text :: Romans 10: 8 – 17
theme verse :: “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’” (Rom 10:11)
Having gathered in wider circles, heard the word from God in our midst, and been renewed and transformed because of God’s great love for us, all that’s left … for all of our life … is to go and tell. Ooh! That makes us nervous! What does it mean to share our faith? When we know better, we can do better. How does our life speak: in word and in deed?
reader :: Chad Roberson ... eventually ... take a listen :-)
preaching :: Rev Kevin Howe
response :: 'The Victory' (P.Wickham) : The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader
Romans 10: 8 – 17
But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 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. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14 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? 15 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!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
Turns out, some people are more talkative than others. But on average, the typical person can say anywhere between 125 to 175 words per minute.1 That’s a lot of words! Of course, not all of those words are probably needed. I happen to know some people [pointing to myself] who can use a great deal of words to say practically nothing.
When used judiciously, however, even a few words can go a long way. Several months ago, one of our elders, Bob Flint, shared with us about a project launched several years ago by SMITH magazine which invited people to distill their lives down to the six words that describe what is most important or interesting about them. Several collections of these so-called six-word memoirs have now been published. The very first six-word memoir was, “Not Quite What I Was Planning.” Late-night host, Stephen Colbert, offered this memoir: “Well, I Thought It Was Funny.” Many of these memoirs are good for a laugh: “Google knows me. Therefore I am.” And few are heartbreaking: “I Still Make Coffee for Two.”
Words are powerful. They can move us to tears or to action. They inspire our hope and provoke our anger. And some words can transform our lives forever. “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted.” “I’m sorry to inform you…” “Will you marry me?” “This just isn’t working anymore.” “It’s a boy!” “I’ve missed you.” “I forgive you.” “The test showed there’s something wrong.” “He’s coming home.” “She’s gone home.”
Words are powerful. The Book of Proverbs goes as far as to say that “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Almost all of us in our childhood likely heard the expression “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s one of those sayings that we pass on with determination even though—or perhaps because we know—it’s not true. We must brace ourselves against the harm caused by words precisely because they are so powerful, and so we contrast them to material weapons like stick and stones and pretend that only the cuts and bruises that show up on our bodies are indications of real pain. All the while, every one of us walks through life bearing the scars of words that were spoken in anger or judgment. In hatred or disrespect. The power of speech is just as apparent in our culture, where words are used to tear down and destroy with alarming frequency and almost no negative consequence for the speaker. Listen to the rhetoric that we are living in. We humans can be so cruel to each other, especially when we feel no accountability for the words we speak or write.
When it comes to faith talk, perhaps you have experienced the damage that unthoughtful speech can do. In a time where every grand idea and complex subject is reduced to bullet points, and the most sensational and polarizing messages are the ones that make the headlines, we witness how our religious beliefs have been misused and misconstrued by a loud bunch with an assumed monopoly on God’s truth. It’s enough to leave us all flushed with embarrassment and shame. “Yes, I’m a Christian, but don’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t need everybody to know. I’m not one of those Christians,” we might say.
And despite the unfortunate ways that our faith can be broadcast around us, we have to also admit that to speak of our faith takes a great measure of vulnerability. You open yourself up to possible criticism and judgement about something that may be close to your heart. And, oh, does that make use nervous! This fear of judgement can lead us to shy away from speaking with authority and conviction about even our most deeply held beliefs.
Taylor Mali is a poet who spent nine years teaching English to high school students and, like most poets, he has a strong opinion about the state of discourse in contemporary culture. I want to share an excerpt of his poem, entitled “Totally like whatever, you know?” I’ll try to do the oral quality of the poem some justice:
In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true, okay,
as opposed to other things are, like, totally, you know, not—
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we’ve just gotten to the point where it’s just, like . . .
And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we’ve become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!
I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.2
The Apostle Paul could have taught a master class on speaking with conviction. His words have provided sustenance and courage to Christians for centuries. His letter to the Romans that we read from today is, in many ways, a collection of his most strongly held convictions. And you won’t find much of the tragically cool interrogative tones of contemporary discourse here; the words practically jump off the page. Paul is not considering the possibility of the potential truth of what he writes to the Romans. Paul speaks with authority and conviction, because he believed with his whole heart that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. He says,
“Look, the word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest. It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. Welcoming Christ into our lives—embracing, with our body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, out loud: ‘God has set everything right between us!’ Paul says the scriptures say as much, for ‘No one who trusts God like this – heart and soul – will ever regret it.’ It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background, be they Greek or Jew: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.”
I love how The Message translation says this next part of our passage this morning. It says “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”3
Paul knew this to be true from his own experience. He had seen the transformative power of God in his own life. In a former life, he was a man who many might have said was too far gone to be saved or find any measure of wholeness. And yet he tells his story, of how he found God’s grace and love extended to him, and he could not imagine being ashamed of such a world-altering message: the power of God is for all who live by faith. And because he was willing to proclaim that Good News, countless generations have been the better for it. You may never know the impact that your testimony of faith will have on those that hear it.
Paul probably didn’t know that his story would become such a profoundly meaningful witness to the Good News of God’s work in the world, but he did know this to be true: There is no gospel — which literally means “Good News” — if it isn’t shared. Paul writes, “How are others 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 it?” Blessed are the feet of the one who proclaims Good News!
I wonder if you could bring to mind a few of those voices in your life, who did the beautiful work of bringing the Good News. Someone you taught you the stories of faith. Someone who encouraged you with their own testimony of God’s work in their life. Perhaps there is someone who continues to bring a word of Good News into your life even still. After all, being a recipient of the gospel is not just a one-time thing; we are all encouraged when someone brings the story into view for us again.
I was sitting in a circle of clergy that had been prompted to share about “What sold us on church.” One by one, those in the circle told our story on why church came to matter in our life, until there was only one person left to speak. And as tears welled up in her eyes she said, “I am a member of the Church because the church saved my life.” Well, we all leaned in and Laura told her story—abandoned by her parents. Sent to a foster home, where she was physically abused for the next several years of her life. At age eight, she was adopted by a local family. Not knowing what to expect, she spent the first night wide awake in her new bed, afraid. She said had left her shoes on that night in case she needed to run away. And the next morning—a Sunday—the family got up early, had breakfast, and got into the car. Laura said “It was my first time at church and I had no idea what to expect. But when I walked into the Sunday school classroom, the teacher’s face lit up. ‘Welcome, Laura, we’ve been waiting for you!’” Then teacher read the Bible story for the day. Laura said “I’ll never forget it: Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me. Do not stop them.’ I knew with all of my heart, that he was talking about me. I knew that I was home. I am a part of the church, because Jesus welcomed me.”
We are enriched by the many ways that people testify to the power of the gospel. And even when we choose words that are life-giving and point at the wholeness and love we find in our faith, the world is a better place for it. Maybe it’s a kind word shared at just the right moment, an email sent just to offer gratitude, a word of affirmation for a job well done. I’ve seen weary souls renewed and apathetic hearts warmed by a single sentence spoken in genuine appreciation. In times like ours, when words are used so frequently to divide and defeat—when angry and hostile shouting dominates the narrative—I’m convinced that the words we speak in this place matter more than ever. We need them now more than ever before. Words like, “All are welcome.” Words like, “Child of God, you are valued.” Words like, “You are forgiven.” Words like, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.” Use your words with love and care. After all, words are powerful. Especially those that proclaim the gospel.
What if we were to be unashamed of the good news—that God’s power and grace hold the world? What if we were to give testimony to the ways in which our lives have been enriched and transformed by God’s embrace? What if we were to withhold words that cast fear or slander, and speak in love towards our neighbors and even our enemies? What if we were to take the message of hope that has changed us and, without reservation, share that message with others? As a pastor, my deepest hope is that our congregation will be adequately equipped to speak of our faith, standing firmly on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message is clear—the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The power of God for all. The Apostle Paul says that word is on your lips.
It was St. Francis of Assisi that said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary.” And we would be best to let our actions do a good bit of the talking. But at some point or another, you will be called upon to use your words. To proclaim a good word for the Lord; to testify to the ways that you have seen and experienced the saving acts of our God. You may not be standing up here when you do it, but the pulpit will be yours. For you, you are bearers of the gospel message—God’s word of good news to the whole world: that all who call upon the Lord will be saved.
1 Rebecca Lake. “Listening Statistics: 23 Facts You Need to Hear” Sept. 17, 2015.
2 Taylor Mali. “Totally like whatever, you know?.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002.
3 Eugene H. Peterson. The Message. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002.