Romans 10. 5-15
Jesus doesn’t invite us to believe.
Jesus speaks us to believe.
Most of us have seen the painting at one time or another. Hanging on a wall at home. On a wall at the church. Christ at Heart’s Door by Warner Sallman. Jesus. In glowing robe. Standing beside a door. Knocking. And it’s, probably, taught us more about believing than anything. This is bottom-line American Christianity. Popular faith at its most basic. Revival. Born again. Freewill. And it all has to do with that door. Opening the door to let Jesus in! You see, there’s no knob on the outside, Jesus’ side. No latch. It can be only opened from the inside. All Jesus can do is patiently knock and wait for our response. Revelation 3. 20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking!” And the rest, the rest is up to you!” I grew up with that picture. If I didn’t have it right before my eyes, I’d see, I’d hear, a variation on it … on television, on radio, in the movies. Every time, it would be all about choices. Decisions. I guess that’s why polls consistently show that 80% of us Lutherans disagree with and don’t understand the basic teachings of the church. On worship. On baptism. On grace.
Like most of my generation, I was born into the Lutheran church. My parents had been Lutherans. My grandparents. Their parents and grandparents before them. I was baptized when I was six weeks old. Just because that’s the way it’d always been done, back then. I grew up in the church. I’ve served it as a pastor, for going on thirty-seven years now. And it says something when the words that jumped out at me, this morning, from Romans were …
… 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.
If you confess … If you believe … you will be saved! Those words are nothing less, nothing other, than a variation on a theme. Praying to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Inviting Jesus to be Lord of our heart. Opening the door to Jesus’ knocking. But you know, this isn’t how we picture it. This isn’t how we imagine it. Not as evangelicals. Not as a gospel-based, good news-rooted people. For us – foremost and first – faith isn’t our freewill. It’s not about decisions. It’s not about choices. Believing, for us, is about the power of words. The power of god’s words. In particular, the power of the gospel,.
When god spoke. In the beginning. When creation began. God said and it was! The darkness didn’t decide if it would allow the light to shine! The water didn’t choose whether or not it would give way to land! The sun and the moon and the starts didn’t elect what they would do! God spoke and it was! God speaks and it is! We don’t choose to believe! We don’t choose not to believe! We don’t decide whether or not to allow god to love us! God says, “I love you!” And we are loved! Period! End of sentence! And nothing … nothing is left to us! All we do is take god at god’s word! Or better yet, god’s word, simply, takes us! That’s why we Lutherans don’t have altar calls! It’s why we don’t have testimonies! Why we baptize babies! It’s not tradition! It’s not habit! It’s love! It’s love!
Faith isn’t about us. Believing’s not about us. It’s about god! God’s wants and god’s wishes! Not our whims! Not our fancies! I’m saved – we’re saved – not because we want to be! I’m saved – we’re saved – not because we wish to be! I’m saved – we’re saved – because god told us, because god tells us, we are! And given a choice between my decision and god’s decision, I choose god’s, each and every time! Sure, it’s biblical. And yes, it’s chapter and verse. But there’s more – much, much more – to it! God saves the same way god creates … through words! God remakes the same way god made …by speaking! Not writing, but speaking! For us, there is no door! For that matter, there are no roof, no windows, no walls! Jesus doesn’t knock. We don’t answer. Jesus doesn’t call us. Softly. Tenderly. Waiting patiently to see what we would do! Instead, Jesus speaks love! Jesus speaks charity! Jesus speaks grace! And that grace changes lives! That grace changes worlds!
We might have been trained to notice the words we do. They might be a part of the air we breathe, of the water we drink. If we put it to a vote, they’d, probably, win. But it’s not us. It’s, just, not who we are. Instead, it’s the words, the verses, at the end of the reading that speak the loudest ..
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?
It must, first, be spoken. Before a promise is trusted, it must, first, be spoken! Somebody has to start the dominos falling! Someone must first do something to set it all in motion! And of course, that somebody, that someone, is god! God the father! God the spirit! God the son!
We believe we are captive – in bondage – to sin! We believe we cannot free ourselves! Not by our own understanding! Not by our own reason! Not by our own strength! We can’t open the door! We can’t let Jesus in! We can’t save ourselves! We can’t, even, lend a hand! It’s a gift! Free! Unearned! Undeserved! It’s all grace! It’s all charity! It’s all love! From start to finish! From beginning to end! While some churches struggle to convert the world. We do what Jesus did! We do what Jesus, still, does! We love it! We love it! Jesus speaks a new world into being! Again and again! Over and over! And we do the same! Speak love to each other! Speak love to every sister, every brother! And there is no door that keeps us out! No door that stops us! Not even the ones locked for fear!
Whether we’re loved or not loved isn’t our choice to make! It isn’t up to us! It’s a decision that is god’s and god’s alone! And we have nothing to do with it! God loves us and we are loved! There’s nothing more to it, than that! Then … Then we, too, love! Love not in return, but in our turn! Love neighbors near and far! Love neighbors unknown and known!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! The love of god! The community – the kingdom – of the spirit! Is yours! All of yours! Always! That’s the gospel! The good news that sets us free! The message we proclaim! Administer! To continuing the liberating! The redeeming! The delivering! And there is no door! There’s only Jesus! Only grace! And it’s all yours! No ifs! No ands! No buts!