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I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lord's Day Message: How We Proclaim


Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”  But the righteousness that is by 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 deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:5-15 NIV)

Introduction
We began our series on Proclamation three weeks ago by asking the first of the six “reporter’s questions:” Who do we Proclaim?  And you know; a lot of preaching goes wrong because preachers fail at this most basic point.  Paul said, “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  So much of preaching today is personal stories instead of Gospel narrative. Even if the stories are about how God worked in your life, they somehow draw attention away from the life of Christ and onto the life of the preacher.   When you walk away from worship this morning, what will you have learned?  Will you have learned that the first conversation you have when you step out into the hallway should be about you, or will you have learned that it should be about your Lord?  

Who do we proclaim?  If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and the chief expression of the glory of God is found in Jesus, then who we proclaim must be Jesus Christ as Lord and then we must back it up with lives of service, giving of our time, our talent, and our resources so that other will see, not us, but Christ in us. 

The second week we asked, what is it that prepares us to proclaim Christ in all his glory?  And we saw that it is not our mastery of theology or our knowledge of the things of God that prepares us to proclaim, but rather our weakened condition.  The full witness of the narrative of Jesus’ life tells us this is so.  Jesus identified with the poor, the broken, the humiliated, the abused, the demon possessed, the crippled, the spiritually empty, the prisoner, they physically and emotionally challenged.  And he always had a kind word for them.  “Blessed,” he said “are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”  When John’s disciples came and asked him if he was the promised Messiah, Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” 

Listen Church: Jesus actually meant what he said.  He was not speaking figuratively.  Jesus actually did what he said.  The people Jesus had the most uncharitable words for were the rich, the powerful, and the self-sufficient.  Jesus said, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”  We need to learn what Peter learned at the last supper: if we don’t admit that we are dirty and in need and let Jesus wash us – every day – then we have no part of him.

Jesus actually meant what he said, and he actually expects those who follow him to do the same.   What prepares us to proclaim Christ is not our ability to balance the books, it is our ability to bind up the broken.  What prepares us to proclaim Christ is not the check we cash, it is the curse we correct.  What prepares us to proclaim Christ is not our position of power, it is us in our weakness, pouring out the strength of Christ for the poor.   What prepares us to proclaim Christ is the fact of our poverty.  In God’s economy you are going to be poor.  You can either be poor in things and rich toward God or you can be poor toward God and rich or powerful.  But you cannot have both.

For those of you who missed the first two messages, there’s the catch-up.  That is Who we Proclaim and What Prepares us to Proclaim.   But please don’t think that means you can come to worship once every three weeks and not miss anything.  Besides, worship isn’t about preaching.  Worship is about what preaching is about.  Worship is about Jesus.  And as we move forward as a church, we are going to need to ask at every turn, about everything we do here on a Sunday morning and about every activity we enter into as a church, “Is this about Jesus or is this about something else. 

That’s why we have to ask the question, “How do we proclaim?”   If you’re not already there, turn again in your Bibles Romans 10, beginning at verse 5. 

(Pause…Pause…Pause)

Okay.  What just happened?  How many of you just reached under the seat in front of you and picked up one of the black Pew Bibles we have conveniently supplied for each other to use?   It is okay.  If you did just do that, that’s great.  I really do mean it when I tell you to open the Bible.  And if you have brought your own copy with you to worship, so much the better.  You’ll be more familiar with the way your own copy looks, and it will make it easier for you to find passages.

Romans 10:5 begins, “Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law.”  Where does Moses say that?  In what context?  The Jews of the first century knew where to find it.  That’s because they had been taught the Word.  And there was a sizable Jewish enclave living in Rome in the mid-50s AD.  They had heard about Jesus, but to this point, probably the spring of 56 or 57 AD, none of the Apostles had yet visited them.  But a church was springing up there, made up of Jews who believed that in order to be a Christian you had to follow the Law of Moses first and pagans who had formerly believed in the Roman Pantheon of gods.  Paul wrote his letter to help correct the errors both sides still had, and to help unify this diverse and cosmopolitan body. 

He begins this section by making a distinction.  Moses writes in Leviticus 18:5 about the righteousness that is by the law.  How many of you knew that was where Moses said that?  And what did Moses actually write?  Leviticus 18:1 begins, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Does that sound difficult to you?  Do you know how many times in the Old Testament God says, “Thou Shalt?”  Right about 9000.  That means that if you want to live by the Law there are 9000 different things you’re going to have to keep straight in order to do it.  And that’s just the positive commands.  There are also 365 “Thou Shalt Not’s” – one for each day of the year.   That doesn’t sound difficult to me, that sounds impossible.

But Paul goes on to quote Deuteronomy 30.  Listen to how Moses unraveled the tight knot of the Law: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

What he’s saying is that the use or value of the Law was never in knowing every last stroke of the written code.  It is not a body of knowledge that is out there somewhere, and you have to somehow get the best teachers, and sit and study and memorize and sift through until you somehow become conversant with it. 

The Word is very near you.  Without ever once saying that the written code isn’t valuable, both Moses and Paul are saying that, even in a day when we can reach out a mere 2 feet and pull enough bibles out from under the pew in front of us so that each and every one of us can read the Word simultaneously for ourselves; even in a day when we can turn push a button on our Smart Phone and in seconds access 50 or more versions of the Bible online; even in a day when you are never out of reach of a Bible if you want to use it, the written Word will always lead you to legalism if you treat it as an academic exercise. 

How do we proclaim Christ?  Not by having the Word in our hand, but by being the Word in our speech and our actions.  The value of the written Word is not that it is a textbook to teach us.  The value of the written Word is that it is the living God trying to reach us.  You need the Word in your mouth and in you heart, not so that you can spout it back on command, but so that you can learn to hear the voice of God when he speaks and learn to do what he is telling you.  The Word is a dynamic of a living relationship; it is not a written exercise.

How do we proclaim in our preaching?  First and foremost, by being the Word to the poor, the stranger, the oppressed, and to those in any need.  The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so… that… you… can… do… it.”

But notice that, when Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30, he doesn’t finish it.  Look at verse 8 “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”  Where’s the end of the sentence?  He doesn’t need it.  His Jewish audience knew the end of that sentence by rote.  To a Jew there was no difference between believing and doing.  When they heard that true religion was to remember the poor and the needy, they understood that remembering is not just an activity of the heart or mouth.  To a first century Jew, you had not remembered the poor until you went to them and did something about what you believed.

No, Paul doesn’t finish the sentence his Jewish audience knew because he is mashing it together with the sentence his pagan audience knew.  They were being introduced to Jesus from scratch.  They hadn’t had the Law of Moses drummed into them from an early age.  They were learning Christ be what we now call catechesis – a series of short questions and answers.  We’ve already done a bit of that here in the last three weeks.  I asked you a question a couple of weeks ago.  I said, “What is the chief end of Man?”  And I am teaching you to answer, “The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

Can you do it with me?  Church: “What is the chief end of Man?” 

(they repeat) “The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

Now, the question Paul is answering here is, “How is a person saved?”  And the answer the Roman converts had been trained to respond with was, “: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  And like any good catechism, Paul takes a minute and explains what the question and answer mean.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” 

But that’s not the main thing Paul is after here.  We read this with our 21st century Evangelical ears and hear it as a if it were an evangelistic tract: “The way of Salvation, all in one verse,” or something like that.  But I suspect his Jewish audience heard Deuteronomy 30, and his pagan audience heard the catechesis they had been taught.  And Paul is asking his audience to think… to really think 

Preaching ought to put a strain on your mind and your presuppositions.  Preaching ought to put a strain on your prejudices and cultural standards.  Preaching ought to make you engage heart and mind and hand and voice.  Which makes you wonder why we have relegated corporate preaching to 9:30 on a Weekend morning in our culture, when half of us are trying to recover from whatever we were doing on Saturday night and the other half of us are only partly here because we’re thinking about what we need to cram into what is going to be left of our Sunday.  Wouldn’t it be better if our main preaching service was in Prime Time on a Weeknight? 

But Paul isn’t just giving his audience the answer.  He’s stretching them.  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Folks, the club is a lot bigger than you thought.  You Jewish believers: the pagans are getting into the kingdom of God the same way you are.  You Pagan converts: don’t look down your nose at the deep legacy the Jews bring to the faith.  Jesus is Lord of all, or he isn’t Lord at all. 

How do we proclaim?  Church, we must not preach an academic faith that requires a Master’s degree before we will put our stamp of approval on it and let someone into the club; nor does our religious background limit your ability to apprehend the Word we preach.  We must cast a very wide net if we are to be fishers of men.  

How do we proclaim?  By casting our net wide in heart and mind and hand and voice.  Look at verses 14 and 15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? – there’s the heart.  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? – there’s the mind.   And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? –there’s the voice.  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? – there’s the hand.   As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

In a moment we are going to share together in the Lord’s Supper.  There is still plenty of room at the table.  The full number of those whom the Lord is calling, the full number of those who will call upon the name of the Lord, has not yet been reached.   In the world of the 21st century, they will not beat down the doors to be a part of something they believe is a dead religion or irrelevant to their lives.  We must go to them.  The mission field isn’t in a foreign country.  It is right here.  According to recent statistics only about 10% of Connecticut has any kind of religious affiliation.  What percent do you think knows Christ? 

How do we proclaim?  In every way.  How do we proclaim?  There’s a world out there that needs to see Jesus.  How do we proclaim?  In every way.  There are people around you who need to know that Jesus is not just a creed or an icon.  How do we proclaim?  (get them to repeat)  In every way.  They’ll never come to know Christ if we don’t use our mind, our voice, our heart, and our hands.  Church: HOW DO WE PROCLAIM?

In EVERY way.


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