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Sun, Mar 10, 2019

Every One Who Calls

Duration:25 mins 11 secs

Our Second Reading this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 10, verses 8-13. It would be easy to pull these verses out of context, but it is important to note that in chapters 9-11 of Romans, Paul is wrestling with the faithfulness of God, God’s promises to the people of Israel, how Israel receives or rejects the good news of the gospel. Paul knows that God is faithful, so he shares an enormous desire, as one commentator puts it, “that those who so far have been rather cool to the gospel will come around.” So let us hear the Word of God to us today as recorded in Romans chapter 10, verses 8-13.

“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.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I suspect that many of you have heard the story about the man who was caught in a flood. A man of faith, he prayed to God, asking for rescue. As the water rises a high-water truck, a boat, and a helicopter all come by offering to help the man. But each time the man refuses, insisting that God will save him. In the end the man drowns not realizing that God sent him a high-water truck, a boat, and a helicopter.

That story has been told by preachers for generations. And when it is paired with our text for today, especially verse 13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” the story tends to emphasis that the one needing rescue must see and recognize the help God provides. Yes, the initiative and the responsibility rests on “the one who calls.” If you want to be saved, God provides the way but in the end it is up to you to grasp it. Call on the name of the Lord, speak the magic words and then the treasures of heaven will open to you.

That reading fits right in with our highly individualized 21st century American culture, doesn’t it? Faith is so often thought to be primarily between me and God for the purpose of getting myself into heaven someday. Yes, God will save us if we have faith. So really, both our eternal destiny and the blessings of abundant life here and now are in our hands, or at least on our lips.

But what if that is not what Paul is talking about in these verses? To understand Paul’s context and concern, we might need to retell the story of the man caught in the flood this way:

A man caught in a flood prays to God asking for rescue. As the water rises, a high-water truck comes by. The driver asks for a copy of the man’s last pay check to determine whether he has the ability to fulfill his pledge to the church. When the number is too low, the truck drives off. A boat comes by and asks the man for his genealogical records because it looks like he’s not from around here. It is true; the man’s family emigrated from a different country so the boat speeds away. Finally a helicopter comes and asks what church the man attends. Hearing that he is not Presbyterian or __________ (you fill in the blank) the helicopter pulls up the rope and flies off. And the man drowns.

Telling the story that way, changes the focus entirely, doesn’t it? It is not a story about how one obtains the gift of salvation. It is a story about the limits we put on God’s amazing grace.

Similarly, in our text for today, Paul does not have any doubt about how one is saved. He is convinced, in ways I hope we are as well, that God has saved not just us, but the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Time and time again throughout this letter, Paul reminds us that we are all, both Jews and Gentiles, equally sinners in need of grace. We cannot save ourselves, so God acts first. God loves us first. And nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But we become so focused on making sure that me, myself, and I say the right words to get to heaven someday that we forget the truly radical thing in Paul’s argument here is the word: Everyone. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God’s grace is available to Everyone! For Everyone stands on common ground at the foot of the cross.

That is the good news of the gospel! Yet we live in and encourage a world that wants to limit God’s grace to just some.

It cannot be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, right? That would mean, first, that God so loved you and me that we are invited to know the wonders of God’s amazing grace. We look around the church and we see some who appear to be deserving of that kind of love. They are the real Christians, right? Now don’t point any fingers, but you know who I’m talking about. And I suspect your mind is saying the same thing mine is: “It’s not me. I fall so short! No matter how many words I speak, no matter how many times I call on the name of the name of the Lord, God knows all that I have done and all that I have left undone. My faith is not strong enough. My heart is not pure enough. I do not live righteously enough. I barely make it to worship, I forget to pray, and I do not tithe. God feels so far away. If God is handing out salvation, I deserve to be left behind by the high-water truck, the boat, and the helicopter.

Have you ever had that conversation with yourself? Maybe it is just me. God’s grace is a wonderful gift, but it cannot apply to me. We put limits on God’s amazing grace. And often the first limit we set is with ourselves because we do not measure up.

My friends, I hope you can really hear the good news of the gospel this morning. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God’s love is for you and for me. God’s grace is for you and for me. God’s abundant life in this world and the next is for you and for me. Yes, salvation starts with God’s love for you and for me!

But it does not end there. When we begin to trust from our heart that God truly loves us and has demonstrated that love through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; when we begin to trust that our salvation depends on God’s faithfulness and not on our obedience; then we can begin to reflect that love; we can share that love with others; we can begin to live with gratitude instead of condemnation.

Yes, God loves you and me, but we keep setting limits on God’s grace. As Preacher Fleming Rutledge, notes, “There is no one alive who does not make explicit or implicit judgment on other people’s ‘righteousness’ … In spite of our abandonment of biblical language, we still have a sense, however vaguely articulated, of a standard of goodness out there somewhere.”

Yes, and again I ask you not to start pointing fingers, but we believe that some deserve to be rescued and some do not, right? Sometimes even in the church we make that explicitly clear. Yale Divinity School professor Siobhan Garrigan tells the story of one day arriving at a Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. She was pleased to be greeted at the door by two women who invited her to join their conversation. She quickly realized that it was their job to be ushers, standing at the door to interview newcomers as they arrived. They quietly asked her name and the first names of any other approaching visitors who wished to join the morning worship. It seemed to be wonderfully kind and welcoming.

But then Garrigan figured out what was really happening. After hearing those names, the ushers would decide whether or not the person was welcome to join them for worship that day. Those with Protestant names were welcomed warmly and shown to seats in the sanctuary. Those with apparently Catholic names, like Maria and Catherine and Patrick, were told they had mistakenly come to the wrong church and were sent on their way.

Now that would never happen here at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, right? We would never ask someone’s name and make an assumption about whether or not that person could know God’s grace? Whether not they were worthy of God’s love and ours? But perhaps we might ask about someone’s profession or job. Perhaps we might ask whether or not a family has children or a couple is married. Perhaps we might ask about education or religious background or neighborhood and make a decision based on that – at least in our minds anyway. We might not literally ask our ushers to be bouncers at the door (I can assure you that is not in the usher manual), but we just might judge some to be more “righteous” and “worthy” than others. And that does not even begin to scratch the surface of the ways we set limits on God’s amazing grace throughout our community, state, and nation.

My friends, the good news of the gospel into which we baptized young William this morning is that God so loved him, that God raised Jesus from the dead for him. He is claimed as God’s own. He is treasured. He loved. He is welcome.

What might happen in our church, our community, even our nation if instead of setting limits on God's grace, we saw everyone we meet the same way we see young William this morning? Everyone we meet as someone that God so loved that he raised Jesus from the dead for him and for her? The person sitting in our pew with us this morning; the one across the sanctuary whose name we cannot remember; our waitress at lunch; the grocery store clerk; the guy who cuts us off in his car on our way home; the neighbor across the street; the person standing on the corner waiting for the bus; those working this morning in nursing homes and hospitals; those who barely made it out of bed; those who didn’t get to sleep last night; those serving our city and state and nation; those seeking a new home – God so loved them that he raised Jesus from the dead for them.

My friends, if we see ourselves and our neighbors like that, it just might start to resemble the kingdom of God. Not through our efforts, but as God’s love is unleased, unbound in this world. And we won’t need a truck, a boat, or even a helicopter for we will gladly be swept away by a flood of love and grace and new life.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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