Sermon, August 13, 2017

Sermon.08.13.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 9.1-5; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14.22-33

 

Last week we interrupted our series on Romans for the Feast of the Transfiguration. If we are to pursue the full set of lectionary readings from Romans, we must include last week’s assigned reading – Romans 9.1-5. Apart from that, today’s reading, Romans 10.5-15, would lack its proper context – part of the picture would be missing.

As you may recall, in Romans 8, we reached the climax of Paul’s letter. If the Spirit of Christ is in us, through God’s grace, we have a spirit of adoption. We belong to the family of God. The Spirit intercedes for us in our sufferings and weakness while we wait for our final adoption. Paul asked, “If God is for us, who is against us” (Romans 8.31b; NRSV)? Can hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword (war) separate us from the love of Christ? He answers, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8.37; NRSV). Paul closes the chapter with a profoundly moving confession of faith: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39; NRSV).

Imagine how Paul must have felt – he had brought his argument to a resounding crescendo. These are words of joy! But immediately thereafter, Paul tells us he speaks the truth, a truth which his conscience confirms by the Holy Spirit, then he confesses, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9.2; NRSV). From great joy to great sorrow!

Why? Because he recognizes the plight of his own people. Let’s back up for a minute. Acts 9 tells us how Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” how, on his way to Damascus, a light from heaven shone around him, blinded him, and Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9.4; NRSV). Ananias laid hands on Saul and prayed. Saul’s sight was restored, he received the Holy Spirit, and was then baptized. In his ministry to the Gentiles, Saul assumed his Latin name, “Paul.” God chose Saul to bring his message before Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel.

Saul’s observance of the Law was zealous, but it was not enough. His encounter with Christ and his baptism in the Spirit convinced him that observance of the law did not make one righteous before God. Having literally seen the light, Paul had a deep burden for his fellow Israelites. In speaking of his deep sorrow, his unceasing anguish, Paul said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9.3; NRSV). Paul briefly summarizes God’s special relationship with the Israelites: “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9.4-5; NRSV).

In Romans 9-11, Paul carefully explicates the scriptures to clearly reveal how God’s plan of salvation is accomplished through the Israelites. In doing so, Paul makes several crucial points.

First, Paul observes, “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants.” As support, he quotes Genesis 21.12, “‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you’” (Romans 9.7; NRSV). Paul further notes that the “children of God” are those who are the “children of the promise;” these are the true descendants of Abraham.

Second, in that God selected those who would receive the promise, our salvation does not depend on “human will or exertion,” e.g., striving to keep God’s law, but on God’s mercy (Romans 9. 16; NRSV).

Third, as earlier noted in Romans 3.29, God is also the God of the Gentiles, and per Romans 9. 24 (NRSV), God has also called out some among the Gentiles and grafted them into the covenant. Here Paul cites Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Romans 9.25; NRSV; Hosea 2.23).

Fourth, Paul observes, not all the children of Israel will experience salvation, for as Isaiah prophesied, only a remnant would be saved.

Fifth, Gentiles who did not strive for righteousness through the law have attained righteousness through faith, yet Israel, who strove for righteousness through adherence to the law, did not attain righteousness; they stumbled over the stumbling stone, that is, over Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Again, Paul says his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved” (Romans 10.1; NRSV). Paul acknowledges their zeal for God, but calls it unenlightened, for they are “ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10.3; NRSV). Remember, Paul knows whereof he speaks, for this was precisely his own state of affairs prior to the Damascus Road experience. Paul then writes, “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10.4; NRSV).

And this brings us to today’s epistle. Paul begins by citing Moses’ characterization of righteousness that comes from the law that is found in Leviticus 18.5: “You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so, one shall live: I am the Lord” (NRSV). In contrast, Paul, quoting and reframing Deuteronomy 30.12-13, says,

The righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10.6-9; NRSV).

 

Here belief is not a matter of intellectual assent to some abstract proposition or doctrine attesting to the divinity of Christ; it is a matter of trusting the risen Christ whom one has encountered on their own Damascus Road experience. When we have encountered Christ, we can confess and profess with the man who was born blind, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9.25; NRSV).

                Paul continues, “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Romans 10.11-13; NRSV). In this brief passage, Paul quotes Isaiah 28.16 and Joel 2.32. Note how Paul is carefully and systematically drawing from numerous Old Testament passages to demonstrate how Christ is the culmination of a process which began with a promise to Abraham. The giving of the law is only part of that process – it was never intended to be the end of the process.

                Again, referring to the Israelites, Paul poses a series of questions: “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written [Isaiah 52.7], ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’” (Romans 10.14-15; NRSV). As Christians, we are called to bring the good news – to confess and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Let us trust that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead; let us confess that Jesus is Lord; let us love God with all our heart and soul; and let us share the good news!

Amen

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