23 August 2018

Homily from Today’s Service

Service of Prayer and Preaching, p. 260


Romans 10:9–17 (ESV): if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 

14 How then will they 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? 15 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!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

I wonder, sometimes, if we get what Paul meant when he said that Jesus is Lord. I think it's quite a bit more than Jesus is the one who gets the say-so in your life. That's true, or ought to be true, of course. I think it's even more than Luther's beautiful exposition of "Lord" in the Larger Catechism, where we'd best render it as He's your hero; the one who comes to rescue you out of the mess you find yourself in and which you could never have gotten out of on your own. No. It's bigger. Jesus is Lord really runs all the way to Jesus is LORD. That is, Jesus is Yahweh. The one who formed Adam from the dust, and then formed Eve from his rib? That's Jesus. The One who told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and then provided a substitute? That's Jesus. The One who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the One who divided the sea, the One who led them with a fiery pillar and fed them manna and provided water in the desert and divided the Jordan and caused the walls of Jericho to crash down and gave promises to David and well, you get the idea. 

Paul is arguing and insisting to Jew and Gentile that the ONE we meet in all the stories of the Old Testament and whose Spirit spoke through the prophets: THAT ONE is actually Jesus. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus is God.

And yet also to believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Wait a minute, I thought He was God? True, the Word is God, but He is also the Word with God. Which is to say Marcion is out to lunch with Arius. And so is anyone who tries to drive a wedge between the Testaments and the grouchy God of terrifying law and the loving sweet God of the New Testament. Lewis rightly observed that all the really frightening sayings of the New Testament actually are from the lips of Christ! He speaks as God and as the Son of God. 

But today's text isn't full of frightening news, but astounding news. Believe and be saved! Whoever believes in Him, God will never shame. There is no distinction, He's no respecter of persons, He dumps His gifts in Christ out lavishly on all who call on Him. All! He meant it when His prophet spoke: "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus, Yahweh) will be saved!" Whoever!!!

Paul's great problem though is the same as yours. It makes it sound so easy. So wonderful. But faith, faith isn't easy. Our Catechism bluntly admits it's impossible. "I believe that I cannot believe." Truer words never written. So where does faith come from? How does it come about? 

Paul chases it back up the chain: if you haven't heard about Jesus being the Lord (the very key that unlocks the Scriptures), you can't call on Him (that is, realize that He's the God who can and will save you). And you can't hear about Jesus without someone telling you about Him. And that requires someone being SENT to tell you about Him. And sending is what God does with His Church! He sends us one and all to disclose this amazing mystery of the Old Covenant: that the One we're reading about with a creative word, and a flood of judgment and a persistent and almost crazy love for His people, this God showed up one day. Wore ancient diapers (aka swaddling clothes), grew up to walk in sandals, and showed in a hundred and one ways who He was. Just said it outright. And so we killed Him. "You a human dare to pretend that you are God! Come on, man. We know your mama, alright? We know your peeps. And we aren't impressed!" And when we killed Him for speaking the truth to us? God raises Him from the dead! And then sends Him back with this crazy message: "Ha! I love you! And you thought you were getting rid of me, but I've just saved the lot of you. Ha! How about that? My blood that you in your great sinfulness shed has now covered the whole globe! The whole deal! Every sin! You're forgiven! All of you! You're mine! And I love you! How's them's bananas, huh?"

And when you hear it, something happens. It's not really in your noggin. It's a work of the Holy Spirit way deep down. You hear it and you know: look, that's insane and crazy and, well, true. I think it's true. I know it's true in a way I can't ever prove to a soul. It has the ring of truth. I mean, I get it. Who can possibly believe this stuff? Who? Me and you, that's who. I don't know why or how. But I do and you do, and those men weren't lying to us about Him, about the wild and wooly things He did, and how everyone but especially the cross showed us what we'd never be able to reason our way to. That's faith.

The miracle of faith. Always a miracle. In the beginning the Spirit moved over the water and brought order out of chaos. In your being enfolded into this story, the Spirit moves over the chaos that is you and brings to birth this trust. And keeps birthing it. As you hear the stories of the Old Testament and you recognize again and again in them the Child born of the Virgin, nailed to the tree, raised from the dead, ruling right now in power, and coming in glory. The One who washes You and gives you new birth and who feeds You with His own body and blood and never tires of telling you that He has forgiven you and loves you and you are His. Faith is birthed when you know it's all true.

Faith comes from hearing. Hearing from the Word of Christ. 

And one more thing. Faith yaks. It can't shut up once its engendered by the Spirit and the Word. It immediately starts pouring out from the lips what's in the heart: Jesus really is Yahweh! The man hanging dead on the tree created the world. The baby in the Virgin's arms upholds the universe. And so the cycle goes on and on.

Sasse once observed the world is astounded that the Church CAN go on, just repeating as it does the same old story over and over again. The Church knows she only DOES go on, faith only does go on, because the story is told in her unceasingly, in the Scriptures we read and hear preached, in the liturgy and hymns we sing and even in the prayers we pray. In it all: faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hymn: 587 I Know My Faith Is Founded

Prayers: Ezariah, Amy, Paula, Roger, Ruth, Allan and Jan; Deirdre Christiansen (Germany); and all facing the hurricane bearing down on Hawaii. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What do you say to those who insist that merely believing that Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead isn't enough to save, that it's mere "mental assent?" And what if a person does believe, but doesn't yak about it? I don't. Where does that leave me?