“The word is very near you”
One of my deficiencies as a preacher is that I have largely neglected St. Paul’s epistles in favor of preaching on the Gospel story, or a story from the Hebrew Scriptures. (Sorry about that!) Paul’s discourses are more in the nature of instruction and argument than they are stories about people. Frankly, I prefer stories about people, which open up the thoughts and emotions of human beings trying to live good lives and find meaning. And of course Jesus is the most fascinating guy who ever lived, and I never tire of pondering his words and deeds.
But I chose a passage from Paul’s letters to his church in Rome this Sunday, to challenge myself (and you) to find its deep meaning. Paul declares that God’s word is near us, even in us, when we can confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in his resurrection from the dead. So what does that mean?
For me, this means that we see in Jesus the nature and purpose of God, and we embrace that for our own lives. We decide to make love the highest value in our words and decisions, and when we get off track, we turn back. Furthermore, when given the choice between death and life, we resolutely choose life (Deuteronomy 30). Or, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” For me, that means seeking fullness of life for myself and for others around me. That life comes through compassion, healing, and forgiveness, and renewal. It’s not necessarily physical life; it’s often mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and renewal.
I would go further and say that it’s not about believing the right doctrines and dogmas about Jesus (virgin birth, physical resurrection, etc.). It’s about trusting that Jesus shows us God’s nature, and deciding to follow.
Today’s move in the Way of Love (Bishop Curry’s practices for Christian living) is “Learn.” St. Paul is a teacher; he wants desperately for his hearers to learn, understand, and choose to follow the Way that Paul has found in Jesus. Our Gospel story today, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, is also a teaching moment. Life presents choices. Decisions must be made, and then we live with them. JBM