A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Salt & Light: A Reflection for the 295th Annual Meeting

Salt & Light: A Reflection for the 295th Annual Meeting

February 5, 2023


Before any of us were born and even before the United States was established, in 1728 this church began. For 295 years, the 3rd Parish of Gloucester, now known as the Annisquam Village Church, has been meeting annually to review the year that has passed and to set a direction for the future. 

At the Annual Meeting, there will be reports about the number of baptisms, weddings,  new members, and those who have died. We will review our income and our expenses.  We will thank departing Board members and welcome new ones. We will update pronouns and semantics in our bylaws. We will do our best to make sure that the operations of our church are running well. 

But, none of this matters if we don’t take to heart the deepest purpose for this or any other church: We are to be salt of the earth and light for the world. Not just you and me as individuals, but all of us, together, as a community.

The English translation of the section of the Sermon on the Mount that Michelle read misses the nuance of Jesus’ address to his disciples and the crowds. He is speaking to them as a group.   When Jesus says, “You are salt of the earth” and “You are light for the world” he is using a plural form of the word, “You.” 

If Jesus were a Southerner, he would say it like this “Y’all are salt of the earth. Y’all are light for the world.”

Notice that Jesus isn’t saying “You must be or you should be” salt and light… He says you already are these things. Jesuit Gregory Boyle puts it like this: “Jesus does not say, ‘One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.’ He doesn’t say, ‘If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.’ No. He says straight out, ‘You are light.’ It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it.”

Church should help us see who we truly are and then offer ways to be salt and light in the world.

Here’s the thing about salt.  It has no purpose on its own. 

How many of us would take some salt, toss it in our hands and lick it? Ew!

But, you put that same salt on some corn on the cob or scallops. Wow! 

The purpose of salt is to bring out the flavor of whatever it is paired with.

That’s what we’re here for – to bring out the flavors, the gifts of others that are already there.  One of the ways Christian missionaries of the past got it wrong  was to think that they were bringing the good news of Jesus to people they saw as heathens, to those who they thought were somehow outside of God’s love.   Instead, what we are called to do is help others see the grace that is already there, to recognize the Divine spark that is within every human person and nurture it.

To say that we are salt of the earth also means that the Christian life is not intended to be lived in solitude.  Rather, we become who we are meant to be by contributing to others. The church exists to engage with the world, to breathe life, encouragement, and hope wherever embers might be smoldering. 

This is no small point in 2023.  How many people do you know who say, “I don’t need to go to church to be a good Christian… or to believe in God… my faith is between me and God.”

Jesus suggests otherwise.  To be salt and light; to be who Jesus calls us to be, isn’t merely a private matter, it is also about being part of, belonging, being connected to a community of people who share together in a mission of love for the world. 

Three researchers – Professors Tyler Giles of Wellesley College, Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame, and Tamar Oostrom of The Ohio State University – have uncovered a remarkable correlation between deaths of despair among white people in the United States and religious participation.  Their study was published in January by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research based in Cambridge. 

They write: “The initial rise in deaths of despair in the US (in the early 1990’s) was preceded by a large decline in organized religious participation.  Both trends were driven by white middle-aged Americans…States with high levels of religiosity have suffered less from mortality due to alcohol, suicides, or drug poisonings…States that experienced larger decreases in religiosity have had the largest gains in the rate of deaths of despair… The impact that we witness seems to be driven by the decline in formal religious participation rather than in belief or personal activities like prayer. These results underscore the importance of cultural institutions such as religious establishments in promoting well-being.”

In other words, we need each other.  It turns out that Jesus was right – if you are connected meaningfully to other people, using your gifts, and are trying together to make a difference in the world you are blessed; blessed to know who you really are, blessed to know what you can give, blessed to experience a hope-filled life.

Peter Lawrence will tell you that as the pandemic was starting, he was feeling a lot of heaviness because the political environment and the climate.  Then we began the Creation Care Team, but his sense of well-being shifted from a sense of despair to a sense of hope. That is what we’re here for.

Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out for others.

Five years ago, when the Search Committee was trying to determine what kind of a pastor might help the church evolve, you asked a lot of questions of yourselves and of the community including “If this church were to close, who would miss it?” 

On this Annual Meeting Sunday, as we look to the future, it is a question worth continuing to ask. To be like salt, to flavor the world, we can’t be merely content to count our blessings; we need to keep discerning how we are called to bless others.  We need to keep wrestling with what it means to be anchored in Annisquam when so many people around us are having a tough time and when the planet itself is in distress. 

Now that we are coming out of the pandemic, it is time for us to reimagine how we offer the blessing that is engagement with this community both within and beyond these walls. Who do you know that might benefit from connecting with us on a Sunday or at another point during the week? Who are those people, organizations, or concerns beyond the corner of Leonard and Washington Streets that would be blessed by our engagement? By our light?  Who could partner with us in the flow of blessing?

We are the salt of the earth.  We are the light of the world.  To grow into the church God calls the AVC to be in the future, may we continue to be a place where all are welcome wherever we are on the spiritual journey, and a church – as our mission statement says – that “cares for one another, reaches out in service to the community and the world, and are active stewards of God’s creation.” 

May the people of Cape Ann and anyone who has ever heard of the Annisquam Village Church, see us as a spiritual community that would be unimaginable to close, because our salt and our light, our mission in the world, embodies the very presence, the grace of God. May it be so. Amen.