Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (September 3, 2017)

ROMANS 11:13-15,28-32


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Christian Church in Rome was a blended group, made up of both Jews and Gentiles.  At the inception of the Christian Church, the majority of believers were Jews.  Those who had listened to God's Old Testament prophets were awaiting the fulfillment of them.  When Jesus of Nazareth proved himself to be the Christ by his death and resurrection, many of the Jews believed and rejoiced.  St. Paul went to synagogues throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the fulfillment of God's promises.  He declared that Jesus sacrificed himself to win forgiveness for the sins of the whole world.
     For various reasons, that Good News of Jesus was not always received well in those synagogues.  Some Jews slandered Paul.  Some drove him out of town.  Some even tried to kill him.  St. Paul did not quit preaching.  He turned to the Gentiles and proclaimed salvation to them.  That is what St. Paul is talking about when he says, “Their rejection means the reconciliation of the world.” (Romans 11:15)  Because the Jews rejected Jesus, St. Paul preached to the Gentiles.  Jesus had come for them, too.  The Lord was merciful to them, too.  God's love and salvation were for all.  Many Gentiles believed and rejoiced.  Eventually, the number of Gentiles grew larger than the number of Jews in the Church, as it remains today.
     You may wonder: Why does a person reject God's word?  Why am I saved and not someone else?  As we ponder these questions, we often make some fatal assumptions.  One is the idea that all people are basically good and will go to heaven, and that if anyone goes to hell it is because God is being unfair.  For evidence, people will cite the response to Hurricane Harvey.  Many people have donated their time, effort, and money to help the people of Houston.  They witnessed the devastation and were compelled to help; and many people will be helped by these efforts.  Those helpers deserve the thanks they get from the people of Texas.
     Such compassion, it is believed, is evidence of a good heart and a good person.  Many will also expect God to take notice and reward them.  But people who want credit for helping out strangers must also take credit for the sins against people they personally deal with from day to day.  It is easy to love strangers because you don't have to deal with them for very long.  It is hard to love people that you see every day because you have to live with their quirks and you observe their sins.  And they have to deal with yours, too.
     So if you want credit for a Red Cross contribution, you also get credit for despising your co-worker for his whining or for his arrogant boasting.  You get credit for your sarcastic comments to your wife.  You get credit for lashing out at your child because he interrupted your Facebook time.  These are all evidence of sinful, selfish hearts, and God is not being unfair for saying so.  He is being just and honest.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  We are all sinners and God says so.  And yet, many refuse to stand before God as sinners.  They do not want forgiveness for sins; they want credit for being good.  As a result, they reject Jesus, because Jesus comes only for sinners.
     The other fatal mistake we make when we consider why we are among those who are saved is that we think we must have done something to get God's attention or find his favor.  When St. Paul was rejected in the synagogues by the Jews, he went into the marketplace among the Gentiles.  Why?  Some would argue, “Because God knew they would listen.”  In other words, God saw something in them that should be rewarded.  Once again, it is a warped way of trying to insist that we are not sinners, or at least that we are better than others.  But St. Paul assures you: That is not the case.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)
     There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between men and women, between young and old.  All are sinners.  God's Law shows us what is good, but that Law also shows us we are not good.  We have not obeyed it.  When God makes this evident, it is not because he is being mean or unloving.  God shows you what you are so that you will not pretend to be anything different.  All are sinners.  All fall short of God's commands.  An act of charity to Houston does not negate how calloused we have been to others.  It does not erase the sin that dwells in our hearts or that has shot our of our mouths.  Repent.  You are not holy, and you despise others when you think you are better than them.  For, you and I do not deserve anything different from anyone else.  All are guilty, and all should be judged accordingly.
     If you must ponder the questions: Why am I saved and not someone else?, then understand this: It is a marvel that anyone is saved.  No one deserves it.  You are saved not because of who you are; you are saved because of who God is.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  God is a merciful Savior.  He has mercy upon the guilty.  He acts to save sinners.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  God shows us that we are all sinners so that we crave his mercy; for, God wants to have mercy upon us all.
     The Lord issues his call to repentance because we are real sinners and we do bear real guilt.  Since you are a sinner and are guilty of disobeying God's commands, you deserve the appropriate judgment—damnation from God whose justice is holy.  God is just; the guilty must suffer.  But God wants to have mercy upon us all.  Mercy means that you are not given what you deserve.  Therefore, he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  
     God sent his Son to save sinners and to have mercy upon us all.  Jesus came to be treated as our sins deserve.  Jesus made our sins his own.  He took up our guilt.  He was put under God's curse and was damned at the cross.  Jesus suffered real divine torment on behalf of sinners.  For, Jesus does not save fake sinners, only real ones.  His sufferings were real.  His death was real.  Jesus had made himself the guilty one for us.  He was put to death on behalf of us all.  God's holy  justice was upheld: the guilty one suffered for our sins.  He did not do this because we deserved it.  He did not act because he saw something about us that was praiseworthy and merited his response.  It wasn't even fair.  Jesus is innocent; we deserve punishment.  But God wants to have mercy upon us all, and so God acted in mercy.
     Mercy means that we do not get what we deserve.  And in Christ, God is merciful to sinners.  You will not be sent to hell.  You are not under God's curse.  And he is not even angry with you.  Through Jesus' sufferings and death, you have received this mercy.  Your sins are pardoned, and you are free.
     It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, black or white, man or woman, young or old: God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  You are not saved because of who you are.  You are saved because of who God is.  You do not get to boast that you are special or better, but you do get to rejoice that the Lord has been merciful to you, a poor, sinful being.  You get to proclaim God's mercy to your friends and family because they need the mercy that you have been shown.  You get to invite friends and family to church to receive God's mercy and grace so that they will not die in their sins.  And you get to pray that the Gospel will be proclaimed into all the world so that more and more recognize they are sinners, crave for mercy, and rejoice that God wants to have mercy upon us all.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  God has been merciful through Jesus Christ.  And that is why you are saved.

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

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