Preaching to for the Choir based on Romans 9:1-5
Pentecost 7 – Proper 13A: July 31, 2011
Pastor Richard Mau
Immanuel Lutheran – Des Plaines, IL
Psalm 136 Isaiah 555:1-5 Romans 9:1-13 Matthew 14:13-21
All too often a parent’s lament is that a child did not live a life as he/she was raised to be. Sometimes it is that a child does not continue in the faith as the parent expected and continues to wish for. A common cry amongst Christians is that so many in our neighborhoods and nation do not live lives in faith as one would imagine our neighborhoods and nation to be. Yet we live in a society and world and a church culture that all too often trusts that merely due to some sort of heritage or “pedigree” all is OK with God. I have heard that cry in different senior residential facilities that so many there just do not understand that they are living on the edge of earthly time without regard that judgment is soon to occur. Yes, some of those cries are castigating of others. But so many of those cries are of concern and frustration on behalf of others wishing that they too could live in the joy and comfort and strength and certainty knowing salvation in Jesus Christ.
That is Paul’s plea today as he writes, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…” [v. 3]. Paul, formerly the Pharisee Saul, knows and understands the new life he has in Christ Jesus in contrast to his former life not really knowing Jesus Christ. He understands the Jewish people who deny the Savior. He understands their reliance and stubbornness living and practicing according to the traditions they practiced and their counting on a heritage as Abraham’s children by birth. Paul understands their blindness from seeing salvation in Jesus because of their reliance on outward practice and just because generations did church this way. Paul understands their faithfulness in what they do of themselves and what they were born into instead of the truth of salvation, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul’s cry on behalf of his brothers is very similar to Moses when he pleaded on behalf of the Israelites disobedience and falling back into pagan worship in the wilderness. God tested Moses by threatening to destroy his people. Although Moses had reprimanded the people severely before returning to the mountain top, now he pleaded with God to forgive and sustain and deliver his people as he had promised and if not, to destroy him also, [Genesis 32]. In the days leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Matthew 23:37]. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds that followed him [Matthew 14:14]. Paul is crying out the same plea, his compassion for them that those who have always been given the promise would recognize it and turn to faith in it.
Throughout Scripture and brought out so clearly in Paul’s lament is it is faith in God’s love and work that saves and not by man’s righteousness in the “things” he does. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it is not who baptized whom but it is God’s gift of salvation given in those waters and faith in his promise that those waters bring in Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 1:10-17]. But some have turned their hearts away as Jesus explains when he sent the disciples and the seventy-two into the villages to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. He spoke of both those who would believe and those who would not saying to remain in the house that welcomes you but if a people reject you to leave [Luke 10].
In Psalms 118 and 146 God tells to not put trust in princes. All too often people put trust in things that on the surface look good. Jesus tells that those who make such a display of religion in public have already earned their reward [Matthew 6:2, 5, 16] which is recognition by self and others. Jesus corrected Martha for being concerned about the outward things as compared to Mary who was quietly listening at Jesus’ side. Paul cautions against boasting over the things we feel we accomplish instead of our boasting being that of what Christ has done for all [Galatians 6:14]. It is one thing to promote the Gospel for the Gospel’s sake. It is another to promote the church and its doings for the church’s sake.
In all of this are the two parts of God’s word, both law and Gospel. When one lives by the law, by the things he/she does, no matter how “good” it looks and sounds, it is futile. It is by faith in God’s grace that continues to save, even those who at first appear to be out of the “chosen” group. Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome who may well have included both former practicing Jews and Gentile converts. There is no difference from one believer to another. The promise is for those who are born again by faith in Jesus. Yes, there are things we do in faith. But it is not the things we do but the thing that Christ has done that saves. In these verses Paul is preaching to the choir of believers in Rome. He is also preaching for the choir whose trust is being in the choir instead of the message given through the choir, God’s covenant of promise.
Paul has been rejected by his brothers by birth, by heritage. He was being accused of turning his back on Israel as he went out in mission to the Gentiles. But he continues pleading for and praying for and preaching for his brothers to turn from their reliance on earthly pedigree but on the new birth received in faith in Christ. The promise continued to be theirs as it had been throughout history. The covenants continued to be theirs as well as for all others who would hear and believe. However we see in God’s plan Paul was not to sit back and wait for his neighbors to walk into his door, but to go out into the world of people who had not yet heard. It is all because God’s love is for them too. Within a few years the majestic temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The people in Jerusalem would never believe that this would ever happen. But God’s temple, the building of believers in Christ Jesus would prevail in hearts in places and ways they refused to imagine. Paul knew that was God’s grace, that his word would not return empty but would accomplish that thing according to his purpose [Isaiah 55:11].