Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week, by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Being Salt and Light
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”
(Isaiah 58:1-10, New International Version)
Scripture: “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.”
(Matthew 5:13-16, New International Version)
Message: Being Salt and Light
I posted last week’s worship just before the news of the immigration ban was shared with the public. Last weekend my Facebook page was peppered with people organizing, protests at airports around the country, teach-ins scheduled, and the general feeling of mass action. The ACLU’s success at getting a stay on the immigration ban was celebrated enthusiastically while at the same time news from Standing Rock and the newest appointments in D.C. have been keeping many folks on high alert. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people posting about calling their Congresspeople or organizing worships or inviting each other to different events. The words from this week’s passage from Isaiah 58, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back, raise your voice like a trumpet,” feels in line with the call to action that is needed right now in the United States. This passage is accompanied by Matthew 5:13-16, again speaking to us to stand up, to raise our voices, to work for change and justice and love.
I find that its easy to write each week on how scripture speaks to our political situation, though it's harder to continue to having compassion and it's harder to keep a sense of sustainability in my actions. We are living in a time of persecution and injustice and oppression that—while different from other times in history—echoes of the past. I’m finding that I’m having a harder time watching movies with tyrannical or dictatorial governments, feeling like these fictional shows are too close to what is close at hand in the real world. Sitting down to worship and writing out this message, I found my heart breaking and my mind becoming immobilized… What do I say about all of this right now? What God is your message?
My memory peeked up and I was reminded that back in seminary I wrote a paper on this particular passage from Matthew. I used my research and analysis of the scripture to create two stories. One is from the perspective of a Christian living in Rome, living underground during the time of Christian persecution. The other is from the perspective of a young girl who meets George Fox for the first time. These two fictional stories wrestle with the text, with the call to be salt and light during a time of persecution and upheaval.
During our time of anxiety and fear and exhaustion, perhaps these stories can provide some creative relief from the more political or analytical of messages. May they reach through history and touch your own contemplation of God’s call for you today.
Story #1: Matthew 5:13 in 1st Century Rome
I was not born in Rome but I’ve lived here all my life. No, I was born much farther east, Jerusalem in fact. Most of my family was born across the small sea too. We are all immigrants and refugees. The year and place of my birth, the Temple burned. It was the second year of the reign of Emperor Vespasian and the Jewish zealots had risen in rebellion against the Roman Empire. Fearing for our lives, my parents fled Jerusalem with me, only a babe in arms. I have never seen even the walls of the old city, but I know Jerusalem well from the stories of my family.
My parents had been the last of their families to leave the old city. My father’s parents had lived in Tyre, by the sea when a strange and wonderful man came through the city speaking of a new life. This man, whom his followers called Jesus, spoke of a way of life that gave power and inspiration to the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged. My grandparents were poor Jews and upon hearing Jesus speak they left their families and followed this strange man. They traveled all over the land until Jesus’ death in Jerusalem. There, in the old city, they settled and raised my father. They were part of the first Christian communities and raised my father, not as a Jew, but as a Christian.
Once my father was grown and married to my mother, my grandparents chose to travel the land and visit old friends who had settled in Christian communities throughout the Empire. Their travels led them to Rome where they unfortunately arrived in time for the fires. It was the tenth year of the reign of Emperor Nero. Legend tells that Nero set the fires himself, but regardless of the source, the city of Rome burned and the Christians were blamed. The fires consumed the city on the North East side of the Tiber River. The Christians were living with other refugees in the decrepit Trastevere. The river protected them from the fires and therefore they were blamed, even through the Emperor was also spared. All Christians were banned from inside the city walls. My grandparents settled in a small rural village South East of the city.
When Nero killed himself and we had the year of four Emperors, Christians were gradually allowed back into Rome. My grandparents and many of their friends choose to stay in their village outside and make a living as farmers. They found that the dark volcanic earth was rich and produced great bounties of crops. The same earth, when dug deeply hardened as it was exposed to moisture. They buried their dead in mazes of catacombs beneath their fields. The damp moderate climate was also perfect for an extended growing season and the village was close enough to Rome to trade for what they needed and to send their children to school.
It was into this village that I came as an infant. Life was simple and hard. I grew up among other Christians hearing the stories of our grandparents and of our beloved Jesus through the eyes of our parents. We gathered often in each other’s houses to pray, sing, and tell the stories of our faith. Letters from other Christian communities circulated through our village and we in turn responded in greetings and with the occasional theological question. I was sent with my cousins to Rome to learn to read and write Greek and as I became more and more learned in my subjects, I took over reading the letters and collections of stories about Jesus.
I have my own family now with children of my own. It is my turn to pass on the stories and lessons of the faith. I have the duty to gather people together to pray and to study the stories. I have found from my studies that one collection of stories, written by a man named Matthew, captures my heart more than others. It is from this collection that I teach my community.
One night, I gathered my children and the community in my small dark house. The floor is simple, hardened earth of the same volcano as our catacombs. The walls are cold field stone and the roof is framed with timber from the forest. This night was no different than any other night: damp and foggy. The fire in the hearth cast shadows across the walls and the heat from the flames cut through the chill as the children huddled together for warmth. I remembered nights like this one when was a child, the shadows of the fire dancing across my imagination, breathing life into the scriptures, and illuminating the lessons of our faith.
The adults and elders of the community stood around the perimeter of the house, leaning on the stone walls or sitting on a hodgepodge of chairs and hay bales. From an expectant silence, I began my lesson:
“The great teacher of our faith, our salvation and the child of God, stood up on a high mount and spoke to his followers. He taught them who would be allowed to enter into the Kingdom of God and who would not be allowed to enter. He spoke to these followers, pointing to them, instructing them in their own nature: ‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.’ What my children, does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth?”
The children are always given the chance to respond first. Jesus had taught us to value the innocent wisdom of children. From their responses, the lesson continued. “Salt is used to season,” one child responded. “It is also used to preserve” another child added.
“Let us start with these two ideas. When salt is used to season, a little bit is used to bring out the true flavor of the food. Like salt, we are called to bring out the true faith in people. We are few, but we can make a large difference in this world. Jesus calls us into our role as salt that enhances the flavor of life.”
“When salt is used to preserve, it casts out that which will destroy the food over time. Salt allows us to keep food for a long time, which relieves us of hunger during times of great famine. In this same way, we are called to be the preservers of the faith. We must preserve our prayers and our stories for times of great need when the world is spiritually hungry.”
Another child responded “salt can be used to cleanse injuries.” “It is also valuable. My father was paid in salt the last time he was in Rome selling our goods at the Roman barracks,” piped another voice.
“Yes, salt is very valuable, and therefore we too are valuable. In the face of poverty and persecution we must not forget that Jesus has chosen us to make a difference in this world. Sometimes what we have to say or contribute can sting, as salt stings when cleaning a wound, but in the end we are called to clean the world of impurities so that humanity can heal to the true faith.”
At this point in the lesson, my son challenged my teachings. “You have taught us that in the Hebrew Scriptures, salt was used, not only to cleanse, but to kill. Salt was spread on the fields of losing side in battles in order to kill the land and punish the people. How can Jesus say that we are the salt of the earth without implying that we too can harm people with our faith!”
From a dark corner of the house, a deep and wavering voice responded to my son’s question. “If you don’t mind, I have a story for the young boy.” One of the elders emerged from the shadows and continued, “Once there was young man who had found himself on the wrong side of a grueling battle. His land had been salted by the enemy in his defeat. Everything that had grown on that land died and as a farmer, this meant that his livelihood was all but forsaken. Luckily, there was a small grove of trees on his property that had been spared the poison. The young man cut down the trees and plowed the land, finding a small but viable parcel to farm. In the spring, the young man went down to his land and sowed the small plot. His heart grew heavy as he looked at the rest of his farm, dead and desolate, and a small still voice spoke to him, urging him to plow and sow the barren wasteland. Now this young man was a faithful man and he believed that God could do miracles. He plowed and sowed the rest of his farm. The small plot produced bountifully. The rest of the land remained dead.
The second year, the young man went out to his land and again plowed and sowed the small plot. He looked again out over the rest of his farm. Bending down, he scooped up a small bit of earth. He rubbed the earth between his fingers and tasted it. He could taste the salt that had killed his land but again his heart grew heavy and a still small voice inside him urged him to plow and sow the land. Being a faithful man, the farmer obliged the voice, but alas, for a second time, the land law fallow.
The third year, the young man went out to his land and plowed and sowed the small plot. The small still voice inside him prodded him to once again plow and sow the rest of his land. Being a faithful man, the farmer plowed and sowed the rest of his land. Once he was done, the man whispered a prayer under his breath ‘God, I have done what you have asked but I am losing my faith that you will provide, please God, heal my land from the violence bestowed upon it.”
A few weeks later, the young man went out to his fields. The small plot was growing well, green sprouts had shot up and the young farmer predicted it would be a fine harvest. He walked over the rest of his land and bending down to look closely, he yelped in surprise. For across the rest of his once barren land, small green sprouts dotted the landscape. Over the next weeks and months the plants grew steadily until the land produced the most bountiful harvest that the man had ever seen.
For you see, the salt that had once been poison had been broken down by the water and the wind and mixed with the dark rich earth. What had once killed everything in its potency now fertilized the soil and produced greatness. In concentration, we too can cause much damage, but God works with us, mixes us with the world and transforms us into fertilizers for his faith to grow. We must trust in God to use us as salt of the earth.”
After thanking our elder for his wise story, I turned the lesson back to the text. “What happens though, when salt loses its saltiness? Is it possible for salt to lose its saltiness?”
My oldest daughter responded to this question. “Mother places salt in a cool dry place because the dampness of the air can wash away the salt, all that is left is grit and stone.”
“Very good. Yes, salt can lose its saltiness. Salt comes from a far off place, closer to where I was born than where we are here. Since it comes from so far away, it is very valuable and very peculiar in its nature. Salt will lose its saltiness if it is exposed to our damp environment, leaving us grit and stone. We too, as people of faith, can lose our saltiness. We can lose our ability to season, to preserve, and to cleanse. Once we stray from our faith, we cannot gain our role back. As salt cannot regain its saltiness once it has lost it, we cannot regain our place as teachers of the gospel once we have denounced Jesus and his teachings. Be careful my children. Stay true to the faith. You are the salt of the earth.”
Story #2: Matthew 5:14-16 in early Quakerism
“Elizabeth! Would you please hurry up! We need to leave now to arrive on time!”
“One minute mum!”
This is the state of my life. I am sixteen years of age and too smart for my own good. My parents would put me in a convent if the family was still Catholic but that has not been the case for many generations. Most of my friends have been married off but I remain, without even a suitor to pursue me. My parents are hoping that today may change things for me. Our whole family has been invited to attend worship at Swarthmoor Hall, the home of the great Judge Fell. Many families will be in attendance. Perhaps there is hope for me yet!
The year is 1656 and England is a mess. It has been seven years since King Charles was beheaded and Cromwell is in control of the country. Well, control is relative. Father says I should not be as knowledgeable as I am of country politics; apparently it is unseemly for a young woman. How can I not be aware of what is happening?! My country is in civil war!
In the last hundred years, since the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther nailing his thesis to the church door, hundreds of religious groups have emerged seeking the “one true faith.” When Cromwell took over in 1649, he tried to unite the splintered Protestant groups, but now he is only making trouble for himself. The very wealthy and the very poor despise him and his is at odds with Parliament. Trouble is just around the corner!
My parents grew up in the Church of England but have strayed from the state church and found a home in the community based movements of the Puritans. Our family is supportive of Cromwell, but father says I am not to mention that at the Fell’s residence. Judge Fell works closely with Parliament and would not look favorably on our family if he knew.
Our carriage bumps up and down the rocky road. We live only a short distance from Swarthmoor Hall and I have often seen all sorts of interesting people traveling on their way to visit the Fells. The gossip of the town tells of the Fells hosting the notorious George Fox. Mr. Fox is known throughout these parts as a trouble maker. He stood up in one of the churches south of here and challenged the minister during the service! Oh, how I would love to meet him!
There are all sorts of new religious movements. The Diggers and the Seekers are two that come by often with their preachers. Mr. Fox is starting one called the Religious Society of Friends. He believes that Christ has already come again and is living among us. I hear that Margaret Fell, Judge Fell’s wife is one of Mr. Fox’s followers and that their movement allows women to preach and teach! Perhaps this invitation to the Fells will be more interesting that I thought!
We arrive at Swarthmoor Hall with plenty of time before the service begins. The courtyard is beautiful! This time of year the weather is still damp and grey but the plants love the moisture and the pinks and purples of the spring flowers are bursting with joy. There ivy creeping up the wall of Swarthmoor’s stone buildings expresses a vivid green and an orange cat sits in one of the upstairs windows, framed by the diamond shaped window panes.
As we walk into the grand house, my parents abandon me to give their greetings to the Fells. The wood floor beneath my feet glistens with its recently applied polish and the hallways leads me to a small, quaint library. There are shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling; each book is leather bound and good leafed. I’ve never seen so many books! Gingerly, I caress the spines of the many volumes, pausing ever so often to tilt a book back to read its cover. I am in heaven!
Beside a simple padded armchair, a stand displays a volume larger than the others on the shelves. The book is also leathered bound and gold leafed. A satin ribbon runs down its open middle marking the page for future use. This beautiful book is a copy of the Holy Scriptures and simple elegant letters flow up and down the page. It is open to the book of Matthew, chapter 5. Using my index finger as a guide, I read out loud with only the books on the shelves as my witness:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 hood works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.”
The words seep in to my heart as I stand there before the Scriptures in silence. I faintly hear my parents calling me from another part of the house. I breath in deeply, exhale, and turn to join them.
The worship service is on the second floor the house. A tight spiral staircase leads me to the room. Before entering I glance down the hall opposite the doorway and see a small study. The door is propped open and a distinguished man in his middle age sits writing diligently at his desk. My father had told me in preparation to this visit that Judge Fell never attends the worship at his house. He listens in from down the hall, but finds it a conflict of interest with his government work to engage in such a subversive worship.
I enter place of worship to find a simple room. There are rows of benches positioned towards a single wall with a line of benches facing back from it. On these facing bench sits a proper young woman who could only be Mrs. Fell and disheveled young man with shaggy hair and leather britches. Could it be? George Fox? My heart beats fast with excitement!
The room is filled with people. Some people I know and many people I do not know. I find a seat beside my parents and settle into the expectant silence that is characteristic of worship among the Friends. We are all here to hear the great preachers speak. Father told me that if the Holy Spirit speaks to me I have the responsibility to share such a message with the meeting. I couldn’t imagine speaking in front of all these people. The very thought of it makes me tremble.
As the silence deepens, I find that I am not the only one trembling. Mr. Fox appears to be shaking up and down his body. His hands are the most visible, trembling as if he had seen a ghost. The rest of his body, slow at first and then much more apparently begins to quake until it seems like he will leap out of his seat and begin to dance.
The silence continues. We all are waiting.
In a blink of an eye, Mr. Fox is standing and begins to speak: “And so Christ, who is the light, who enlightens every man that comes into the world with his divine light, which is called, the life in the word, which was in the beginning, who is the light of the world; which is not a natural light, or a created light, but a spiritual, heavenly, and a divine light, which enlightens every man’s spirit that comes into the world, his candle; for, the spirit of man, is the candle of the Lord, and the candlestick is everyman’s body, mind, soul, and conscience, that with this spirit their candle being lighted, and set up in its candlestick, they may see all that is in the house; and with this light they may see Christ that died for them, and is risen for them…So this light of Christ, which enlightens every man that comes into the world, is not natural, but enlightens every man’s natural spirit, which is the candle; and they that love the light, love that which lights their candle, their spirit.” (Spirit of Man The Candle Of The Lord Works of George Fox (Volume 5): Digital Quaker Collection Electronic Edition Fox, George. Fox, George.)
His words bring be back to the moment in the library where I read the words of the Holy Scriptures out loud. Am I the light of the world? Is there the light of Christ inside of me? Is there the light of Christ inside each person here? I look deep inside myself and feel the flickering flame of Christ begging to shine out. All my life, I ponder, I have felt hidden; a basket covering my life and my light. The words of spoken by Mr. Fox pierce through the basket and speak to my very soul. Shine forth Elizabeth! Speak truth!
In those moments I am convinced of the truth that Mr. Fox speaks. Tears fill my eyes and I find that I too am quaking with the beauty of the light. I am the light of the world! I am a city on a hill that cannot be hid. All my worries of marriage and future escape me and I find myself basking in the arms of God. The silence envelops me.
Before I know it worship is over. Others have spoken but I have not heard them. Leaving my parents to their socializing and match making, I walk confidently up to Mr. Fox and thank him deeply for his faithfulness. His eyes seem to dance in the fading light of the evening as he responds “We do not use formal titles my sister, please call me George, your brother in Christ.”
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breath deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, light within us the light that you have for us to shine. Enrich and nourish our lives like the salt on our plates. Help us maintain your blaze and not hide it from the world; help us keep our saltiness and not be blown away by the harsh winds. Dear Lord, join our lights with others, our grains of salt with others, to light up the world, to raise our light in the darkness so that for all night become as bright as noonday. Amen.”