God is always doing a new thing. This we believe. Yet despite our belief about the eternal workings and creativity of God, we humans have a tendency to cling to our ideas of how God works, thus in our minds, we keep God and God’s potentiality in a box.
Our lessons today all point to the fact that God has always been doing new things for the sake of God’s relationship with humankind. Our Christian witness tells the story of the way in which God has done the greatest new thing in sending God’s own Word to dwell with, in and around us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ into the world, the biggest game changer there ever was or will be.
Still, the wall we consistently smack into, comes because we are so entrenched in our ideas of what was. We are attached like barnacles to a pilings and rocks to the way things have always been. This includes our understanding of how God works, despite the biblical witness of God’s unceasing pursuit and faithfulness to this relationship God desires; to our welfare and salvation. All of our previous and current understandings of how things work are both limited and limiting.
In the August issue of The Lutheran magazine, Pastor, author, and columnist Peter Marty reflected in an article entitled “God language,” on the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar module landing. Marty helps us remember that at the moment that his feet hit the dirt (or whatever you call the substance covering the surface of the moon), Neil Armstrong uttered the now-legendary words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Marty comments that if this historic moment had occurred just 15 years later, cultural shifts would likely have insisted on more inclusive language, influencing this statement instead to be something like, “One small step for man,” [or, even, person, I would suggest] “one giant leap for humankind.”
Marty writes, “Language changes over time. In the church,
however, we can be slow to make adjustments to linguistic shifts.” Marty then expounds on the patterns and impetus for using gendered language for God, and the problems and limitations of such language; but I believe that the application of his illustration goes far beyond linguistic tendencies and applies as well to the ways in which we understand God, how God is working, and how our lives are impacted by God’s grace and mercy. God always doing a new thing for the good of humankind and for the sake of God’s eternal relationship with us is illustrated in each of our readings today, and is a topic Paul continues to wrestle with in the epistle reading.
Readings from Romans remind us of how Jesus’ faithfulness expanded “God’s circle of mercy and grace” to include those previously considered excluded…emphasizing just how new a thing God has done in Christ.
You might remember that in this portion of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Paul is addressing what is a point of crisis for him. This crisis arises from the fact that most of the Jewish people, his people, have not accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t understand why this gospel has had no effect on them. What is God’s plan here? What new thing is God still doing in the life of these people?
As in chapters 1 – 3 of this same epistle, Paul asserts that both Jews and Gentiles alike are estranged from God and under the power of sin. All suffer from disobedience to God in some form. All reject God’s love and God’s law to some extent. But for Paul there is good news in this: God still saves people out of those conditions. God remains faithful. God is merciful to all and so through the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the word of salvation is still very near, for everyone.
The Greek word, pas, is used repeatedly in this section of the Paul’s letter – a fact that points to its importance in this scripture. This word can be translated as either all or everyone:
All of this is because God is faithful. God is relentless in God’s attempts to win heart and soul of all. God pursues all people to the end of the world. And in God’s faithful, relentless pursuit, God is doing a new thing here: God has become the righteousness of everyone who believes in God and calls upon God’s name, and in Jesus Christ God has opened the gates of life for all.
Lest we forget this, in chapter 9:15 Paul reminds us of the foundation of God’s promise to Moses, spoken in the wilderness tent: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The extent and purpose of God’s righteousness will be determined by God, and God alone. God will not be boxed in by the limitations of our thinking, believing or understanding. Further, “Those who were not my people I will call my people.” (9:15)
For those who still believe that it is their participation in the law that saves, Paul adds, “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Christ both fulfills and annuls the law. Borrowing from the beautiful words of our psalm reading for the day, in Christ, God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (85:10)
Paul’s point is twofold and is relevant for us today. First, we ought not presume that we can make our salvation happen; not by following the law, not by doing good works, not by praying the right prayers, singing the right songs, not even by possessing the “correct understanding” of how God works. Our righteousness is the result of God’s effort. We don’t manufacture our salvation or attain new life on our own. Christ is the means of God’s manifestation of life for all, and God claims us through the faithfulness of Christ. God will give what is good for all.
The good news in this word is the accessibility of God that is inclusive and broad in its scope: Christ’s faith is a game-changer in our walk with God. The embodiment of faith, first and foremost, is the faithfulness of Jesus that brings new life. And for all of us who have tired and failed at perfection, this is good news. For all of us who have known times of trial and doubt, this is good news. For all of us who have been worn down by the idea that unless we are able to live sinless lives we are doomed or that God cannot forgive us our failings and sin because they are too large, this is good news that we can embrace.
So where, we might ask, does the law come in? When we believe in Christ and Christ lives in our hearts, our faith is evident in our actions. It is not our actions that save us. But in faith, our actions, influenced by the law and inspired by Christ bring the good news of God’s love and mercy for the world.
In study with one of our Confirmation students this week, the topic of discipleship came up. We talked a bit about the measure of discipleship that was made popular a few years ago; WWJD - What Would Jesus Do? Remember that? The idea was that each of us, along with all who believe in Jesus are disciples and that fact impacts our lives in ways that are evident to the world.
So “What Would Jesus Do” became the mark and measure for our decisions and behaviors in order to guide, rather than condemn. The law works in the same way. For disciples, living in obedience to the law of God made evident through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus becomes a way of life. For disciples, living Christ-shaped lives becomes our goal. In his book entitled “Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing World,” Michael Foss describes the six marks of this kind of life. According to Foss, the marks of discipleship are Prayer, Worship, Scripture, Service, Relationships, and Giving. According to Foss, developing these areas of our lives will help us to grow in our relationship with God and will grow our discipleship in the world.
What does it mean, then, for God to work in and through Christ, and always, still, doing a new thing? Where do we see God working in this way in our lives and in the world?
The final verse of this second reading points to the answer: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” This declaration points to the text from Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns.” Today, this messenger announces the presence and victory of God. Today, this messenger proclaims the good news of God in Christ through word and action. Today those whose feet are beautiful, share God’s love, peace and mercy through acts of kindness, love, compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness and generosity. The disciple of Christ is this messenger. The disciple whose feet are beautiful who make God known to the world is you. And me. May it be so.