Sermon for August 10th 2014

Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 10, 2014

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Romans 10:5-17

Sermon Theme:  “Near You, In Your Heart, and Out of Your Mouth”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Believer’s Bible Commentary); Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

          When I was a kid, I would put a cup towel around my neck and play like I was Superman.  My brother, with his cap gun, always wanted to be the Lone Ranger, and our friend Jackie, with his cap gun, was Red Ryder.  I didn’t need a gun, because I was Superman. 

          Since my cup towel cape enabled me to fly, I jumped off the roof of the garage one day, and the only thing that kept me from breaking my legs was the manure pile I landed in.  Fortunately, it was dry manure.

          For kids today, it’s Spiderman, the super hero who struggles with the question of his identity.  Who will he be?  Peter Parker or Spiderman?  There is within him this overpowering need to be something more than who he was born to be, — he has the potential to be Spiderman, just as there was this overpowering need for me to be something more than merely Lone Ranger or Red Ryder, — as a Clark Kent, I wanted to be Superman!

          I’ll bet you’ve known some super-Christians in your life who wear their faith for the world to see like a superhero wears a cape.  But when you take away the suit and cape, the person underneath is just like you and me.  That’s because faith is not about what you look like from the outside, but about who you are on the inside.  Godliness is not a super-hero suit that we can put on and take off. 

          In our sermon text, Paul reminds the Romans and us that the righteousness of faith is not found in external places and things, but is in fact on our lips and in our hearts.  He continues to expose the religious leaders of his day, just as Jesus did when the Lord denounced the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law for pretending to be righteous by outward appearance, but not in their hearts.

          God created us to be vessels of God’s truth, containers of the story of God that is written on our hearts.  The story flows out from us.  It is the source of our strength, and it is through the power of that story in our lives that God is proclaimed to others.  It is the powerful “righteousness of God” as Paul calls it.  It’s not about the cape and the suit, but about the power that God has placed inside of us.  “The Word of God is near you,” says Paul, “on your lips and in your hearts.”

          This righteousness is God’s working out of a plan to recover and restore a universe that has been warped and twisted by evil.  It has been revealed by the coming of Jesus. 

          Paul, the converted Jew and intellectual, struggles in his mind to understand the issues in God’s plan.  As a great thinker, he is filled with questions.  Why did God’s extension of grace, first to the Israelites, fail?  In other words, why, if they were originally His chosen people, did they fall away from Him?  Why did Israel lose its privileged place in the divine plan, while the spreading church of Gentiles is suddenly God’s favored child?  Paul had to answer these questions in his mind.

          First of all, he knew beyond a doubt that God is sovereign (all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging, etc.).  He also knew that God’s special relationship with the Israelites was God’s choice to make and is not undone because of their unfaithfulness, nor because they were near-sighted and self-centered and believed they had an inherent right to divine favor.

          In the end, Paul believed that partly through Israel’s false presumptions, and partly because of God’s temporary change of strategies to better fulfill His divine plan, Gentiles have become the center of God’s attention.  To be sure, Israel is not forgotten, just temporarily sidelined for the time being.  In many ways, today’s sermon text is a continuation of last Sunday’s epistle reading.

          The message of our text is to keep God’s word near us and let it come out of our mouth when the Spirit directs us.  We must remember that the word we proclaim is the word of faith so that a person may believe it in his heart.

          If we have faith in Christ, then it makes no difference whether our background is Jew, Greek, black, white, yellow, or red.  We are all one in Christ.  There is no difference between us.  Whoever we are, if we call on the name of the Lord, we will be saved.

          The message of the text asks if we believe in our heart.  Sometimes it is easier to believe in our heart than with our minds.  Our minds can have all kinds of questions for which there are no easy answers, and many of us are not profound thinkers like Paul.  Even Paul struggled with these questions.  It may be hard to accept with our minds that a person can die and then arise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  It makes no scientific sense, but if we believe in our hearts that God can do all things, then we are saved.

          The message is also that we are to confess with our mouth as we do every Sunday in church?  And do we confess with our mouth all week long to our friends and even to our family that we believe?  Often we do not, because we don’t want anyone thinking that we are one of those religious nuts who are always shouting about their faith and passing out leaflets at the malls.  But how can non-Christians hear unless we speak to them?  We must not be ashamed to speak out about our faith.

          Please be careful not to give a narrow interpretation of what Paul says in the closing paragraph of our text. 

          Here’s what he says:  “But how are they to call on 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.’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

          Do only pastors preach the good news?  Aren’t you doing that if you tell your neighbor about Jesus?  Are only pastors “called” and “sent”?  No, each of you is called and sent into a ministry in your church, — you do that ministry in many ways, — like bringing or welcoming a visitor into our church, working in VBS, etc. 

          People expect the pastor to speak out about Jesus, — I mean, after all, that’s his job, isn’t it?  He even wears a clerical collar so he stands out in a crowd and people expect it from him.  I mean, everybody would question his faith and criticize him if he didn’t preach the good news! 

          But your feet should be beautiful, too.  How do people know you are a Christian unless you speak out?  To be sure, you even speak the gospel when you wear a cross around your neck.  One Christian lady says that she reads her Bible when she is traveling by plane.  It’s partly because she is afraid of flying, but she says the main reason is so that a passenger seated next to her might ask her a question about it.  And that would open the door to giving her testimony.

          There are ways that you can let others know about Jesus without grabbing them by the collar and preaching to them.  If you really believe in your heart, then the truth about the righteousness which comes from Jesus will come out of your mouth,

          A few years ago, the state of Michigan did something that all states, including Texas, do, — advertize unclaimed funds in the newspapers of the state. 

          When the State of Michigan listed the individuals who were due a part of the $17 million dollars in funds and property that had not been claimed, Irene Kay of Walled Lake learned of money that was hers which enabled her to undergo tests for a brain tumor, and enabled her daughter Kristi to complete her degree at Oakland University.  Karl and Jill Greimel of Rochester learned they had $8,775 coming to them, which they could use to pay for graduate school for their two sons.  Just to name a couple of real-people examples.

          No one knew of these windfalls until the names of these people were published in newspapers throughout the state, indicating that funds awaited them if they contacted the state.

          The treasures of salvation have been provided for all by the saving work of Jesus.  But people will not benefit until they are told.  All Christians are called to publicize the fact that salvation, with all its benefits, is available, free, — by grace through faith in Jesus. . . . . near you, in your mouth, and in your heart.  Just press “send.”  Amen.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.