I struck up a friendship with Liz after a Confirmation Retreat. I was attracted to her strength and willingness to call her youth to a higher standard. She liked that I had the audacity to expect the young people to connect to God by weaving prayer into the weekend.
Here we are at Liz’ Installation Service…which if you think about it, is a really funny name for pairing a pastor with a congregation. I fondly remember mine where my jokester music director quipped, “Do you come with instructions?” After he quipped a few times I embraced it and said…Nope…I do come with power tools!
Today, I would like to give you some powerful tools for your ministry together.
Romans 10: 11 – 15
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Something about Paul that doesn’t often get said is he was bicultural. He never gave up his Jewish background even as he proclaimed the risen Christ. He spends his life trying to hold together Judaism with God’s salvation through Christ.
I might even suggest that the power of his pen lay in the tension between his “born into” identity and his “claimed” identity.
In the book of Romans he argues that Abraham is the ancestor of faith in God. Abraham’s faith came before the law. Which means faith does not have to be based in law. So Christians can be part of God’s story…Jesus being less like Moses, in Paul’s thought world, and more like Abraham—the one who said “yes” to God.
Paul gets so excited about the insight that Christians fit into God’s plans. He’s found his message, his purpose, his call.
In Galatians he sings out “in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile.” And, here in Romans, he proclaims: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”
He uses the gospel to call people into a new empire, where Jesus, not Emperor, creates the structure which gives life. Not emperor, but Jesus, “is Lord of all!”
Look how God uses who Paul is, his background, his connections, his ethnicity, to energize his ministry. He gives to God all that he was and is and will be. And, God uses Paul’s joy to propel him from city to city proclaiming the good news.
God uses all of it.
Every bit of who Liz is…every bit of the life of this congregation…God uses all of it. The future doesn’t conform to the past but the past does inform the present. Liz is her father’s daughter—her father a well respected church leader who made a big splash in Chicago especially among the immigrant population. And, she is a woman who has been in ministry for over 20 years, including time as a chaplain, who is able to love people, be with people, pray with people where they are. So…when, at the Central Association meeting, a couple presented their moving story of being detained in this country, everyone, with tears in their eyes, clapped when they finished. But, Liz could see their fear. She asked the one who brought them, to please lead a prayer for them. He said…”well, why don’t you?”
I remember, my seemingly shy friend, exploding onto the stage. She introduced herself, standing firmly in her background and her faith. And, she prayed, and prayed, and prayed…in both Spanish and English. She prayed for their safety, she prayed there be a way forward, she prayed the Holy Spirit would break the chains…if we were Pentecostals, we’d all have been speaking in tongues!
The first powerful tool…use your whole selves, your background, your compassion and passions to proclaim the good news!
The second powerful tool is within Paul’s message. Paul writes…
1. Those who believe the Lord shall not be shamed.
2. Those who call on his name shall be saved.
Paul gets both affirmations from the book of Joel. Joel is a prophet during a time of a great plague which befalls Jerusalem. In response to the “nations” taunt to Israel, “Where is your God” Joel replies with a word from God…
“I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. “ Joel 2:26
In the days of Joel, it was the shame of the locust plague which was seen and interpreted as God’s punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. What a horrible reprimand in front of the very ones they hoped to impress. Not only were they left hungry, because the locusts ate up their grain, they were embarrassed.
It is like…well, imagine, when you were young and you were in a car with your best friend and your mother. And, your moment suddenly starts talking about bathroom etiquette and the fact that you leave toothpaste in the sink and sometimes you don’t flush and well, you might want to use the air freshener at times.
For Israel, it was kind of like that.
Looking at themselves from the point of view of the nations…God has used one of the very plagues used against the Pharaoh who heart was hardened. All the nations witness the locust lashing.
There were things happening in the early church that were, frankly, embarrassing. They were arguing about eating with those who are uncircumcised…like they had people checking? In Corinth they argued about the greatest spiritual gift…bragging about all they could do and another teacher who was teaching them to do more. In Philippi, Paul is preaching and this woman with a spirit of divination keeps shouting over him until he can take it no more…so he “heals” her….and in turn is arrested because he has just messed with her master’s way of making money.
Where is your God, Paul?
Where is your God Community Congregational Church in this time where church is often either held up as a force for division in the world or just forgotten altogether?
Into his world, into our world, Paul proclaims…no one who believes in him shall be put to shame.
Here’s powerful tool number two…stop believing what the world says…and spend more time believing in him who broke open the grave and calls us to new life.
My little church, the world’s standards, should have closed not long after I arrived. But I believed God could work here. Sometimes, I admit, I lose that confidence because I start looking at us from the outside. We are not normal. I get frustrated because it is hard for visitors to see where they might fit. But, God turns me around, telling me it isn’t about numbers, that God will take care of me, that all I need to do… is believe in him. When I am moved by faith…I stop worrying about how people see me and my church…and, instead, look to be move with my God…there will be no shame.
Believe in him who broke open the grave. In that you are given the boldness to go where God sends you. When a visitor comes into church, you are less worried about selling the church and more worried about seeing that person with God’s eyes. It makes it so, when there is no earthly way forward, you can look for God’s way. You can step out in boldness, you can act without fear, you don’t have to grow your church…all you need to do is believe in him who will give you life…believe in him enough to call people into life.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Of course, being a life-long member of the United Church of Christ, I never bought into the cartoon images of salvation. The hell of Looney Tunes or the ridiculous interpretations of Revelations…a vision that was very much colored by John being pissed off with Rome. I don’t believe God wants to scare us into faith.
When someone is struggling, I want them to know that Jesus is with them all the way.
When someone can’t find their way forward, I want them to be able to trust our Lord to move the mountains.
When someone is at the end of their lives, I want them to know well to whose arms they go.
In college…when I didn’t believe in God or love…I knew where to go to seek both.
Because there was a church of my youth … and there I was confirmed and there I sang hymns and there I played my flute in front of people for the first time. I started off at Irvine United Church of Christ…and came to believe.
But not everyone gets that these days. So it is up to us to go out…to seek out…to be there for the lost and lonely ones who no don’t yet know God or love. It is through our loving care that they can come to know both. If we focus on that…on loving, on caring, on showing people who is their God…that is enough.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
So today…we install Liz into this church…that you might be sent out together to proclaim the good news with three powerful tools.
1) Know God will use all of you…your past and your present…your whole selves to proclaim the good news.
2) Stop thinking about what the world says about you; believe instead what God will do through you.
Oh…there’s one more.
Paul ends this call to action in Romans 10, with the poetry of Isaiah. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
He is not overwhelmed by the hugeness of the mission.
He doesn’t talk about the threats against the church.
He doesn’t talk about the problems of church.
He erupts into verse. He praises. He rejoices in a God who sends forth a people to tell of the saving work of Jesus Christ…a work that can, right now, lead them into life.
Friends, sharing the gospel, it is an art…it is poetry…it leads us to a place of wonder. It is our way of creating with God. And, what we do creates a world willing to be captivated and led by love.
That’s why Paul quotes Isaiah…what we do can only be expressed in the language of wonder.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”