Weekly Message

02/11/18 – “Are You Worth Your Salt?” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.


02/04/18 – “This is My Body” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.


01/28/18 – “Many will Listen: a Light to the Gentiles” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.


01/21/18 – “Something New is Happening Here” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.


01/14/18 – “God’s Will will be Done” – Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.


01/07/18 – “God’s Will will be Done. Thy Will be Done.” –  Pastor Nick Warner Ph.D.

Sermon Text

    “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.”
    Matthew 5:13
    A couple of years ago I came upon this verse and was kind of puzzled and wondered a couple of things. One, why did Jesus say this and what does it mean? The other thing is that I cannot remember ever hearing anyone preach on this verse though I’m sure some of you have heard such a message.
    Well, I wondered to myself, what about salt? Why would Jesus call those followers and us the salt of the earth? About all I could think of is that salt adds some flavor to food. Other than that, it’s pretty common and pretty cheap. In places where it’s needed, salt melts snow on the roads. So we come to the preacher’s dilemma, what did it mean to Jesus and what did it mean to the original crowd who heard him say that and does it apply to us today. If the preacher doesn’t figure that out and get it right, this whole passage of Scripture loses its meaning.
    Another thought is that Jesus apparently thought it was valuable because the tone of the adjacent verses is positive. Let’s see what we can figure out. One thing, I found this out, salt is not just the same in our world as it was in Jesus’ time. Today salt is common, in Jesus’ time it was rare and rather valuable. In fact, it was so valuable that Roman legions and others would be paid their wages in salt, that wage was called a “salarium,” the Latin word that gives us the word “salary.” A Roman soldier who didn’t pull his share of the load was said to be “not worth his salt.” Salt was also a somewhat different compound in Jesus’ time. Our salt is a stable chemical: sodium chloride. Their salt was mined from the cliffs around the Dead Sea or evaporated from its waters. It mixed together with other mineral and vegetable matter so it could lose its basic qualities: its salinity and its permanence, particularly when exposed for a while to direct sunlight. Worthless salt was discarded or thrown onto pathways to become, for all intents and purposes, gravel.
    Another thing about salt in the ancient world, and not so ancient: before refrigeration salt was one of two or three ways to preserve food items – it stabilizes the item and prevents decay. Salted meat was very common up until a century ago. Salt also has a powerful cleansing ability, it purifies some things and kills off certain bacteria and, again, decay.
    On a slightly more medical observation, salt is essential for the body to function. The sodium-potassium alignment is called the electrolyte balance, one which the body carefully maintains because it enables many physical processes in the body to function. So, yes, salt does a lot of things and maybe not the least is that it makes some foods taste better – in the right place and right amount, it can greatly enhance the pleasure of a meal. For that reason, salt shakers (along with pepper) are found on most tables around the world.
    So let’s apply this without straining the metaphor.
• Salt was common but valuable. Jesus looks at us and sees the same, we are called to be valuable to the cause of the Body of Christ by being active, engaged, having a purpose. Having just finished the Beatitudes, Jesus now couples us with a substance, salt, that stabilizes the body but also gives it vitality, flavor and life. • The gospel is “good news,” not bad. The right amount of salt improves the feel and flavor of the meal. That’s the way I believe we’re called to be, positive, encouraging and pleasant, most of the time. • Just as salt prevents decay and purifies against toxins and poisons, the salty believer is called to do the same. In our case, that requires us to be informed, educated and mature, seasoned, you might say, in the way we deal with people. Unfortunately, we will have to deal with people who bring decay and toxicity into our gatherings whether by their attitude or wrong-teaching or wrong spirit. We are called to be discerning and active in addressing what we find to be wrong.
    So, again, salt is an active agent. Jesus just did not think of the believer as a passive observer. We’re called to share burdens with others, minister to the less fortunate, share our faith and the reason for our hope.
    Jesus warns us against losing our saltiness, his metaphor in this verse for our spiritual core. He says that such a loss will result in the salt being thrown onto the ground. His meaning, I think, is that we have to make sure the world around us doesn’t dispel or destroy the essence of who we are. If we take on the world’s values and principles, we’ve lost our saltiness and we’re of no real use to God’s purpose and He may ask, “Are you worth your salt?”
    There are countless ways to be worth our salt: interpersonal contact, prayer, donations of time and money, visits, service in numerous settings, you can think of more. But one last thing: salt is not worth much all by itself, just sitting there. Who wants to eat salt – yuck! Salt is an active compound that comes alive when it comes into contact with something (or someone) outside of itself. Same thing with us as believers. Behold the solo Christian, they might have a relationship with God but they’re not doing much to build the body, God’s priority.
    Go out and show your salt!
    Blessings, Nick
    “We should not ask, “What is wrong with the World?” For that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask “What has happened to the salt and light?”
    John R.W. Stott
    “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’”[Habakkuk 1:5] As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
    Acts 13:38-52
    Acts chapter 9 tells us the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus from persecutor of the new church to a stunning apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. God chose Paul, a briliant rabbi and scholar of Judaism to become the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is the author of many of the letters of the New Testament. This is the man and the method that God chose to blow open the message of His redemption, that it is for all people, not just Jews. If you are a Gentile, this message beckons you to pay attention to this fact, God does not EVER discriminate. God’s in the business of redemption and inclusion, not judgment and exclusion. Let’s see what happens in this passage.
    At the end of Acts 12, the message of the Book of Acts moves from Peter and the disciples in Jerusalem to the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles. Paul’s job was to go the Gentile cities and proclaim the redemption message of Jesus Christ’s life and death and resurrection. In Antioch (of Pisidia) Paul did what he usually did. He found the Jews and spoke to them about Jesus’ fulfillment of the Hebrew expectations of the Messiah. And he made a bunch of converts but he also made enemies because he was attracting crowds and attention – the Jews did not want to share any of their turf. The reaction of the entrenched Jews to Peter and now Paul was very similar to their reaction to Jesus, as we shall see.
    Noting the critics, Paul quoted a passage about scoffers and skeptics from Habakkuk but the common Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism wanted to hear more, begging him to come back the next Sabbath to preach again. Which he did and in gathering a huge crowd, provoked the Jews again. Then Paul told them that, if they chose to reject the word of God, he and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles immediately. A large group of Gentiles was converted and believed and “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” Which only stirred up more anger from the Jewish locals who began to persecute Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of Antioch. Luke, the author, notes that they then shook the dust off their feet and, in protest, moved on, filled with the Holy Spirit.
    That reference, shaking the dust from their feet, points to Jesus’ statement in Matthew (10:11-14) to go into a town and present a greeting; if it’s a worthy town or home, your peace will rest upon it. If your word is ignored or rejected, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town, leave the judgment to God.
    What I take from these passages is that we’re called upon to share the basis of our hope, letting them hear it and respond. If it’s received, peace and a blessing will come on them. If it’s rejected, don’t belabor it – move on. God will judge the skeptics and scoffers. In fact, I think this is good news because the people are out there who want to hear the good news but we cannot tell, by looking, who they are. We get to share our faith, never knowing who will accept it or reject it. If they reject it, Jesus is implying, don’t take it personally, just move on. At another point he told his followers not to throw pearls before swine. Some people just will not see the richness of this treasure, some will.
    Our hang up will probably be our egos. At this point, if we take our message seriously, we need to lovingly “pass it on” without fretting about their opinions of us. Some will mock and scoff, some will approach with caution, some will receive it like cool water on a scorching desert day. But setting aside our egos is easier said than done, we want people to like and accept us. Here’s the ringer: as I share this message (without a hint of condemnation of them), I’m sensing the respect of a lot of those who hear what I say. To some I could just as well be speaking Swahili, but they don’t reject me, they just don’t care. I honestly have not had anyone overtly put me down. A few slightly sarcastic insinuations: hey, I’ve gotta be able to handle that. If we know what we believe and if we know what we’re talking about, and if we appear to care more about them as people than as “converts,” many will listen. We won’t bat 1,000. Jesus didn’t, Peter didn’t, Paul didn’t. That’s one of the lessons of the Book of Acts – the disciples were not so different than us, sometimes they triumphed, sometimes they got rejected. But Luke says (13:52) as they headed off to Iconium, that “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
    It’s my hope that you will be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
    About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
    Acts 10:9-16
    This passage from Acts 10 is one of those pivotal passages in Scripture: after this revelation to Peter, everything was different. Up to this point, the young church was gathering followers pretty much as an extension of Judaism. They recognized the Sabbath (Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown), followed the Hebrew dietary laws, reached out only to Jews. In this stunning insight from God, Peter is given a vision that God has changed the rules. What used to be unclean is now acceptable because God has made it holy. In this passage, the once unclean items that God has cleansed are animal food items that are now fit to eat. But it soon becomes clear that the importance of this is that all men and women are now open to be the people of God - not just Jews but all Gentiles.
    2000 years later, this doesn't seem too revolutionary but at that time it was an enormous change, basically a change of all the rules. Faithful Jews followed the dietary rules "religiously" and it was a profane violation of their faith to even touch pork or shellfish or other forbidden items. And Jews were the chosen people of God, gentiles were the unworthy "others," the object of disdain by the Jews. Now they were welcome into the fellowship and did not have to become Jews first. It‘s difficult to overstate how committed faithful Jews were to the holiness laws from Exodus and Leviticus. Like all of us, they didn't really welcome change. Ever since Jesus came on the scene, they'd had to deal with change all the time. This one was huge.
    It's also difficult to overstate how much God wants to get the message to us that God wants us as dynamic members of the family. With that membership, however, come some real changes. We have to keep on looking at our attitudes toward ourselves, toward others and toward God.
    Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
    Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
    When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
    His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
    The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
    Acts 5: 27-42
    In this passage, God literally opened the prison doors and pushed the apostles out onto the street. The Jewish authorities put them in prison and ordered them not to preach the Gospel of Jesus. Well, an angel opened the prison door for them and they went out and talked about Jesus, defying the order. Peter told the Sanhedrin that they marched to a higher order than them, obeying God over men. Then Peter accused the leaders of killing Jesus; they then proceeded to glorify His Name. This seriously ticked off the leaders who wanted to kill the apostles.
    But a wiser man, Gamaliel, pointed out that several charismatic teachers had come and gone and that God would reveal whether the words about Jesus were true. He said, “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." So the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership, flogged them, told them to keep quiet and let them go. The apostles, considering it an honor to suffer for Jesus, went right to the streets to tell people about Jesus, “proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”
    In some ways, not to stretch the analogy, Jerusalem at that time was like Palm Springs today. Smart, skeptical, hurting, the people of that time needed to hear God’s word but did not want to be messed with. Some of the reason the brand new church grew was the boldness of the apostles whose lives had really been changed. God grew the church but it was the inspired and motivated followers who were the voice of God to the people.
    I’ve gotta believe that the followers of Jesus joyfully shared the message and did not discriminate about who they talked to. It has to be the same with us. God will prosper us as we boldly go out and tell folks that God cares about them and so do we. I think the church took a wrong turn when it started having professional “ministers,” people who worked for the church, because some people thought it was the minister’s job to do this outreach. God’s plan of outreach is to put us out there and for us to get to know folks and share with them from the reality of our lives, not to “convert” them so much as to share what we know.
    People hate to be worked but they love to be included. That’s our goal for 2018 in this chapel and out there, on the streets, beyond this place. Share what you know in love, they’ll listen.
    Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke, a witness to the life and testimony of Jesus. Then he became aware that the events occurring in the early church, and the movement of God’s Spirit, needed to be documented. Trained as a physician to observe and report, he did so in the Book of Acts which chronicles the earliest days of the church and is a powerful record as both history and sacred revelation. As in the story of Gamaliel, God found one perfectly equipped to tell the story that God has graciously inserted His will into our history.
    Then, six months after Zacharias’ vision, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a Galilean town, Nazareth by name, to a young woman who was engaged to a man called Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel entered her room and said, “Greetings to you, Mary. O favored one! - the Lord be with you!”
    29-33 Mary was deeply perturbed at these words and wondered what such a greeting could possibly mean. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly. You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be known as the Son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and he will be king over the people of Jacob forever. His reign shall never end.” Then Mary spoke to the angel, “How can this be,” she said, “I am not married!”
    But the angel made this reply to her—“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holy—the Son of God. Your cousin Elisabeth has also conceived a son, old as she is. Indeed, this is the sixth month for her, a woman who was called barren. For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.”
    38 “I belong to the Lord, body and soul,” replied Mary, “let it happen as you say.” And at this the angel left her.”
    Luke 1:26-38 - J.B. Phillips New Testament
    Our centuries-long delineation of the Christmas story reaches one of its high points in this passage, generally called “the Annunciation,” the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary that she was the one God chose to bear His Son. It’s pretty easy to imagine this scene as a remarkable declaration that thrilled Mary as she prepared for her pregnancy. Would that it were so easy.
    The truth is Mary was a teen-age girl who was greatly frightened by this appearance and “deeply perturbed” by the words Gabriel spoke to her. Imagine how unprepared she was for anything unusual to happen and this event was totally unprecedented – try to look at this with fresh eyes. She would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and she would give birth to “the Son of God.” What did that mean? And why her? And how about this problem: she was not married yet – her husband to be and she would be outcasts from Jewish society. In fact, Joseph was so distressed by this situation that he thought about ways to break the engagement until and angel came to him to tell him he was part of God’s salvation plan.
    Clearly, this is a difficult passage and it has been the tendency of Christians to overlook its complexity and of non-believers to dismiss it. Several thoughts: first, the people of Mary’s time did not imagine a human visit from God – basically the idea was unthinkable. The Jewish reverence for God was so profound that any such idea would be considered blasphemy against the only high God. The people were hoping for a “Messiah” (Hebrew for one who is anointed) but NOT God Himself. Second, illegitimate pregnancy was the source of great shame in a Jewish family, punishable by shunning or even death. As stated, we see that Joseph, Mary’s very decent fiancée, thought about breaking the engagement. Third, who is likely to believe the claim that God is the father of the baby? Remember, this is a very established and moral society. Such a claim sounded just as absurd in Mary’s time as it would in our time.
    That’s why it seemed impossible, nothing about this was in line with the facts that every Jewish kid learned from the start. But think about this, Jesus’ life, from this beginning, pivots on the improbable if not the impossible, the rupture with tradition that re-defined religious practice, the violation of the rules of nature that we call “miracles,” the confrontation with death and resurrection that set the stage to change the whole world.
    I am convinced it is not God’s intention to make this easy to believe. It’s a struggle that forces us out beyond the predictable and obvious. It forces us to the intersection of reason and faith and expands both.
    A couple of noteworthy observations from this passage:
    • God will do His business His way, don’t try to predict God. • God does the unexpected. • God’s design is always larger than ours. • God will find the right person at the right time for the right job.
    So, in essence, this unsettling story is for Mary and it’s for us as well. God notifies Mary that in her life and in human events, everything is about to change. Please remember that God’s change has already taken place, 2,000 years ago, but it is still taking place. We are part of that still unfolding revelation. Keep your eyes open for strange and unexpected blessings! So there you have it. REJOICE!