sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017
Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT
21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.
Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT
25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,
“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”
31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.
Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT
9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .
. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .
Reflection: Jew or Gentile?
Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.
Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:
- Was I born into a religious family?
- Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
- Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
- Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
- Did church come first or did civil matters?
- Was my community centered around the church or on business?
As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.
Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians. Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.
Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!
With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:
- I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
- We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
- We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
- We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
- Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
- Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
- Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
- Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
- We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.
Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.
Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.
Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.
Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.
In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.
Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.
Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.
Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?
Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?
If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.
My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?
Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.
Open our hearts so they may be filled
With love for one another as Jesus taught.
Open our hearts so we may see
those in our community in need of your love.
Open our minds so they may be filled
With the methods and means to share your love.
Open our minds so we may grow
our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.
Open our doors so we may see
The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.
Open our doors so we may serve
To welcome those needing your love.
Only with you can we be
the Christians you call us to be.
In your name, dear God,
And in the name of Jesus Christ,
And the Holy Spirit, amen.