Sermon for February 14, 2016

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, February 14, 2016

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Romans 10:8b-13

Sermon Theme:  “You’re No Different from Anybody Else”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Rite of Baptism, Lutheran Worship)

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

Zephyr Wright was for many years the housekeeper-cook at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas.  David Brinkley told of an incident when Mrs. Wright answered the phone at the ranch.  Her employer, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was a United States Senator at the time.  An aide was calling to tell Senator Johnson that important legislation he had sponsored had just been voted down.  Would Mrs. Wright relay the message?

She said, “I’m not telling him that.  Mr. Johnson don’t like to be turned down.”

“Why not?,” replied the Aide, “he’s no different from anybody else?”

Mrs. Wright retorted, “Mister, YOU know he’s no different from anybody else, and I know he’s no different from anybody else, — but he don’t know it, and I don’t want to be the one to tell him.”  And she hung up.

‘You are no different from anybody else.  I am no different from anybody else,’ Paul is saying in our sermon text for today.  This little short passage from the apostle’s letter to the Romans packs a lot in a small space.  With one indirect and two direct references to the Old Testament in the text, a person who doesn’t know the Bible might miss something here.

When it comes to God and human beings, in one sense, you are very different from everybody else in that God knows your name and He knows the number of hairs on your head.  But in another sense, you are no different from anybody else, in that God so loved everybody in the world that He gave His only Son.  Then, in yet another sense, true believers are different from unbelievers in that they have received the mark of Christ in Baptism.  Paul is talking about the second sense here.

Christianity is not a mystery religion for those in the know or for those who meet its difficult requirements.  No, Christianity offers salvation to ALL.  In an earlier chapter of Romans, Chapter 3, verse 22, Paul insists that all people are tied together by the scarlet cord of sin.  In verse 12 of today’s text, the apostle also insists that all have free access to the free gift of redemption.  ALL have sinned but ALL can be saved.  All we have to do is confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead and we shall be saved.

Paul’s message makes three points.  ONE, the Jews thought that salvation was only for them.  Down through the ages, to the present day, many believers have limited the scope of God’s salvation.  Their churches are like country clubs rather than hospitals for sinners.

During World I, a Protestant chaplain in Italy became friendly with a local Italian priest.  Then the protestant chaplain moved on with his unit.  When he was killed by the enemy, 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, a veteran whose army chaplain had been the Protestant pastor the priest had buried went back to Italy after the War.  He found the church and the priest who was still serving the congregation there.  The veteran asked to see the grave of his Protestant chaplain.

When they got 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!”  As Paul says in the text, “This includes everybody.  God is the same Lord of all!”

In verse 8 of the text, Paul adapts a passage from Deuteronomy 30 to say that the gospel is near, accessible, intelligible, and, readily obtained; it can be expressed in familiar conversation (in your mouth), and it can be readily understood in the mind (in your heart).  It is the good news of salvation by faith which our loving God offers to all.

The SECOND point of the text is that all have sinned but all can be saved by confessing Jesus as Lord.  We are saved by grace through faith, and confession is a fruit of faith.  Some people actually think they are too bad to be saved.  In my years in the ministry, I have had at least two people tell me that.  One was my brother.  The Gospel reveals that this is not true, and Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16 in verse 11: “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

One pastor I read about always had confession time near the end of the worship service.  While the organist played soft music, people could go up and kneel at the altar rail, and stay there as long as they needed to in order to feel forgiven and renewed.  There was one woman who would stay so long at the rail every Sunday that the services grew longer and longer.

The pastor finally talked to her one day, and she told him that she lingered so long because she never felt confident in her relationship with God.  The pastor asked her if she truly believed that God kept His word.  Her answer was “yes.”  He then asked if she believed that God offered salvation to any who came to Him.  Again her answer was YES.  Then he asked her if she had confessed her sin, sought forgiveness and had given herself to God.

Again, she firmly answered, “Yes!”

“So, what are you doing here?!” the pastor said.  I think she got his point and finally understood that no one is ever too bad to be saved.

The THIRD point of our text can be stated in the form of a question:  “Are we sharing the gift of salvation with any and all people, or only with our own kind of people?”   Paul is actually quoting Joel 2: 32, when he says in the text, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In our country today, if anyone runs into extreme difficulties and life-threatening emergencies, he can call 911.  The number 911 is the number to call when you need help fast.  The name of Jesus is God’s 911 number.  Anyone who calls on that name will be saved.  There is also a 211 number you can call in a medical emergency if you need immediate medical attention and you cannot afford it; it’s free.  Can you think of anyone you know who wouldn’t share that 211 number with some desperately ill person without money or medical insurance?  I can’t.  You would share the good news of that number regardless of the person’s race, social status, occupation or religious beliefs.

The same is true of the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ!  We are called to share it with all people.  We must not just keep it to ourselves!

“’The word is near you,” Paul says, “’in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him for the dead, you will be saved.”

Today, Bentlee Ryan Hegefeld made this confession through the mouths and hearts of his parents, his sponsors, and the congregation.  Because he is too young to speak for himself, we spoke for him, and he received the sign of the Holy Cross on his forehead and on his heart, marking him as one redeemed by Christ.  His sins are washed away.  We rejoice with Bentlee and his family and we affirm the words of the opening hymn:  “Children of the heavenly Father safely in His bosom gather; nestling bird nor star in heaven such a refuge e’er was given.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.