Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
A Part of the Family - August 3, 2014 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Romans 9:1-6 (6-13)
This morning, as we move from Romans chapter eight to chapter nine, Paul shifts gears. We have been following along as Paul has been encouraging and teaching us about the importance of the law and the Gospel; about making a proper distinction between the law and the Gospel; about the fact that we are sinner/saints making our way through life; about the fact that there will be difficult times and easy times, but that no matter what life brings God is with us, He will work out the best for us, and really the difficult times in life are nothing compared to the glory which will be ours in heaven. This morning Paul shifts gears, and perhaps this is what he has been leading up to, especially in his own life as a “Messianic Jews” (as Jewish Christians are sometimes called today). The fact of the matter is, for Paul, as he realized his own people are rejecting Jesus, he has a concern.
We read about Paul’s concern beginning at verse one. Paul says, “1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For 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. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (v. 1-5). Paul’s concern, Paul’s anguish is over his own people, his own flesh and blood, his own relatives and family. He knows his own people are being condemned because of their lack of faith and this is a difficult thing for him to acknowledge.
Paul knows that salvation is no longer the birthright of his own people because they have given up their birthright. And his own people did have a birthright. They are able to trace their lineage back to Abraham whom God called and promised to make a great nation and that through Abraham’s Offspring all nations would be blessed. The covenant God made with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to send a Savior for all people, Jew and Gentile was narrowed so that the Savior would be born through the line of Abraham. The most important part of God’s promise to Abraham was the narrowing of the covenant He first made to Adam and Eve that the Savior of the world was born through the line of Abraham and all the famous people of that line; Isaac, Jacob, King David, King Solomon and so on. But Paul knows that this line of descent does not guarantee one’s own salvation. Perhaps we would do well to take note of Paul’s concern as we think in terms of our own family and friends. Are there people we know who do not believe in Jesus? Do we realize and acknowledge that these people, unless they are given faith in Jesus, will be eternally condemned? Unfortunately, we live in such a “tolerant” world that we never like to think about such condemnation. I cannot tell you have many people I know who rationalize and think; certainly God has a different plan for my friend who does not believe in Jesus and after such rationalization, we go on living and never share the good news of the saving grace of our Lord. And so, we condemn them because Jesus is quite clear that apart from Him and faith in Him there is only eternal spiritual death.
Paul understands that his own family, relatives and friends are at risk for eternal spiritual death unless they turn from their unbelief and are given faith in Jesus. Thus, his wish is that he might be condemned so his people might be saved. That is quite a wish, but one we know cannot come to fruition. We cannot give our lives for another, at least not spiritually. Only one person has ever been able to do that and that of course is Jesus.
Paul goes on to explain what he means, we might say to give his defense from God’s Word. We pick up at verse six, “(6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.’ 10And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call—12she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ 13As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’)” (v. 6-14). God made His covenant way back with Abraham. God reiterated His covenant time and again. God fulfilled His covenant in the sending of Jesus to gives His life on the cross. Unfortunately, for many of the children of Israel, they rejected God’s fulfillment. They rejected Jesus. Paul wants us to know that just because the children of Israel have abandoned the covenant, this does not mean God has abandoned the covenant. God is faithful and just and He always keeps His Word.
God’s covenant was not a covenant of flesh. God’s covenant was not a birthright but a covenant of faith. In other words, God did not come to Abraham and promise him that just because children would be born from his lineage that they would be saved. As a matter of fact, God’s covenant, even to Abraham, was a covenant of faith. In the book of Hebrews we are reminded that “Abraham believed and it was reckoned (or counted) to him as righteousness.”
As a matter of fact, continuing on through the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the writer continually reminds us that the patriarchs are shown to have been a part of the covenant because they believed God’s Word, not because they were children of a certain person. Abraham did what he did, left his family and went to where God showed him to go because of faith. The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea in faith. Rahab hid the spies because of faith. The covenant was a covenant of faith, not a right of birth.
Remember the covenant was not first made with Abraham. He was the one to whom God called and specifically said that through his family the Savior of the world would be born. The covenant goes back to the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin. The covenant goes back to a time before there were Jews and Gentiles. The covenant was God’s covenant to all people. And now that God has fulfilled His covenant Paul is reminding us that all people are a part of that covenant. Not only the Jews, but only those who believe, are a part of that covenant. Even the Gentiles, again, those who believe, are a part of God’s covenant. We are a part of that covenant but only by faith.
Today, God’s Word continues to be true as His covenant continues. And His covenant continues to be a covenant of faith. God has not called a certain culture or nationality of people to be saved. God has called and continues to call all people to be saved. God’s salvation is not offered to any because of their lineage, their birthright, but He calls all people to be saved by believing in Jesus.
What does this mean? This means that we are not saved because of who we are or who our parents are. This means we are not saved because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. This does not mean we are saved because we important people in our community. This does not mean we are saved because we know someone who is saved. Our salvation is not a birthright.
Nor does this means that we are saved because of how good we are, or how good we might think we are, or for that matter for any reason on our own part. Our good works, our civil good works do not earn or merit any salvation for us. Our volunteering for service to the community and to the church and to anything and everything else neither earns nor merits anything in God’s eyes, because His is not a covenant of good works.
Instead, this means we are saved by grace through faith, given through the means of grace. We are saved because God has made a covenant with us to save us. God made His covenant back in the Garden of Eden. God fulfilled His covenant in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to do for us and for all people what we are unable to do, live a perfect life. Jesus came to take care of our sins because we cannot, that is He came to give His life, to pay the price for sin, for us in our place. Jesus died and rose. He showed Himself to be alive, again and again, so that we might have the certainty of His death and resurrection and the certainty of our own eternal life. Jesus ascended and sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us today, working through the means of Grace, the Bible, God’s Word, confession and absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit continually works through these means to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. And so again, we see the importance of making regular, every week, and diligent, every day, use of these means.
Finally, this means we rejoice because we are a part of the covenant and we never take that for granted. Being a part of the covenant is a gift. It is not something we do, although, as we have heard time and again, this is something we can refuse and reject. As Paul calls us to rejoice in our own part in God’s covenant, he also calls us to lament those of our family and friends who have and who continue to refuse and reject God’s call. He calls us to pray for them, that the Holy Spirit might continue to call them to faith, and that we might have the opportunity and courage to share God’s Word with them as well, so that they too might become a part of His Kingdom.
The Word of God has not failed. The promise is made to all people. God has fulfilled His Holy Word. God will continue to fulfill His Holy Word, and ultimately He will fulfill His promise to come again to take us and all who believe in Jesus to be with Himself in heaven. Until that time, until the time of our Lord’s return, He gives us opportunities to be given His good gifts and blessings. He gives us opportunities to share His Word with others as well as to invite others to come to worship and to hear His Word. Thanks be to God that He continues to call people to faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. And thanks be to God that He has given us these gifts and blessings as well, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.