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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
May 07, 2023
Grace and peace to you from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week, I mentioned that during the Easter season we spend some time in the book of Acts learning about parts of the early church’s history. Starting this week, we shift to Paul’s letter to the Romans and learn more about Paul’s theology and how that shaped the early Christian community in Rome.
He wrote the letter sometime between 55 and 57AD. And he arrived in Rome in about the year 60, and was under house arrest for two years. And he continued to preach and write from the home where he stayed.
What makes Romans different from the rest of Paul’s letters is that he wrote it before he met the people in the church there. He wasn’t the founder of this community, and he hadn’t met anyone there yet. So, in the introduction to this letter, he introduced himself and the gospel he proclaimed.
He begins by defining himself as a servant of Jesus – and also as being called as an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. And then he talks about the larger story that that gospel is a part of. That the gospel, God sending Jesus and raising him from the dead, is a promise God had made in scripture and that, at its core, it’s about God’s faith in us and God’s faithfulness to us.
This gospel that Paul preaches and declares, God’s faithfulness to us, isn’t a set of doctrines or an unchanging list of ideas, or even a story of what God has done in Jesus. It’s God’s power that actively saves, heals, and makes right. It’s a gospel that’s alive and active and self-giving, and it reveals God’s righteousness.
And “righteousness” is one of those words that, depending on the context, can have slightly different interpretations. In the context of this letter, what it boils down to is God putting people – both Jewish and Gentile believers – in a right relationship with God’s self. In other words, God makes us “right” with God.
Theologian and professor Joseph Sittler often told the story of a time he was in Jerusalem and his car broke down. So, he took it to a mechanic to have it fixed. And when the mechanic had finished and started it up to hear the engine running perfectly, he said, “Zadik.” Zadik is the Hebrew word translated as “righteousness.” But in this context, it means “it works.”
As people of faith, God makes it so that our relationship with God “works.” In other words, God makes us right with God. It isn’t on us. We can’t earn it, and nothing can take it away from us, because God’s righteousness is rooted in God’s faithfulness to us.
And our righteousness with God is something that we practice throughout our lives by doing what God has called us to do. By living in response to God’s faithfulness to us. And we do that simply by being people who have faith in God.
It’s that easy and that complex.
So what was important to Paul and to the other apostles, because it was important to Jesus, was people supporting one another in their faith. Helping one another learn how to trust God. When the early church first came together, those Christian communities, their survival depended on mutually supporting each other.
Because they were all each other had. Church then wasn’t the institution that it is today. So, if they didn’t support one another in their faith, the communities didn’t survive. They were that fragile.
And we take for granted the “security” that the institutional church provides us with today. It allows us to only support one another when it’s convenient, or when it’s easy. It allows us to say, “Oh, I don’t have to do that because so-and-so will take care of it.” And being part of a larger faith community does take some of the pressure off.
But it’s still vitally important that we support one another in our faith. And when I say, “one another,” I mean people beyond these walls, too.
Yesterday, a group of us participated in the Day of Service in Sammamish. And our project was to help begin cleaning up someone’s yard. Several of us in the group were tasked with raking leaves and hauling them in wheelbarrows and yard bags to the dumpster.
And this wasn’t just rake leaves, haul them away, and then we were done. This was rake leaves, haul them away, look down, and see that there was another layer that needed to be raked, and so on. So we were raking up several seasons’ worth that had fallen and compressed.
And at one point, someone asked if my sermon for today was done yet. And I said that it was about two-thirds. And they said, “Maybe you could work in something about leaves. And layers.” And I said I’d see what I could do. So with that perspective in mind…
It got me to thinking about was how important it is for us to mutually support one another in our faith, alongside the damage that the institutional church has done over the centuries. Instead of teaching people to live in response to God’s faithfulness as a power that saves and heals and makes thing right – it warped all of that over and over again. And it still happens.
And it caused harm, causes harm, to people by ignoring them and excluding them for whatever reason. People that Jesus would have sought out and included.
People today who say, “I’m done with the church because the church is done with me.” And they’re closer to you than you think. They are the people you live next door to. They are your coworkers and your classmates.
The damage they have experienced at the hands of the church has layer upon layer upon layer. And the only way those layers will even start to sluff off is if we radically support one another in our faith. Like literally go out and meet people where they are. And take the time to recognize God’s faithfulness to them and that they’ve been living in response to it.
It won’t undo the damage. It won’t even strip one of the layers of it overnight. And they still may never join a faith community. But it’s a start toward healing and making things right.
More importantly, though, it will help us remember that God doesn’t only make people righteous because they worship in a church building or live a certain lifestyle. God makes all sorts of people righteous. And whether they’re part of a faith community or not, they can support us in our faith as much as we can support them.
And the community, whatever it looks like, is strengthened as a result.
Living as people who have faith in God is something we practice throughout our lives. We don’t always get it right, but living faithfully means that we keep at it. It’s our response to God’s faithfulness to us.
And as we live this way, we recognize that God’s faithfulness to humanity is a power that saves, heals, and makes right. That it’s a power that reaches beyond the walls of our church and includes people that the church has either harmed or forgotten. Because it’s a power that makes every one of us right with God. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Amen.