2013-07-21 by bean481
Preacher: Wayne Hochstetler
21st July 2013
Reading: Romans 9: 1-8, 22-26, 30-33
Today we begin a series of sermons which are designed to address the second half of the book of Romans. I have not kept track of when we had the first half.
Romans is a difficult book, partly because Paul is so focused on teaching proper doctrine, & partly because we do not have a story which holds our attention. Paul does get rather technical at times, and I have a difficult time following some of his convoluted arguments. Nevertheless, it is here for our benefit, and today we begin to look into its heart. And so I begin with Chpt 9.
In 1936, King George V died, and the nation was in need of a new king. Edward was the oldest son, and therefore he was chosen as king. But Edward had a few problems. He did not really wish to be king, and he disliked the court protocols. Furthermore, he decided that he was in love with a divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson, who was remarried. Are we surprised that the Parliamentary leaders did not approve? It went against the rules of the Church of England to approve of this kind of liaison and marriage. After all, as king he would be the Head of the Church. It simply would not do to flout the rules so openly.
And so, Edward began a tumultuous reign as Edward VIII, and decided that he wished to continue his relationship with Miss Simpson. The Prime Minister threatened to resign if he married, and there would be a constitutional crisis. So, for the sake of love, he abdicated the throne to his younger brother, Albert, who was crowned King George VI – the Father of our present Queen.
He abdicated the throne for “love”. Some decried this decision, saying things like “How could he just throw all that away?” “Look at all he gave up. He had everything! Why?” Etc, etc.
We all know of people who have turned away from their heritage. Sons & daughters turn their backs on family, heritage, custom, or tradition for the sake of something else, which is sometimes unknown. We might shake our heads at these choices, but our response may also depend on what they have turned to. What values are displayed? Do they totally disregard what they left behind? Our response depends on so many things.
In Romans 9 Paul is sad because of the choices his fellow Israelites have made. Some of this was historical, but some was continuing to his day. But Paul had also made a choice, and his new focus, centre, values no longer fit the system he left behind. Paul laments this. Please listen to the first 8 verses of Chpt 9.
Romans 9: 1-8 (The Message)
1 At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. 2 It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating – Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites . . . 3 If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. 4 I grew up with them. They had everything going for them – family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, 5 to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes! 6 Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. 7 It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? 8 That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise.
Paul had just given his brilliant description of how nothing can separate us from the love of God. But then it’s as if he remembered his former brothers & sisters, and Paul becomes melancholy. His heritage had forgotten this great love of God, the wonderful promises of God, and their purpose of being a blessing to all peoples. That great love shown by God through the Exodus, Mt Sinai, the Promised land, and the Prophets. God’s love and mercy had gotten turned into so many laws of how to behave that love and blessing no longer were able to come through. How sad.
The nice thing about rules is that they define how to do things; they also define us by our willingness to obey. They categorize life so neatly. We are known as those who live this way, and so the Israelites were known more for their Law then by the great mercy of the God who rescued them from Egypt.
How do people see us? We are known as Mennonites who believe and live for peace. We organize our church life accordingly. Are we in any way also “making rules to control this”, as Paul described it?
The problem with rules is that they exclude those who do not or cannot live up to them. God’s intention was to include others. Israel’s purpose was to bless all nations – everyone. In the Exodus we now know that all manner of people were caught up in that great liberation movement. It was not exclusive.
In the verses which follow the reading we just heard, Paul looks at the various promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, and Rebekah, and how things turned out. He then says in verses 14-16:
“What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.”
As we pick up the passage again in verse 22, we read the following:
Romans 9: 22-26
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23 and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people’, and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’. ” 26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, there they shall be called children of the living God.”
Paul says that God is angry with Israel for distorting things so much. Yet God has been very patient. God still wants to treat those destined to receive his anger as objects of mercy. Mercy and love, not wrath, are God’s ultimate desire.
Those last words from Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call my people” is a beautiful statement of God’s desire. It reminds me of that beautiful passage in I Peter 2, where Peter has a whole list of things which “once you were not, … but now you are.” (WB# 858.) This is what God is about. Now, let’s hear the end of this Chpt (The Message).
Romans 9: 30-33
30 How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. 31 And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. 32 How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. 33 Isaiah gives us the metaphor for pulling this together: Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can’t get around. But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.
“Instead of trusting God, they took over.” For Paul, that is the crux of the issue. Another way of saying that is that they traded uncertainty for certainty.
We do the same thing, don’t we? It’s hard to trust when you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. To make ourselves feel better, we like to control the process. I know what my intentions are; I cannot be sure what yours may be. It is easier to control things, and take over, than it is to trust others, especially God; we don’t really know if we can trust God to act for our self-interests.
The Church – whether it’s COE, or MCUSA, or many others – basically did this with the issue of divorce & remarriage. Divorce was happening to church members. And so we outlawed it, perhaps thinking that if we say you should not divorce, that people would not divorce. Did it work? This is so much easier than helping people through their struggles, walking with them as they figure things out, having marriage enrichment programs, teaching conflict management skills. After all, that would take a lot more staff, and cost a lot more money, especially if we think that church staff are the ones to do this work.
Living from a perspective of trust and mercy is difficult. The Apostle John says that really, the only law that matters is the law of love. That’s hard stuff. How can I trust others with my reputation, my prestige, my economic security? Perhaps that’s what is really at the bottom of all of this. Me and mine. I cannot be sure that you will honour it. Will you? Will God?
When persons are in difficult situations, and mercy is requested, it has been all too easy to object and say that this is the easy way out. They are getting away with it. They should be punished; bring in the law – the full weight of the law – to bear on this. After all, life is serious, and actions have consequences. Always.
But perhaps, after all is said & done, God’s concerns are different than mine. Can I live with that? Am I willing to live with that? God’s concerns seem to have more focus on the quality of our living, on the values we hold, on our ability to reflect God’s love to others, than on our own need for significance and security. But then, that’s perhaps why God created community, as a place where these things that matter to us can be tested and discerned. It’s a place where we can learn to trust again, and to experience mercy & love.
As Paul said, the focus of our life is to be Christ, the Foundation Stone. Let’s together experience Christ on the way, not in the way. May God lead us in that Way! Amen.
Hymn of Response: SJ #52, “Jesus, Help Us Live in Peace”