Monday, August 11, 2014

A Terrible Struggle (for Yours Truly)

Never has it happened to me.


Whenever I take a vacation and attend worship, I never have wanted to preach.  I have always been content to sit in the pew, worship, and listen to the sermon without any desire to proclaim myself.  Sure, I've been a bit critical of sermons I have heard.  I don't think there is a pastor who doesn't listen to a sermon and think, "Well, I'd have done things just a little different."  It's a natural thing for us to do that, I think.

But until this past Sunday, I had never sat in the pew and said to myself, "I wish I were preaching today!!!"  I had always simply enjoyed my break.

But not last Sunday.  Not at all.  It was a  terrible struggle.  As I listened to the texts read in worship, I desired tremendously to proclaim them.  I wanted to expound upon them because they shouted the Gospel!  And I love proclaiming the Gospel.

For this blog's sake, I will only cover the Epistle taken from the 10th Chapter of the book of Romans.  In a week or so, I will actually be changing the Gospel text for the day so that I can preach on Jesus' walking on the water--that was the Gospel text assigned for this past Sunday.

But onto Romans.  Onto why I wanted desperately to preach!  St. Paul writes:

5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But 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). 8But 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); 9because 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. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Paul's words struck me like they had never struck me before.  "Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that 'the person who does these things will live by them.'

The person who does the works of the law will live by them.  The person who obeys the law lives.  The person who does not obey the law dies.  It's a rather simple concept.  One that many are all too familiar with.  In fact, they are familiar with it because it is very prevalent in Christianity today. 

"Unless you live correctly, you will suffer God's wrath!"

This is the basic proclamation of many Christian churches today.  Whether they believe it to be so or not. 

Unless you adhere to the correct teachings of sexuality, you are doomed.
Unless you are committed to doing justice and serving the poor, God will frown upon you.
Unless you are pro-life, God views you as a murderer.
Unless you advocate for health care and welfare for the poor, God views you as a law breaker.

Oh, I could go on and on and on. 

Sure, most churches and preachers will throw in a little nugget about how Jesus died to save us from sin--maybe--but in a heartbeat, they turn around and make salvation totally dependent upon our actions.

That's not the Gospel.  That's the Law.  Paul is making that distinction gloriously in these few verses from Romans 10.  Notice that Paul makes a clean break from this line of thought beginning in verse 6:

6BUT (emphasis mine) 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).

The righteousness that comes from faith doesn't focus on saying "Who will ascend into heaven?"  or "Who will descend into the abyss?"   Read that verse again.  And again.  And again.  And then ponder why it is that so much of the stuff we hear coming from pulpits does this very thing.  (Hey, I was pretty good at doing it myself in bygone years!!!)

For when we say in our heart "Who will ascend into heaven?" we bring Christ down.  What?
For when we say in our heart "Who will descend into the abyss?" we bring Christ up from the dead.  What?

Think about this.  When we ask ourselves such questions, how do we normally judge another? 

By their works.  By the things we view them doing or saying.  By their actions.

If a person gets to go to heaven because of their works, this brings Christ down.  He is no longer the exalted Savior.  He is simply a good teacher--an ethicist who revealed a form of morality.  His cross is not needed for salvation. 

If a person is assigned to hell/the abyss because of their actions, we bring Christ up from the dead.  I think Paul is referring to the teaching that Christ descended to the dead to proclaim the Gospel to those who had died.  (Ephesians 4)  There was no need for Christ to descend if we are judged according to our works for it is impossible to attain salvation through works.  There is no need for the Gospel to be proclaimed to those who were dead.  Their fate is sealed--as is ours.  If salvation comes through works.

The righteousness that comes from the Law might ask "Who ascends to heaven?" and "Who descends to the abyss?"  But the righteousness that comes from faith does not.  It says something quite different.

‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ 

The Word has convicted you.
The Word has changed you.
The Word has infused you and become a part of you.

The Gospel makes you see that you are incapable of following the Law.  The Gospel makes you see that you stand condemned by the Law.  The Gospel makes you see that if your salvation is up to you at any given point and time, you will never, ever attain it.  Never.  You know you cannot "ascend into heaven."  You know you would "descend into the abyss" were it not for God's saving action through Jesus Christ.  You know you are justified--looked at differently by God--in your heart, and so you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord!

It is the Gospel which brings you to this place.  Plain and simple. It is only the Gospel.

And that Gospel leads you to ask different questions.  You leave the judging up to God.  The former questions are irrelevant.  New ones are needed.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God send the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.

That news begs a different question: not who is ascending or descending, but rather who has heard?  Who hasn't heard?  Who needs to hear this wonderful news?  Who needs to hear that God's wrath has been satisfied?  Who needs to hear that their salvation is procured and that we are free from attaining our salvation through works of the Law?

Is it any wonder Paul concludes this snippet with the following words:

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? 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? 15And 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!’ 16But not all have obeyed the good news;  for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ 17So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Proclamation is at the heart of Christianity.  Proclamation about what God has done--not what we are supposed to do.  Those things naturally flow from a heart transformed by the Gospel--a Gospel which begs to be proclaimed to a world desperate to hear it.

And I struggled to sit and simply listen. 


John Flanagan said...

I have also heard poorly articulated sermons, as we all have at some churches, but I have never heard a Lutheran pastor state or imply that our salvation is dependent on our own action or works. But I have heard Baptist preachers insist we must "accept Jesus as Lord and Savior" to be saved, and many even today still believe and preach that free will is the way we become saved. I have not had a problem with the word "receiving' Jesus as Lord and Savior, but the word "accepting" Jesus seems to imply we are doing The Lord a favor by recognizing His gift of salvation, purchased through His blood shed on the cross.

Kathy Suarez said...

John and Kevin -- How do you interpret the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats? You are allowing St Paul to interpret the Gospel instead of the other way around. What do you think of the article about Robert Saler's book on Lutheran Confessions? (John commented.)

"And to give an appeal to the 'Word' alone is to simply beg the question raised by Tyndale and More all over again: the Word as interpreted by whom?"

At last a Lutheran is asking the right question! Hurray!

btw -- the Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by Grace. This has been confirmed by the JDDJ.

Kevin Haug said...


Did you read the part in the parable of the sheep and goats where the folks asked, "When was it that we did this to you?"

Anonymous said...

I believe Whitney Houston is in heaven --

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin -- of course I have read the parable. The teaching of Jesus, the Sheep and the Goats, is about DOING. You have a Cinderella Slipper Theology. You want to fit everything into the shoe of "Grace Alone," and it just doesn't work.

Kevin Haug said...


You have read the parable, but you haven't read carefully so that you may understand.

Sorry, grace alone stands.

The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin -- I will be glad to explain. (And isn't is wonderful that we, as Christians, can discuss these matters with Charity, instead of killing each other with the sword? So very sad.)

My belief is what the Catholic Church has always taught: We are saved by Grace. (As I said above, this has been re-confirmed by the JDDJ.) The misunderstanding has to do with how our Faith is lived out. Saving Grace is one thing and "graces" are another. (The technical term is "Actual Graces.") In a nutshell -- I was saved by Grace at my Baptism, but I live out my Faith with the daily help of Graces. I fulfill the commands of Jesus in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats with the help of Grace. I believe the Gospel with the help of Grace.

This is the Faith, the simple catholic faith.

(I wonder if Robin Williams knew this. I am in mourning.)

Kevin Haug said...

LOL!! Kathy, my dear, take a quick read of Galatians 3: 1-5.

Kathy Suarez said...

You know, I don't want to get into trading Bible verses. I tried in a few words to explain the Catholic Faith to you. Nothing I wrote is in conflict with St Paul. This is a misunderstanding.

Let me ask you: Do your kids do their homework by Grace Alone? Do they do it out of love and gratitude for their school? Do your church members get out of bed on Sunday morning by Grace Alone?

Kevin Haug said...

To answer your question: every other religion or ideology of the world says, "Do this (be obedient) and you will be rewarded (get in the good graces of God)."

Only Christianity says, "God loves you (you have been rewarded) now do this (be obedient)." Obedience follows grace in Christianity. It is so contrary to the world, it is often considered unbelievable. Even by certain Christians who say we must work to obtain salvation, God's favor, or simple graces.

Kathy Suarez said...

You are misunderstanding the teachings of the Church. No one works for Grace. Salvation is a Free Gift, but we must respond with obedience or we could lose our Salvation. Recently there was an ELCA Bishop who was given 10 years in jail. If we do not discipline ourselves according to the teachings of Christ, we will have big trouble here and hereafter. This is not working for Grace or "graces"! They are a Gift of God.

Please try to understand. It will help your faith walk.

Kathy Suarez said...

Another way to put this is: Grace is a Gift of God, but with our Free Will we must co-operate with Grace. This is simple Common Sense.

Kevin Haug said...

You can't lose grace by disobedience. You are never fully obedient. Never. Ever. If your continued salvation depended upon your obedience, you are doomed. You cannot follow the Sermon on the Mount even a day!!! And you expect to retain your salvation? Laughable. Completely laughable.

It's all about God's grace. The only hell one will experience is the hell one sends one's self to by making something other than God the desire of one's heart. That's Dante for you. You will get your heart's desire for eternity, and that desire will never satisfy. It's worse than a thousand burning suns.

When you experience grace, you want and desire God above all else--even though you are disobedient. You know you break the Father's heart each and every time you sin, but you rejoice that He forgives over and over and over despite your inability to be completely obedient. As the Prodigal Father welcomed His children despite their disobedience, the Heavenly Father welcomes us despite ours.

Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin -- The Truth is clear and it does not change. You are twisting it to fit the ELCA agenda. Of course you can lose grace by disobedience. Look at poor Robin Williams. He was Episcopalian -- presumably baptized.

God gives us grace but we must respond by obedience. If we sin, we are forgiven, but if we walk away from the Faith and
Grace -- as so many are doing now -- we will end up in a bad place. The ELCA today is teaching many false doctrines as, for example, John Flanagan is trying to point out to you. Since you do not want to see this, you have found a heretical "loophole" theology of "Grace Alone" (not even what Luther meant) to justify staying in your errant denomination.

Kathy Suarez said...

I hope you will read this --