Chosen to Share the Good News

Romans 10:5-15 (NRSV)

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 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) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 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); 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.”

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? 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!”

The title of this sermon in the Chosen series is “Chosen to share the Good News.”  Before we can understand the Good News, we have to understand how good that news is.

Have you ever fallen victim to autocorrect?  It’s one thing to do it on your computer, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it on your phone.  For sure.  For example, your phones may auto-correct my name and give you the choices of “Marcie or Nancy.”

Mom to son: “Where are you?”
Son: “I’m having a little seizure.”
Mom: “Oh no! I’m calling 911 right now!”
Son: “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s — I’m eating pizza!”

Guy to Friend: “How was the date?”
Friend: “Awesome! I killed her at the end.”
Guy: “That bad, eh?”
Friend: “No, I meant I kissed her. Stupid auto-correct!”

For any of us who have smart phones, we’ve been there.  One auto-corrected word can mean the difference between a great date or a life in prison!

The context for our passage in Romans is that Paul’s writing to a Roman church that’s struggling with a language disconnect between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians.  You see, the Jewish Christians recently came back to Rome after being expelled by the emperor, Claudius and the Gentile Christians outnumbered them in the small house churches throughout the city.  Not only was miscommunication rampant and Paul wanted them to use a particular language and stop talking past each other.  Language is important.  Words are important.  They are powerful.  I used to have a button that had these words in big letters, “Button Your Lip” and in smaller letters, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  Words can wound.  Words can show love.  Words can bring devastation.  Words can give life.  So it’s ever more important that Paul bridges the gap and gives the Roman Christians – Jews and gentiles alike – a common language.

I was with colleagues sharing a meal and someone asked me to explain the word “shade” because I had just used it in conversation.  Maybe I’ve been hanging with college students too long, but I thought “shade” had entered the mainstream because it was on primetime television.  By the way, I had to look up the word “fleek.”  I’m glad he asked me about it because that told me he was trying to understand.  We all have insider and outsider language.  We have generational language.  We have “church” language.  We often don’t notice it until someone brings it to our attention because they feel excluded. I can attest, it’s frustrating, when people don’t understand us, when we can’t explain effectively what we think clearly or we can’t find the right word.  Whether because we get tongue-tied or we’re fighting for the speaking stick, I think I’ll human beings yearn to be understood.

In her 2013 Commencement Address at Harvard Oprah Winfrey shares, “I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there is a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you we don’t want to be divided. What we want, the common denominator that I found in every single interview, is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce and all of her Beyonceness. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange I will tell you, they all want to know one thing: was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Paul wants everyone on the same page to limit the misunderstandings and he reminds everyone in Romans chapters 1-3 that all of them are under slavery to sin and death, much more than slavery to a Verizon or Sprint contract, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In chapter 4 Paul talks about God’s covenant with Abraham that he may have descendants as the stars all over the world, drawing all nations to God, and through Moses gave Israel the law as to set God’s children apart.  In chapters 5-8, Paul points out that Israel had a problem keeping the law.  If you ever glanced at the Old Testament, you know it’s a constant spin cycle of the people disobeying God, God giving them multiple chances to turn back sending various prophets, they end up being in exile, and after a period of time God welcomes the people back.  And then it repeats and repeats.  Paul is making the case that the law wasn’t the ultimate solution to the world’s problems.  Paul says very rightly, that the law only pointed out how sinful we are not how to get out from it.  The law itself won’t save us, only faith in Christ and he points out the lineage of Christ that he was a good Jew as the bridge.  What Paul has been doing the entire time in Romans has been giving them a common language and that link was Jesus.

This is not to say, we fall into the pit of sinfulness or we don’t have to follow God’s commands, after all in Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Paul never denies obedience to the law, but just checking off a set of rules is not what it’s all about.  The “righteousness of faith” he’s talking about, acknowledges that God came to earth, Emmanuel, to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  The fact that God sent God’s son Jesus to be one with us and because of his sacrifice our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life is really Good News.  Faith isn’t merely a set of rules, it’s a way of life.  Instead of auto-correct, it’s Christ-corrected as the Holy Spirit guides us in walking the way of Christ and it’s not just about being personally Christ-connected, but it’s sharing the Good News of Jesus with the whole world that the Great God of the Universe would pay attention to someone as insignificant as me and that that very God pursues me with an abundant love and wants a relationship with me is crazy, beautiful news.  Why wouldn’t I want to serve that kind of God?  The One who walks with us every step of the way.  The One who gives us nudges or God-things so we can tangibly see.  I’ll follow that God and seek to walk in the way of Jesus, knowing that grace can’t be earned, only trusted and believed in.

In verses 14 and 15 a series of 4 questions are asked, “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? 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!”

We have to share Jesus with the world.  God’s grace is not something we hoard because it’s a limited supply, it’s unending, unstoppable, and unlimited.  We all have a story of Christ’s redemption.  We may have several stories.  We have to know our story in order to share it and more yet, we have to be willing to claim our story, all the highs and all the lows, in order to risk being vulnerable enough to share it.

Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose.  It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story.  How brightly a better story shines.  How easily the world looks to it in wonder.  How grateful are we to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”  Many of y’all have told me that what you remember most about my sermons are the stories.  Stories have a way of piercing through all of the layers that we wear as armor to the soul.

Earlier in her Commencement address Oprah says, “As you heard this morning I was in the Miss Fire Prevention contest. That was when I was 16 years old in Nashville, Tennessee, and you had the requirement of having to have red hair in order to win up until the year that I entered. So they were doing the question and answer period because I knew I wasn’t going to win under the swimsuit competition. So during the question and answer period the question came “Why, young lady, what would you like to be when you grow up?” And by the time they got to me all the good answers were gone. So I had seen Barbara Walters on the “Today Show” that morning so I answered, “I would like to be a journalist. I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”  And she sure did.

Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  Do you know yet?  Have you been living it?

Brennan Manning writes, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  It doesn’t have to be a perfect, beautiful image, carefully curated for social media consumption, but it has to be your one, true, authentic story.  If it’s fake, like those fake bags or watches, the world is going to know.  The world needs real Jesus followers, not afraid to get dirty, followers of Jesus, who sat with tax collectors and prostitutes and again and again choose the least of these:  the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the paralyzed.  God can redeem all of your story.  God can redeem even the parts that you don’t want the world to see and give you the courage, peace, confidence and love for you to boldly proclaim it because you know who you are and more importantly Whose you are.

I kept thinking about the Matthew West song “Do Something” as I wrote this sermon.

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

Have we done something?  Are we actively making the world a better place?  Are we actively helping people?  God calls us each to spread all the good we can in the world.  N. T. Wright says, “God is putting the world right, so God puts people right, so that they might be his right-putting people.” We have to show the world the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It’s not just good, it’s great.  We are set apart to share the beautiful, life giving Good News of Jesus Christ.  I’ll end with a passage from Colossians that is my prayer for you all.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Amen and amen.

Full text of Oprah’s Commencement Speech:  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/05/winfreys-commencement-address/

 

What’s Your Story?

I have no idea who said this but I know I didn’t make it up myself.  Someone told me once that we all have a sermon and each Sunday we just preach it a lot of different ways.  I’ve thought about this for awhile, and I have found this idea intriguing.  In discussion with Josh back and forth over sermons or with Mike back and forth over music, there’s a part of me that does believe that each of us is given this essence, this thing within us that’s just trying to get out and that’s our story.  It’s our thing to share with the world.  All of us are different.  And that’s what makes it beautiful.  We’re not competing over who has the best one or who has the loudest or most compelling, but we each have one to share.  Each of us.

I think for me it’s this incarnational theology thing.  I don’t even want to know how many sermons I talk about Emmanuel – God with us, that the Great God of the universe decided to come and be one of us, that God is with us in the midst.  I know I must say in the midst all the time.  I don’t know why this gels with me so much, but even if I’m not preaching about it – let’s say I’m talking about human trafficking or Ruth or the early church in Acts – whatever it is, somehow I end up back with this same uncontrollable and thirsty desire to talk to people about this Savior that wants to know them.  Not in an arrogant, aren’t we humans so cool, kind of way, but in a I want to know you and I created you and I have this awesome and amazing journey for you to go on.  Not saying that those are always easy stories – because there’s a lot of hurt and evil and junk out there, but a God that goes with us and that gets down in the mud and muck with us – that’s a God I can follow.

I could go down a list of what I think people’s sermons/songs/stories are.  Is that weird?  But can you think about it?  The people around you – what is their thing?  What is their essence?  What is that thing that they point to?

Let me put in a musical perspective.  I am not a musician.  I am married to one and I love him and he says I don’t count anymore as a non-musician because I’ve heard him talk so much about it.  Maybe that’s true.  But I love music.  Y’all know I love music.  My mind thinks in songs which is why I should give money to youtube because I use their videos so much.  So back to music – I digress – there’s this guy Stephen Oremus – arranger, orchestrator, musical director.  Randomly in July 2005 Mike and I won tickets to Wicked, the musical on Broadway.  (I know, I know, I can’t shut up about Broadway, but I like it.  I really, really like it.)  There’s was a guy conducting or whatever you would call that and he had the best time.  He was laughing and smiling and enjoying it in an amazing way.  Then here we are this past May and we won tickets to the Book of Mormon Musical and here’s this conductor smiling and so enthusiastic and really loving it and lo and behold – same guy.  Stephen Oremus.

Now the guy doesn’t even have a wikipedia page, and I’m tempted to write it myself because I really enjoy what he does.  He arranged the music for Avenue Q and Wicked and 9 to 5 and High Fidelity and All Shook Up and the Book of Mormon and as someone who at least loves and owns the soundtrack to three of those, I can hear similarities and musical themes that are common throughout and it’s so cool.  It’s just good music and arrangement.  As Mike and I were talking about this he talks about how sometimes musicians don’t want to have those themes throughout – you know just like in Project Runway when the girl had all the clothes with petals – you don’t want to be stuck on the one note.  But then he changed his mind and said, maybe that’s this guy’s thing.  Maybe that’s his gift, his essence – his thing to give.

I don’t know.  Call me crazy.  But I feel like all of us have that “thing” within us that’s waiting to burst out.  That gift whether it be the timid girl who then starts belting out the notes in Sister Act or even the first time Billy Graham stepped behind a pulpit or the first time you do that thing that just makes you feel beyond any word like happy, but alive or content or at purpose.

What’s that thing you want to share with the whole world?  What is it that you think they just have to know?  How do you share it in your own unique, God-given way?

I get the fear and the doubt and the times you may not feel it and the times when you’re frustrated or annoyed or just plain old pooped.  But what’s the story of your life?

Is my story – tired, frantic mother?  Is my story – I’ll be glad to talk to you when I’m fully rested and in a good mood and with the right amount of caffeine?  Is my story…

If you could tell someone in three sentences or less your greatest purpose or piece of advice or rule to live by or other cliched phrase.  If you could share the very essence of who God created you to be with someone, what would that look like?  Words?  A picture?  A song?  A hug?  A sweater?

Think about it.  What’s your thing to share?  Your gift to give?  What’s your story?  And how is it part of the greater story around us?  How are we sharing it with the world?

 

I love this song.  I actually love Michael W. Smith’s entire Trilogy on the I’ll Lead You Home album.  I know, I know – old school Christian music.  Don’t ask me how something titled Angels Unaware fits with this, but somehow I think we live our stories.  We live who we are in the good, the bad, and the ugly.  On the great days and on the dark days.  Whether there are angels unaware or whether we’re right there in the presence of God – we’ve been created and life breathed into us and a story placed in our hearts and on our lives.  We don’t always have to have it figured out or feel like we’re good enough, but God is faithful to us and we can trust God’s grace and mercy and never-ending love is available to each of us.

I honestly think of this song every time I say, what’s your story?  Matthew West says it well in the Next Thing You Know.

So what’s your story about God’s glory?  How are you letting your life speak to the world?