Romans 3:21-31                “Faithfulness”

 

I need to thank Saint Paul this morning for another head spinning piece of Scripture. Did any of us fully comprehend on first reading this section of text to the people of Rome. I am fairly sure back in Roman days this also would have been a “do-over read.”

While I was preparing this sermon, our house cat Liam was meowing at me with a most plaintive meow. I checked his water bowl, his kibble, everything, there was no reason for him to be complaining, so I will pin that on Saint Paul’s text here. Even the cat was moaning!

For this reason, this morning I want to give you another technique for reading the bible. This is the word-count method. Looking down at the text while just scanning it, which word stands out as being repeated again and again? In these few lines, if you were to count, this word appears actually nine times–well it does in the original Greek at least. In English we do not like to repeat words so often–we search for synonyms so that the lines do not sound so repetitive. In the rhetoric of the day back then, being repetitive was a good thing. Do not count repetition as a form of poor writing: Think more along the lines of exquisite internal rhymes that match perfectly, because they are in fact the same word over and over again!

How many times can you say the same word, but with an expansion of the idea of that word, in one complete thought? We could say that for this style of writing, this is masterfully written. We are just not used to thinking that way nowadays.

What is that one word that Paul pings off of in these lines? The word is “FAITH.” It is repeated nine times as the Greek word πίστις. In English it can be counted eight times. One time in our translation we have the word “believe” instead of “faith.” Yet, it is the same in the original language.

Oh, this is all about faith! What is that? What is this faith that Paul is sharing now in his letter to Rome?

 

First, we all know that we were created. Even the great physicist Stephen Hawkings, the greatest scientist of our day, will say that we are part of an “intelligent design.” Check his book A Brief History of Time to see his conclusions. To this point, we need no faith of any kind to accept that a universal intelligence created us.

Faith comes into play when we look at what happened after God created. You see, the grand intelligence could have just sat back thereafter and said “look at my creation, is it not great? But, now I am done.” Instead, we look into the Bible and see that the great intelligent God that created us wanted to take part in the Creation still. God is talking with Adam and Eve. God is intervening in their lives.

Our faith in God today says that the God of the universe with infinite intelligence and wisdom wants to be involved in what is happening in the here and now. When we hold up the Bible now, we see that it is the collection of stories throughout our history of God’s interventions in God’s creation.

There is no greater story of God’s intervention in human history than that of Jesus Christ. I know, some people may argue this point. Some will say that the Great Flood in Noah’s time or the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea is really some great cinematic intervention by God. Yes, that is true; however, the fact that God God’s self came down in the person of Jesus Christ must be considered the greatest intervention of all on God’s part.

Today is Pentecost, the day we celebrate another great intervention that must be considered the second greatest after Jesus. Jesus as we know ascends back up into heaven, but then the coming of the Holy Spirit is promised. We look to Acts 2 for that incredible happening.

It was fifty days after the Passover, and the people were all back in Jerusalem to celebrate once more. They were from every country and language group that one could imagine back then in Israel. They were all speaking in their native tongues and basically speaking past one another when all of the sudden the Holy Spirit descended. In that moment the bible says that everyone was in one accord. Tongues of flames appeared over every head. Suddenly everyone could understand one another. Saint Peter started to preach the gospel, starting with a beautiful recitation of the Prophet Joel’s prophecy. Remember that Peter was a fisherman–how could he preach and recite prophecy like that? It was the Holy Spirit speaking through him. Three thousand people were baptized on the first day alone! God was intervening in a most powerful way. The faith in God grew exponentially in that happening.

 

Okay, that happened two thousand years ago. God intervened and the faith grew. How are we doing today with that faith? How is your faith doing? This last month, I have been hearing stories from people about how anxious their lives have become. Human existence has become amazingly anxious these days. Perhaps this is PTSD from the Covid quarantines. I am not sure.

The times when Jesus spoke to the people around him were anxious times as well. The Romans to whom Saint Paul is scripting these words are facing massive persecutions, starvation, economic hardship, death in the coliseums. You think you have it bad?

I just want to share with you a little bit about the last days of our brother Lee Miller. I walked into his room at the hospital at the very end of a consultation with Dr. Siddartha. Lee, after being told that he had metastasized cancer on top of all of his other health issues was asking the doctor simply to get him strong enough that he could with the help of a walker get up the front steps of our church. When you are told that you have only so many days left and can only think about how you are going to get back to church to worship! Ya, that is faith.

Jesus us told in the sermon on the mount: “Have no worries. God even cares about the birds. Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell do not be anxious about your life! Look at the birds of the air. . .!” Have this faith in God that God will care for your life! That is our faith!

About anxieties: our Hanai Daughter, who had to escape Russia at a moment's notice with only her carryon luggage to start a whole new existence in the EU, gave me this book that is meant to be funny, but I found it to be strangely sad actually. It is called Finnish Nightmares. It is a book that illustrates what makes Finnish people nervous. Here are some examples from the book: “When you want to leave your apartment, but your neighbor is in the hallway.” “Sharing an elevator with a stranger.” “When the public bus is two minutes late.” “When you flag down the wrong bus and feel as if you have no choice but to get on it.” “When someone next to you on the bus moves to a vacant seat and you start to wonder what’s wrong with you?” So these ideas are silly but sad.

If you have faith, and the bus is late, then you simply begin to wonder how God is going to use this moment of your life to show God’s glory. If you have faith that God is intervening always, then you just wonder “how God are you about to pop out and surprise me with your presence in my life?”

 

            The end of verse 22 says that this is the case for “all who believe.” Now, we have to be careful in interpreting what exactly Paul is trying to tell us here. This line has been used to exclude people from God’s grace—which was not the original intent. This is supposed to be an inclusive statement. All we have to do is to believe in Jesus.

            Remember that this letter is being written to the Gentiles in Rome who were being badgered by the Jews who had come to believe in Christ that they would have to be circumcised in order to be Christian. They were being told that they could not eat pork. They were being told that they would have to accept all the tenets of the Jewish faith in order to be a Christian. Paul is saying “No” to that idea. Faith alone is all that matters. If you say that you believe, you do not need to do anything else. There is not fraternity hazing that you have to go through.

            Do you know what you have to do, therefore, to be a Christian in good standing in this church? Do you have to carry a mark on your body? Do you have to give up eating a certain food? Do you have to say certain prayers everyday? Do you have to sign some doctrinal document of purity? No! Forget all that stuff! All that stuff is absolutely useless. There is nothing that you need do to be with Jesus as a Christian than to believe sincerely on him! That is to have faith.

             I want you to just put on your memory slate these two words in Latin: Sola Fide. This term in Latin was the basis of all that the Reformer Martin Luther really had to say to the church of his day. You see, it used to be that if you wanted to go to heaven, you went to the church and were told to do certain works. Some had to pay large sums to the church. Others had to donate labor or say prayers day and night in the sanctuary. Martin Luther looked at the Gospel of Jesus Christ and could not justify the church’s reliance on the good works of men in order to achieve heaven. Paul says it right here: Sola Fide. Nothing else can save you but belief in Jesus Christ.

 

            So, why do Christians strive to do good works? Why did Jesus himself do so many good works and miracles in his time? The answer is quite simple: Jesus, being God incarnate, could do no other. We do not do good works in order to get to heaven. We go to heaven because we believe in Jesus. Likewise, we do good works because we believe in Jesus. We do good works because of our faith—not instead of it!

           

            Okay, Paul uses the big words that makes this all seem so confusing. We can struggle through the big words to find the Truth of God just the same. Big words should not frighten us!  We have sola fide, a singular faith in the one who has shown us the Way. We accept the sacrifice that was made for us that we may one day also be with our God in heaven. We live by faith–not by sight. (Hebrews 11:1)

 

Amen.