+ In the Name of Jesus + We Are Saved by God’s Name and Message 1. Faith Comes from Hearing The Message, 2. The Message Comes through the Word of Christ Sermon on Romans 10:12–17 for Epiphany 5C January 3-6, 2022
- St. Paul had to be the hardest working person in the early church. In the back of many Bibles there are maps, including maps of Paul’s journeys, zig-zagging all over the Mediterranean Sea, to Turkey and Greece. (I was told that Pastor Dorn’s “Footsteps of Paul” Tour is still on.) Near the end of Romans, Paul said that he was thinking about going to Spain. I imagine him always planning, always thinking where he could preach the gospel next. As much as he wanted to, it’s likely he never made it to Rome, which is the reason he wrote the letter. Yes, he wrote. He wrote about 2/3 of the New Testament. And we see Romans 8:28 in action just in the writing of the letter to the Romans. God worked all things for good—even when Paul couldn’t go to Rome, he had to write. With Romans he wrote the most doctrinal book in the whole Bible. It’s also one of the most practical and pastoral books in the Bible. How many times do Christians turn to that passage, “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), and “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
- Paul had several tasks in mind when he wrote to the Romans. First, the church in Rome was a mixed congregation. There were some Christians there who had a Jewish background, and some were native Romans who previously had a pagan Roman background. Whenever there are two distinct groups that come together, there is always a temptation to play “us and them” games. The people with the Jewish background might say “We are the chosen people! We have the heritage from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We’re more special.” The people with the Roman background might left out, or they might think, “We’re the new ones. We’re fresh, not stuffy like those other people.” So Paul wrote that Jews and non-Jews are alike under sin and alike under God’s grace. The Jews received the commandments from God himself on Mount Sinai, but did they keep the commandments? When Moses came down with the stone tablets inscribed with the commandments, he saw the people worshiping a golden calf—breaking the first of the commandments. The Gentiles had the law of conscience—not as clear or distinct as the written law, but still a fragment of God’s law written on their hearts to guide them. Did they follow conscience? Did they always do what the knew, deep down, was right? No. Roman history is full of stories of cruelty, immorality, debauchery (unbridled desire run amok). So, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:23).
- That’s how he starts this reading today. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives generous to all who call on him. Yes, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:13). In the Second Commandment and the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your name,” we learned that God’s name is not just words and titles we use for God, but it what God reveals about himself. It’s his Word, his message. That’s how we get our image of God, how we know him, learn about him—both the law that convicts and guides us and the gospel that uplifts and empowers us.
- And that’s how we come to God. In the Catechism we learn, “I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” “The Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel.” Paul says that at the end of our reading. “Faith comes from hearing the message,” and then he gets specific, “the message is heard through the word of Christ.” You’ve heard me say this before. In card shops and craft shops I often see plaques, posters or wall hangings that say “Believe.” And that makes me ask, “Believe what?” Faith doesn’t float all on its own. It has to have some basis. You can’t just “believe” or “have faith.” You believe a message. You believe in something. You believe in Someone. Faith without a basis or without an object is just optimism, hoping things will turn out okay. We know that kind of faith is very shaky. Sometimes things do turn out okay. Sometimes, things are far from right.
- What do we know for sure, in good times or bad? God’s mercy endures forever. That is “the message that comes through the word of Christ.” That was the first utterance of the New Testament gospel, wasn’t it? “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” We have a Savior. In Christ we are counted as God’s children. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is true on your best day and on your worst.
- Another task Paul had with the Romans was to prepare them for what they were about to experience. We think Paul wrote the letter to the Romans around the year A.D. 58. Just six years later, in A. D. 64 was when the Emperor Nero brought the first major Christian persecution, and a major persecution it was. Renounce your faith or die. The end of Romans 8 was written with them in mind: “If God is for us, who can be against us? … What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” That is “the message,” “the word of Christ” with a specific application for them. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The Romans loved conquering everything they saw. The Roman Christians had the assurance that they were more than conquerors—more than the people who were imprisoning them—more even than Nero himself. They were counted as children of God… and so are we… in any trouble, in any loss., “through all the changing scenes of life, / in trouble and in joy.” (CW21, Psalm 34).
- The word of Christ is about heavenly hope. It is also about earthly endurance. “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). Millions live without Christ, and without true hope. Paul asks, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in? and how can they believe in the one about whom they have not heard?” We have the message. Jesus called fishermen and said, “From now on you will be catching people,” not with hooks or nets, but with this same message. “You have a Savior.” “You have the love of God, freely given, because of that Savior.” Without Jesus, there is no gospel, and no hope. With him, there is hope even in the darkest times. Who do you know? Who can you encourage? Who can you invite? Who can you help call back after this long exile we call “COVID”? The hope is there for all. The Word needs to go out. Above some of our doors, we have signs that say, “You are now entering your mission field.” The message is yours, yours to share, too. To all Christians, Peter wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you. But speak with gentleness and respect.”