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Salt and Light: Living Righteously in a Culture of Death

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Salt and Light: Living Righteously in a Culture of Death

Text: Genesis 2:4-7; Jeremiah 1:1-5; Colossians 1:16-17

Theme: In a culture of death, Christians need to be Salt and Light.

Date: 11032013File Name: Salt_and_Light_03.wpdSermon ID: 25

Jesus commands us to be Salt and Light. “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, NIV)

In a culture of death, Christians need to be Salt and Light. The actual term “Culture of Death” first entered common use after Pope John Paul II mentioned it several times in the 1993 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. Evangelium Vitae is Latin for “the Gospel of Life”. In this encyclical, John Paul II wrote about the intrinsic value of every human life, which must be welcomed and loved from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Here is a quote from this encyclical in which he defines what he means by a Culture of Death: “A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of 'conspiracy against life' is unleashed.” The Culture of Death is a culture where "it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak." How do we live righteously in a culture of death?

As we did last week we will 1) Read the pertinent Biblical Texts, 2) articulate the Christian Doctrine, 3) examine the Cultural Challenge, and 4) contemplate the Believer’s Response.

I. THE BIBLICAL TEXT

•“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:4–7, NIV)

•“The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:1–5, NIV)

•“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16–17, NIV)

1. these passages, and many more, teach us that God is the Creator and sustainer of life

a. he breathed into Adam the breath of life and Adam became a living being

b. we are a revolutionary creation of God and not an evolutionary accident of the

cosmos

2. from these verses and others we develop the doctrine of man and our humanity

II. THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE

1. the doctrine of man teaches that a Sovereign God created human beings to reflect His

glory, to enjoy the blessings of marriage and family, to accomplish good works, and live in relationship with Him

ILLUS. Some of you have seen the 1980 movie The Elephant Man. It is based on the life

story of Joseph Carey Merrick, an English man with severe deformities who was exhibited as a human curiosity named the Elephant Man. If you’ve not scene the movie, I recommend it to you. There is a scene in which Merrick is traveling by train to London. When in public he wears a hood with eye-slits because his appearance is so hideous that children flee and women faint at his sight. As he leaves the train platform a group of young teens begin to follow and torment him. All they see is a hooded man walking with a severe limp. Soon the crowd grows and he is chased into a the men’s lavatory where he is cornered. Someone grabs and removes his hood and the crowd gasps and recoils in shock, but then closes in to attack. At that moment, he cries out, “I am not an animal. I am not an animal. I am a human being!”

2. we are not animals—we are the summit of God’s creative work

a. ever since Charles Darwin’s release of his book Origin of the Species in 1859 the

prevailing theory among the intelligentsia of the world is that there is no clear boundary between Homo sapiens and the lower species from which we supposedly evolved

1) it’s a scientific theory that negates the need for a sovereign deity who creates

and rules over his creation

2) it’s a worldview that dispenses with personal survival beyond death

ILLUS. Toward the end of his life, Darwin wrote, In the theory of evolution, man

emerges with the marks of his lowly origin upon him. It makes him a brute, only more intelligent than other brutes.”

b. evolution is a theory that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy—if a man is told often

enough and loud enough that he is nothing but a brute, we should not be surprised when men as a whole begin acting brutishly

1) Karl Marx took Darwin’s theory and applied it to human society, suggesting that a

man has no inherent significance or value beyond his contribution to the well-being of society

2) in other words, the individual simply is the servant of society and when his or her

usefulness ends they lose their right to use up valuable commodities that are better used for the strong and healthy

c. the result has been a devaluing of human life over the last century and a-half that

sees the very young and the very old, or the sick and disabled as dispensable

1) Western culture has now become a Culture of Death in which the sanctity of

human life is demeaned and those who would defend it, ridiculed

2) when a culture devalues human life and then airbrushes God out of public view it

brews a toxic mix

3. the biblical view, of course, transcends this idea that man is simply a biological

phenomenon

a. a grave injustice is done to the dignity of man when he is seen as just an animal,

merely a more advanced animal who got lucky in the throw of the cosmological gene-pool dice

b. the Christian understanding of man as a special product of God’s creative genius,

therefore, cuts directly across the naturalistic interpretation that is evolution

4. a biblical view of the doctrine of man begins with unapologetic commitment to a

sovereign God who formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life making him a living soul

5. thus the doctrine of man encompasses four axioms

A. WE ARE THE PINNACLE OF GOD'S CREATION

1. the structure of Genesis 1 accentuates that mankind is not an afterthought, but is

instead the pinnacle of God's creation

2. the psalmist asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4)

a. the question reveals that thoughtful people long ago were puzzling over the human

race

b. even the ancients realized that man is fearfully and wonderfully made—that we are

different than the rest of creation

1) as he investigates himself, he demonstrates his uniqueness

ILLUS. Only man can investigate himself. The salamander does not ponder his

origins.

2) we feel impelled to ask, “Who am I and where did I come from? What makes me

different from other creatures?”

ILLUS. Only man asks these questions. The Chickadee does not sit at the bird feeder pondering its "birdness."

3. philosophers, theologians, and scientists have mulled over these questions

a. the effort to explain human life has spawned religions, philosophies, legends, saga,

and scientific theories

b. in college classrooms, science laboratories, pulpits, and endless books the human

being continues to try to account for himself

4. our search to answer the question “Who am I?” begins with understanding the main

event of God’s creative work

a. we are not accidents, but a special creation

1) the rest of God’s creative work was nothing less then setting the stage in

preparation for the main event

b. for five consecutive days God said, “Let there be ... “ and the result is that at his

command, “it was”

c. then, on the sixth day God declares, “ ... Let us make mankind in our image, in our

likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them ... ” (Genesis 1:26–28, NIV)

5. no other part of creation is made in God's image—only humans: No other part of

creation is expressly blessed by God—only Adam and Eve

a. we are not a potluck product of the natural processes

B. MEN AND WOMEN SHARE GOD’S IMAGE EQUALLY

1. Genesis 1:27 declares men and women both share equally in the image of God

a. Eve is not somehow less than Adam because she was created out of Adam

b. in this way, gender and corresponding sexual ethics are rooted in the image of God

in humanity

c. being distinctly man and distinctly woman is part of the goodness of God’s creative

work

2. the Christian view of gender thus opposes the modern idea that “gender” is a mere

social construction and denies that women have less worth than men

C. EVERY PERSON OF EVERY RACE SHARES GOD’S IMAGE EQUALLY

1. the image of God is co-extensive with all of humanity: Every person of every race is

made in the image of God

a. if this is true, and it is, then there is no room in Christian ethics for distorted ideas

suggesting that one skin color or ethnicity is better than another, a truth further verified by the fact that Eve is called the "mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20)

b. likewise, disparaging remarks about other people are forbidden since James

reminds us of the danger of cursing "men who are made in God's likeness" (James 3:19)

D. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE AS CREATION’S STEWARDS

1. the creation of humans in the image of God entails human responsibility as stewards

of the earth, including our stewardship of each other

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

2. the doctrine of man entails three important responsibilities that flow out of our

assignment to be stewards over creation

a. 1st to “be fruitful and increase in number”

1) here is a reference to the gift of marriage and human sexuality

2) one of man’s assigned duties is to procreate the species

3) we have been relatively successful and obedient to this command

b. 2nd, we are to “work the ground”

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15, NIV)

1) I’ll say more about this particular area when we look at being Salt and Light in an

Entitlement Culture

c. 3rd, because humans alone are made in the image of God, humans alone are

tasked with "ruling over" creation

1) humanity is not an imposition on the planet, because the planet was made for

human habitation

2) Genesis paints a picture of the Earth as actually waiting for humanity to arrive so

that the world can thrive

"This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, ... “

3) God created the Garden, not for the plants, but for the human creature that he

would put in the Garden and tend it

4) the world is not simply man’s environment but his dominion

ILLUS. This highlights one of the major worldview conflicts of our era. There are

those who think the wilderness ought to reign and others who think that the garden ought to reign. There are those amongst us who clearly believe that man in the world is the problem and that we need to leave everything as it is. Nature should be left unto its own. Nature should reign undisturbed. But the Bible tells us that God’s goal for the earth is not “wilderness”, but “garden.” We shouldn’t apologize for that.

d. while we should not interpret "rule" as a synonym for "exploit," the doctrine of the

image of God in humanity does in fact mean that humans are more important than animals and birds and fish and vegetation and are to rule over these things

3. in conclusion, the Doctrine of Man teaches that God bestows upon humanity a dignity

and providential purpose which all other views of man’s origins fail to comprehend

“You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:” (Psalm 8:5–6, NIV)

a. God animated Adam’s body and endued it with a special quality of life and dignity

b. man became a living person with a self-conscious, intelligent existence—we are,

according to the story, a living soul

1) we’re not a body with a soul, but more accurately, a body-soul

2) we are, therefore, neither just a physical being nor a spiritual one—but both at

the same time

4. the worldview implication is that human beings have an innate dignity and should not

be wantonly or unjustly destroyed

III. THE CULTURAL CHALLENGE

•We find ourselves living in a culture that has radically redefined man’s humanity. As we discovered last week when we looked at being Salt and Light in a Highly Sexualized Culture, being Salt and Light in the Culture of Death is not new nor unique.

•We find that senseless violence and mayhem are the norm, and tranquility and predictability the exception. Consider humanity’s first family. The murder of Abel made no sense; Cain had no right to kill his brother. Yet he did it, opening the door to a brutal and bloody world for the rest of Adam’s children.

•Genesis 6 describes the earth as “full of violence.” Abraham lived in a time when fathers eagerly sacrificed their infant children to please the gods. In Moses’ day, Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn Hebrew males to keep his army of slaves manageable. Those who survived, he simply worked to death. Herod executed an unknown number of baby boys in a mad attempt to eliminate any threat to his throne. Yet no one in power batted an eye, let alone tried to stop him or punish him. In Paul’s day, Rome’s coliseum was part arena, part theater. And human beings played the lead roles in blood sports, battle re-enactments, and gladiatorial combat — all ending with scores of dead bodies on the coliseum floor and cheering throngs in the stands.

•Through the centuries and to this day, humans have devalued, debased, and destroyed human life. Consider the slave-labor camps in today’s China; the child soldiers in Uganda; the Islamic suicide bombers and their victims in Afghanistan and Iraq; the endless wars in Colombia, Burma, Kashmir, and Somalia; the sex trade in Thailand; the man-made famine in North Korea; the quiet plague of euthanasia in Europe; the ghastly toll of abortion in America. The culture of death is real and it is pervasive.

•The devaluation of human life is as old as, well, human life. The reason: Mankind is broken. Our hearts are full of anger and rage. Sometimes it’s contained within us; sometimes it explodes in spasms of violence. Culture plays a role in this process. A culture that challenges people to aspire to something more than mankind’s base impulses will rechannel those impulses. A permissive culture will tolerate or even celebrate them.

•In our own culture the “culture of death” has become as “American as apple pie.” Abortion is now one of America’s most common surgical procedures performed on adults. As many as one out of every three women in America will have at least one abortion. In some minority communities, the number of abortions far exceeds the number of live births. The tragedy of abortion has left 50 million babies tossed into surgical scrap buckets. Proponents of abortion insist that abortion is the ultimate act of empowering women, and that a women posses the “right” over her body, including the terminating of a pregnancy. Merle Hoffman, a major voice in the abortion rights movement, has declared that women need to understand abortion as no more significant an act than having “a bikini wax.”

•In our own culture human life continues to be cheapened as embryotic human beings are considered mere biological material to be experimented on through embryonic stem cell research. The only difference between a zygote, newly implanted on a woman’s uterine wall, and her 2-year-old toddler is Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency. Everything that child is at two he or she already was at the moment of conception.

•In western Europe the culture of death is most clearly witnessed in the growing acceptance of euthanasia or what they euphemistically call “mercy killing.” The Netherlands was the first European county to legalize voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide in 2002. Around 80 per cent of people who request euthanasia die at home and are killed by doctors on the grounds that they are suffering unbearably and are making an informed choice. Last year, 4,100 people were euthanized in the Netherlands. Technically, euthanasia is illegal in the United States, but Physician Aid in Dying (PAD), is legal in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont. Movements to extend the practice exist in every other state. Death With Dignity is their motto. Proponents of euthanasia say that death is to be embraced, and those whose lives are unworthy — by whatever standard of judgment — should die and get out of our way, off our medical bills, and off our consciences. It is a short slide down the proverbial slippery slope from “Physician Aid in Dying” to “an ethic which places the doctor's loyalty to the nation as 'cultivator of the gene pool' above his responsibility to the individual patient.” The liberal progressive will scoff at this prediction. And yet, right now in America, 80% of all pregnancies where amniocentesis reveals Downs Syndrom, that child is aborted. How soon until we euthanize the Downs Syndrom child post birth?

•All of these examples beg a series of questions: Who decides who shall live and who shall die? When is enough, enough? Will economic concerns become the primary means of judging tho is worthy of life? Who gains by the death? What does this say about how we value life? Who gave humanity this authority?

IV. THE BELIEVER’S RESPONSE

1. as God’s people, we are called to be more than simply “not part of the problem”

a. we are called to be part of the solution, to offer the remedy to mankind’s brokenness

2. God has always been deeply concerned about the culture surrounding His people

a. He called Abraham to be set apart from those around him

b. in Exodus, He implored His people, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong”

c. in Leviticus, He commanded His people, “Do not follow any of the detestable

customs” of neighboring nations

d. and in the Gospels, He called on His followers to be salt and light for the world

3. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “You are the light of the world”

a. but what happens if the salt loses its saltiness? What happens if the light is hidden, if

it doesn’t point the way out of darkness?

b. if we don’t try to make the culture better, then what good are we?

A. JESUS WANTS US TO INFLUENCE OUR CULTURE

1. the Church must be a culture of life, contending for human dignity at every level—in the

womb, in the nursing home, in the hospital ward, on the streets and in the schools

a. even as we have become the moral minority, the church must be engaged and not

disengaged

1) we can have an impact by not doing certain things —

•not going to the latest slasher movie

•not watching the gory crime drama

•not shrugging our shoulders when children play violent video games and certainly not buying them for them

•not merely clucking our tongues and tisk-tisking the news of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s ‘house of horrors’ abortion clinic

2) we can also have an impact by doing certain things —

•we can support pro-life ministries like our own Missouri Baptist Children’s home in it’s ministry to unwed mothers

•we can vote for pro-life legislators

•we can support pro-life legislation by writing our Senators and Representatives

•we can encourage our children to remain sexually pure so they don’t have to worry about what to do in case of an unplanned pregnancy, and in the case of an unplanned pregnancy we can encourage them to deliver the child regardless of the embarrassment it may cause

•we can encourage our loved ones faced with debilitating illnesses or unbearable pain, that even in the midst of their suffering God has a plan

2. God’s people must develop a conviction that is unashamedly pro-life

ILLUS. Consider this: The U.S. Endangered Species Act protects 3 amphibians, 56 birds,

7 clams, 2 crustaceans, 29 fish, 8 mammals, 21 reptiles, and 2 snails—and their unborn offspring. But human babies are still fair game. Friends, in America today, it is more dangerous to be a baby in its mother's womb than it is for a soldier to be on the front line in Afghanistan.

a. the abortion controversy and the embryonic stem cell controversy are not a debate

between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice

b. it’s not about privacy

c. it’s not about trusting women to decide

d. it’s not about forcing one’s morality on someone else

e. it’s about one question that trumps all others

1) what is the unborn?

2) if the unborn is a human being, created in the image of God, endued with an

innate dignity, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong

ILLUS. In a chilling admission, pro-abortion advocate, Mary Williams writing for

Salon.com, in January of this year, conceded what the pro-life movement has contended all along—that from the moment of conception the unborn child is undeniably a human life. And yet Williams argues that this unborn human must be terminated if the mother so desires. That a woman’s autonomy over her own body trumps the rights of the child growing in her womb. Williams coldly maintains that “[The mother’s] life and what is right for her circumstances ... automatically trumps the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.” The unborn baby, which she fully believes is human, is a “life worth sacrificing.”

f. when the champions of death threaten vulnerable lives, champions of life must arise

to protect them

1) I’m encouraging you to be a champion of life

3. we can take on the Culture of Death

a. we win by shining the light of truth upon an ideology that depends on darkness and

secrecy for its very survival

b. this war of ideas will not be a short war, unfortunately the worldview war we are

engaged in is war with real human casualties both young and old

B. IT’S OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO INTERCEDE FOR OUR LAND AND TO CALL UPON

GOD TO HELP US

ILLUS. Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “The real business of your life as a saved soul, is intercessory prayer.”

1. God promises, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and

pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The heart of our problem is that our culture is full of men and women who have a heart of stone, that needs to be replace with a heart of flesh.

Jesus of Nazareth was the perfect, living example of the divine nature. The Bible describes Him as the perfect reflection of God the Father made visible to the world. The first chapter of the Book of Hebrews tells us: "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son ... He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being"

The Bible describes the ultimate purpose of your life as entering God's Kingdom. This requires receiving the heart of flesh. We call that being born again. Once you’ve been born again, you’re to become the salt and light of the culture you live in.

Prayer:

"Oh God our Creator and Sustainer of life, have mercy upon our nation. We are a people who have chosen to walk the paths of destruction when righteousness is before our eyes. We confess we have chosen death and not life by allowing the killing of the innocent life in the womb. By this we have also devalued life that is beyond the womb. We have made poor choices and are now suffering the judgment of them. But I pray now that You O God would give each of us the courage to be Your voice in the wilderness to speak of Your righteousness. Help us to cast off lips of silence. Have mercy and forgive us. On this day we are observe and choose life."

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