Sometimes we think the church and the house of faith is OUR house. But it’s GOD’s house, and God decides who’s invited. In fact, God already has in Christ. God builds his house through our hands, as we share the word of faith we’ve received – amazing news!
Listen to Pr. Evan’s sermon from August 10, on Romans 10:5-15:
Or read it here:
9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Sunday, August 10 – Romans 10:5-15
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Whose House??” – Pastor Evan Davis
Whose house? God’s house!!
Some of you have asked me what kind of music I like…well, I like just about everything, it’s true. I like rock but not bad rock…country, pop, rap. I actually do really like good rap music – you have to recognize that a lot of it comes out of a very different life situation than most of us have experienced, but there’s good rap out there. Back when there were rappers that actually rhymed and crafted some sophisticated verses…there was this group called Run-DMC. And they sang this song that where they ask a question… “whose house???” and the answer is “run’s house!” And it just keeps going, they ask, “whose house???” “run’s house!”
Christ is right here
Sometimes we think the world, the church, our life of faith is all our house and we have to go and bring Christ inside – that it’s all up to us…that we have to go find him, and bring him in by saying a certain prayer, or doing enough good deeds. Or maybe by conjuring up the perfect thoughts about him, or mentally agreeing to his existence (that’s what we think it means to “believe in”), then he’ll come inside our house. But that house is nothing more than a house of cards, and the Holy Spirit blows it right down. The first great good news this morning is that the house of faith is God’s house, and Christ is right here, of his own volition and by God’s own decision! We don’t have to go looking for him because he has already found us.
Paul writes, 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
You don’t have to go up to heaven to bring him down, you don’t have to go down below to bring him up (he’s not there). Christ is alive and right here in “the word of faith that we proclaim.” Christ is present to us, among other ways, in our speaking about him. But we wonder, how do we obtain this faith to proclaim to others? This is how our Lutheran ancestors put it in the Augsburg Confession, “To obtain…faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.”1
Faith doesn’t come from us. It comes from hearing the good news, sure, as I speak it, but as you guys speak it to each other in your lives. So when we hear the verses telling us, “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,” know that Paul is lifting a burden here, not imposing a new one. Simply, as the good news is spoken to you, as the Holy Spirit reaches you and you find yourself believing in your heart and confessing with your lips that Jesus is Lord, then guess what? You have the salvation that comes from God. You don’t have to do anything! You don’t have to be a Jew or a Greek, or a Lutheran or a Catholic or anything else. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!” What a promise! That’s the second piece of really great news today – “All Are Welcome” in God’s house! Faith is not about performance. It can’t be measured. We don’t have faith in our own faith, we have faith in God who is gracious to us in Christ. Whose house? God builds this house, God maintains it, God decides on future renovations and invitations. [SJ: God is the Mighty Fortress, not us!]
Luther himself says in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism this:
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”2
Faith is a gift that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit gives us faith, gives us trust, makes us holy, and keeps us in faith. That’s why the grace of God is truly unconditional – it comes to you and to me before we even think our first thought about God. That’s why we wash little babies over there in the waters of baptism where they receive total and complete salvation now and forever before they even know the difference between themselves and their mothers! (well, maybe they do…) Much less anything of God…
How beautiful are your feet…how important is your voice
Paul has digressed into this subject of faith and salvation and how we receive it because he wonders, haven’t my Jewish siblings heard this too? Of course, Paul’s a Jew who only believes that Christ is Lord because the risen Christ confronted him, face to face, on the road to Damascus – Paul’s faith is completely a gift from God. But he wonders about his siblings, haven’t I preached it? Has something gone wrong? Have I done it right? We’ll hear more about that next week (stay tuned!). But hear this. It’s not our job to answer the question “why don’t some people believe in Christ the way we do?” Or to go back to Paul, “who will ascend/descend?” Remember – our belief does not come from ourselves, it comes from God. If any of us have faith, it is because God has given it to us. And anyone else’s belief can only come from God. If we’re honest, this question about who believes or not and what is their final destination is usually about a friend, or co-worker, a nephew, a grandchild, a daughter. We want to make sure they’ll be ok. We want to know how to talk about our religion to other people. And that’s understandable. But ask yourself this – have you told this person the good news that you believe God loves them in Christ no matter what? Because that is the good news – no matter whether you go to church or don’t, no matter whether you’re Mother Theresa or an axe murderer, God went to the cross in Christ for you. First, hear that for yourself. Then, hear it for all those people in your life you may be worried about, and then tell them!
Here we’re at the third piece of truly awesome news today, which is that God the Holy Spirit is sending you to be the means through which the Holy Spirit creates faith in another person. That’s what we mean that faith comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit, through the word of faith spoken by human beings, by you – that’s how the Spirit creates faith, that’s how God builds his house of faith. That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “ And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” How beautiful your feet must be….and even if your feet aren’t that beautiful :), you are called to use them to move out to people with good news.
So we’ve done this before, but we need practice. Turn to someone near you…preferably not your spouse or child or parent, and as you gather in twos or threes, make sure everyone is included in a conversation. Pretend you’re not in church right now and that you’re having coffee or tea with a friend or family member. Ask that person, “so why do you go to church?” [In the real world, that question is more like, “why don’t you go to church?”] It takes courage to ask. Then listen. Then tell that person about your own faith – how the Holy Spirit has found you and spoken the word of faith to you through someone in your life, why you devote your time, energy, and money to the mission of God. You have 5 minutes – go!
I heard a lot of great things being said out there. We need practice, to be those people with beautiful feet who bring truly good news. And that good news is that this world, this global community of faith, this church, even this building, is God’s house. God makes it, through us. God’s work. Our hands. Through us, God builds his house… “where the love of Jesus ends all divisions, where all are named and all are welcome.”3 Amen.
1Article V, “Concerning the Office of Preaching,” Augsburg Confession in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000), 40.
2Martin Luther, “The Third Article: On Being Made Holy,” Small Catechism in The Book of Concord, 355-356.
3Marty Haugen, “All Are Welcome,” (copyright GIA Publications, Inc., 1994) in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), hymn #641. I have put together lyrics from throughout the song.