Monday, August 04, 2014

Sermon on Romans 9:1-13, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "People of Promise", Part 7

Note: The following sermon is part 7 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. I did not preach sermons 4-7 in the series, if you are following along on the blog. In the beginning of the sermon I allude the difficulty of Romans ch. 9, referring to the passages about election and specifically vs. 13. In this sermon I did not tackle that large and complex issue, which would require a whole sermon in itself. However, for the interested reader, I can commend no better summary of the issue of election and predestination than the summary found here or here  These are, respectively the Epitome (short version) and Solid Declaration (long version) of the Formula of Concord, from the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord. While not resolving all difficulties and potential questions, it faithfully lays out the Biblical teaching and shows that it is a doctrine of comfort and not fear. I encourage you to read it.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. You’ve probably used something like this before: the lists of Bible passages to look up in different situations in life. “When you worry . . . when you feel alone . . . when you struggle with temptation . . . when you have financial trouble.” So, “When you are worried” you read 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on God, because he cares for you.” It’s a quick, easy way to find a Bible passage that speaks to you. The last thing you want, when a person is worried, is for her to open the Bible and read about God striking Ananias and Sapphira dead in their tracks or Judas hanging himself in despair. It’s much safer to open the Bible to one single verse, pre-selected, and begin reading there.

While this approach can indeed be comforting and has brought many people a word from God who otherwise would be lost when they open the Bible, the difficulty is that sometimes people never get beyond this method of Bible reading. They open the pages. They find a comforting word. But then they set the Bible aside and they never find themselves entering through this door into the deeper, richer story of Scriptures. By telescoping in so closely on isolated passages of their interest, they miss the wider view—the greater story God’s Word has to tell. Indeed some Bible passages may be troubling or difficult to understand. Romans 9 here is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible. But we won’t learn what God’s greater story means in its whole by only zooming in on isolated passages. We have to take the whole message of God together—i.e. the context of the whole story—to understand the difficult passages.

Christianity can easily become something it was never intended to be. A private, personal religion. It becomes something you turn to not when entering the world but when retreating from it. It’s something you read in your private devotional time and you look forward to that moment when it is “just me and Jesus.” God becomes something like our best friend, a person who supports us when times get tough, and someone who helps us accomplish our plans and fulfill our dreams. The problem, of course, is that we’ve reversed roles with God. Rather than us being servants in God’s kingdom, God becomes a servant in ours. Rather than God sending us into the world to be a part of His greater story, we confine God to our smaller story and personal needs.

The biggest realization that will steer us down the right track to understanding God’s greater story, is to understand that the main actor in that story is not us, but God. From the beginning of Creation to its coming destruction at the end, and God’s glorious recreation of a new heavens and new earth, God is here, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The story is of Him and His great love and His great reign over the ruins left by sin. The preceding chapters of Romans have guided us to see this. Starting in Ch. 9, we start to see God’s greater plan and promise for His people. While God certainly is present there for every individual person, able to be found in the Bible passage a lonely person reads in a hotel room, God’s vision is much greater than just a one-on-one relationship with us. God has come in Jesus Christ not only to save you and each person in the entire creation but also to join you into a greater people, the body of Christ—the people who live by his promise and for his purpose in his kingdom.

As you listen to our text this morning, you realize that we have come across Paul in a very private moment. Paul is engaged in prayer. His prayer is powerful and personal and very painful. I don’t know if you have ever prayed such a prayer before God on behalf of someone you love, someone you care about, and yet who will have nothing to do with the faith. You love them. You know that God loves them and wants them to be saved and yet that person wants nothing to do with God. And so you stand there, alone, not because you don’t believe in God. You believe in God. But you are alone because you stand there without your friend, your mother, your son who wants no part of the faith. If you have ever been there, you have a very small clue of what the apostle Paul is experiencing.

Paul cries out, “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul is concerned about the salvation of his brothers, the Jewish people. In fact he is so deeply moved that he wishes he could trade his salvation for the salvation of the Jewish people, if that were possible. He’s heartbroken that so many of them had not yet turned to Christ Jesus.

Paul considers that they’ve had every advantage to believe in and know God’s promises, since they were the very chosen people of God. Paul recounts the blessings of God upon them: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” His words echo those of Psalm 147:19-20, which praise God because of the great honor He had given to Israel—to no other nation had He revealed His word and His commandments. It ought to have been a natural thing for them to receive and believe in Jesus as their promised Messiah. God has chosen Abraham to be the father of his people and to bless not only his people but all nations on the face of the earth. They would be blessed through Jesus, offspring of Abraham. Through the very ancestry of the Israelites, Jesus Christ was born of their flesh, of their bloodline.

What is amazing is that Paul in prayer is caught up in the heart of God’s story. Notice how Paul is willing to die for the sake of the Jews. Paul knows that not all of his Jewish brothers and sisters have believed in Jesus. And so Paul finds himself overwhelmed with pain and personal love and he wishes that he himself could be cut off from Christ, if that could save the Jewish people. Here, Paul’s heart is filled with the love of Jesus. Jesus is the very one who was willing to be cut off from God, who was willing to drink the cup of his Father’s wrath, who was willing to be forsaken by God and condemned to hell, that the kingdom of God might be opened to all people who trust in him. In Him is forgiveness, life, and everlasting salvation. In Him is the promise that your sins are forgiven and that you are now part of the people of God, people who live by that promise as part of God’s greater story.

In Paul’s prayer we actually see God’s greater story, God’s greater vision, transform his prayer and his life into a self-sacrificial love. How does this relate to us today? Consider how Paul reminds us that we are part of a greater people brought into the greater story of God. If we see our faith as only an personal matter, reduced to a private experience to help us get through the week, we forget our place in the greater story.

Paul awakens us this morning to the fact that we are part of a people, a much greater people, who live by the promise of God. Paul shows that it’s not the children of flesh—i.e. the physical descendants of Abraham, but the children of promise that are the offspring of Abraham, the children of God. We become part of God’s people not by ancestry, not by birth into a Jewish family, or even a Lutheran or Christian family, for that matter. But rather we become children of promise by God’s special calling and choice. Not because of our works, either good or bad, but because of Him who calls. Not even by our human will or exertion, Paul says—but only because of God, who has mercy. He is not our God because we chose Him, but He is our God and we are His people because He has chosen us.

That is to say that God’s people are a people formed by His grace in Christ Jesus. And our heart should go out as Paul’s did, with an unceasing, impassioned concern for the lost. For those Jews or Gentiles who have not yet believed in Christ, who is God over all. For those who despite being brought up or schooled in the faith, have abandoned God’s promises for the new or latest spiritual fad or fancy, or even the oldest and most mystical fad or fancy. Or for those who simply have reduced life to only what their 5 senses can tell them, and this narrow timespan from our birth to death. Whatever the reason, whatever sin or blindness isolates someone from God—we cry out with Paul that they might be saved, and that the Word of God might strike home in their hearts to awaken new faith and life. And we should not be surprised if we find that God sends and calls us to be those messengers and be those witnesses through whom they hear that Word of Life. For we have confidence that the Word of God has not failed and will not fail, and that it will always go out and do the work God intends for it.

Consider the Old Testament reading this morning. God’s Word calls His people to come and eat at an everlasting banquet served to many nations and many peoples. We can recall how God fed and cared for His people throughout the Old Testament, from the manna in the wilderness to the rich table that the Lord our shepherd prepares in the presence of our enemies, to the teaching that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” to the table that wisdom sets for her people. Jesus’ banqueting parables and pictures of heaven drew on rich Old Testament language like this, and pointed ahead to that heavenly gathering of God’s greater people from all nations. The people gathered by His promise. It’s not a table set for one, but for many, and God serves us freely with food and with grace that truly satisfies. It’s the heavenly feast, of which we have a foretaste here and now in the body and blood of Jesus, given for the forgiveness of our sins in the Lord’s Supper.

And there in that meal, just as in the heavenly banquet to come, we find ourselves in the company of God’s redeemed people. Called and chosen by His mercy—not for any worthiness in us, but solely for the sake of His love. So rather than shrinking our Christianity to fit into our personal lives, by figuring out how to fit God into our plans, we find that God opens the Scriptures and brings us into His story and make us His people in this world. We open our ears, our hearts, and our lives to see how God can use us in His plans and for His people. God continues his greater story of bringing about salvation in this world, and daily new lives are won over by His grace for us in Christ Jesus. May we with Paul and all the faithful saints that have gone before us, become loving servants of His kingdom, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. What is the potential danger of reading the Bible in ways that only gives us small, isolated verses, apart from reading the larger context and story? How can this habit influence the way we understand our Christianity, and live it out? What greater purpose has God intended for us?


  1. Who is the central actor in all of time and history? What do we lose when we forget our place in God’s grand scheme of things? How do we miss out on the importance of Christian community and also our responsibility to one another?


  1. Why is Paul’s prayer in Romans 9:1-5 so impassioned? What does he fear, and what does he wish he could do to change the situation? How was this in fact a Christ-like love for the lost? How did Christ Himself assume this position of being cut off from God, or of bearing the curse? Galatians 3:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.


  1. Who is it that you long for or pray for to be saved? Have you spoken to them about God? How did you do it? When was the last time? Have you talked with your pastor or another Christian about it? Asked for their prayers or help?


  1. How did we become children of God? Reread Romans 9:6-16; John 1:12-13; John 15:16. How does this keep us humble? What had no place in our choosing or becoming God’s children? Since then, it is all for the sake of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, how do we respond?

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