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August 17, 2014 - Romans 11.1-7, 25-32

“Can Our Kind of Church Save Our Kind of World?”

Romans 11.1-7, 25-32

August 17, 2014

 

 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. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace…

25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

27 “And this is my covenant with them,

when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him,

to receive a gift in return?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. [1]

 

 

I’ve seen a lot of Church Signs in my time that made me think:

“A day hemmed in prayer is less likely to unravel.”

“God Accepts all Knee-Mail”

“An Upright Man Cannot Live in Downright Sin”

“Sign Broke – Message Inside”

“What’s Missing in CH_  _CH?  U R”

“The Best Testimony is a Righteous Life”

 

The last one really made me think.  It sounds good at first, but I completely disagree.  The best testimony is not a righteous life, because there are no righteous lives.  The best Testimony is an unrighteous life that has been redeemed.

 

Grace has nothing to do with human performance; if it did, it would not be grace.  Only if God deals with us in grace will we survive.  We want a certain kind of people to come to our church.  That’s heresy folks.  It’s anti-gospel.

 

The Jews of the New Testament did not like this new group of people – these Christians - coming in a changing everything.  They didn’t like this Grace they were hearing about.  But grace is God’s idea.

 

We have too BIG of a job to do to be wrestling with the smallest issues possible among ourselves.  The world is dying and going to hell, and the question in front of us is “Do we care?”  The world has changed so that our methods are outdated.  “Do we care?”

 

There has been in our society a kind of “Cultural Christianity.”  I grew up with it and you did, too, probably, if you are older than a cell phone.  Where I grew up, we called that part of the country the “Bible Belt.”

Well folks, the Bible Belt is busted.  Charlotte, which was home to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL and is currently home to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is also home to AEBN.  The “A” stands for adult and the “E” stands for Entertainment.  They are a one billion dollar corporation.  Cultural Christianity is in fact, lazy and ineffective Christianity.

 

The Jews of the New Testament are like the remnant of the Bible Belt.

 

What about the Jews? That is a question that crops up from time to time in the church. It is not a biblical question. The New Testament question is, "What about the Gentiles? How shall those who have had no part in the promises of God to Israel be saved by the God of Israel?" As Christians, we are "honorary Jews," those who have been adopted into the family of God.

 

In reading this section of Paul's letter to the Romans, we are listening in on a sad and difficult family feud. "Who is a real Jew?" was the matter under debate. Here is Paul, a true son of Israel, one who had been lovingly nurtured in the Torah and the way of Israel. It was not that Paul had rejected Judaism, had decided that the way of the Torah was wrong; it was that Paul had found that the way of Jesus was the fulfillment of Torah, the great blossoming of the messianic expectations of Judaism.

 

Some of Paul's fellow Jews saw it the way that he did. Yet many of them did not. Why did they not see what Paul saw? What about the fate of the Jews?

 

The problem with the Jews was that they had heard the message of Jesus and some of them were rejecting it.  I think the same is true for the remains of the Bible Belt.  We have heard the gospel, but are too comfortable in our own nostalgia to rise up from our pews and change the world.  We like the world like it was.  We would rather hope for a return to the good old days, which are long gone, than to realize that the world has changed and we need to reach it.

 

In 2005, Rick Warren challenged Baptists to launch ‘new reformation'.  Speaking at the Baptist World Alliance, Warren said “We need a reformation of not creeds but deeds."

"Most of the time we're just talk," he lamented. "It's time that the church be known for what it's for" rather than what it's against.  "A non-serving Christian is a contradiction," he warned. "God didn't save you to sit, soak and sour. He saved you to serve. ... Significance comes from service."

"Do you know what God cares about most?" Warren asked the congress crowd. "He wants his lost children found. ... God never made a person he didn't love.  "It's time to stop debating the Bible and start doing it. It's time to stop criticizing and start cooperating," he urged. "It's time for the church to be the church. This is the new reformation I'm praying for."[2]

 

A few years ago a friend approached me with a question that had become his obsession. He told me that he grew up in a small-town church. As a youth he “accepted Jesus as my personal savior and I knew that I was saved.” He was active in church until his late teenage years when other interests drew him away. As a young man, when he married he returned to the church, partly because of his wife’s piety.
     Now, in midlife, he had become obsessed with the question, “Am I really saved?” He had begun to doubt that he had ever had a true conversion experience. He had engaged in a study of the Bible, but that had filled him with more questions. He had tried to discuss his plight with a number of pastors and friends, but they all seemed to have different points of view, which confused him all the more. He used to pray, but had stopped because it felt like he was just “talking to myself.”
     “What if I died tomorrow?” he asked. “I’m not sure that I would be saved and go to heaven.”
     My heart went out to this brother who was in real torment and consternation. I could make a number of observations about his struggle with salvation, but in this sermon I’ll just note the absence of one key player: God. My friend characterized his struggle as his lonely battle to understand, his solitary attempt to decide, his need to feel, and his efforts to be certain. I asked him to consider the possibility that his turmoil might be God-induced, that God might be using this turbulence to move him to some new plane in their relationship. Perhaps his struggle was validation that God was indeed real and that God was working to draw him closer. Perhaps.[3]

 

Form must follow function.

 

We are to proclaim the grace of God to this world around us.

 

Ron Sider story: The girl that had 8 abortions finally felt clean after a church embraced her and shared with her the message of forgiveness.

 

No wonder that one of the earliest and most persistent charges against Jesus was, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2). Jesus is crucified for welcoming sinners to his table, and not only welcoming, but actively seeking them. At the end, with whom did he choose to dine at his last supper? Sinners. And in his resurrection, at a new beginning, with whom did he choose to dine at his first meals? Sinners. His door was too wide to suit many of the faithful.[4]

 

Verse 6 – the key.  “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”  Grace is not related to works – at all.

 

When I became a father, I realized that I understood the grace of God even less.  Grace sent Jesus to the cross.  We can’t earn that kind of love.  For that kind of love, we ought to be able to love one another, reach out to the world around us, and to do so without fail.  We have been given an awesome love that we did not earn.  Let’s not let ourselves be the obstacle to God’s mission on this earth.  

 

It is Paul’s conviction that nothing in the end will defeat the love of God.

 

The Four Aspects of Repentance – our response to grace.

1.  True repentance means comprehension that wrong has been done.

2.  Recognition of sin is not repentance.

3.  Repentance should produce a new yearning for God.  We want to turn.

4.  Repentance is more than a feeling – it is a changed life.

 

What makes a church?

 

“Can Our Kind of Church Save Our Kind of World?”  If God has His way, it won’t be Our church, it will be God’s church.  Only God’s kind of church can reach this kind of world.  Are we our own church or are we God’s?  Thanks be to God.

 

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2] Trennis Henderson, from Associated Baptist Press.

[3] Willimon, William; Pulpit Resource, August 17, 2014.

[4] Willimon, William; Pulpit Resource, August 17, 2014.