Sunday – Trinity 9
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’
1 Kings 19:9–18
8 I will listen to what the Lord God will say, •
for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful,
that they turn not again to folly.
9 Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, •
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth are met together, •
righteousness and peace have kissed each other;
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth •
and righteousness look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give all that is good, •
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him •
and direct his steps in the way.
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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 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. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
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? 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!’
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Sermon on Sunday – Trinity 9
I have been following Paul’s letter to the Romans as this letter forms the epistle readings for this part of the Trinity season. Central to our reading today, I think, is this:
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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
There is a disjunction in human life with regards faith, and here Paul points it out very starkly. On the one hand there is “lip service” – but here Paul is using this term in a fully positive way, not as we use it – and, on the other, there is the heart’s belief. These two must be joined for truly human authenticity, for a true faith. I am purposely using the phrase, “lip service” for what Paul is explaining here because of his quotation of the OT in this passage, a passage which I think Paul is repeating in his christian incarnation.
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
This is the heart Paul’s message here. Paul doesn’t want anything further from the faithful. The Word of God is on our lips – the Word of God is in our hearts. How much closer can that ultimate value be? So we should do ultimate ‘lip service’ to God, not the chattering which occurs among the masses, not that talk which uses every word but says nothing. When the christian does ‘lip service’, I would say he or she speaks the truth with love. We have talked about this before, but here we have an actual example presented to us by Paul. Paul is joining what we say with what we believe – in our heart. This is a difficult one for us to get to grips with, isn’t it?
The OT passage Paul is using in this whole chapter is from Deuteronomy – a book of the Law, the Torah. I don’t think this is merely a coincidence, for Paul is a Pharisee at heart, but his heart has been changed. In the previous chapter Paul speaks of speaking the truth which is confirmed in his conscience by the holy spirit. We have seen that his motive for his life is that of a mission to humanity, as he grieves and sorrows for his kindred, the Jews. This chapter continues this argument about salvation for the Jews and every single person on the planet, for that is Paul’s aim, to share salvation with all. Paul’s heart has been enlivened, it is true flesh in which lives the Law, but more important is what is on his lips.
Paul knows the truth of the Law as the sign of the Jews’ salvation, but he is preaching to the people of God because he wants them to know how close the Torah is to their lives, “on your lips and in your hearts” says the Law. This message is confirmed by the prophets who wanted to plant the law in the hearts of men, not to write it on slabs of stone, those stones which had replaced the hearts of flesh, that feeling part of human being – that part of the human being where life resides, which connects humanity with divinity. The prophets wanted to give the Jews the living hearts which embodied the law in its very fibre, not just etched on the outside.
Paul is continuing his mission to the Jews in this letter to the Romans. He is writing to a congregation which is based on the Law – at least that is what many scholars see when they analyse the community which received this epistle. This is a significant point in the letter in terms of his language.
Here in the letter Paul joins all of humanity. He wrote to them, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all.” Greek was a name which the Jews called anyone who was not of Abraham. By joining the two peoples – Jews and Greeks, ‘us’ and ‘them’ – Paul is speaking to humanity. He is explicitly revealing the gift of a universalist salvation. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” What more need Paul say about the intention of his mission?
If this is a legalistic community in Rome, as the scholars suggest, his argument must be very strong and clear to anyone who has any inkling of the faith the Jews reveal through following the law. He speaks of the people of God, the “sons of the living God”. He is quoting the prophets up to this point. Now he presents the Law as confirming what he has preached in truth, that truth which his conscience has confirmed in the holy spirit. The prophet Joel spoke of the spirit of God coming on the people so that the Law would be their very hearts. And here Paul brings in the Torah for its own sake. I would say that this rhetoric would have been very strong to his audience, the congregation to whom his letter was read. Paul is offering them salvation again, in their own tradition.
However, Paul is not relying on the jots and tittles of legalism with which Jesus had struggled – that legalism which had paralysed Paul before his journey to Damascus. Now Paul is relying on the law which is written on the hearts of all, what everyone can speak about – if they really do call upon the Lord of their hearts.
“Lip service” reveals the heart, as Paul’s letter says here. “Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it.” Paul wants every person to be integrated, that the Law will be his righteousness and his righteousness will be the heart of his life.
Paul has great hopes for everyone. He sees that righteousness is attainable. Paul sees the Torah as the true heart of humanity, where what is right is at the core of life. The Pharisees with their jots and tittles have missed the point of the Law. I think that is why Paul speaks of the holy spirit as confirming the truth of what he is saying. With practice righteousness becomes part of what a person is. That is why we say we “practice religion”. That is why I think Paul is so keen on the heart and the lips here in this passage.
In the musical Fiddler on the Roof the mother sings of whether she loves her husband. She has done so many tasks in the household for twenty-five years, but she realises that she does love him. She has become what she wanted to be, the loving wife of a good man. Again, I speak of love as a way of understanding the life of faith. Always in love we have the wholeness of the person before God. Paul is making this same point for us today, but he is integrating heart and lips in service. There will be no disjunction between heart and lips, faith and salvation will be the perfect intersection of all parts of the human being.