Welcome Through Faith

“Welcome Through Faith”

Romans 3:10-12,19-24 (3:22-24) – October 31, 2021

            Do you know someone who is a stickler for the rules? I mean, really picky about following every rule in the book? Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”? Some people are just made that way. It’s part and parcel of their character.

            The Apostle Paul was used to dealing with people like this. In fact, he WAS a person like this. Someone who was very particular about following all the rules – all the laws in the Mosaic Law Code, in the Hebrew Scriptures. No one kept the Law of Moses like Paul! I mean, Rabbi Saul, before he had the sudden meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road.

            It’s been years since then, and Paul has been a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever since. In fact, he’s known as the Apostle, or missionary, to the Gentiles, which is a wonderfully ironic thing for such a former Rabbi and law-abiding Jew of the highest caliber.

            Paul had been all over Asia Minor, and lots of places in Greece, but never to Rome. He had several friends who had moved there, since it was the capital city of the Roman empire. Someone must have asked Paul for a teaching letter, similar to ones he had written before, sent to cities where he had established churches. Which brings us to this letter to the Roman church.

            In this carefully written letter of dense theological language, Paul hits home several important truths: in chapter 3, he describes faith and righteousness. (Also, unrighteousness.) Similar to many churches, the Roman church had two sides, or factions. Jew and non-Jew (or Gentile), or an “us” side and a “them” side.

            My goodness. This sounds really familiar. Have you experienced splitting up into two sides, in some organization you are part of? Or, some group, even some workplace? Where there are two distinct sides, and a divided understanding of how everything worked? That was how it was in the Roman church. The Jewish believers tended to follow the rules, the Law of Moses, as was their culture and habit. The Gentiles…did not.

Rome was a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot! Not the place for a strict, rule-following, faithful Jew! Or, is it? The Gentile believers were, by and large, not familiar with these rules about eating, the clothes you wear, the everyday practices of living – from a Jewish perspective. Did that make these Gentile believers somehow lesser, inferior believers?

            Paul started out in the first chapters of Romans by telling ALL the Roman believers that everyone is in deep trouble, in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. That does not sound like very good news! (News flash: it isn’t! And, Paul does this on purpose!) “Things were not well with the house churches in Rome, and today’s churches find themselves, once again, in polarizing times.” [1] 

Is it any surprise that Paul “argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God’s promised blessings? Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is “apart from the law.” [2]

It doesn’t matter where or when we find ourselves in history. Martin Luther had huge problems in the 1500’s with opposing factions, with bloodthirsty people on polar opposite sides of an issue, and both sides called themselves committed Christians, too.

“The reality [Paul] presents is, itself, a profound polarity: the unrighteousness of all humanity (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), contrasted with the righteousness of God (the righteousness of God has been manifested via God’s work in Christ).” [3]  

In the first century, in Rome, Paul did not have quite the same in-fighting problem as Luther. But, Paul needed to let everyone know that ALL people had fallen short of God’s glory – God’s righteousness – whether they followed the rules or not.

            That is good news! Good news for ALL the people! Jews and Gentiles, both. Sure, ALL of us are unrighteous, and not fit to come into God’s presence. But, GOD! God through Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. We ALL are now offered relationship with God. Thank GOD!

            Paul reminds all these believers that they are in Christ. Each of them has belief, faith in Christ. He describes and defines faith. Faith is not the things we do, not the good works, the obligations we have got to fulfill to placate a mean, vengeful God. Instead, faith is based on our relationship with God. Faith is a free, loving, intimate relationship with a kind and good God. A loving and just Parent.

            However, this relationship is not just vertical – not just “Jesus and me.” This relationship is also horizontal, with other diverse Christians from all over the world, through faith! “The brothers and sisters in Rome believe, that is they entrust themselves to Christ Jesus’ patterns of life, including the call to welcome one another courageously across the Gentile-Jewish divide.” [4]

Paul’s practical counsel from chapter 15 of Romans is addressed to both factions, both Jews and Gentiles: that means EVERYONE. His counsel? “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Has Christ welcomed you? Then welcome others in Christ’s name!

What would Jesus do? Would He love everyone? Would He welcome everyone? Who would Jesus exclude? No one! We are all invited into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. Plus, we all are offered this simple, profound counsel: “Welcome one another.”


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday9ae.html

“Justification by Faith,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-8

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

All in the Family!

john-8-36-freedom-in-christ

“All in the Family!”

 

John 8:36 – October 30, 2016

Happy Reformation Day! Today is Reformation Sunday. When I say Reformation Sunday, what do you think of? “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!” Or, Martin Luther, beginning the separation from the Catholic faith on October 31, 1517. What about a day to remember and lift up the Protestant Reformation? Or even all the faithful man and women of integrity through the centuries, who suffered and died for being true to their faith?

The Gospel reading for our sermon has a fascinating connection to Reformation Sunday. Jesus is teaching. And as often happens, His listeners do not understand what Jesus says.

All of this chapter of John—the eighth chapter—takes place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths. That is a yearly harvest-time celebration where the Jewish people commemorate God’s protection and accompaniment of the Jews on their wilderness wanderings; when they flee from bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

I think Jesus said it clearly enough, but I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear His words, with first-century ears. And we all know about hindsight. Looking back on things past, hindsight is so often 20/20. Rewinding the tape, living life forwards, the Jewish audience in the Temple in Jerusalem wrangle over what Jesus means by His words. Some agree, some disagree, with contention back and forth.

What are the exact words Jesus says, again? “31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The listening Jews—who include the disciples—do misunderstand. Therein lies the source of a great deal of bickering back and forth.

The Jews listening to the Rabbi Jesus are—for the most part—really sincere. They really want to live righteous lives, pleasing to God. But—HOW to do this? That is the problem. And, competing teachers or rabbis had different plans, or step-by-step procedures to help people get closer to God. (It sounds pretty similar to today, doesn’t it?)

Let’s dig deeper, and look at the first phrase Jesus said: “If you hold to My teaching.” This is a phrase that can be translated in several different ways. A more literal way of translating it is “If you abide-dwell in My word.” Remember, we are talking about people who sincerely, legitimately want to get closer to God; see God more clearly, and follow God more nearly.

I suspect people have had difficulty in this area for centuries. Not connecting with God, I mean. Merely “teaching” sounds like it might be possible to get away with just having a nodding acquaintance with God. A kind of distant relationship where we might once in a while attend services, and think about God just a bit, and maybe drop a little money in the basket. But, not much more. Not get really involved.

What about the more literal translation? What was that Jesus said? “If you abide-dwell in My word—” Abide, or dwell. That sounds permanent. Moving in, and putting down roots! And, “in My word.” That is, digging deep! Learning more, and exploring the riches of God’s word. No surface stuff here. Not a nodding acquaintance only, as far as Jesus is concerned. He wants us to move in, lock, stock and barrel. Get to know God, really well, and get to know God’s word. That’s how to show we are really Jesus’s disciples!

Now, the second part of this if-then statement. Because, that’s just what it is. If we abide-dwell in Jesus’s words, then we are really Jesus’s disciples. If we know the truth, then the truth will make us free.

What on earth? Who is free? Who is a slave? What is Jesus saying here?

Can you see the scene in the Temple, here? The Rabbi Jesus makes an incredible statement, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let’s quote the exact words, the comeback these people gave to Jesus: “They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

A Reformation Day paraphrase could be: “We are the theological descendants of Martin Luther, and have never been slaves to anyone!”

In other words, “What gives? Who are you calling slaves? Slaves to what? We are free-born people, not slaves!”  Jesus has a ready answer. Verse 34: “ Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Did everyone here listen? Did you all hear what Jesus said? Sounds a lot like Romans 3. Paul quotes from Psalms: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; … there is no one who does good, not even one.’” And further on in chapter 3: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That does not sound like good news. But—does the Apostle Paul tell us that we are permanently worthless, and there is absolutely no way to reconcile to God? Does Jesus stop right there, and leave us enmeshed in sin? Certainly not!

Jesus “is not talking about physical slavery but a spiritual, even existential state of being enslaved to sin.” [1] The Jewish listeners in the audience around the Rabbi Jesus just did not understand. They could not wrap their heads around the concept of “slaves to sin.”

Quoting again from a commentator: “Further, one is not delivered from such slavery by either history or birth right, but rather by a present and ongoing relationship — relationship to the Son, the one who is in the bosom of the Father and makes the Father known (1:18). Only those who abide with, dwell in, and are in intimate relationship with the Son, the living Word, the logos of God, are free indeed.” [2]

This is exactly what Martin Luther was preaching, from the moment he posted those 95 Theses on the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg. We are not hopeless slaves to sin. We are not people with merely a nodding acquaintance with God. Instead, we have an intimate relationship with the Son, with Jesus. Moreover, we are freed through our belief in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins. That’s yours and mine. All done! All gone. Our every sin is covered, taken away, is no longer separating us from God.

That is not only good news, that is great news! Tremendous news! And the best news of all? If we abide in His word, Jesus says we are now in God’s family. Listen to what He says in our Scripture passage today: “35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus lets us know that a relationship with God is not only a possibility, but a reality. And, the closest relationship of all! All in the family. We can call ourselves the children of God; sons and daughters of the Almighty. We can enter into intimacy with God. We have the right, the privilege to crawl up into our Heavenly Parent’s lap, and call out, “Abba!”

That freedom was what Martin Luther got excited about. That intimacy is the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. That relationship is what we are heirs to today.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=827 , Commentary on John 8:31-36, October 31, 2010, David Lose.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)