Food for Thought-Sometimes Paul Sounds Like Joel Osteen and I’m Not Sure I Like It (A Sermon on Romans 10:8-13)

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There’s something both right and wrong about this passage; something that bugs me.  I’m not entirely sure what “IT” is but here’s my best guess.  Paul, in his efforts to explain the basic elements of the Christian faith to the Roman church, makes “IT” sound easy.  “IT” is being a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.  That bothers me.  Why?  Because I know it’s not easy.  It sounds like he saying all one has to do is, “confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart your have faith that God raised him from the dead” and everything is set, it will all work out fine, and there will be no problems.  Christian belief has been reduced to a magic formula.

What we read in Romans 10:9 is quite possibly a line from an early Christian confession or creed.  Paul was quoting it back to them.  Statements of faith and creeds are important.  We know that no matter how many times we repeat the Apostle’s creed; being a Christian is not easy, simple, or problem free.    The words may be accurate but they don’t necessary make living any easier.  Yes, God is accessible.  Our faith is built on the idea that the barrier which once existed between humanity and God are permanently removed.  What bothers me most about Paul’s framing of God’s accessibility in Romans 10 is how similar it sounds to something Joel Osteen or a Christian self-help guru says.

Is it just about saying the words or the ability to connect the words with something tangible? This is real rubber meets the road kind of stuff.  Where God goes from theory to reality, where we connect belief with tangible action.  Lent helps us to prepare the groundwork for the reality of the Resurrection.  How do we do that beyond repeating “magic formula” phrases, sharing heretical memes on Facebook, giving up chocolate, or anything thing else that is relatively easy to do?

Salvation, Paul says, depends on our ability to do two things:  communicate (confess) and believe.  Most of the people Paul wrote to, even in an upscale place like Rome, never thought of “salvation” as a possibility for their lives.  They never knew they needed to be saved.  Saved from what, a Roman Gentile might ask? Those who believed in some type of an afterlife didn’t see where it mattered to them.  Salvation itself was a foreign concept.  How would they confess or believe in something they didn’t know they needed or understand?

What did Paul tell the Romans they needed to confess and believe in?  Was it that simply Jesus rose from the dead and if you believe in this you go to heaven when you die?  No.  He told them the Good News was about today; right here, right now.  Salvation was about both now and later.  To confess and believe didn’t pull you out of the mire, muck, and mess of your life but left you in it.  The Kingdom of God is built in muddy streets.  Salvation is realized and shared within our dysfunctional lives.  Empty tombs are seen in people who live despite the presence of death.  If you can see those things, then you’ve begun to connect the words of confession and the ideas of belief with the real world evidence of salvation.   Ultimately we believe, not because of what we confess or the specific words we say, but because of what we see and do.

I disagree with Paul and many others.  It no longer seems credible to me that someone’s salvation entirely depends on any human being’s ability to communicate, especially when you factor in cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, and other limitations.  It’s a really fragile claim to make.   Can my words save myself or others?  It’s a tentative argument at best.

In a verse left out (in fact, the next verse) of this lectionary passage, Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News?”   Paul opens the door to the idea that the Good News (Salvation) is something brought, given, and presented by others.  It is something done not words spoken.  We preach with our lives, not the creeds we recite or tracts we distribute.  Our smelly, nasty, hardworking feet are blessed, not our mouths, says Paul!  This is the Paul l know and love.

The Good News is infrastructure, peace, food, medicine, shelter, respect, love, humility, justice, and more.  Call it Salvation or the Good News.  Carry those gifts, with your feet, and your heart.  Speak few words.  People will see Christ and your confession.  When you beautiful, in articulate feet carry the Good News, it will be more powerful than any tear filled testimony or well-rehearsed, however Biblically correct formula.