A sermon given on August 9, 2020 but the Rev. Teri Daily on Romans 10: 5-15…
The first two years of medical school consist of long days spent in lectures and labs. When I was a medical student, almost all of our lectures were held in one particular room. Most of the lecturers were bright and passionate when it came to their field of expertise, and we were often like sponges waiting to soak up what they said, knowing that the first part of our board exams loomed large at the end of our second year. But let’s face it – no matter how interested one might be, after three or four hours in the same room, it’s hard for anyone to pay attention. So we developed various games to keep us awake. One game was a variation of bingo.
At the beginning of the day, each person would make out a bingo card – putting the names of classmates in the various squares. When over the course of the day someone in the class raised his or her hand and asked a question, you would mark out the square with that person’s name on it. When you had marked out all the squares in a given row or column, you would stand and say “bingo,” thereby winning all the money in the pool. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a game we played very often.
But when we did play it, one particular classmate occupied the center square of most bingo cards. Spending so much time together, we came to know one another really well. We knew that this student was always thinking out loud; he needed conversation and interaction to process any information that came his way. Having his name on the center square was as good a freebie.
If the apostle Paul had been in our class, though, I think the center square would have gone to him. If I were to hazard a guess about Paul’s Myers-Brigg’s type from his epistles (a pretty risky thing to do, I know), I would say that Paul is an extrovert, needing to process his thoughts externally in order to understand an issue. Sure, Paul’s a master of rhetoric, but let’s be honest – Paul often takes the long way around when it comes to expressing himself. He rarely chooses to get straight to the point.
Therefore, to dive into the book of Romans, one needs two things:1) an expert in grammar who can diagram a complex sentence, and 2) what has been referred to as a “homiletical GPS,” a map to place any given passage in some overarching context. Here goes an abbreviated “homiletical GPS” so that we can place today’s passage into the larger context of Paul’s argument.
The letter to the Romans is largely a discussion of righteousness – God’s righteousness, not ours. A major question for Paul seems to be: If God is by definition righteous, morally upright, and faithful, then what happens to God’s promises to Israel now that Christ has come? Paul is asking this question as a Jewish Christian himself, and he’s working out an answer in this letter to the church in Rome – a fact that has caused some scholars to assume that there might have been some conflict between gentile Christians and Jewish Christians within the Roman church. Perhaps the conflict is playing itself out in the theological question: Does Christ’s coming make null and void God’s covenant with Israel? Paul ultimately comes to the emphatic conclusion “No! God remains faithful to God’s covenant with Israel.” But along the way to this conclusion, Paul explores how, in his view, the Jewish law has pointed to Christ all along.
In today’s passage, Paul takes beautiful phrases from the Hebrew scriptures that refer to the law and uses them to refer to Christ. An example is his use of a verse from Deuteronomy where God is speaking to Israel about the law: The word is very near you, God says; it is in your mouth and in your heart. And Paul uses these words now to refer to the Word made flesh, Jesus. Jesus is nearer to you than you think, on your lips and in your heart. There are other parallels that are more implicit in this passage. Obey the law, God tells Israel in Deuteronomy, and you will have life and prosperity. Believe and confess Jesus, Paul says in his letter to the Romans, and you will have life. Life and life, salvation and salvation.
So when Paul says that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek in one’s standing before God, there is not complete agreement on just what Paul is saying. Is he saying that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek because salvation to both come through faith in Jesus as the Christ? Or is Paul saying that there are two possible tracks to salvation – the Christian track for those who follow Jesus and the Jewish track for those who follow the covenant God made with historical Israel?
I don’t know exactly what Paul is trying to say here, but I do believe this passage from Romans makes us rethink the judgmental nature that often accompanies faith. In his place and time, even the use of the words “no distinction” as applied to Gentiles and Jews would in and of itself have been quite radical. Paul refuses to ration God’s mercy and, instead, tells the church in Rome that the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. No matter how many divisions we try to erect, Paul seems to be saying, they are only divisions when seen from our side. God’s salvation is for all.
Which brings us to another question: What is the nature of salvation? It’s a nebulous word – salvation. The way we typically see it used in religion is in the context of saving us from something – and often we are told that the thing from which we are being saved is eternal punishment at the hands of this God who we claim is faithful, righteous, forgiving, and loving. Perhaps that’s why the term salvation leaves many of us feeling a little uncomfortable.
But what if we’re being saved not from something but for something? What if salvation is about our wholeness? What if salvation is coming to understand that this God who is closer to us than our own breath, who is on our lips and in our heart, loves us so much that nothing – not our shortcomings or our need to be first or even our death – could ever separate us from God? What if salvation is about having a relationship with this kind of God, a relationship that changes who we are, how we live our lives, and the way we love other people?
I know evangelism is a word that makes some of us uncomfortable, and I think that has to do with the way evangelism in our experience so often involves judgment. But the root word of evangelism means “good news,” and the love of God that pours into the world and changes everything is definitely good news. No wonder Paul, borrowing from Isaiah, says “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
It’s time to reclaim the word “evangelism.” Evangelism is not about saving people from something, it is not about judgment, it is not about an “us and them” mentality, it does not even always have to involve words at all. Evangelism is about proclaiming by word and deed the goodness of a God who loves us all.
So be evangelists. Proclaim the goodness and the love of God, bring justice into the world at every opportunity, seek peace, let your beautiful feet take you places you’d never go alone, and may the Christ who is so very near to you, on your lips and in your heart, give you strength and courage for the journey.
 Susan Hedahl, “Commentary on Romans 10:8b-13,” Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=520.