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The following sermon is one of many by the Rev. Foster Freed of the United Church of Canada that will be presented on this site over the next few months and years. Foster is one of best preachers I have been privileged to hear in my years of ministry. Foster is the pastor of a large and growing congregation (Knox United) located in Parksville on Vancouver Island in the Province of British Columbia.
A Sermon Preached at Knox United Church (Parksville, B.C.)
on 11th August 2002 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)
by Foster Freed
"As it is written: `How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.'"
Romans 10: 5-15
The apostle Paul faced a challenge. He was in the process of writing (more likely he was in the process of dictating) a letter to the Christians of Rome. For the most part he did not know them, except by reputation. But he was planning a trip that would include a stop in Rome, and he wanted to prepare the way for his arrival by sending them a letter. By way of introduction, so to speak. A letter that would tell them who he was and, more importantly, share with them his understanding of the Gospel.
And so this, the longest of Paul's letters--the one we call Romans--contains the fullest, most comprehensive presentation of Paul's ideas. In particular, his insistence that the primary response to which we are called in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--the primary response to which the Gospel calls us--is the response of faith, the response of trust. Radical faith, radical trust, confidently placed in the God who is radically faithful, utterly worthy of our undivided trust.
And that, you see, is where Paul faced his challenge.
Keep in mind that Romans was likely written toward the end of Paul's ministry; Paul was well acquainted with the give and take, the bumps and grinds of his day-to-day ministry: his sharing of the Gospel. Keep in mind, as well, that Paul was writing to a Christian community the majority of whose members appear to have come from a Gentile, in other words a non-Jewish background. And so Paul, as he writes of the trustworthiness of the God of Jesus, anticipates an objection. Anticipates someone in the community standing up and saying to him: "But wait a minute Paul. Hold on one second. You call this God trustworthy. You say we can depend on God's promises. But what about the vast majority of your fellow Jews? What about the fact that they have largely rejected this Jesus? What do you say to that?"
And you see, even way back then--at most 30 years after Jesus' death--it was already apparent that the Jesus movement was becoming a largely gentile, a largely non-Jewish affair. On the one hand, the majority of the Jewish people of the time were not drawn to the Jesus movement (that hasn't changed much, has it!); on the other hand, the Jesus movement became magnetically attractive, unexpectedly attractive to Gentiles in every corner of the Roman empire. Which led to the assumption (the too easy assumption) that God had, in effect, rejected the Jews in favour of the Gentiles. Which thereby raised a rather thorny issue for Paul. As one of Paul's contemporaries might have put it: "Why should we trust this God? The Jews trusted; look where it got them? What do you have to say to that, Paul?"
Well, as it turns out, Paul had plenty to say to that. In particular, he devotes what we now know as the 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans to these very questions, trying to make sense of Jewish history and, in the process, trying to make sense of the relationship between the Christian movement and the Jewish people. Suffice it to say that those three chapters (and they are dense and complex chapters, I'm afraid), suffice it to say that Romans 9, 10 and 11, have served as the indispensable starting point for all subsequent Christian reflection on the difficult (at times tortured) relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. And given the fact, given the fact, that I came into the church from a Jewish background, suffice it to say that the 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans have for long held a special interest, a special fascination for yours truly.
Last Saturday--I believe it was last Saturday--I had some errands to do, and so I hopped in the van and made a number of brief stops around town. While I was out of the house, Sherry sat with a cup of tea and rested in the living room. Kristen and Bethany were playing just around the corner in the family room.
Now you need to realise that each of our children, when they reach a certain age and start to ask questions, has what is at first a vague awareness, that with time becomes a clearer understanding, of the fact that my parents are Jewish and that my background is Jewish. But it can be confusing since to be Jewish is not only a religious choice but also an ethnic designation. Believe me, it's not easy for an adult, let alone a child, to make sense of all that is involved with that.
At any rate, Bethany, who has reached an age (she's nearly six) where she is trying to sort things out, began to ask Kristen some questions. She said to Kristen: "Are we Jewish?" Kristen responded: "We're half Jewish." Bethany said to her: "Am I half Jewish?" Kristen replied: "You're half Jewish, I'm half Jewish, Jordan is half Jewish, Rachael is half Jewish." Bethany asked her: "Is mommy half Jewish?" Kristen replied: "No. Mommy is not Jewish at all." Bethany asked her: "Is Daddy Jewish?" Kristen replied: "Daddy is all Jewish."
At that point Bethany paused and was obviously doing some heavy thinking. After a lengthy deliberation she said to Kristen: "So that means, we're half Jew..and half normal.
Beneath that wonderful story lurks a world-view not all that different from the world-view that informs not only Paul, but the whole Bible. Starting at the 12th chapter of Genesis, when God calls Abraham out from Babylon, the Bible regards the human race has having been sorted into two great divisions: Abraham's children and everybody else. By Paul's time, that division was known simply as the division between Jew and gentile, between the Jewish people and all of the other people. And given the events of the 20th century, that included the holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel--and given the rather ominous way in which the 21st century began, with the events of September 11th--it should be more than obvious that the history of the Jewish people continues to affect the history of all people.
Which suggests to me, at any rate, that Paul's dense and complex ruminations in the 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans (their density and complexity notwithstanding) may have something to say to us even now. By which I mean, first and foremost, his insistence (as the United Church creed puts it) that we are not alone, but that we live in God's world: in other words, that history is not merely a sphere of human interaction, but rather the sphere in which God and humanity together bring forth the future. Furthermore, Paul's insistence that we ought never to presume, on the basis of the surface quality of historical events, to know precisely how God is actually going to make use of those events. Above all, Paul's trenchant belief that God in Jesus Christ was in the process of making good on the ancient promise to Abraham: namely, that through his descendants God would bless all nations, not merely one nation. In short, Paul insists that the Jewish rejection of the Gospel, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is the means through which God in Christ will be able to bring the message of salvation to all humanity.
It should come as no surprise to us, therefore, that the 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans are among the most universalistic chapters found anywhere in scripture. "For there is no distinction," writes Paul in this morning's selection from those three chapters. "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." And if that's not good news, I'm afraid I simply don't know what good news might be. No distinctions! Generous to all! And although we continue to live in a world that loves to make all sorts of distinctions (some necessary, most wildly unnecessary), and although we habitually fail to recognise the depth of the divine generosity that has been revealed to us in Christ, the truth remains. The good news remains. And we are called to place our trust, to renew our trust in that good news: news of a God whose ways may well be mysterious, but whose ultimate goal is informed by a breathtaking generosity of purpose and vision.
Friends in Christ: whether you realise it or not, you are here today in response to that generosity, in response to that generous vision.
In the midst of a world battered and broken, we have come to this place to celebrate a vision of wholeness and healing.
In the midst of a world mired in cultures of darkness and destruction, we are here to acknowledge a light that can never be extinguished and a life that can never be vanquished.
In the midst of an historical era that appears to hold out the prospect of unending turbulence and the possibility of deepening deprivation for our children and grand-children, we have come to bear witness to a vision of irrepressible hope, to proclaim an inextinguishable confidence in God's ultimate plans for each and for all.
And it goes without saying that we do all of that in fear and trembling: shadowed by doubt, at times haunted by confusion. There is no need to pretend otherwise. But we celebrate the vision just the same: renewing our trust in the good news and in the process equipping ourselves for the sharing of that good news with others.
How beautiful. How beautiful the feet of those who bring good news. How beautiful. How beautiful the hearts of those who nurture good news. How beautiful. How beautiful the lips of those who sing out the good news of our gracious, almighty God.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
copyright - Sermon by Rev. Foster Freed 2002 - 2006 page by Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2006 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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