Father Philip Sang: Sincere Love

Our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans continues this morning. Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, August 30, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang continues to boycott the written word, so if you want to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26; Romans 12.9-21; St. Matthew 16.21-28.

On His Feast Day 2020, St. Augustine of Hippo Muses on the Sacraments

iuYour Lord is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven. How then is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or rather its content, how is it His Blood?

These elements are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is perceived by the senses and another thing by the mind. What is seen has bodily appearance; what the mind perceives produces spiritual fruit. You hear the words “The Body of Christ,” and you answer “Amen” [so be it].

—Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.

Becoming What You Already Are

We continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Sermon delivered on Trinity 11A, Sunday, August 23, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 1.8-2.10; Psalm 124; Romans 12.1-8; St. Matthew 16.13-20.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This morning we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In our epistle lesson, St. Paul urges us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we can present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. What in the world is he talking about? Is he here exhorting us to try harder to be a good Christian or advocating for  a more robust self-help program (like we need even more delusional thinking than we already have)? If you heard our epistle lesson like that this morning, you probably missed that little adverb “therefore” at the beginning. What is the therefore there for, you ask? I’m glad you did. Maybe now I can get into the heart of this sermon.

The therefore reminds us that St. Paul is not talking about human power, the power to make ourselves better, an oxymoron at best. No, St. Paul is talking here about the power of God. And this should make sense to us if we review quickly how St. Paul has gotten us to this point. Recall that in Romans 1.18-32 he talked about a good amount of wrong thinking, the kind of thinking that darkens our minds, makes us hostile to God, and begins to erase God’s image in us so that we behave more like animals than humans. It results from humankind’s universal enslavement to the power of Sin as St. Paul emphatically states in Romans 3.9. This kind of wrong thinking produces in us lusts of all kinds, malice, envy, murder, and strife. It makes us inventors of evil, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. Left to our own devices—and that’s the key phrase—we refuse to submit to God’s rule and are quick to blame others for our problems and the problems of the world, rather than acknowledging that we too are every bit as enslaved to Sin’s power as those we blame and rail against. It started with Adam and Eve and has continued unabated ever since. No wonder St. Paul talked about the futility of self-help in Romans 7! Try as we might, the human race does not have the power to fix itself from our sin-sickness and all that alienates us from God and each other.

That’s the bad news, of course, and to our detriment we avoid talking about it like the plague. After all, who wants to talk about God’s judgment on our sins? But St. Paul has also proclaimed the gospel boldly to us in this letter, reminding us that to truly be Good News for us, we have to see what he teaches as the power of God working on our behalf to heal us and reconcile us to himself and to each other. Hear him now from previous chapters in Romans:

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory (Romans 5.2)

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners (Romans 5.6)

[S]hould we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, (Romans 6.2-5, 6a-9b).

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins (Romans 8.1-2, 4).

And then from last week’s epistle lesson, perhaps this most remarkable statement of all: “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” (Romans 11.32).

In all these statements St. Paul reveals to us the character and power of God. The operative agent is Christ, not us. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we are freed from God’s terrible but just judgment on our sins and are promised healing, reconciliation, and new life forever in God’s new heavens and earth by virtue of what Christ has done for us. Here’s what this means for us as Christians. It means that our broken minds, bodies, and relationships will be restored, partially in this life and fully in the age to come. It means God is our friend and lover, not our enemy, so that we really do have nothing to fear, not even death and dying. We have these gifts and promises, not because of who we are, but because of who God is made known supremely to us in Christ. Christ died to free us from our sins and draw us to him so that on the last day he can raise us up to everlasting life, complete with new bodies, to live in a world where there will be no more tears or suffering or injustice or fear or alienation. All that was broken will be made new. Christ keeps us united to him by the power of the Holy Spirit who makes Christ known to us. We deserve judgment and death. Instead those of us who have a relationship with Christ get mercy, pardon, and life. This is the kindness of God and the power of God at work in his world and our lives to save us from ourselves and to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin, thanks be to God! Amen?

This is why the therefore is there for. St. Paul wants to remind us again that we aren’t transformed by our power—if that were the case, he would be laying a supreme guilt trip on us in a most cruel way because we are bound to fail—but by the power of God. He reminds us that we already are new creations, people who have God’s image restored in us by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Yeah, I know. If you’re like me it doesn’t feel that way very often. I still am conformed to the ways of the world more than I want to be. I still get discouraged and frustrated and angry more than I want to be, but as St. Paul reminds us here, it isn’t about me. I can’t raise myself from the dead. I cannot heal my sin-sickness. Only Christ can (and does) do that in me by the power of the Spirit, and he does that in you as well. Don’t rely on your feelings as a valid basis to judge if Christ is working in you to renew your mind and transform you into the image-bearer God created you to be so that you can run his world on his behalf. Feelings in this matter are notoriously fickle and unreliable because like us, our feelings are weighed down and distorted by our sin-sickness. Instead, St. Paul encourages us to let God renew our mind so that we can think rightly and faithfully about our new status before God and what that means for the living of our mortal days with all of its flaws, imperfections, sorrows, injustices, and evil. 

So how do we do this? If St. Paul is talking about the power of God at work in us by virtue of our relationship with our crucified and risen Lord, does this mean we can just kick back, act snotty, and wait for the Lord to fully heal and transform us? I don’t think so (unless you are an incorrigible slacker like Carl or Father Bowser or my wayward Methodist friend who is with us today). No, God thinks too much of us not to make us invest in his great love and mercy for us so that we can slowly be healed and transformed by Christ in the power of the Spirit. God expects us to put in our sweat equity and God will do the rest. What does that look like? It starts with worship, reading and studying Scripture, and regular partaking in the eucharist—there’s more to it than these things, but not less, and I am only going to focus on Scripture today because of time constraints. As Christians, we should be able to retain chunks of Scripture to help us in the living of our days. We should memorize and rehearse snippets from the psalms, from Proverbs, from the prophets, and from the gospels and other NT writers. As we have already seen today, there is a rich treasure of wisdom and Truth in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. How much of it can you pull up right now to reflect on? Then of course there is 1 Cor 15 and Rev 21.1-7 that talk about Christ’s resurrection and the promised new world. This should be stuff we think about, talk about, and rehearse every day. That’s our sweat equity. We see it at work in our gospel lesson. St. Peter clearly knew enough of his Scripture and had seen enough of his Lord to declare him God’s promised Messiah. Christ commends him by telling him that he didn’t come up with this revelation on his own. He did so by the power of God. This is what transformation looks like when God renews our minds. It’s not necessarily spectacular or sexy. It’s just real and good and healthy and wholesome; we see reality much more clearly. But as we will see next week, St. Peter quickly reverted back to the mindset of the world when he denied that his Lord would have to suffer and die. Whoever heard of a crucified Messiah?? This earned him a sharp rebuke from Christ and this poignant story reminds us that until Christ returns to finish his saving work, we must get used to living in a messy world where things are not always cut and dried, much as we would like them to be. 

So we read Scripture and worship God together and feed on our Lord’s body and blood together to open ourselves to the power of God. God will take our sweat equity and use it to further heal and transform us by renewing our minds. Here are two quick examples of how God’s transformational power might work. I’m sure you will find many parallels in your life to which you can apply this dynamic. I have a friend whose father effectively disowned him when he left home to attend college at an out of state university. Sadly, he and his dad never reconciled and his father has since died. It’s as sad a story as you will ever hear because reconciliation and redemption are no longer possible. My friend has carried his heavy burden very well but you can see the hurt bubble up from time to time and anyone with an ounce of compassion and empathy, themselves gifts from God, understands the underlying pain that continues to roil just beneath the surface and can never be adequately resolved. How can God heal that deep and awful hurt? Well, since both father and son were (and are) Christian, despite their breach, God can use the promise of full healing and restoration at the renewal of all things made possible only by their relationship with Christ who was crucified and raised from the dead to give my friend real hope (expectation) and promise. By an informed faith he can meditate on the love, mercy, and power of God made known in Christ along with God’s promise to restore all things to himself for those who are in Christ. The unresolved conflict becomes a season of hurt rather than a permanent failure with its accompanying hurt, allowing God to bear the brunt of the pain on behalf of my friend. How that will happen is not up to us or in our power. But it is in God’s power made known supremely in Christ’s death and resurrection and God will use that knowledge to transform and heal my friend if my friend will let God do so. I’m not talking about a quick fix solution. I am talking about my friend reminding himself in a sustained way about the love and power of God made known in Christ and letting God start to bring about real, if only partial, healing in this mortal life. Complete healing will have to wait for God’s new world, but what a blessed hope and promise to anticipate! What hurts, heartaches, and sorrows in your life do you need to let God begin to heal (transform) by the renewal of your mind?

Or consider our upcoming elections—and you are going to hear a lot from me on this topic in the coming days because the Church needs to be bold in our leadership by living out the high standards of our gospel proclamation. Our nation is torn apart by bitterness, division, and rancor. We are quick to condemn our enemies and love to play the blame game. There are people on both sides of the divide who truly loathe their enemies and are ready to call them all kinds of vile things, sometimes even wishing for their death! This is being conformed to the ways of the world where we look to our own false righteousness instead of God’s to justify our darkened thinking and behavior. So how can the power of God renew our minds so that he can begin (or continue) to transform us back into his full image-bearers again? Consider this. What would it look like the next time we are ready to lambast our favorite political enemy if instead we reflected first on the reality that Christ died for that person too, whether he/she believes or accepts that fact or tries to live by it? What if we stopped and remembered that we too are sinners unworthy of Christ’s love but who enjoy it anyhow and have therefore been made into new creations, warts and all, because of our relationship with our crucified and risen Lord? If Christ has forgiven us, why can we not forgive our enemies in the power of the Spirit and speak kindly and/or gently about them (or simply remain quiet)? To be sure, this isn’t easy to do. But if we resolve to reflect on Christ’s love for our enemies and his command to us to forgive those who mistreat us, then we may find ourselves less willing to engage in ad hominem attacks on those whose views/behaviors disgust us. If we get to that place, we will know that God is indeed transforming us by renewing our minds. Can you imagine how differently our country would look if Christian voters resolved to open themselves to the transformative power of God to renew their minds? Can you imagine what this little parish might accomplish if we all availed ourselves to the power of God made known to us in the death and resurrection of Christ? 

This is what it means to offer our bodies, i.e., our entire selves, as living sacrifices to God. For you see, my beloved, our transformation must always lead to changed behavior, speaking, and thinking and that takes place within the framework and context of our bodies. It must mirror what we already are and what we will fully become when Christ ushers in God’s new creation. God gave us bodies and intends to raise them from the dead one day. He therefore calls us to use our bodies in his service and service to others. When we do, we are assured that we are seeing the fruit of our transformation, the power of God at work in us so that we can live to become the fully human beings that God created us to be, the people we already are because we are united with Christ. This isn’t about self-help. This is about the power of God at work in us. Rejoice and be thankful for God’s great gifts and mercies he showers on you. It may not feel like you are making any real progress. In fact, sometimes you may feel like you are actually regressing! But don’t be afraid or get discouraged. That’s your fallen self trying to prevent God from transforming you by renewing your mind. God is greater than your fear and doubt. So let us encourage each other and remind each other that we are already new creations, even when that reality is hidden from our sight. Let us also read Scripture together and serve and worship the Lord together, rejoicing that we love and serve such an amazing, generous, kind, and loving God. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: He Will Not Leave You or Forsake You

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10A, Sunday, August 16, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Dr. Wylie was trained at Wisconsin. He therefore doesn’t believe in sharing his written manuscripts. He’d rather make you listen to him actually preach his sermon (you have our condolences). To do that click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 45.1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15.10-28.

V-J Day 2020: Honolulu HI Celebrates V-J Day in 1945

From Vimeo.

[On V-J Day 1945] my Dad shot this film along Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki capturing spontaneous celebrations that broke out upon first hearing news of the Japanese surrender. Kodachrome 16mm film: God Bless Kodachrome, right? I was able to find an outfit (mymovietransfer.com) to do a much superior scan of this footage to what I had previously posted, so I re-did this film and replaced the older version There are more still images from this amazing day, in color, at discoveringhawaii.com

On this, the 75th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory Over Japan Day), a wonderful snippet from time. Watch it all and remember. Give thanks as you do for the greatest generation who have largely passed from our view.

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Remember V-J Day, 2020

vj-day pict

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). Stop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.

Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.

From the History Channel.

On this day in 1945, an official announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies is made public to the Japanese people.

Read it all.

Also read the text of President Truman’s radio message broadcast to the American people on September 1, 1945.

From here:

My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:

The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.

Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.

Read it all as well.

Father Santosh Madanu: Righteousness that Comes from Faith

Our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans continues. Sermon delivered on Trinity 9A, Sunday, August 9, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14.22-33.

Kenyan runner Abel Mutai was only a few meters from the finish line, but got confused with the signs and stopped, thinking he had finished the race. A Spanish man, Ivan Fernandez, was right behind him and, realizing what was going on, started shouting to the Kenyan to keep running. Mutai did not know Spanish and did not understand.  Realizing what was going on, Fernandez pushed Mutai to victory. A reporter asked Ivan, “Why did you do this?” Ivan replied, “My dream is that one day we can have some sort of community life where we push ourselves and help each other win.” The reporter insisted “But why did you let the Kenyan win?” Ivan replied, “I didn’t let him win, he was going to win. The race was his.”   The reporter insisted and asked again, “But you could have won!” Ivan looked at him and replied: “But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor of this medal? What would my Mother think of it?” The values are transmitted from generation to generation. What values do we teach our children.

The values must be transmitted from one generation to the next.  People must speak of my good story of life.  Our value system should be part of history.

God the Father loved us and transmitted the eternal values thorough His son Jesus.  The heavenly values are love, joy, Justice, righteousness, faith, kindness, trust and peace.  This is what we are seeing in the letter of St.Paul to Romans.

ROMANS 10.   

As we look at Romans 10 verses 5-15, we must remember how they relate to the rest of the chapter. Note the abundance of connecting words with which Paul links one thought to another: 

Throughout chapters 9-11, Paul talks about the salvation of Israel and the broadening of the plan of salvation to include Gentiles. Israel’s unbelief is a problem (9:30-33), but Paul expresses his “heart’s desire and my prayer…that they may be saved” (10:1). “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness” (10:3), and have failed to understand that “Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4).

ROMANS 10:5.  THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW

5For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, “The one who does them will live by them.”

“For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law“ where Paul spoke of his “heart’s desire and prayed  to God for (his fellow Israelites) that they might be saved,” and their “ignorance of the righteousness of God,” preferring to establish their own righteousness.

In this verse, Paul sets up a contrast between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness which is of faith” (v. 6).

“The one who does them will live by them“ (v. 5b). Paul paraphrases Leviticus 18:5, where Moses said, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances; which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am Yahweh.” Israel staked its salvation on keeping God’s ordinances, and Israel’s devotion to God’s law, while far from perfect, distinguished Israel from other nations but if they failed to keep the commandments, there is punishment with death when  as in the new testament we have Jesus Christ who took our failurs and sins on the cross. Jesus Christ made us righteous with forgiveness and love.

There were, however, two problems related to Israel’s keeping God’s law:

• The first was their frequent failure to do so. The law demanded a high standard of obedience, which Israel largely failed to achieve.

• That, in itself, would not have been fatal had Israel been able to appreciate the role of faith in salvation—but they did not. Paul said that Israel “didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness…Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (9:31-32). The law, which had been intended as a help and guide, became a stumbling stone when Israel came to rely on it rather than faith—when they sought to establish their own righteousness and failed to submit to God’s righteousness (10:3).

ROMANS 10:6-8.  THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS OF FAITH

6But the righteousness which is of faith says this, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down);7or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;” that is, the word of faith, which we preach:

“But the righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6a) contrasts with “righteousness of the law” (v. 5a). Paul spoke earlier of “righteousness which is of faith” (9:30) and “God’s righteousness” (10:3).

“Don’t 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’“ (vv. 6b-8). Paul alludes to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, where Moses exhorted the Israelites to obey Yahweh’s commandments—commandments that were neither too difficult nor too remote to observe. Those commandments were nearby, in their mouths and in their hearts. Yahweh had made those commandments accessible so that the Israelites could, without difficulty, know and obey them.

Moses emphasized that, when God commanded observance of the law, he was not requiring the impossible. The law was not distant from Israel (in heaven or beyond the sea), but was, instead, present with them (“in your mouth, and in your heart”).

“Don’t say in your heart“ (v. 6) alludes to Deuteronomy 9:4, where Moses warned Israel, “Don’t say in your heart, after Yahweh your God has thrust them out from before you, saying, ‘For my righteousness Yahweh has brought me in to possess this land;’ because Yahweh drives them out before you because of the wickedness of these nations.”

Moses was warning against a presumptuous attitude on Israel’s part—assuming that they had achieved personal excellence. This allusion reinforces Paul’s emphasis on“righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6) rather than “righteousness of the law“ (v. 5)—and reinforces that true righteousness is a gift of God rather than something earned.

Just prior to these verses in Deuteronomy, however, Moses spoke of curses that would result from sins (Deuteronomy 27:11-26) and blessings that would result from obedience to God’s law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). He warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He clearly expected Israel to disobey and to suffer the consequences. But Deuteronomy 30 says that Israel will return to God—and the Promised Land .

Paul omits the last few words of the Deuteronomy quotation—”that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). He wants to emphasize righteousness achieved by faith rather than righteousness achieved by observing the law, and “that you may do it” falls too heavily on the side of righteousness achieved by observing the law.

Paul reinterprets these verses from Deuteronomy to speak of Christ rather than commandments, asking: “‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)” (v. 6) and “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” (v. 7). In doing so, Paul reveals a hidden layer of meaning to these verses from Deuteronomy that could be understood only after the resurrection.

The parallel between the Deuteronomy 30 wording and Christ’s experience (his ascension into heaven and descent into the abyss—see Ephesians 4:9-10) certainly encourages such a reinterpretation. The more significant parallel is between the commandments and Christ as God’s means of life-giving grace. Christ’s coming did not abolish the commandments, but instead brought them to their highest fulfillment (Matthew 5:17)—making God’s grace accessible in ways that it had not been previously.

“‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;’ that is, the word of faith, which we preach“ (v. 8). Just as the commandments were not “too far away,” but were “in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 34:11, 14), so also, Paul assures these Roman Christians, the word of faith is near—”in your mouth, and in your heart” (v. 8). Paul notes, “we proclaim” this “word of faith” (v. 8).

ROMANS 10:9-13.  CONFESS, BELIEVE—BE SAVED

9that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. 13For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved“ (v. 9). In verse 8, Paul said, “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart.” Now he tells us what that means in practical terms. The word on our lips (v. 8) means confessing that Jesus is Lord (v. 9). The word in our heart (v. 8) means belief in the resurrection (v. 9). One oddity: The order seems backwards. One must believe before one can confess. Paul’s adopts the confess/believe order because Deuteronomy 30:14 puts “mouth” before “heart”: “But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

The word kurios is used thousands of times to refer to God in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). While the word kurios does not always refer to God, Paul clearly intends its use in this verse to place Jesus on the same level as God.

Today, confessing Jesus as Lord with one’s lips is often limited to a worship setting in a church sanctuary. We invite people to confess their belief that Jesus is Lord as a part of the baptismal rite or the recitation of the creed, but that is pretty much the end of it. We hesitate to announce that Jesus is Lord in other settings lest we offend someone. We are conscious—overly so—that we live in a multicultural world where people have differing beliefs, and are sensitive—overly so—about stepping on someone else’s religious toes.

When we read this verse about “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord,” we should remember the setting in which Roman Christians did so. Rome considered Caesar to be Lord, and required its citizens and subjects to say, “Caesar is Lord.” To proclaim Jesus as Lord was to invite charges of disloyalty or treason, for which the penalty was death. It is likely that some of the Christians to whom Paul wrote this epistle knew Christians who had died for confessing that Jesus is Lord—and yet they continued their public proclamation—and so the church prospered, even as it was nurtured by the blood of the saints.

“believe in your heart” (v. 9b). Both Old and New Testaments use the word, heart, to refer to the core of the person.  When Paul talks about believing in your heart, it is clear that he means something greater than mere intellectual assent. Heart belief is a wellspring at the core of our being, and determines not only what we think but also how we act and the direction that our life will take.

“that God raised him from the dead” (v. 9c). Faith in Christ and belief in the resurrection are essentially synonymous.

“you will be saved” (v. 9d). We are saved by the grace of God, =but our faith and confession of that faith are essential components of that salvation.

“For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“ (v. 10). Paul reverses the order of verse 9, putting belief before confession—a more conventional order.

In verse 10, Paul uses two words, justified and saved, that, while having different meanings, are nevertheless related. Justification is the process by which a person is counted as righteous and brought into a right relationship with God. Salvation comes about as a result of justification, and involves deliverance from sin and punishment.

“Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed“ (v. 11). A literal translation from the Greek would be: “All who believe in him will not be put to shame.” In this case, the literal translation seems preferable, because “All” highlights the inclusive character of God’s saving action. The idea is that everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved—both Jew and Gentile.

This allusion to Isaiah 28:16 (cf. Joel 2:26) was more fully developed in Romans 9:33, where Paul quoted it this way: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense; and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.”

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him“ (v. 12). Earlier, Paul said: “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:21-23). In chapter 3, the “no distinction” was our sin. In chapter 10, the “no distinction” is God’s grace.

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved“ (v. 13). Paul alludes to Joel 2:32, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The original context was “the great and terrible day of Yahweh” (Joel 2:31), and those saved were to be from “Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Joel 2:32). In Romans, however, “Everyone” takes on a broader character, because “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all (Jew and Gentile) who call on him” (v. 12).

To call on the name of the Lord implies a call for help—a call for salvation, whether temporal salvation (being saved from immediate perils) or eschatological salvation (being saved for eternity).

In its original context, “the Lord” would have meant YHWH, but Paul reinterprets “Lord” to mean Jesus—a fact made apparent by his “Jesus is Lord” language in v. 9.

ROMANS 10:14-15.  HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? 15And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace,
who bring glad tidings of good things!”

The four questions in these verses explain why it is necessary to preach the gospel. Paul has just said, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is a wonderful promise, but many people have not called on the name of the Lord. In some cases, they have refused to do so because they are in rebellion against the Lord. In other cases, they have neglected to do so because they were consumed by other concerns. But in many cases, they have not called on the name of the Lord because they know nothing about the Lord. They need someone to tell them.

The four questions in these verses are progressive and deal with what is needed if people are to call upon the name of the Lord (v. 13):

• The first requirement is that they believe (v. 14a).
• But they cannot believe in the Lord unless they hear about him (v. 14b).
• And they cannot hear about the Lord unless someone proclaims him (v. 14c).
• And no proclamation can be made unless the proclaimer is sent (v. 15a).

“And how will they preach unless they are sent?“ (v. 15a). Sent by whom? By God! The church is also involved in the sending. It ordains people to various kinds of ministry and provides them with resources—but it simply acts as the agent of God, who called the people to ministry in the first place. It is God who calls and sends, and it is God who empowers.

Today, we sometimes hear stories of people who happen to pick up a bible—perhaps a Gideon bible in a hotel room—and by reading it are brought to belief and salvation. Paul does not talk about the possibility of reading the word, but instead focuses on hearing the word. The reason is simple. While some people in that time were literate, most were not—and those who were literate had limited access to reading material. Almost without exception, if they were to know Christ, it would be because someone told them. Even though we now live in a world where literacy and reading materials are common, most people still come to Christ because someone told them.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (v. 15b). Paul alludes to Isaiah 52:7, which says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

In its original context, Isaiah was talking about the messengers who brought news of release from Babylonian captivity—and the joy of those who received that news from the messenger. Everything about those messengers would seem wonderful to the people who received the good news from them.

Even the messengers’ feet—a part of the body not usually considered beautiful—would seem beautiful because of the good news that they brought. Those feet were, after all, the feet that carried the messenger across miles of roads so that they could deliver the good news.

Of the Justification of  man

Gerald Bray commentary on justification of man as follows:

The fundamental question of Christian theology is justification by faith.  No one is righteous in the sight of God with their works but purely by the faith in Jesus Christ.

Luke 23:4343 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Christians have hope in Jesus Christ to have justification based on His mercy and grace.  The doctrine of predestination and purgatory may mislead the believers and have false hope in God.  What are we suppose to say about the fate of those whom we know have never heard the Gospel? The Apostle Paul told the Athenians that God has over looked the time of ignorance ( Acts 17:30).

Romans 1:18 and 2:16 speaks about Pegans have turned away from God and although they will not be judged by  a law they have never heard of.  

As good Christian our duty is to preach the Gospel.  so that those who hear it will have a chance to believe and repent.  Our job is to sow the seeds of the Gospel whenever we can and not to choose or reject the ground it falls on in advance ( Mathew 13:3-8). 

Martin Brucer and Archbishop Cranner explained in most balanced manner, the election and predestination are the part of eternal plan of God for our redemption.

God in His eternal wisdom would rescue and restore His creatures- human beings in and through the cross of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit works in due season to bring about conversion.

Romans 8: 38-39  The elect obtain everlasting happiness by the mercy of God.

The benefit of our election are great:

  The Holy Spirit mortifies the works of flesh( Romans 8: 13), 

The Holy Spirit turns our minds to higher things ( 8:5)

The Holy Spirit establishes and confirms our faith in eternal salvation. ( Romans 8:16)

It is still axiomatic for some Protestant writers that the principle of justification by faith was ‘discovered’ or ‘ rediscovered’ by the Reformers. This often implies that the important principles expounded by Paul about the truth of salvation were overlooked or misunderstood by most of the early and medieval Church until Luther, meaning that not until the sixteenth century was Paul’s teaching about the imputation of the righteousness of God to the sinner by faith properly interpreted and integrated into Christian history.

 Justification:

The Anglican believes that justification means to be accounted as righteous by God. The basis for it is the work of the Lord Jesus, especially his death. It is not based on how good we are, or on what we do. The way we receive justification is by faith in the work of Christ.

Proclaiming  the Gospel of Christ

How one can take the Gospel of Christ to many especially to the unknown?

As St. Paul says one can take the Gospel of Christ when the missionaries are sent.  It is the every Christian responsibility to share the salvation in Christ Jesus.  This is where the Church is so important.  That is what Jesus did.  he chose 12 apostles and sent them to whole world to proclaim Good News.

What is church? Why Church?

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”… Mathew 16:17-19

Jesus is the head of the church.   And all the believers are  part of the church.

We have visible church and invisible church.

?All the Baptized are considered as visible church.

? In Invisible church true believer who truly believe in Christ as the head.

Paul being a good Jew, know THORAH  and practiced all the commandments sincerely speaking his fellow Jews and Romans that only righteousness of faith in Christ will save us.

Gospel Reflection:

[25] And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them (which means about 4 am, which means they had been battling this storm for about 6 hours… you know what that means, Jesus did not come immediately—he let them fight the storm for most of the night before he came!) 2 , walking on the sea. [26] But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

Jesus doesn’t come immediately. And then when he does come, he comes strolling by at a distance so close they can see him and hear him

But does he come right up to them and hop in the boat and say, “It’s OK, I’m here to save you!”? No. Mark 6:48, a parallel account of this, adds: “He meant to pass by them.” How odd! They’re struggling for their lives… “I’ll see you on the other side.” 

  • To get his help, they have to call out. 2 John MacArthur, Matthew 8–15,  • QUICK LESSON: Never overlook human initiative in gaining the help of God as you struggle. HE’S THERE TO HELP BUT YOU GOT TO ASK… • And I love this… they don’t even cry out in faith, they cry out in fear. Which is bad faith. But JESUS answers them. Do you know what that shows you? God is a compassionate father who responds to his children when they call upon him. “…Call upon me in the day of trouble, he says, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.”

[28] And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [29] He said, “Come.” Notice, Jesus did not fix the disciples’ problem by making the storms go away. He just gave Peter another command. “Come.” 

You’re in difficulty? Maybe you should Stop asking God for to fix the situation, and start asking him what his command is. NOTHING WRONG with asking him to fix the solution, BUT FIRST ask him what his command is! 

Stop demanding and start listening! So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [31] Jesus immediately reached out his hand (he’s always close, in difficulty) and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Why is this story in there? You should always ask that. 3 Psalm 50:15 This story is not in there to inspire us to actually walk on water. (In Acts, when Paul is in a shipwreck, it never occurs to Paul to get out of the boat and start strolling to shore.) This story is to show us how to continue what we start in faith.  Because that’s going to be one of the biggest problems for Christians. 

So here’s the lesson: (A) Initial faith is not enough. We need staying faith. When Jesus said to Peter at the end, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” he is not talking about the intensity of Peter’s faith, but its duration. Peter’s faith, when it started, was very strong (he was the only one who got out of the boat). It just didn’t last long. Initial faith is not enough, we need sustaining faith… (B) We find staying faith at the same place we found initial faith. Where did Peter’s initial faith come from? 2 places: 1. A vision of Jesus. Vs. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” when Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I,” in Greek that is ego eimi. “I am.” Which was the name of God. “Don’t be afraid; I am.” Peter saw that the Great “I am” was standing on top of everything that terrified him. 2. Jesus’ command. Peter figured that it was more important to obey Jesus’ command than to focus on the circumstances. The Great I AM is on top of those waves, what he is said is larger than the waves rising up against me. He focused not on what he had walk through, but whom he was walking to. Write this down: Peter is not so much walking on water as he is walking on the promises of God; he’s not so much standing on the waves as he is standing on the character of Jesus. It was when he dafraid, and beginning to sink he cried out… Focus on the WORD and you’ll walk on water. Focus on the waves and you’ll wallow in weakness.

 You see, let me give you… A little secret to this passage The point of this passage is not to demonstrate the greatness or weakness of Peter’s faith. The point is to demonstrate the greatness of God’s grace. 

Jesus is always close. When you call out to him, even if it’s in fear for from a lack of faith, he helps. Ps 94:18, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, supported me.” Our God is a God who will always be there to catch us, pick us back up, and lift us on top of the waves. 

In this story Peter may have failed at what he set out to do, but Jesus succeeded in proving exactly what he wanted to prove.”5 That he is always trustworthy. HOW MUCH MORE should we see this on this side of the cross? There we see Jesus not only came to us in the storm, he took into himself the storm of God’s wrath; he not only walked on top of the waves, but soared over sin and death in the resurrection; not only did he lift us up on top of the waves, he filled with the power of resurrection life; and I know that if he reached all the way down to hell to rescue me from my sin, I know he’ll help me when I stumble. If he reached out to save me when I was his enemy, certainly he’s reach out to help me now that I’m his son. You see, I’LL SAY IT AGAIN: ultimately, GOD’S PURPOSE in the Christian life is to teach you to trust him.  In Peter’s first letter to the church, 1 Peter, he writes to Christians going through their own storms and he says this: 1 Peter 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [STORMS], so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Proverbs 10:2

Ill-gotten treasures ,have no lasting value,
    but righteousness delivers from death.

Dr. Bethany Christiansen: Who are God’s People?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8A, Sunday, August 2, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17.1-7, 16; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, Oh Lord. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Good morning, St Augustine’s! And welcome to the month of August, which means you never know who’ll be preaching on a given Sunday. 

You may be wondering how I was blessed with the peculiar joy of preaching for you all today. Well, it turns out that Fr. Kevin had his heart set on someone preaching on the Romans passage from today’s lectionary, and lo and behold, no one wanted to preach on these meager verses. I think I was his fifth or sixth choice. And why did I say? Well, being the overeducated nincompoop that I am, I misread the schedule and thought I was preaching on last Sunday’s verses from Romans. Last Sunday, you’ll remember, we had an excellent sermon from Fr Phillip on how nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That’s an easy one! I thought. Nothing can separate us from God’s love: even could write a sermon on that. 

Then I found out what I was actually preaching on: five verses from the beginning of Romans 9 that read: 

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. 

And I thought… Hmm. That’s tricky. 

But as I contemplated these verses, I realized that there was something I wanted to talk about buried here, and that something can be summarized in the title of my sermon today: “Who are God’s People?”

Maybe you’ve heard this phrase that the young folks use: “She’s my people.” People here refers to your close circle, including the family members you actually like, your close friends, and maybe people that you feel responsible for but wouldn’t call your friends. And if someone is not to your liking, you say, “He’s not my people,” as in, “I would just as soon ignore him forever.” 

So who are God’s people? Who does God say he cares about? 

Paul says that his heart breaks for “his people,” his own race, the people of Israel. He is so pained by their separation from the risen Lord that he would even be willing to forego his own relationship with Christ if it meant that they would be redeemed.

Are there people in your life who are lost? people for whom you pray with “great sorrow and unceasing anguish”? A loved one, a family member, a dear friend who always comes into your heart when you pray? Perhaps a brother who left the faith; a friend who’s mired in broken relationships; a neighbor who struggles with addiction, feelings of unworthiness, lack of purpose, lack of meaning…? Paul feels that pain, struggles with the same sense of desperation that his people come into relationship with Christ.

In the next verses, we hear Paul’s sense of frustration with his Jewish brethren. He says: Hey guys! YOURS is the adoption as heirs; YOURS is the divine glory. YOU have covenants, YOU received the law, the temple worship and the promises. YOUR lineage produced the prophets, and ultimately, the Messiah.

He’s saying: “You were given EVERYTHING – how are you missing the most important piece, the arrival of the Christ??” You know that thing we’ve been waiting for?? It’s here! Jesus is the Christ, and it’s better than we ever imagined it! We’re reunited with God: the problems of sin, separateness, and sickness have been solved! This is it! and it’s great! What’s wrong with you guys??

The Jewish people were the protagonists of the whole divine story, from Creation through to Paul’s own day: they had the books of the prophets and the words of God himself; they had the laws that pointed toward a God of justice, orderly living, and personal righteousness. And what were they doing with it? They were deliberately holding onto the law – which can only condemn – and refusing to let their understanding of the law be transformed into the person of Christ, who offered salvation rather than judgement. In short, they had their heads buried in the sand. And while Paul was in agony over their lostness, he was also expressing his disgust: you were given everything and still you won’t see. 

Maybe Paul had certain people in mind when he wrote this passage. There must have been men and women whom he loved, whom he prayed for, whom he longed to bring before the throne of glory. 

I can’t help but think of St Augustine in this context. And when I think of Augustine, I have to think of Monica, his mother. She was a Christian woman from North Africa, and she had married a pagan man, Augustine’s father. We don’t know much about his father, because Augustine didn’t write much about him. But Monica looms large in his autobiography, titled Confessions. 

If you haven’t read the Confessions, you really ought to: this book shows Augustine at his most relatable, his most human; and you’ll be impressed with how profoundly familiar Augustine, the fourth-century Christian, will feel. Until he was in his 30’s, Augustine belonged to a cult called the Manichaeans. Fearing for his soul, his mother prayed for him constantly and pestered the Christian priests to refute the false doctrines her son was learning. The priest responded: “Go away. As you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish” (1991: 51). She took these words as prophetic. And indeed, they turned out to be so: her son became one of the greatest fathers of the church. 

Even if Paul had been thinking about a loved one when he wrote the passage we’re looking at, his words apply, not to a person or a handful of people, but a whole race. “My people” he calls them: “The people of my own race, the people of Israel.” 

Is there a group of people who weigh heavy on your heart when you pray or meditate? A group who seem lost, hurting, or struck with a particular misfortune? 

Maybe you think of the service workers who have lost their jobs since the pandemic started; or the children who can’t go to school; or the families of people killed by police. You might think about Christians who are persecuted for their faith around the world; or Syrian refugees; or the people of Hong Kong. Or maybe your heart focuses on family issues: the pregnant teenagers who are scared and alone, or children growing up without fathers, or the unborn infants who have been labeled “unwanted.” 

In short, who does our heart go out to? Where is our heart? 

What about those groups of people who, we sorrow to see, are racing in the opposite direction of truth, love, and God himself? In this category, I see my generation – the millennials – and the generations after me. And while I think some of the criticism leveled against millennials is unfair, I do think that they are lost and running hard in the wrong direction. This generation was handed a world where all the old rules and old promises seemed not to apply anymore. We were handed shards and were told that it was still a pot. Friends, that pot is not holding water. Millennials see the unfairness of the world: its racism, sexism, rising economic disparity, underemployment, stagnating wages, increasing division between cultural values and Christian values… and their response has been: Smash the patriarchy. This generation says, “If it’s old, destroy it. All the old ways – reliance on God, belief in institutions, hope for a better world – all must go out the window.” I see the nihilism and hopelessness of a generation without God, and it breaks my heart. 

We should pray for those people who are on our hearts, no doubt about it. I pray for my generation. But it’s so easy to draw the line there, to say: THESE are the people deserving of my prayers, my compassion, my love. But who are the people towards whom our hearts are not naturally inclined? That is, who do we despise?

That answer is different for every person. We have to search our hearts in order to discover the groups that we villainize, despise, or simply lack any pity for.

Is it along economic lines? When you’re poor, it’s easy to despise the rich. When rich, it’s easy to despise the poor. 

Is it along social lines? When you’re white, it’s easy to villainize those who are brown or black. When brown or black, it’s easy to villainize those who are white.

Is it along political lines? When you identify as Democrat, it’s easy to demonize a Republican. When you’re Republican, it’s easy to demonize a Democrat. 

Is it along religious lines? Do you find yourself disregarding the lives of Muslims, atheists, Jews or Buddhists? 

What about when you watch the news? Do you take sides, and hate everyone on the other side? The graffiti in my neighborhood reads “ACAB,” which stands for “All Cops Are Bad.” In some corners of the media, I see all protesters labeled “anarchists.” Neither group seems to think the other side has any value as human beings, or any right to fair treatment under the law.

Our hearts find natural affinity with some groups, and a natural antipathy for others. And the highly polarized media makes sure that our natural tendencies are hardened, wherever possible, into tribalism and enmity. Brothers and sisters in Christ, is that who God has called us to be? 

I challenge you to meditate this week on whom you have hardened your heart against, and pray for them. Love them. Reach out to them in the Spirit. Even if that group is your enemy, Christ teaches us that we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of him (Matt. 5:11). Even if the group you despise is actually your enemy – though, so often, those we despise are not our enemies – Christ died to redeem them. Christ died for the perpetrator of injustice. He died for the villain as much as the victim. 

You may protest that you don’t have any enemies. There’s no one you despise. 

If true, that’s great. Sometimes, even if we don’t despise anyone, we stop focusing on people.

That is to say, it’s easy to focus on things over people: a book you loaned out and never got back; a plant that the neighbor promised to water and then let die; the car your kid wrecked. In these cases, the image of Jonah often comes into my mind. No, not Jonah in the whale. Jonah sitting under a plant growing in the desert. Jonah hadn’t wanted to be a missionary to Nineveh. And when people of Nineveh actually repented, he was annoyed. He was kind of hoping to see the fire and brimstone. So after everyone repented, he went to sit in the desert. The sun was hot and burned him; but God caused a plant to grow to provide shade for him. Then God caused the plant to shrivel up and die. Jonah was really upset; He loved that plant. God said to him, “You cared more about that plant than you did about the people of Nineveh.”

How often do we care more about the plant than the people? I find myself doing this a lot. I care more about having a quiet beer on the porch than I do about my friend in crisis who needs a listening ear. Sometimes, we don’t have enemies. We’re just insensate to the image-bearers of God who suffer around us. 

So we ask ourselves: Who are my people? Who are the people on my heart? And who are the people I despise or ignore? 

As fallen creatures, we find it easy to divide the world into “my people” on one side, and “not my people” on the other. But who are God’s people? Does God say to some: “You’re my people, and I look out for you” and to others “You are not my people, and I don’t care for you?”

That’s the central question in the next part of Romans chapter 9. If you have your Bible, you can follow along with me as I read the next verses: 

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Here, Paul is dealing with one aspect of the central paradox that the early followers of Christ had to confront: Are followers of Jesus simply a cult of Judaism, or are they something new? And if they are something new, then do God’s promises made to the Jewish people apply to the non-Jewish followers of  Christ? 

Indeed they do: Paul affirms that “it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise.” No longer do people need to be ethnically Jewish in order to be included in God’s promise of redemption, reconciliation, and healing. No longer is God’s protection and mercy extended only to a closed community of Israelites living under the law; rather, Gentiles have been welcomed in as children of promise. No longer are God’s people figured in terms of physical descendants, geopolitical nations, or dietary law. The doors are open for all. Christ says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). That means everyone who stands and knocks, everyone who seeks the Lord will find him. 

Unlike the God of Judaism, our God’s favor is not limited to specific people in specific cities. Unlike the Gods of Hinduism, our God doesn’t need us to please and placate Him in order avoid his wrath or curry his favor. Our God works all things together for our good, even though we’ve done nothing to earn it. Our God washed his disciples’ feet the night before they betrayed him to his death. 

So I ask again: does God say to some: “You’re my people,” and to others “You are not my people”? No, God doesn’t do that. God opened the doors, saying Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The last I checked, we are all tired and carrying heavy loads. We are all in need of a God of infinite love and infinite power who knows our inmost hearts and says to us, “You are loved. You are exactly as I made you to be, and you are mine.” 

With a God like that, how can we have hearts that harden against anyone? 

Think about those groups of lost souls I conjured in your minds at the beginning of this message: the people that your heart goes out to, those that you pray for, those that you long to bring into the joy of salvation and wholeness. Notice how you feel about that person, or that group of people. That’s how Paul felt about the lost Israelites who didn’t know Christ. That’s how God feels about the lost Israelites still, yes; but that’s also how God feels about the people you love who have strayed from his light. When your heart aches for a friend who moves from one abusive relationship to the next as he looks for love, or for a child who has left the faith, God’s heart aches for them in exactly the same way yours does. When you lament that a group of people has wandered away from God and endures the pain and brokenness that a life without him entails, God laments with you. 

What about the people you despise – those you see on the news who seem intent on destroying something you care about, or those you see as perpetrators of crimes and injustice – How does God feel about them? How about those that you never think about because you, like me, are focused Jonah’s plant instead of God’s image-bearing creatures? How does God feel about them? It turns out that God feels about them the same way he feels about the people we find it easy to love and pray for. 

God loves the lost. He loves the violent, the broken, the destroyers of statues, the despots, the people carrying guns on both sides of a conflict. Can we try to look at these people, not with our own human minds that insist on an “us vs. them” narrative, but with God’s mind? God sees them as his own dear children, lost and wandering in a hostile desert. Like sheep, they fall into crevices, headbutt each other, and refuse to come home. These are people for whom Christ died, whom he calls into his presence for healing in grace. Those we find hard to love are God’s people, too. So let us pray for them, and minister to them. We know that the grace and love we were freely offered has healed us, and shall heal them too. 

in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, amen.