Wednesday, August 12, 2020

“People with a Purpose” Rom. 10.5-17, Pentecost 10A, Aug. ‘20


1.                Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this 10th Sunday after Pentecost is taken from Romans 10:5-17 and is entitled, “People with a Purpose,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                In 1961, a visitor walked into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow . . . carrying a brick. He found a painting of the crucifixion and started to destroy it. His destruction of Christian art wasn’t done out of hatred for Christianity but out of love for Christ. He objected to the way the artist had portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus. Salvador Dali was the artist and the painting was Christ of St. John of the Cross. In it, one sees Jesus hanging on the cross over the world. But, the problem, for the visitor was that Dali had changed the perspective people have on the crucifixion. Rather than standing below the cross, looking up into the face of Jesus, Dali asks the viewer to be situated above the cross, looking down upon Jesus, who himself is looking down upon the world. For the visitor, this stance is sacrilegious. You place yourself above Jesus. But, for others this stance is divine. Some people see what this visitor didn’t see, Salvador Dali is inviting you to have God’s view of the world. Our Heavenly Father looks down upon the fallen world and he sees it through the eyes of his Son Jesus, dying on the cross, for all people.

3.                This vision is hard. As we look at the world, we can often see something we want to run away from rather than run into. We see the social fabric of God’s creation tearing apart at the seams. Same sex marriage, divorce, and couples living together outside of marriage have altered God’s plan of one man and one woman for one lifetime. Abortion, the killing of children in the womb and yet the ardent fight to preserve the nesting places of an endangered species speaks of a world that has lost its moral compass. Rather than valuing all of life, our world encourages us to value only some of life, particularly if it’s not human. Seeing poverty that walks our streets looking for a place to sleep while others are buying their second vacation home makes one want to leave this world behind, to enter into some Christian Monastery and wait for the Day of Resurrection, the recreation of all things. 

4.                How easy it is for us to enter church and turn our eyes upward to the cross and leave the world behind. All we can see is Jesus and seeing him, we can forget where we are or what he would have us be doing. We can simply gaze at Jesus dying for us on the cross and forget that we live in the world and that God has chosen us to be involved in his mission. Here. In time. How hard it is to look at Dali’s crucifixion. Here, we can’t escape the world by looking at Jesus. No, we find that Jesus asks us to see the world through him. Jesus hangs there, below us, offering his life for the world. And he invites us to see the world, through the cross, living in God’s mission of love!

5.                This is the perspective the apostle Paul had upon the world. This is the vision the apostle Paul was inviting Christians in Rome and Christians today to see. God has called us to be part of his people for his purpose, his purpose of reaching out to the ends of the earth with Christ’s saving love. Today, as we reflect on this text from Romans, we will consider two details of Paul’s vision of the people of God. We are people saved by grace and people involved in God’s mission.

6.                One of the odd things about Dali’s depiction of the crucifixion is the body of Jesus. If you look closely at his painting, you will notice that Jesus hangs on the cross without any wounds. There are no nails piercing his hands. There are no nails piercing his feet. His body hangs from the cross but there is nothing that holds him to it. For some, it makes it look like the crucifixion never happened or it denies the pain and suffering of the Son of God. But, for others, there is a deep spiritual insight in this painting. When Jesus was crucified, we nailed him to the cross. His own people tried him, found him guilty of blasphemy, and rejected their God. And we would do the same had he come among us today.

7.                There’s no doubt that Jesus, the Son of God, was rejected by his people and hung upon the cross to die. But that isn’t the only reason Jesus hung upon the cross. He could have delivered himself . . . if he wanted to. Remember on the night when Jesus was betrayed how Peter drew his sword to try to protect him. Jesus then turned to Peter and said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:33). When Jesus hung upon the cross, the religious leaders mocked him. They called out for him to come down from the cross and save himself if he were truly God. But Jesus stayed on the cross, not because he was only human and couldn’t get down but because he was truly God and wouldn’t get down. Jesus stayed on the cross because he didn’t come into this world to save himself. No, he came to save you. It was the pure love of God that led Jesus to that cross and it was the pure love of God that held Jesus up there – offering his sinless life for the sins of the whole world. Jesus hanging on the cross without nails is not a realistic picture of what happened at the crucifixion but it is a true picture of what happened on that day. God, in Jesus Christ, willingly gave his life for you and for the world that you live in. This is something that the apostle Paul understands. Salvation comes to us purely by grace. It is only by the love of God poured out for us in Jesus Christ that we are saved.

8.                As Paul proclaims this truth among the Roman Christians, he does so by revisiting a familiar text for God’s people. Just as Dali took a traditional picture of the crucifixion and offered new insight, so Paul took a traditional text and asked God’s people to read it again. Paul turns to the book of Deuteronomy. After 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites are about to enter the land of God’s promise. Before they enter the Promised Land, God renews his covenant with them. In the beginning of that covenant renewal, God warns the Israelites about how they should view this moment. Moses says, “Do not say in your heart after God has thrust [the nations] out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land. . . . Know therefore that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:4 and 6). Here, Moses asks the Israelites to look at their past. They were a stubborn people and didn’t earn the Promised Land by their own righteousness. At the end of that covenant renewal, God speaks of a time when they will depart from God and be exiled from their land and then God, in mercy, will come. They will repent and God will bring about a restoration. Here, Moses asks them to see their future. Their future lies only in the mercy of God.

9.                It’s that vision of that future that Paul quotes here. He wants us to see the love of God, freely given for all people . . . now . . . in Christ. Listen to Paul. He writes, “the righteousness based on 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, in your mouth and in your heart.”’ (that is the word of faith that we proclaim).” (Romans 10:6-8). For Paul, that day of restoration had come to God’s people in Jesus and it had come purely by grace. With these words, Paul reaches out to his Jewish brothers and sisters and invites them to join with the Roman Gentile Christians in confessing salvation in Jesus Christ, by grace, through faith. At the heart of God’s covenant lies not what we do for salvation but rather what God does for us. We’re saved not because we are a mighty or particularly holy people. No, we are stubborn and rebellious and sinners before God. But we are saved by God’s mercy made known for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus came down from heaven, he entered into hell, and he rose again that we might be forgiven and be part of God’s people who live by grace through faith.

10.             As Paul offers a vision of life in the Promised Land, he helps us see Jesus at work through his people in the world. As you listen to this text, notice how the Promised Land isn’t limited to a small piece of ground in Israel. No, the Promised Land expands to include the whole world. When Paul continues writing, he reveals this world-encompassing mission of God. “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:11-13). In Paul’s words we hear an emphasis upon everyone. God’s mission is to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth.

11.             For Paul, that mission of God isn’t something that merely hangs there in the sky. No, Paul brings that mission of God down to earth into the very mouths of God’s people. Paul asks a series of questions to which the answers are obvious: “But how are they to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15). God brings people into his kingdom through the word of faith that his people proclaim.

12.             Paul knows this truth about God’s greater story. When God brings people into his kingdom, he brings them into his mission that extends to the ends of the earth. God gives every person a confession of faith, a word of faith that when spoken touches others with the power of God. Paul writes that the gospel of God “is the power of salvation to all who believe.” Paul wants us as Christians to know know that you have a purpose in God’s kingdom. God uses you in his mission to share with others the good news.

13.             Dali’s painting offers us a visual reminder of this work of God. There, in the heights of heaven, is the cross. Jesus, in love, offering his life for the world. There below him is the world. It extends outward, across a lake, into the distance. This love of God is a love that will reach to the ends of the earth. But the question, is how is this love to be communicated to all of those people? There at the bottom of the picture, you see the answer. Two men, going about their task of fishing near the boat. They seem to be plain fishermen. Nothing would set them apart from others as God’s special instruments to the world. And yet, that is what happens in the ministry of Jesus. He comes and calls plain fishermen to follow him. These men are not sent into Rome to learn rhetoric from famous speakers. No, they’re invited to live with Jesus and witness what he has done. And then, Jesus gathers these men together on Pentecost and sends his Holy Spirit upon them and they become apostles, those sent out to bring the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. God’s work comes not through human eloquence or wisdom. It comes in the foolishness of the gospel, a story so simple that even a child could tell it. A story so amazing that only God could bring it about.

14.             This work of Jesus, sending his Spirit to speak through his people, wasn’t limited only to the apostles. As persecution arose in Jerusalem, the laity were scattered as the apostles stayed there, willing to die for the faith. And the laity were the ones who carried this message with them, maybe even being the first people to speak of salvation in Rome. I’m sure that their words weren’t the most eloquent. But through their simple words, God’s work of mission was done. And through your simple words, his work is done today. As Paul writes, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” (Romans 10:8) God has called you, chosen you, to be his people who live by his promise and live for his purpose, his mission to bring salvation to the ends of this earth.

15.             After a visitor attacked Dali’s painting it was removed from the art museum. Through careful work, the painting was restored and brought back to the museum. Today, thousands of visitors go to Glasgow to see this painting. They stand there and marvel at the beauty of Dali’s work. But, Paul, knows of another restoration that causes God’s people to stand there in wonder. Paul sees that in Christ God has fulfilled his promises to Abraham. Through this one nation, God has brought salvation to all the nations of the earth. Through this one person, his son Jesus Christ, God has offered a love that encompasses all people.

16.             As we are in worship today, Paul asks us to look up, and see Jesus. But, we don’t only see Jesus. No, Paul changes our perspective so that we see Jesus at work through his people bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. Paul wants us to catch that vision, “how beautiful . . . how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15) Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.


“People of the Promise” Romans 9.1-5, Pentecost 9A, Aug. ‘20


1.                Grace, mercy, and peace to You from God our Heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word on this 9th Sunday after Pentecost is taken from Romans 9:1-5.  It’s entitled, “People of the Promise,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                You may have seen it before, on a laminated card in a Christian bookstore. It’s a listing of passages to look up in the Bible when you are in need of a word from God. On the left-hand side of the card are different situations in life. “When you worry . . . when you feel alone . . . when you struggle with temptation . . . when you have financial trouble.” Then, on the right- hand side of the card are the passages that you should look up for each situation. So, “When you are worried” you are directed to look up 1 Peter 5:7 and there you read, “Cast all your anxieties on God, because he cares for you.” It’s a quick, easy way to find a bible passage that speaks to you. The last thing you want, when a person is worried, is for her to open the Bible and read about God striking Ananias and Sapphira dead in their tracks or God sending bears to kill 42 children for mocking the prophet Elisha. It’s much safer to open the Bible to one single verse and begin reading there. While this listing of passages can  be comforting and has brought many people a word from God who otherwise would be lost when they open the Bible, the difficulty is that sometimes people never get beyond this kind of reading of the Bible. They open the pages. They find a comforting word. But then they set the Bible aside and they never find themselves entering through this door into the deeper, richer story of Scriptures.

3.                Christianity becomes something it was never intended to be. A private, personal religion. It becomes something you turn to not when you enter the world but when you retreat from it. It’s something you read in your private devotional time and you look forward to that moment when it is “just me and Jesus.” God becomes something like our best friend, a person who supports us when times get tough, and someone who helps us accomplish our plans and fulfill our dreams. The problem, of course, is that we have reversed roles with God. Rather than us being servants in God’s kingdom, God becomes a servant in ours.

4.                This Summer, as we have been reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, we’ve turned our attention to God’s greater story and we have seen the main actor in that story – not us, but God. God is the one who was there at the beginning, creating this world and all of the cosmos; and God is the one who will be there at the end, bringing about a new creation. In between the beginning and the end, God is here, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working in love and ruling over ruins. Today, we’re going to see how God’s greater story involves a greater people. While God is present for every person, able to be found in a small Bible passage a person reads when lonely, God’s vision is much greater than that. God has come in Jesus Christ not only to save you and each person in the entire creation but also to join you to a people, a people who live by his promise and for his purpose in his kingdom.

5.                As you listen to Romans 9:1-5 this morning, you realize that we have come across Paul in a very private moment. Paul is engaged in prayer. His prayer is personal and very, very painful. I don’t know if you’ve ever come before God on behalf of someone you love and yet someone who will have nothing to do with the Christian faith. You love that person. You know that God loves that person. And you know that God would desire that person to be saved and yet that person wants nothing to do with God. And so you stand there, alone, not because you don’t believe in God. You believe in God. But you are alone because you stand there without your friend, your mother, your child who has walked away from the faith. If you’ve ever been there, you have a small clue of what the apostle Paul is experiencing. This is a private moment. A personal and painful prayer.  Paul cries out, “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:1-3)

6.                Paul is concerned about his kinsmen, the Jewish people. Five years ago, the Jewish people had been expelled from Rome. The Emperor Claudius was attempting to maintain law and order in the city. There had been civil unrest and so he acted as previous emperors had done (Tiberius in 19 AD) and banished the Jews from Rome. The expulsion was limited to the Jews living in the city of Rome. When Claudius died, his expulsion died with him. The Jewish people were now returning to Rome and yet, the question was, how would the church receive them? What had begun as a movement of faith among the Jews was now mainly Gentile. The Jews had left but the church had remained and grown with Gentile believers. Paul was worried, not only about the Jews who didn’t believe but also about the Gentiles who may not see any reason to care about the Jewish people.

7.                Earlier in the letter, Paul asked an important question. As he revealed that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Paul asked, “Then what advantage has the Jew?” We would expect Paul to say, “none.” That is, “all are sinful and all are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” Therefore, there’s no advantage to being a Jew. But, Paul says something different. “What advantage has the Jew?” Paul asked. His answer was “much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” That listing that Paul began in Romans 3, he continues now in Romans 9. Listen as Paul reveals the blessings of God upon Israel: “They are Israelites, and 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 their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5)

8.                Paul is in a moment of personal & private prayer, and yet notice how his prayer is wrapped up in the larger story of God. Paul isn’t praying for himself but for God’s people. He isn’t setting before God his plans and asking for God’s blessing. No, Paul finds God’s greater story set before him and is praying for fulfillment of what God has planned. God has chosen Abraham to be the father of his people and from Abraham God has chosen to bless not only his people but all nations on the face of the earth. From Abraham and his descendents, according to the flesh, comes Jesus and Jesus is the one in whom Israel and all nations of the earth are blessed. Paul knows this greater story of God and this story shapes Paul’s life and prayer. 

9.                What is amazing is that Paul in prayer is caught up in the heart of God’s story. Notice how Paul is willing to die for the sake of the Jews. Paul knows that not all of his Jewish brothers and sisters have believed in Jesus. Because of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, it would be very easy for the Christian church to become a Gentile church, that doesn’t see or value or care about Israel. And so Paul finds himself overwhelmed with pain and love and he wishes that he himself could be cut off from Christ, if that could save the Jewish people. Here, Paul’s heart is filled with the love of Jesus. Jesus is the very one who was willing to be cut off from God, who was willing to drink the cup of his Father’s wrath, who was willing to be forsaken by God and condemned to hell, that the kingdom of God might be opened to all people who trust in him. In him is forgiveness, life, and everlasting salvation. In him is the promise that your sins are forgiven and that you are now part of the people of God, people who live by that promise as part of God’s greater story. 

10.             How does this relate to us today? Consider how Paul reminds us that we are part of a greater people brought into the greater story of God. Sometimes we lose sight of this larger story. Faith can become a personal matter, something that we reduce to a private experience to help us get through the week. Paul awakens us this morning to the fact that we are part of a much greater people, who live by the promises of God. 

11.             Consider the Old Testament reading this morning. God’s call to his people to come and eat. This is more than a foretaste of the feeding of the 5,000. This is part of God’s vision of a banquet for all peoples. God speaks of an eternal covenant made with David. He’s a leader and commander for the peoples. Through him, Israel will call nations they know not and nations that didn’t know them will run to them. Suddenly, we begin to see a much larger table and a much greater feast for all people and all time. We begin to overhear God’s promises throughout the Old Testament to feed and care for his people. From the manna that falls from heaven to the rocks the flow with water in the wilderness, from the table that the Lord our shepherd prepares to the teaching that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Matt. 4:4) to the table that wisdom sets for her people. This banquet lies behind the banquet parables of Jesus and this banquet, this eschatological feast in the kingdom of God, lies ahead of all of us, as part of God’s people, gathered from all nations, who live by the promises of God. Rather than open the Bible and try to use God in our lives, we find that God opens the Scriptures and brings us into his story and the life of his people in this world.

12.             There’s a painting that captures what this looks like. It used to be there on an altar in Sienna. It was one of five small paintings at the very bottom of the altarpiece. You wouldn’t see it if you were seated further back in the church. But, if you came forward, for the Lord’s Supper, you could see this small painting of a moment in the work of God for this world. The painting was of the Annunciation. That moment when Mary received word from the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to bear the Savior. Mary is seated, alone. There’s nothing in that room to distract her. In fact, she could easily have been at prayer. Before her stands an angel, Gabriel, bearing a message from God. But, when you look at the painting closely you’ll notice that the artist has taken this story and placed it in a much larger story of God’s work in the world. As you look outside the house where Mary is sitting, you see a garden. This is not any garden. It’s the Garden of Eden. The artist has taken Mary and this house where she is praying and placed it on the edge of the Garden of Eden. There are Adam and Eve. The scene is a sad one. You see God the Father banishing Adam and Eve out of the Garden. They have sinned against God and brought his wrath upon all of creation and now they are subject to death and must live in a fallen world. But, as God the Father extends his arm to banish them from the garden, something beautiful happens. If you follow God’s arm, you see that God is pointing from that Garden to the Virgin Mary sitting in this room. God sends Adam and Eve out of the Garden but he does so with a promise – that there will come a day when the woman will have an offspring who will bruise the head of Satan and rescue his people from sin (Gen. 3:15).

13.             Adam and Eve and all of those who lived after them, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David, Solomon, Isaiah and Malachi, were people of this promise. And now, here in this room, in this private moment of prayer, God brings Mary into this story and in her words of love and self-sacrifice, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38) God continues his greater story of bringing about salvation in this world. Mary in that moment of prayer didn’t try to use God as a servant in her plans. No, she humbly offered herself as a servant in his. Her prayer was a moment when God brought her into the story of his people. It was true for Mary. It was true for the apostle Paul in Romans. And it’s true for you, this day. As you come to this altar to receive a foretaste of God’s eternal feast, come rejoicing that God has chosen to bring you into his larger story, to be part of a people who live by his promise and, with sacrificial love, seek to serve him in the world. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.