Based on Romans 10. 5-15 (NLT version) & Matthew 14. 22-33

Today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome is a small section of a much larger and rather deep theological argument and Paul’s complete argument would be a really great text for a full out bible study.   It’s a text on salvation and evangelism- not something we talk much about as Anglicans, and if we’re honest, we aren’t always comfortable talking about.  Anglicans are quieter on these Christian theologies, and yet, they truly are key to what it means to be Christian.  They are important to talk and learn about, and here it is today, all nicely wrapped up in one reading for us—an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.   All I can really do in this bit of sermon time today is just touch on both these topics, but I do hope you will find it helpful, maybe even piques your interest to learn more.

Now, not all the many letters that are attributed to Paul are actually his writings. Biblical scholars confirm only seven letter of the twelve so-called letters of Paul were actually written by him.  The letter to the church in Rome was written by him.  Our scripture for today is classic Paul, and some of Paul’s writings are notoriously challenging.  We normally read the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in church because it is the most accurate translation we have to date to the original languages in which the biblical books were written.  I’ve opted today to use The New Living Translation (NLT) for this scripture.  It’s a more modern vernacular, less literal in its translation, and will help us understand better what Paul is teaching the followers of the church in Rome.

Paul’s calling to the first century Christian Church was as the apostle to the Gentiles, Gentile being the name used in this culture for non-Jewish people.  He felt called by Christ to bring the message of the good news, the gospel of Christ as Lord and saviour to all people, and to explain how Jesus, who was Jewish, could be the salvation for both Gentiles and Jews.  As Paul is arguing his points, he’s using references to the Hebrew Bible, what we often call ‘The Old Testament’.  You may have noticed those references as footnotes in your copy of the reading.   This form of rhetorical argument was commonly used and a very acceptable style of making a point, or an argument for religious teachers of his time—and let’s remember Paul was a Pharisee, a member of those who were the interpreters of the Jewish Laws; he was trained in this particular technique.

For Jews, righteousness, being at one with God and in line with God’s will for us came through the strict adherence to the Torah, the book of Laws which came from interpretations of the laws of Moses.  These laws became a lifestyle, dictating how observant Jews were to live.    In this section of text, Paul is explaining to the members of the Romans, that the Jews, the people of Israel have missed a crucial link —that Jesus is the culmination of the laws of Moses, that salvation now is through Jesus, and is for everyone.  The law, the Torah was the old covenant, the old agreement of salvation between the people of God and the Lord God Almighty.  Jesus is the new covenant, because Jesus is the culmination–the high point or apex of the Law; Jesus is the new way.  Paul says this in a few verses that start just before our reading for today begins:  

30 What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place.31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not?  Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him.”  (Chap. 9-NLT) 

And then he goes on, further clarifying:  which is where our reading for today starts:

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. 

                        So, being made right with God, or to use the more old fashioned term—justification with God is not accomplished just by doing all the right things, obeying all the right laws even though the laws of Moses came down from God.   One biblical commentator I read put it like this:  “the function of the law as a means of reconciliation with God has come to an end.  In its place is Jesus Christ.”[1]   You cannot earn your way to God’s presence just by doing all the ‘right’ things—there are no points for good behaviour!  We are reconciled, justified, at one with God through belief in Jesus.   Paul goes on to explain further:

8And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

It is our faith and belief in Jesus that saves us.  Now that doesn’t mean that anything goes, that how we live our lives doesn’t matter as long as we believe in Jesus. Adherent Christians develop a relationship with the living Christ, Christ with us, in us, guiding us.    Jesus’ teachings and Jesus’ presence within us, that’s what guides our behaviour!  They kind of go hand in hand, you could say.

So, how does that faith and belief in the salvation of Christ manifest itself in our lives?  If I asked you; ‘What does it mean to be saved?’ what would you say?  Traditionally salvation is considered as life eternal with Christ.  Eternal has often been taken to be life with Christ after our death—that’s how salvation has been perceived, and for many that was what was how we were taught.  But Paul’s message is more than that, he speaks in the present tense, 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.  Paul is preaching that salvation comes from an active belief in Christ, by believing and declaring your faith, in the present tense.  It is not only that Jesus will save us when our time comes, but Jesus saves us now, as we live our day to day lives.   Jesus is present with us, if and when we go to him, and ask for that presence!

A bit like in our gospel story from Matthew.  Jesus walked across the water to join his disciples in their boat.  Peter says to him:  “Lord if it really is you, command me to come out to you.”  Jesus says, “Come”.  Peter steps out on the water, all seems ok for a while and then the reality of the situation took hold, the wind was strong, the water choppy and he loses faith in his ability to do as Jesus commanded him—he relied on himself instead of focussing on Jesus.  He starts to sink and fears he will drown.  He cries out to Jesus “Lord, save me!”  And right away, immediately Matthew tells us, Jesus grabs his hand and saves him.  It is our faith in Jesus, our commitment and focus on Jesus that saves us in our daily lives.  Sometimes when our faith founders, because we’ve lost the true focus on Jesus, thinking we can do it on our own, that we lose that connection to Jesus, and we founder too!  It is our belief in the living and forgiving grace of Jesus that saves us—often saving us from ourselves. And as Paul told the Roman church members:   “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (vs 13)  Next he he calls all believers to be active in their faith by sharing that faith in the salvation of Jesus Christ, as he is the Son of God.  Paul says:

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? Romans 10 (NLT)

 

Ah, yet another challenge for believing Christians—having to talk about Jesus and our faith as Christians!  Verse 10 “…it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.”  Really??  We need to talk to others about Jesus?  As Paul said it “how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”  Sounds like that dreaded ‘E’ word—evangelism.  “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news.”  Them’s big shoes to fill, particularly for us very small ‘E’ evangelistic Anglicans!

 

Let me share with you an interesting way of considering what evangelism is.  This quote is from another biblical commentator:

 

Evangelism is about introducing others to Jesus.   It is not our job to convert someone to our doctrine, to our style of liturgy or worship or to our particular agendas.  We are not responsible for the outcome of the introduction; this task belongs to Jesus.  The introduction we make comes from our own experience with him.  It begins with listening; it continues in conversation.  This kind of evangelism requires that we live as Jesus called us to live: with love, honesty and humility.[2]

 

So, no soapboxes or door to door visitations really required.  And it’s amazing how opportunities to talk about God or Jesus can pop up sometimes in simple conversation.  It does take a bit of nerve at first to grab the chance and say that you believe in Jesus, or that you’re a church going person, and how your faith affects your life.  It’s that trust thing–we have to trust that God will give us the right words at the right time.  Which God does!  Take a breath and a quick prayer and the Holy Spirit will be with you! Remember, we’re not called to convert nor are we responsible for the outcome, that’s Jesus’ job.  It’s ours to simply introduce Jesus to others, to share our experience of Jesus in own lives, and live as Jesus taught to the best of our abilities.  And trust God to do the rest.  How do we do that, by sharing how our faith impacts us.  Another way to bring people to Jesus is to invite them to come to church with us.  Even easier to do in the time of on-line church—simply share the facebook page with someone!

 

Salvation comes from our faith in Jesus, believing in our hearts that he is the living Son of God, come back from the dead, and actively declaring this to be so—by what we do and say.  This is living out our faith, with the presence of Jesus ever being our helper, now, in the present and forever.  Amen.

 

 

Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] Kyle D. Fedler:  Theological Perspective on Roman 10: 5-15 in Feastin on the Word  Year A Vol. 3.(Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville Ky) 2011 p. 328

[2] Mary Beth Anton in “Homelitical Perspective” for Romans 10: 5-15 in Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 3