By Dan Carew, Lay Preacher
Thank you God for the faith of Saint Andrew and through his actions we can see a way.
When I read these scripture passages together I see a number of references to commandments, decrees and edicts. It gets me thinking, what commandments are we talking about, why are they important and how are we to respond with our lives?
Since humanity’s awareness of God, it seems we have sought and heard from God about what it is we are to do, how we are to live, and what is required of us - in essence how do we obtain righteousness before God. Some of that history is referenced in today’s readings, and while I see this as a bit of an evolution, I don’t believe that God has changed their nature or character one bit, but rather we, as humans, throughout time, have missed the point, poorly understood the guidance we have been given, or let our personal thoughts and biases about the world around us get in the way.
In the passage from Deuteronomy, we hear Moses referencing a commandment in his words to the people of Israel. However, from today’s selection we do not have an indication of what it is. To know the context better we need to go back to the beginning of Deuteronomy 30, where Moses tells the people that when they “return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all of your heart and all of your soul” then God will do a number of things such as “restore fortunes”, “have compassion”, “gather the people” and bring them to “the land of their ancestors”. Verse 10 specifically states:
Obey his commandments and statutes written in the Book of the Law, … because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul.
The people of Israel have heard similar words from Moses before in Deuteronomy Chapter 6, where nearly the same thing is stated to them. “Keep all his decrees and his commandments” (6:2) and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”(6:9). For the Israelites, turning to God with your whole being, meant that one would also adhere to the decrees and commandments in the “Book of the Law” - their right standing before God was directly related to their rule following.
So here in today’s lesson, Moses is petitioning the people to follow God with their whole being, heart and soul, and now knowing some of the previous context we can understand more of Moses' angle.
This thing that Moses is asking the people to do, surely it “is not too hard”, “too far way”, or requires one to “cross to the other side of the sea”. I imagine Moses taking on one of two roles in this instance. The first is that of a coach during the halftime of a sporting match, he’s giving the people of Israel a pep talk. The other role is that of a sarcastic, and perhaps cynical, sage who in anticipation and understanding knows how humans respond when they are asked to take action toward something they know that they should do – they create excuses to avoid doing that thing.
The commandment that he is speaking to the people is “very near” to them. It is in their mouths. It is in their hearts. It's right there. They’ve observed it before. They’ve followed the commandment before. They’ve had right standing with God previously through the Law.
Moving to the selection from the psalms, we see language referencing statues, commands and decrees and the benefits of adhering to them.
What has brought on these phrases? The psalmist is describing the natural world around them and it invokes an awareness of and actions towards something bigger than they are - the LORD, God. Much like Moses pleading with the people of Israel, the psalmist lays out a case for following and keeping the commandments of God. They are proclaiming something marvelous and powerfully life changing. They conclude with petitions for their purity (“cleanse me”), protection(“let them not get dominion over me”), restoration(“then shall I be whole and sound”) and their righteousness (“let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight”). They find their right-standing with God, through their adherence to God’s commandments.
In the selection from the Letter to the Romans, we hear of a new way. To understand this better we need to be aware of the verses that precede today’s reading. In this section of Paul’s letter, and what I mean is Chapter 10, he talks of Moses’ writings about righteousness based on the Law, and juxtaposes it with Christ, who Paul states “is the end of the law so there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”(verse 4). He continues and speaks of “the righteousness that comes from faith” (verse 6). Then we arrive at the beginning of today’s selection “the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”, a direct reference to our reading from Deuteronomy. In the reading from Deuteronomy, the word was referencing the Law; here, as Paul clarifies, it is “the word of faith”. Paul goes on, “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” There is an internal and external representation to the faith - heart and mouth.
In verse 12, Paul continues with ageless words for the folks of all time - past, present and future - “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.” The “Jew” and “Gentile” indication should not leave us thinking all about Jewish people; we have two distinct people groups with their own history in the Bible - the Jewish people, chosen people of Yahweh, and everyone else. The promise that Paul is talking about is that while for many years God seemed to only favor one people group, Jesus’ incarnation has revealed that God's salvation is available to all people “Jews and Gentiles”. Elizabeth Shivley, summarizes this new revelation nicely in a commentary on Romans Chapter 8. She states, “The ease of God’s redemption is that people are justified (made righteous, given right standing) not by keeping the law, but by faith. The extent of God’s redemption is that this expression of faith apart from the law makes salvation accessible to both Jew and Gentile”
The Romans selection this morning ends with Paul posing some hypothetical questions for his Jewish audience to consider in regards to those that may be outside of Jewish understanding of God. Paul responds to his questions and assures his audience that the good news is being proclaimed and that it is how those who don’t know God become aware of God. It, the opportunity of faith, comes to us “through the word of Christ” because we have heard. In the last verse of the selection today, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”, you’ll notice that these are the words of the psalmist from verse 4 of today’s psalm selection. The generosity and graciousness of God has been proclaimed, is being proclaimed and will be proclaimed.
Lastly, in our Gospel reading today we see a call and a response; an opportunity to have faith and an action expressing faith. We read of one of our namesake saints and his brother being given an opportunity to follow Jesus the Christ, and their immediate action of following. Now, here is something interesting to consider: Andrew could have been Greek. He has a Greek name. Born in Bethsaida, in Galilee where the Greek language and culture were very present at that point in history. However, it is more likely that he is Hellenized, coming from a family that adopted Greek culture, hence the two brothers, one with a Greek name, the other with an Aramaic name. In either case, Jesus’ actions, not just here in Matthew but throughout the Gospels, foreshadow Paul’s statement of salvation for all - “Jew and Gentile”, thus cracking open the door of enlightenment that God is the God of all people, not just a selected group of people group.
At the beginning of this sermon, I mentioned an evolution of how we obtain right standing before God. If we think about this in chronological order, we start with the Old Testament and the adherence to the Mosaic Law as a form of obtaining right standing with God. We then get a glimpse through the life and ministry of Jesus - his words and actions towards people of various backgrounds - that access to God is beginning to change. Lastly, we have Paul making the proclamation that there is “no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” Right standing before God is accessible to all people. If we confess with our mouth and believe in our hearts, salvation is ours.
May we all take advantage of God’s generosity and grace by proclaiming our belief in Jesus Christ. Amen.
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