More than Words

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 10, 2014.

Reading: Romans 10:8-13

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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In order to keep some routine in our house, Stella typically goes upstairs to bed between 6:20 and 6:45.  The bedtime routine commenced something like this: Chandra or I go upstairs to put Stella in her pajamas, the other one goes to make a warm milk “baba” and we all reconvene for books “in the big bed” (which as of late has been a lot of Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin and One, Two, Three by Sandra Boynton).  After books we head to for our last restroom break of the day, then go to the rocker in Stella’s room where Stella snuggles chicken and dada snuggles Stella.  We then sing “You Are My Sunshine.”  And, let me tell you the cutest thing ever is when she sings it with me, she sings off beat like Willie Nelson and alters the lyrics: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, I make you happy when skies are grey…”  Ah, makes my heart melt each time she sings along.  At any rate, we sing together and then walk over to the crib.  As I lay her down, she gets three kisses as I say: “Dada loves Stella.  Momma loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.”  This has been the routine since she was a couple of months old.

This past week, we were going through the routine as normal: jammies, baba, books, potty, “Sunshine,” kisses.  But this particular night, as I was laying her down—“Dada loves Stella.  Momma loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella.  Everybody loves Stella”—she said, “Jesus loves Stella too.”  “Yes, baby,” I responded, “Jesus loves Stella too.”

Now to be completely honest, we have been singing, pretty regularly, “Jesus Loves Me”—it is her favorite “dada song” that she often sings with mamma—nevertheless, it was a moment that made me smile.  My heart was strangely warmed.  Stella is beginning to learn about faith.  She’s gaining a vocabulary that will, I pray, enable her to one day confess faith for herself.

Our lesson for today gives us a good understanding of what it means to confess our faith.  It also gives us a clue on how we might lead others to confess faith for themselves.  Why is all this confession important?

Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. 11 The scripture says,All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. 13 All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.

Romans 10:9-13, Common English Bible

Confess.

The dictionary defines it as an act of acknowledgement, “to own or admit as true.”[1]  When we confess something, we live as if it is indubitably true.  To confess something means to claim it has fact.

When we confess faith in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that God loved us so much that at the right time, God came to live among us.  We had forgotten what it meant to live at peace with God and neighbor; so, God—in the person of Jesus Christ—came to show us “the way” that leads to life.  God came, showed us the path to peace and love, but we wanted nothing to do with it.  We tried to push God, Jesus, so far away that we tortured him and sentenced him to a cruel death, and when we were sure he was good and dead we placed him in a borrowed tomb and sealed it with the biggest rock we could find.  But not a rock, not our ignorance, and even death could separate us from God’s love for us and God’s desire for us to be wholly happy and at peace.  Three days later after his death, three days after we thought he had breathed his last, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared over the course of 40 days to those (friends, disciples and otherwise) whose hearts were open to the unlikely possibility of God’s never-failing love.  After forty days, Christ “ascended” into heaven, promising to be with us—active in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit—through the end of time.

Or, in the words of Paul, who was actually quoting Deuteronomy (30:14): “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart” (Romans 10:8b, Common English Bible).  That is, God is so close you can taste and feel in the deepest parts of your soul his presence.  God is with us and all the world!

Friends, this is the gospel—the good news, the truth of God’s loves.

But how can people acknowledge a truth they’ve not known or experienced?  “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” (Romans 10:14, New Revised Standard Version)?  People can’t confess something they have no concept of.

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On the night of my “take-in” (which is United Methodist speak for the first time I came to Norwich to see the facilities and meet with representatives of Lee Memorial Church) the Staff Parish Relations Committee had a series of questions that they asked me.  They were trying to feel out—discern—if my ministry style and leadership would be a good match for the church.  In all honesty, I can’t remember all the questions that were asked, but I do remember one.  I believe it was Chris Glenney who asked (I’m paraphrasing best I can recall): “Mainline denominations, including the United Methodist Church, are in decline in the United States.  Why?  And what can we do about it?”

My response: The decline of the church is no longer just a “mainline” (i.e. Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, UCC) issue.  The church is declining across most (if not all) large denominations across the United States.  The church in the United States is in decline—not because the 10 Commandments are being taken out of the public square, not because “prayer has been taken out of our schools—the church is in decline because followers of Jesus have not given people a convincing reason to believe.  I don’t think we’ve done a good job of demonstrating that God’s abiding presence in Jesus Christ makes a lick of difference in our lives.  Let’s face it, Christians can be some of the meanest, most judgmental, and inhospitable people we know.  And people who don’t yet know of God’s love in Jesus Christ are looking at us—“Christians—saying, I don’t need anything that’s going to make my life more difficult and broken.

Put another way, we’ve not given people the language necessary to proclaim faith for themselves.  We’ve done a lousy job of confessing our faith—acknowledging, claiming for ourselves, and sharing our experiences of God presence in our lives.

It’s somewhat ironic to me that many a street preacher would look to our lesson for today (Romans 10:8b-13) as justification for what I consider fear based evangelism: that is evangelism where we literally try to scare the hell out of people so that they’ll say a prayer and “accept Jesus into their life.”  The irony is that we don’t have to force the Gospel down people’s throats, God’s already there.  In Paul’s words, “The word [of God] is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8b, New Revised Standard Version).

So what is Paul getting at?

It’s here that we could learn something from the “hair band” Extreme.  In 1991 they released a song entitled “More than Words.”  Admittedly, this song played endlessly on the adult contemporary station that my parents forced me to listen to as a child.  It’s one of those sappy songs I absolutely despise, but just can’t get out of my head.

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cos I’d already know[2]

That is, words alone are insufficient in declaring one’s love.  There are many of us who are much better at saying we God and others than we are at actually living it out.  Paul, and the 80’s hair band Extreme, remind us that confessing our love may begin with words, but it ends in actions.

Therefore, live as if God’s presence makes a difference in your life and the world!  What you’ll find is that as you begin to confess—acknowledge, claim for ourselves—the presence of God in your life trusting that God’s steadfast love will endure…  When you truly believe that

nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.[3]

When you confess with your lives that God is near others will begin to do the same.

 

 

[1] “confess.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (Random House, Inc.) <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/confess> Accessed August 8, 2014.

[2] “More than Words” by Extreme as quoted at AZLyrics.com <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/extreme/morethanwords.html> Accessed August 8, 2014.

[3] Romans 8:38-39, Common English Bible).