8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Three things we don’t say often enough
There was a pastor that had been at a new church for about a year. And, as was his custom, after the church service, he met the people of the congregation at the door on the way out of the sanctuary.
One Sunday a little boy handed the pastor a handful of coins and dollars bills as he left the sanctuary. The pastor said, “Thanks, but I can’t take this.” Yet the boy insisted.
The pastor asked him why he insisted on giving the pastor the contents of his piggy bank, to which the boy replied, “I want to do anything I can to help. My daddy says that you are the poorest preacher we have ever had at this church.”
Kids say the funniest things, but they are honest. If they are feeling something, they tell you. If they want something, they let you know. But sometime between the time we start talking and the time we turn 18, we learn to guard our tongues and only say certain things. Let me assure you, this is a good thing.
But there are things that I believe we need to say more often. We should tell our families that we love them more often, we should say we are sorry more often, and when I go to a buffet, I should learn to say “I’m full.” more often, or at least earlier.
Today I would like to look at the first chapter of Romans to see three things that Paul teaches us that we should say more often. Today I want to begin a series of sermons by focusing on these three things that we don’t say often enough, 1. Thanks for the church, God. 2. Let’s get together sometime. 3. I am not ashamed of the gospel.
Thanks for the church, God
Paul begins by saying, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” I don’t say that enough, and I bet you don’t either. Paul is thankful for the church in Rome, for the body of believers and he says that he prays without ceasing for the Roman church.
Well I do thank my God for you, each and every one of you that is reading these words today. As the church, we are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, called to live out and share the message delivered through the prophets of old, through the authors of the New Testament, and through Jesus Christ himself. And I give God thanks that his word is spreading and that disciples of Jesus Christ are being formed throughout the world. Not only in Rome but even here in Staunton, Virginia as well.
I do pray for you, but not nearly as much as I ought to. Last weekend while Sonya and I were in Nebraska for a wedding, I made sure to pray for you as you were beginning the services here. I prayed for Jim as he brought the morning sermon, for Susan as she led us in music, and for Ronald as the worship leader. I prayed that your time would be an opportunity to connect with God, a time to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and a time to grow in knowledge of who God is.
And much like Paul said that the faith of the Romans was being proclaimed around the world, the faith of the Stauntonians is being proclaimed around the world, or at least in certain parts of it. In March Sonya and I traveled to Ohio to visit our families and as I said, last week we were in Nebraska. And it is pretty hard for me not to brag about you all, because you have all shown great faith.
People ask me everywhere I go, “How’s the church going?” And I tell them, they are doing very well. We are growing in numbers, we are growing closer to God, and we are growing closer to each other. I get to tell stories of how you have reached out to provide meals for those who are sick. I get to tell stories of how you have invited friends and neighbors to church. I get to tell stories of how we have been able to host a popular men’s singing group. Your faith is being proclaimed throughout the world, or at least the parts that I am coming in contact with.
It is clear when we read our scripture for today that the apostle Paul was a man of prayer. He prayed, not only for himself, but for all of the people that made up the church and all of those whose life might be touched by the church. And Paul thanked God for the church. Something that we don’t say often enough is that we thank God for each person that makes up the body of Christ, the church.
Let’s get together sometime
Paul goes on to talk about how he wants to meet with the Roman Christians so that they can be mutually encouraged by one another. There is something about surrounding yourself with positive people that are experiencing positive things that is contagious. Now I am not saying that we avoid hanging out with negative people all together. We need to love all people and spend time with all kinds of people. I would just suggest that you make sure to get a healthy dose of positive attitude as well. Balance is important.
I am glad that we give the opportunity to share prayer requests and praises each Sunday at church. I find this time to be a chance to get to know what is going on in peoples’ lives, to connect with others on a deeper level, and to show love and support for each other. If everyone just sat here, sang a few songs, and listened to me talk for about 25 minutes, I think we would be missing an important part of worship. Just as Paul talks about being mutually encouraging to the Roman Christians, we can and must be mutually encouraging to each other.
I wish we had more opportunity to share with one another in church, but the whole way we do church doesn’t make it too easy to do so. That is why meeting outside of the church building throughout the week is so important. Whether it is at a coffee shop, running errands together, or having people over to your home, it is important to spend time with other people. I believe that we should be hospitable, inviting people into our homes and into our lives. Hospitality is such an important theme in the Bible. Romans 12:13 tells us to practice hospitality and gives no reason for why we should do so. Perhaps because it should be obvious: we are to practice hospitality treating others as Christ has shown us to.
I know that Sonya and I have not done the best that we could inviting people into our homes. We think of it often, and we have a long mental list of people we would like to have over. But we allow the busy-ness of life to keep us from being hospitable. And by doing so I believe that we are missing many chances to be mutually encouraged by our time together.
There are people in this church that are great hosts and hostesses. I have a lot to learn from them. And I hate that I have the mentality that sometimes I need to have everything perfectly clean and to have a great meal prepared before I invite someone over to my home. As my mother told a friend of hers from Iowa when we were traveling through and wanted to stop by for a visit, “I’m coming to see you, not your house.” Something that we don’t say nearly enough is, “Let’s get together sometime.”
I am not ashamed of the gospel
Now the part of our scripture that I want to focus the most on today. Verse 16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul gives us a bit of a definition of the good news here by saying that the good news is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. But I believe that this definition pretty vague. And I think that is on purpose.
Paul doesn’t lay out all of the details of the gospel in six bullet points or a brief synopsis, but he leaves it open for further and ongoing defining. And if you haven’t figured it out, I like broad definitions that allow God to work, rather than boxing God in with a few words or paragraphs.
So how would I define the gospel? Well, first of all the word we translate as gospel literally means, “good news.” And I like to define the good news as saying it is God’s action, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, to reconcile us to God and to each other. Reconciliation, I believe, is central to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Dictionary.com defines reconciliation as an action, “to bring into agreement or harmony.” As a church that sings a lot of four-part, a cappella music, we probably know what it means to be out of harmony from time to time.
Last weekend at the wedding in Nebraska, all of the cousins and those who have married into the family sang a blessing upon the bride and groom. Not all of those that have married into the family grew up singing four-part harmony…and it showedJ.
And I share that story, not to be critical because anyone that sits near me in church knows that I am not the best singer by any means. But I wish to show you that when we are out of harmony with each other, things are less than they could be.
It isn’t a secret that we as humans are not perfect. We make mistakes, we fail. We often call this sin in the church. But we serve a God who is perfect and expects us to follow him. So when we make mistakes, we are out of harmony with God. And things become less than they could be. Thankfully, through the reconciliation made possible by Christ, we are brought back into harmony with God.
Not only with God, also with other human beings. Jesus taught us that if we sin against a brother or sister in Christ, it is more important that we go and make things right with that person than to spend time worshiping God. He tells us that if there is something between us and another person we are to leave our offering on the altar and go make things right before we go on with our acts of praise. We are told to forgive others, not 7 times, but 70 times 7. And that isn’t meant to say that we stop at 490 times, but that we keep on forgiving.
Jesus taught us how to live at peace with other people, making ourselves lower than them, being a servant to all. Jesus stooped to wash the feet of his disciples, performing the act of a servant though he is a king. The Bible teaches radical sharing; if you have two tunics, give one to someone that has none. When we stop trying to make ourselves look better than other people, when we give up our selfish ambitions and live for Christ first, then others, then we can be living the life that God intended for us.
Jesus provides the way to be reconciled to God and the way for us to be reconciled with our fellow brothers and sisters. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” That is my understanding of the gospel. That is my understanding of the good news. And what good news it is.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, and I really don’t see why anyone would be ashamed of the gospel. That God came to the earth in human flesh to restore relationships between God and humanity and each other is not something that I am ashamed of. But I will tell you what I am ashamed of. And that’s what some Christians have done, and tried to justify by claiming that it is God’s will.
The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, slavery, Colonialism, suppression of women, propagation of hate, war mongering. I could go on and on. People, people claiming to be Christians, have done these things “in the name of Christ.”
And this isn’t just a trend that we see in the history books. It continues today. We have probably all heard about the church that has protested funerals, civil gatherings, and other non-threatening events to say that “God hates___.” Just fill in the blank. They recently protested a funeral in Wisconsin after three students died in a house fire saying that God was punishing the students and their parents because they were living un-Christ-like lives. Of course nobody in the church had ever met any of the students personally. Exactly what a person needs to hear at their 20-year-old’s funeral, right?
Others have made public statements about God punishing 9/11 victims for the way that the United States has drifted from God’s teachings, or Hurricane Katrina, or what ever other natural disaster that has taken the lives of many.
Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that God calls His people to live by a certain ethic and I do believe that we need to be correcting an erring brother or sister. We also need to be a prophetic voice to those outside of the church about God’s will and desire. But is this how Jesus shows us to correct people? By protesting, by printing something in a book, newspaper, or website? I hope that we are always seeking ways to share the truth in love and not through hate.
Jesus clearly teaches in Matthew 18 that if someone within the church sins against us we are to approach that person in private and seek to make things correct them. Again, this is about reconciliation, not public humiliation. And how does Jesus provide guidance for those outside of the church? He builds relationships with them first. He eats with them, he has conversations with them. He loves them and calls them to follow him.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, but I am embarrassed of some Christians. I watched a pastor on television recently and he said something like this. If I was walking down a street and someone punched my wife in the face, you better believe I would hit him back. And you would too if you are any kind of man. I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m not a real man then, because I probably wouldn’t hit him back.” First of all, we are taught to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us. We are taught to forgive others, love our enemies. And second, who in the world would just walk up and hit my wife in the face? If someone did walk up and hit my wife in the face, there is a good chance that that person is mentally ill and they need my love more than they need my fist in their face. I was embarrassed by the Christian that told me and everyone else that they need to hit someone in the face if they hit your wife first because that is what a real man would do. If that’s what being a man is, then I guess I’m not one.
But while I have been embarrassed by other Christians, I’m not ready to stop calling myself a Christian just yet. When I was in Seminary, a lot of my friends made the decision that they would no longer refer to themselves as Christians, but as Christ-followers. Their reason for doing this is because of all of the negative stereotypes that are out there about Christians, stereotypes that exist for a reason…because some of us fit those stereotypes. And I want to make sure that you realize that it wasn’t that they were ashamed of Jesus or ashamed of the gospel, but they didn’t want to be lumped together with some of the people that I just got done critiquing.
I understand what they were trying to say: If this is what being a Christian is, then I am not one. But I say that rather than abandoning the name Christian, we should make sure people know what a Christian should look like. We should be the ones feeding the poor, loving the lost, clothing the naked, mending broken relationships, and so on. We should be leading our people in our care for God’s creation, living simply so that others might simply live. I will admit that I am tired of Christians being known for what they are against. But rather than taking the easy way out and abandoning the term “Christian”, we should transform what people think about Christians so that they will think of what we are for, rather than what we are against. And what are we for? We are for the kingdom of God and that all people might come to be reconciled to God and each other.
Maybe we can work together to reconcile, to bring the term “Christian”, back to the point where a Christian will look like something like Christ. Then we can live in harmony with God and each other. And what a sweet sound that will be.
Let’s take time this week to thank God for the church, let’s practice hospitality and be mutually encouraged, and let us never be ashamed of the good news.