Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Feb. 17, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Romans 10:8b-13
Sermon Theme: “If You Need Me, Call Me”
(Sources: Emphasis online commentary; Emphasis online illustrations; original ideas; Brokhof Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
During World War I, a Protestant chaplain in Italy became friendly with a local Catholic priest. Then the Protestant chaplain moved on with his unit. The enemy killed him. The priest heard about his friend’s death. He asked the military authorities for permission to bury his friend’s body in his church cemetery. The army gave permission.
But the priest ran into a problem with his own church authorities. They were sympathetic, but they said they could not approve the burial of a non-Catholic body in a Catholic cemetery. So the priest buried his friend’s body just outside the cemetery fence.
Years later an American veteran went back to Italy. He visited the old priest who was still the pastor of the church in that place. The veteran asked to see the grave of the Protestant chaplain. When they walked out to the cemetery, the veteran was surprised to find the grave was now inside the fence.
“Ah,” he said, “I see you got permission to move the body.”
“No,” said the priest. “They told me where I couldn’t bury the body. But nobody ever told me I couldn’t move the fence!”
In our sermon text for today, Paul is saying that salvation is for all people, that the God of the Jews is willing to be the God of the Gentiles. This belief got him nothing but trouble from the Jewish Christians of his day, including Peter and the council at Jerusalem. This belief caused a good deal of dissension in the early church, but because Paul was willing to hold onto his belief so firmly, we Gentiles get to be part of the family of the Jewish God Jesus referred to as his Father.
So when Catholics build a fence around their cemeteries, thus saying to the world, ‘Only Catholics allowed, because only Catholics are saved,’ we are reminded of what Paul says in our text, which is this: “. . . 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.”
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the last piece of writing we have from Paul. When most people preach or teach for many years, they go through a process of maturing, of developing deeper insights into life issues, of refining and clarifying their ideas, and the end result is simplification. They learn to simplify ideas, issues, and processes.
So being the last letter, Romans is like the culmination of Paul’s theology, pure and simple. We can find some of the same ideas in Ephesians and Galatians, but the letter to Rome is the perfect refinement of all his thinking. So it’s no wonder that the letter to the Romans revolutionized Martin Luther’s thinking and spawned the Reformation.
You see, when Martin Luther entered the monastery at Erfurt, Germany, he gave himself wholly to prayers, fasting, watching, labors – all in a gigantic effort to gain forgiveness for his sins. But it was the simple testimony of the dean of the theological faculty, John Staupitz, that brought light to his troubled heart. Staupitz urged Luther to look away from his deceitful thoughts and evil impulses, and to cast himself completely in the Redeemer’s gracious arms.
“Trust the righteousness of His life and the atonement of His death,” he said. Luther did that and found peace.
But a short time later, he lost the joy of his salvation. “Oh, my sin, my sin, my sin!” he lamented. With utmost kindness Dean Staupitz replied, “Well, would you only be a sinner in appearance and also have a Savior only in appearance?” Then he added, “Know that Jesus Christ is Savior of those who are great and real sinners who are deserving of utter condemnation.”
The simple lesson Luther learned was this, ‘It is only through hearing the Word that one is brought to faith that Jesus is Lord. When we believe the promises of the Living Word, we are saved, really saved. And as Psalm 50 says, Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you. Luther learned this from Paul’s letter to the Romans which is part of the Living Word.
You know there is a common saying, “If I can be of any help, don’t hesitate to call me. I’d be delighted to help you.” Or, “Promise me you’ll call me if you need anything.” This is actually what God is saying to us. In other words, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.”
The problem is that our questions often get in the way: Do I need to be saved? What IS my basic need in life? Do I really need to call upon God? Or am I self-sufficient apart from God?
And if we answer those questions appropriately, then, like Luther in his struggle, other questions pop in our minds, like: Who may call upon Him? Everyone? Paul says the answer to that question is Yes! Everyone.
Very simple. Yet we human beings like complicated. We’re sure salvation can’t be that simple, and no God in his right mind would want to help us when we’re in deep trouble, especially when we are the lousy bums we are. So we walk away from the tremendous treasure of His amazing grace!
I think Ronald is a typical case in point. Ronald was dying from a very serious illness. He knew it. The doctors knew it. And the chaplain who visited him every day knew it.
“I can’t understand it,” said Ronald to the chaplain, “I’ve done some awful things in my life. I’ve cheated on my wife. I’ve ignored my children. I made my fortune by walking on the shady side of what was right! And you’re telling me that all I have to do to be saved is say with my lips that Jesus is Lord and believe it in my heart?
“I just can’t understand how it can be that easy. Are you sure I don’t have to pay a certain amount of money, or work a certain amount of time helping others? I just don’t understand it.”
“But that’s just it,” the chaplain replied. “You are not supposed to understand it. You are to believe it in your heart!”
In the text, Paul is writing to people who, like us never knew Jesus, who had not seen him being crucified, had not listened to Him first hand. These people accepted the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus on faith, as we must. The person who believes without a doubt that “God raised him from the dead” will be unafraid in the face of persecution, arrest, even the threat of death, knowing that he will never be put to shame. Our actions and reactions speak more honestly than our words.
When God says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you,” He is essentially saying, “If you need me, call me!” Amazingly simple, isn’t it?! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.