Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Trinity - Rom 9:30-10:4

        Trinity 10
                                                                                    Rom 9:30-10:4

            The calendar may say that Tuesday, Sept. 22 is the last day of summer, but if you are school age or have children who go to school, then you know that date is incorrect.  In reality, this coming Wednesday, Aug. 12 is the end of summer.
            This coming Wednesday is the first day of school for students in Williamson County.  And that means it is also the day summer comes to an end. It is the end of being able to sleep in each morning.  It is the end of being able to stay up later each night.  It is the end of being completely from free homework and reading that you have to do.
            Naturally, this is a downer.  But at the same time, while Wednesday marks the end of summer that doesn’t mean things are all bad.  True, they are different.  But the end of summer and the start of school means that there are new opportunities.  There is the opportunity to see friends that you didn’t get to see every day during the summer.  There is the opportunity to begin playing on school sports teams as you travel and play for your school and town.  There is the opportunity to take part in musical groups and theatrical productions that only take place in school.
            Wednesday is the end of summer.  But it is also the start new opportunities.  In our epistle lesson this morning from Romans the apostle Paul emphasizes very strongly the end of something.  He says that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe. Yet Paul goes on to describe in this letter that while Jesus ends works of the law as the way to righteousness, he love also frees us for the new opportunity to fulfill the law through love.
            In chapters nine through eleven of Romans, Paul deals with a very challenging question – one that weighed heavy on his heart.  He begins chapter nine by saying, “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.”
            The great irony of the apostle Paul’s life was that on the road to Damascus the risen Lord Jesus had appeared to him and in doing so had led Paul to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament. Beyond that, God revealed to him an amazing truth: Yahweh’s salvation was not limited to the Jews.  Instead, it was his will that all people be saved.  And indeed, God had chosen Paul to be a key instrument in this work!
            Paul went forth, eager to share this Gospel with both Jews and Gentiles.  While some Jews did believe in Jesus, for the most part, those who became Christians were Gentiles. Among the Jews, Paul found that the Gospel often met with rejection – and a very strong rejection at that.
            This tragic irony is what Paul states at the beginning of our text as he writes: “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.”
            The Gentiles had not been part of the covenant of Israel.  They had not been seeking God’s righteousness – his saving action to put all things right. And yet because they believed in Jesus Christ they had received it by faith and now were righteous before God.  And on the other hand, the Jews who were seeking God’s righteousness by means of doing the law had not achieved their goal.  Paul asked and answered the key question: “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.”
            Paul said that the Jews had pursued God’s righteousness as if they could attain it by works – by doing the works of the law. They had done this, instead of receiving it by faith in Jesus who had done for them all that is necessary for righteousness.  In doing so they had stumbled over Jesus.  Paul says in our text, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
            In our text Paul acknowledges that his people, the Jews, have a zeal for God.  The problem was that it was not according to knowledge. As the apostle says at the end of our text: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
            Many Jews of Paul’s day were in fact zealous for God’s righteousness.  However that had a very high view of their own spiritual abilities.  They thought that they were indeed capable of doing something.  And at the same time they interpreted the Law in their own ways – ways that made them seem easier to keep.  In the combination of these two factors, you had a religious perspective that believed the righteousness of God could be obtained by doing the works of the Law.
            Those same two factors are still present in our world.  In fact, they are present in you.  You breathe in the spirit of our culture with its emphasis on positive self-esteem, and begin to think: “Well I’m really not all that bad. I’m certainly better than those folks.”  But Paul’s reply in chapter three to you, the fallen descendant of Adam is, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
            When you think about God’s law you want to boil it down into doable basics. After all, when someone dies the world talks about what a “good person” he or she was.  But when it comes to the Law, every commandment is simply an application of the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. And very soon it becomes perfectly clear that each commandment describes what life looks like when you fear, love and trust in God above all things.
            The good news that Paul announces in our text is that it doesn’t matter.  True, the bad news about you the sinner is bad. But as Paul says in chapter three: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  The righteousness of God is not something that you achieve by doing.  Instead it is the gift that God gives because you cannot do it.  It is the righteousness that comes from God to all who believe and trust in Jesus – who submit to God’s way of doing things.  For as Paul says in our text using the words of Isaiah, “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
            God has provided in the death and resurrection of Jesus the answer to sin that you could never provide on your own.  In doing so he kills any spiritual pride you may have – any thoughts about doing.  Paul says in the last verse of our text, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
            But by submitting to God’s righteousness; by admitting your weakness, sin and failure; by trusting and believing in Jesus as your righteousness, something remarkable happens.  Paul can say in the previous chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of baptism and faith you are in Christ, and so already now you know that there will be no condemnation on the Last Day.  You are justified – righteous because of Christ and not because of what you do – and so you are ready to stand before the judgment seat of God.
            Make no mistake. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  He is the end of the law that terrifies.  He is the end of the law that orders you to do in order to be righteous. Yet in this same letter, Paul describes that when you are no longer worried about doing in order to be righteous before God, you are free to do in order to love your neighbor. In fact Paul says in Romans that every command about the neighbor is summed up by this one command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And then he goes on to say that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
            Christ is the end of the law and doing to gain a righteous standing before God.  Yet Christ is also the beginning of new opportunities that fulfill the law through love.  The love we receive from him through his Means of Grace sends us forth to act in love toward others. What does that look like?  Paul gives us a sample of that in chapter twelve when he has finished talking about Israel and writes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
            This is love that is able to risk for others because it has nothing to lose.  Jesus Christ has already done it all.  He is the crucified One who gives his righteousness to all who believe in him.  And because he is also the risen One, we know that what Paul says in our text is true: “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”  Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  And Christ is also the beginning of a life that loves because of faith in him.

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