08/17/14 Sermon (August 17, 2014)

posted Nov 6, 2014, 12:03 PM by David Hawkins


Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-2A, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

... for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Sermon: "Irrevocable"             Rev. David Hawkins

As those of you who have patiently sat through any of my sermons over the last few years know, I like unusual words. I like the way certain words work, I like the way they feel in my mouth, I like to find out where they come from, what they mean, how they create pictures in our mind. I like words. I’m a word nerd.

And I think that this is why I loved my language classes in seminary so much. I loved Greek School, and I loved studying Hebrew. Learning the actual, ancient words of the Bible was an indescribable luxury. When I read the words of the New Testament in Greek, I feel like I’m able to open a window into the first century, stick my head through it, and smell the hummus, hear the goats and sheep, watch the people go by. I can’t participate of course, and I can’t go outside the house, but I feel like, just for a moment, that I’m actually there. I’m a Greek geek.

Of course, you already know that. But the reality is, we’re all word nerds, to a certain extent. As New Testament Christians, we are all Greek geeks. We believe in the Word, don’t we? Our faith is based on the opening words of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Or, as they say in Greek, “Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.” Do you see what I mean? How can you not like that? It’s like music to our ears.

Anyway, I like words, we like words, and our salvation is based on the Word. Words are important. They mean things. And so it pays to be careful with them. The book of James reminds us that

“the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. With it we bless the Lord and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”  (Jam 3:6-10 NRS)

And the words that Paul has written in these last few chapters of Romans, as he tries to sort out the salvation of his Jewish brothers and sisters, have been the cause of a lot of hell. I say this not to blame Paul. It’s not his fault that his words have been twisted and used to inflict such pain and suffering on the Jewish people. It’s the fault of those who were not able, or unwilling, to see in them the promise that Paul is holding out for the redemption of all people, including the Jews. These words became a curse, rather than a blessing. And, my brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.

We Christians have a very bad record when it comes to the Jews. For some reason, we have been unable to trust God with their salvation. We have felt that it was up to us to save them. It was up to our efforts to get them to see the light, even against their will, whether it was through force, or intimidation, or through the preaching of a theology that suggests that Christianity is somehow superior to Judaism, that God had broken his covenant with Israel, that the chosen people of God have been left behind, that the salvation train has left the station, and the Jews are not on it.

And these last few chapters that we have been reading in the month of August have been used to support such actions. These last few chapters have been used to justify the persecution of Jews throughout the centuries.

The problem is, Paul never meant them to be used in this way. He meant them to be a source of hope, of comfort. He meant them to be a rebuke to the Gentile Christians in Rome who had boasted of their own Christianity, who had written the Jews out of God’s salvation history. They were written specifically to argue against the sort of Christian sense of spiritual supremacy that is still too common today.

The key word for us today, a word that I think has been forgotten too many times in the two thousand years since Paul wrote it is the word ‘irrevocable’.

God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable.

‘Irrevocable.’ There is something so very final about that word, isn’t there? To revoke something means literally to call it back. It comes from the latin word ‘vocare’ to call, to speak, to bid, to summon. There’s something very poetic about the way this word is used in this scripture verse, isn’t there? The gifts and calling of God cannot be called back. What a lovely way of saying it.

They cannot be revoked. The promises, the covenants, the assurances, the ultimate deliverance of Israel cannot, will not be called back. Like an everlasting driver’s license, it will never be called back. Like a permanent resident alien card, an everlasting green card , it will never be revoked.

Wouldn’t that be nice, Karen? Never again having to pay several hundred dollars to get permission to stay here for another few years? Irrevocable. God’s calling cannot be called back. Once God’s Word has been spoken, the redemptive, salvific, eternal, faithful Word will not be unspoken.

Throughout this letter to the Roman Church, Paul has been wrestling with the reality that even though the Messiah was prophesied to come from Israel, that the world would be saved through Israel, Israel has not believed in Jesus.

And this has caused Paul unbelievable pain. His own people, his family, his friends, do not accept the grace of God that is promised by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he grieves this fact. We all know what he’s going through. We all have friends and family who we fear do not know God. We worry about them. We feel helpless to do anything for them.

But Paul is unwilling to simply write the Jews off. He remembers all too well the promises that have been given to his people, the promises he learned as child, that he studied as an adult, and he has too much faith in God to think that God will somehow forget these promises to his chosen people. He has too much faith in the promises of God to believe that God will break these promises if we don’t toe the line, speak the right words, think the right thoughts, do the right things.

Paul will simply not accept the idea that God will walk away from his people. And so he goes through the most elaborate mental gymnastics to get to the place we find ourselves at today. We skipped most of chapter 11, but you can go back and read it if you like. It’s pretty complicated. He talks about how, if the Jews had not rejected Jesus Christ, then the Apostles would never have taken the Gospel to the Gentiles.

And he’s got a point. After all, Jesus was a Jew, the disciples were all Jews, Paul was a Jew. If the Jews, as a people, had accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah, it’s pretty likely that that’s where the whole thing would have ended.

You might remember that it was a hard sell to spread the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. And I’m not talking about the Gentiles resisting it. I’m talking about Jewish Christians who were sure that the message of Jesus Christ was intended for only the Jewish people. Paul got into a terrible arguments with the other disciples about whether or not he should even be preaching to Gentiles. You may remember that Peter had to defend himself against the same sort of criticism when he ate non-kosher food in the house of a gentile.

The reality is both Jews and Christians have felt that they alone hold the secrets to God’s approval.. That the gift of salvation is given to them, and only to them. When we read about the ministry of Peter and Paul, we read about a ministry that is conducted in the context of a world in which different groups of religious people are certain that they alone are saved, that they alone know God, that they alone are loved by God, that they alone are worthy of redemption.

But Paul says that’s complete baloney. God promise of salvation is much, much bigger than that.

Our faith is not based on what we know. Our faith is not based on what we do. Our faith is not based on what we say, or how we think. Our faith is in God, a big God, and on his  grace, and only on his grace. Faith is a gift that is given to us, not something that we choose.

Paul knows very well that he did not choose to be stopped and blinded on the road to Damascus. He had no idea that he was about to be confronted by grace. He wasn’t looking for it. He didn’t even think he needed it. He certainly did not do anything to earn it. It was a surprise, a painful surprise, and it was a gift, a gift that took him three days to unpack.

We forget too easily that we do not chose to be saved. We think we called on God. But we didn’t. God called on us. We do not choose this gift of salvation. God chooses us. God chose the Abraham. God chose Moses. God chose Elijah. God chose Israel. And those whom God has chosen, he does not forget. And this is what we call grace.

Grace is such a hard thing to accept. We want to have a hand in it. We want to earn it. But when we begin to think that we are given faith because of how we lived, or how we think, or what we say, then it’s no longer grace. It’s a salary. It’s a paycheck.

Grace is something that we are given, not because we have done something right, but because we have done nothing at all. Grace is completely, and utterly independent of us. It is completely, and utterly an act of God. We don’t deserve it. Sometimes, like Paul on the road to Damascus, we’re not even sure that it something that we even want or need.

But it’s this gift of grace that encourages Paul when he worries about his family, about his people. God does not forget covenants. He does not regret the promises he made with Israel. Once they have been spoken they will be kept. God has spoken to his people, and promised them salvation. And he will keep that promise.

We don’t know how this is going to work. We really don’t. But we do know this: God is the one who will make it happen. Because our God is a God of grace. And God will find a way to bring his people home. And that means you, and me, and our families, and our friends, and even our enemies, and our world. This the promise. And God keeps his promises. God will find a way to bring us all home.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.