Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Romans 10:8b-13
at St. John's Presbyterian Church on February 21, 2010
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); 9because 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. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
More and more people are losing their jobs in this poor economy. When they lose their jobs they lose their benefits, including health care. The politicians in Washington have been having a health care debate. In our text today, the Apostle Paul talks about the Creator's benefits plan. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." In that one word, "saved," Paul describes the creator's benefits plan. Our challenge is how best to share the Creator's Benefits Plan with others.
Paul feels obligated to preach to Gentiles (Rom. 1:14). Jesus describes salvation in a parable in which servants compel people to come to a banquet (Luke 14:23). The life of faith compels us to love others. Grace is so extraordinary; it has been known to compel people to do extraordinary things, to do things that fill one with dread, to go to places one would rather not go—like church.
In this church we do not focus so much on whether we are saved. We consider that to be God's business. Our business is to serve. We are saved to serve. Serve is what we do well here at St. John's. We have more effective outreach programs and projects per member than any other church I have known. Where we fall short in this church is in the area of making disciples by sharing our faith.
When you find something that brings pleasure into your life, you want to share it. A new place to eat, a good place to buy clothes, an excellent movie. We share with our friends that which improves our lives. So it is with our faith. When we have the love, joy and peace of Christ residing in our heart, we want to share it. And that is how the Christian community continues to expand. Word-of-mouth. We can do all the advertising in the world, but research shows that two-thirds to three-fourths of all new church members in this country responded because a friend or family member invited them. In fast growing churches, the range is two-thirds to seven-eighths, and in very rapidly growing churches invitations from friends or family members account for more than 90 percent of new members. (Schaller, September 3, 1975). " George G. Hunter, III, TO SPREAD THE POWER, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987).) Perhaps we fall short in sharing the faith because it is not a priority in our lives.
I read about an executive hirer, a "head-hunter" who goes out and hires corporation executives for other firms, who once said, "When I get an executive that I'm trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, then my vest, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he's all relaxed. Then, when I think I've got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, "What's your purpose in life?" It's amazing how top executives fall apart at that question.
He continued, "Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then I leaned up and said, 'What's your purpose in life, Bob?' And he said, without blinking an eye, 'To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.' For the first time in my career I was speechless." Too many of us are speechless when it comes to sharing our faith.
One way we can share our faith is by showing hospitality to visitors. Our Evangelism Committee has been having a discussion about how to do that. We talk about how we can be a more friendly congregation. The assumption is that if our church was more friendly then we would be growing in our membership and mission and spiritual life together.
Mark Galli recently wrote an article in Chrisitanity Today titled: "Should Churches Be as Friendly as Bars?" http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/februaryweb-only/17.41.0.html He notes, after home, churches still rank as the "friendliest place in town." Then come restaurants and bars, followed by grocery stores and coffee shops.
Gallis says we all recognize how much cultural clout the church has lost in the last century. The reasons for that are broad and complex, but he wonders if one reason is that too many churches strive to be perceived as friendly.
Think of any vital, critical institution in our country, and the representatives of that institution. Are we primarily looking for friendliness in our bank teller? In our senator? In our therapist? In our oncologist? It's a bonus if they are nice, but what we really want from the emergency room or Congress or our bank is an institution that is competent and which takes us seriously.
Gallis suggests that the culture no longer takes the church seriously because we don't take ourselves seriously? Could it be that the more we strive to be as friendly as a bar, the more we'll be viewed as seriously as people view a bar?
Galli interviewed The Message translator and spiritual theologian Eugene Peterson a few years ago. They were talking about the extraordinary efforts some churches make to be user-friendly, to be accessible, to be warm and inviting. Peterson said that he believes that visitors don't come to church to be entertained or to have people fawn over them. More than anything, he said, people want leaders in the church to take them seriously.
More than anything, they want to meet with other people who also struggle with life's deepest questions. They want to be with people who also know they are loved by a God who died for them. They want to join a company whom the Father in Heaven steadily draws closer to himself. They want to join a company of the committed who want to do more than be entertained at church or meet people in bars, who want to give themselves to a hurting world, even if it hurts.
When you belong to the fellowship of Christ, to the company of the committed, comfort is not the word that will describe your life.
Maintaining a sense of belonging is not easy. You will find yourself worshiping with people who irritate you, people with whom you disagree, people you find difficult to forgive at times. But the very reason you put up with their flaws and stupidities, and they with yours, is that you both belong to a family you cannot escape.
Furthermore, you don't really belong to a group until people feel free enough to tell you what they really think of you and free enough to talk about the deepest, most troubling realities.
In a place where people really belong, they are free to talk about the most uncomfortable things—sin and salvation, hate and forgiveness, suffering and hope, death and life. And they learn the fine art of forbearance and forgiveness. Merely friendly churches avoid such unpleasantness. But churches that take people seriously cannot avoid it.
God forbid that we would become cold, aloof, and rude to one another! And what a delight it is to walk into a church and to be greeted with warmth and befriended in practical ways. May our church be known for our hospitality—but also so much more.
It is startling, in fact, how little emphasis the Bible puts on friendliness as such. One of the few times the idea comes up explicitly, Jesus says this: "There is no greater love than that a man should give up his life for a friend." (John 15:13)
You cannot take another more seriously than that.
We need to learn to perceive one another and our guests as children of God. Look at another person and see the Christ in them. Then Paul's message begins to make sense, when he says, "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.'" (Romans 10:12-13)
The Creator's Benefits Plan is our salvation. Let's also make it our proclamation.