Sunday, August 10, 2008

Romans 10:5-17, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 10, 2008

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not 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” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 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. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 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? 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!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:5-17 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is a very strong contrast in this text. It talks about two kinds of righteousness. Righteousness is just a $10 word that means being right with God, or having God look at us and seeing only good. So this text is talking about that. The first way is simple. If you keep the commandments, so says Moses, you will live by them. And at first we may like what we hear. We are pretty keen on the law and the commandments after all. How many of you were distressed at the fight to remove the Ten Commandments from courtrooms around the country. God gives us laws, if we obey them we can live. If we could just get everyone to follow those Ten Commandments then we’d have a country that was blessed by God. It is interesting that recent polls show that even Christians don’t know the commandments. If you ask what they are you usually get a list containing something about killing, stealing, and maybe even littering. How are you supposed to keep the commandments if you don’t even know what they are? And that’s just the problem. When we look at our lives we think we see that we are keeping them pretty good. It’s those folks out there who aren’t on the ball. We’re not lazy like those folks down the road who never work and don’t even try, but live on the handouts of others. We’re not drinking our way to an early grave like those who are always parked on Main Street. We’re not worshipping that mattress god instead of warming our place in the pew. We’re putting “our fair share” in the collection plate, not like those folks who never give anything so the church can meet its budget. We’ve got it all over them. When Moses says, we shall live by them… We’re very quick to point out where others aren’t keeping them. And we, if we just look at the surface, are doing pretty well. The problem with looking at the commandments this way is that we forget something very important about them. The important thing is how they start. The first commandment is really the key to them all. That’s what Jesus tells us when he was asked: What is the greatest commandment?

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

The first commandment is the key. If you can’t do it you aren’t keeping the rest. You shall have no other gods is a tall order and it is infinitely personal. It’s between me and God. He is to be first and only. I am to depend on him for everything. I am to love him more than anything, including myself. He is to be in my every thought, always. The rest of the commandments don’t matter after this. The righteousness that Moses says lets me live is really having a perfect relationship to God. And when I look at my life, when you look at your life in light of God’s demand in just this first commandment we end up standing in the rubble of all the commandments broken. But the proof is in the living. Your life and mine is littered with the broken pieces of the commandments. We have enemies because we don’t keep the commandments. We hurt friends and family because we don’t keep them. We toss and turn in the night with our well earned guilt. What Moses says is true. The person who does the commandments will live by them. The way for righteousness by the law isn’t in the cards. But we still try, we gather up the broken pieces of the law all around us and dutifully carry it to God and say, doesn’t this count for anything? But the commandments must be whole. Broken pieces offered to God are nothing. Isaiah says it clearly.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

Now I said the passage talks about two kinds of righteousness. And that’s a good thing because the first way is out of reach. The second way is a righteousness based on faith. St. Paul tells us what this way is like. First, he says, this righteousness isn’t like the way of the law because it admits it can’t keep the law. That’s what he means when he says “Who can bring Christ down?” or “Who can raise Christ from the dead?” He’s just saying that faith admits we can’t do anything to make these things happen. Faith confesses the truth about who we are.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3 NIV)

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:3 NIV)

But the righteousness of faith is more than that. We know we are sinful because the law condemns us. But God’s Word also gives us hope.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (Romans 10:8 ESV)

The thing is the way of righteousness by the law is hard. We can’t keep the commandments. That is we can’t keep them perfectly enough to be right with God and have a relationship to him. But the way of faith is easy. In fact, there is nothing to be done at all.

because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

We confess with our mouth what we believe in our hearts. Faith expresses itself in words.

In confession it says,

But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4 ESV)

At the baptismal font it says,

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 ESV)

At the altar it says,

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

At the hospital it says,

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 ESV)

At the grave it says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

That’s the word that is near you, in your heart, and confessing the faith that saves. Jesus gives the victory in all these times because he is the one who has won them. Actually that’s the other way that what Moses says is true. He says that the man who does the commandments shall live by them. We know he’s not talking about you and me. He is talking about someone. It’s Jesus. Jesus did the commandments perfectly. He had no trouble with keeping God as the center of his life. It shows too in everything else he does. He had compassion on sinful people who needed help. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He gently (and not so gently) corrected those who believed false things. He placed other people’s needs above his own. Jesus is the one who can and does present the commandments in whole stone to God, the Father. There are no chips or scratches or cracks at all. By all rights Jesus should live, as the commandments promise, if they are kept whole. And Jesus does live. But first he dies. When we present our works to God all that we should receive is his anger and punishment for destroying his perfect law. But instead Jesus steps between us and God’s anger. He takes it all. On the cross God’s perfectly just anger is poured out on Jesus. All the punishment for the broken tables of the law. All the punishment for not doing what we should. All the punishment for doing what we shouldn’t. All of what we deserve for trying to deflect our own sinfulness on other people. But Jesus does live. He earned life through his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. He lives, just as Moses says. And what’s more, he presents his perfectly kept law to God, not for himself, but for you and for me. So, what Moses said about living is true for us to. That’s God’s promise in our baptism in Jesus, through his life, death and especially his resurrection from death.

But that’s not all that Paul says here either. He tells us what the church, what this church; St. John’s Lutheran Church in Miner County, Howard, South Dakota and all our sister congregations across the state, nation, and world, are all about. In short he says our task as the church is to do just exactly what faith does. Faith has an expression in proclamation. It isn’t really difficult. “Faith comes from hearing” he says, “and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Our task is to preach. How can they call on him if they don’t believe? They can’t. How can they believe without hearing? They can’t. How can there be hearing without a preacher? There isn’t. The job of the church above all things is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ alone. The job of the church is to remain focused on the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Budgets and buildings are necessary to that end but we don’t worship bricks, and we don’t keep a beautiful building for the sake of its beauty. This is all here for the sake of hearing.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: We rejoice in this gift from God; the proclamation of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins won for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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