible standard was he setting for us, only to see us fail, whether in Cambridge or in Canterbury or in the Balkans or in the Middle East or in Rwanda?
What use are these words of Jesus to us? 
I have two thoughts to offer:
The first comes from the logic of St Paul who is always saying to his flawed new converts:  ‘you are God’s people, become who you are’; it’s an appeal to us to claim our deep identity and live it well. ‘You are salt; be salt for the sake of the whole inhabited earth.’
And the second thought comes from the letter of Peter that we heard earlier:  ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’
‘A holy nation.’  Again, the temptation here is to think about separateness.  Yet holiness, is not about being ‘holy than thou’ and looking down on others, but being conformed to the character of the God whose name, as Pope Francis has reminded us, is mercy:
 ‘Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.’
Who is God but the one who shows mercy to us, flawed as we are?  What does it mean to be salt and light except amid all the confusions and complications and compromises of life as it is to seek justice and peace, and to be merciful to one another?
Imagine a world salted with people who are not afraid to speak out for justice and peace in the name of God, nor to show mercy to others.  Imagine a world without.
You are salt, says Jesus, because your essential identity is as people to whom mercy has been shown.  Live in this knowledge and the earth will be blessed and the character of the God whose name is mercy, will shine from you, causing praise to rise from earth to heaven.

Music (3'20"): Jubilate, Howells

Speech:

CC (30"):
Herbert Howells setting of Jubilate, psalm 100, reminding us that the truth of God's grace is everlasting, cutting across all difference and denomination, calling us now to be a holy people of God and to join in the divine mission in the world as prayers are led by Christians across our traditions:

Sung response with sax obbligato (15"): Make all your people holy and one in Christ (and then music under prayers)
 
Voice 1 (6"):
Gracious God,
Transform our hearts,
Our families,
Our communities and our society
 
Sung response with sax obbligato (15"): Make all your people holy and one in Christ (and then music under prayers)
 
Voice 2: (9")
Water of life,
Quench the thirst that exists in our society,
The thirst for dignity, for love,
For communion and holiness.
 
Sung response with sax obbligato (15"): Make all your people holy and one in Christ (and then music under prayers)
 
Voice 3: (12")
Holy Spirit,
Spirit of joy and peace,
Heal the divisions caused by misuse of power and money,
And reconcile us across different cultures and languages.
Unite us as God's children
 
Sung response with sax obbligato (15"): Make all your people holy and one in Christ (and then music under prayers)
 
Voice 4: (6")
Trinity of love, lead us out of darkness into your marvellous light
 
Sung response with sax obbligato (15"): Make all your people holy and one in Christ
 
CC (10"): add any prayers relating to news then... Lord Jesus Christ, we are made one with you in baptism and therefore we unite our prayers to yours saying the prayer that you taught us, each in our own language:
 
Our Father ... (30")
 
CC (12"):
As we strive to be salt and light in the building of God's kingdom, so also we seek to embrace one Church, one faith, one Lord. Thy hand, O God, has guided thy flock from age to age
 
Hymn (3'): Thy hand, O God, has guided (4 verses)

 
CC:
May the God who blesses the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted be with you this day and for evermore. Amen.
 
Voluntary (2')

Broadcast