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19th sunday in ordinary time

Romans 10:5-15

Five Steps of Faith

Romans 10:5-15

The Church In China

Two years after their take over of China in 1949, the Communist party expelled some 10,000 missionaries from the mainland thereby ending the era of western evangelization in the largest Asian country. During the Cultural Revolution of the 60's, the Communist party declared China a religion-less state. Churches and mosques were closed. Every religion encountered persecution. Believers who met in “house churches” were arrested, beaten, and put into prison. Their Bibles and meeting places were destroyed. Even today while the Chinese government officially allows churches to conduct worship services, Christians still suffer persecution. In May police raided approximately 100 “house-churches” in a northern province, detaining almost 600 believers. Most were released but over 100 leaders remain in custody. Two days later in another province, three women were arrested, held for two days and brutally beaten. One suffered a heart attack. Given the intensity of the persecution in Communist China, we need to ask ourselves, how has the Church in China not only survived but thrived?

One author explained “It is because the Chinese can't live on bread (or rice), computers and mobile phones alone. Whether it is indigenous Falun Gong (that the Chinese government ruthlessly crushed) or alien Christianity, the Chinese need some food for soul.“1 While there is a spiritual hunger in China after 56 years of Communist rule, that alone does not explain the growth in both the officially registered churches and the unofficial “house churches.” The owner of a beauty salon, Xun Jinzhen, near the Beijing zoo provided additional insight to a reporter:

City people have real problems, and mental pain, that they can't resolve on their own, "So it's easy for us to convert these people to Christianity. In the countryside, people are richer than before, but they still have problems with their health and in family relationships. Then it's also very easy to bring them to Christianity."2

Xun's shop gives more than facials and manicures. Last year alone he introduced over 40 people to his church. His success is related to his aggressive strategy. Notice that Xun states “it's ...very easy to bring them to Christianity.” He does not wait for people to ask. He does not sit by his church's telephone hotline waiting for people to call. He actively brings them to Christ. Xun's witness is a dramatic illustrations of Paul's words,

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? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent?

Calling

The process of salvation is an active five-step movement—of calling, believing, hearing, preaching, and sending. Paul presents the elements in reverse order. He begins with the end. The process is completed when a person calls upon God. Salvation is not secured until a person takes what he has come to believe and responds. Information alone does nothing. Knowledge must be applied. While salvation is not secured by adherence to the Law for Paul, salvation still requires a human response.

Jesus uses the same approach in his teaching ministry. His parables are not entertaining stories. They are not intellectual anecdotes to stimulate speculative thinking. He tells the stories to elicit a response. He says a parable, “Here is what the kingdom of God is like.” He then expects a response. His tone holds a sense of urgency. He calls for a choice. Jesus compliments the decisive person and warns the procrastinator.

This is not easy for us. We have a tendency to hold back, to wait. We would prefer that God would do everything for us. We are like a dialysis patient that passively sits in a chair watching her blood flow through the tubes. She does nothing. The harmful toxins in her blood are removed by the chemical process of osmosis. Paul says that a person is saved when he or she calls upon the name of the Lord.

Believing

Before we can call upon God to save us, Paul states, we must believe. He is very specific about the object our faith. He is not advocating for a belief in a nebulous higher power. He is not suggesting that wishful thinking will accomplish the intended results. Paul is very focused on the content of our beliefs. He tells the churches in Rome that they are to place their trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul's intent is obvious. Before we can trust in God to save us, we must know that he is able to accomplish that which he promises.

When Sarah was in elementary school she and a friend, Brooks, were playing on a jungle gym set. Sarah was several feet off the ground. Brooks told her to jump and she would catch her. Trusting her best friend at her word, Sarah jumped and struck her head on either the ground or a pole. A few minutes later she complained to the teacher about having a headache. On her way to the office she threw up. Assuming that she had the flu, the office staff called me and told me to come and take Sarah home. It was not till the next day that we learned what had happened. In piecing together the story we decided that Sarah had suffered a concussion due to her unqualified belief in her friend's ability to “save” her. By pointing to the resurrection, Paul proves to both Gentile and Jew that God does not promise something he cannot fulfill. God is able to save them because he raised Christ from the tomb.

Hearing

Before we can call upon God we must believe that he is powerful enough to save us but before we believe we must hear the message. Hearing is a multi-layered phenomena. Simply because our ear drums have detected sound emanating from the mouth of another person does not mean that we have heard them. Hearing a message, also requires the ability to decipher the sounds into intelligent speech and to interpret that speech into a meaningful message. The slang expression, “I hear you,” captures the essence of Paul's words. The listener is acknowledging that she has not only heard the words but has also grasped the meaning of the message.

Paul Tournier was a Swiss physician before he started writing books. He would eventually become a well known author for his insight into psychological and spiritual issues. Upon completing his first book, he visited one of his favorite professors from his medical school. The old professor granted his former student an afternoon appointment. Bubbling with enthusiasm over his first publication, he read portions of the book to his former teacher.

After several minutes the teacher looked at Tournier with tears in his eyes and said, “That is a wonderful book. Every one of us Christians should read it. Tournier was surprised. He said, “I did not know you were a Christian, professor. When did you become one?” The former teacher answer surprised Tournier even more, “Just now as you read your book.”3

How many times had the older man heard the message? How many times had he read the Scripture? How many times had people shared their own faith with him but he heard the story for the first time through the words of his former student. We do not always know when a person will hear the gospel. It may be the first time we share it with them. It may be the 3rd or 4th time. We should never be discouraged if they do not respond the first time. We should not stop inviting a person to come to church simply because they have previously turned us down. We can never anticipate when they will finally hear and believe.

Preaching

Before a person can hear the gospel and respond, someone must be willing to preach the content of its message. The Presbyterian church, has emphasized that our preaching of the gospel must be in both word and deed. The proponents of this strategy will often cite Francis of Assisi's famous quote, “Preach Christ, when necessary use words.”4 Francis' instructions remind us that living the message of faith through our personal lives is equally important to preaching that message. However, the defenders of the silent witness have dominated Presbyterian evangelism for too long. The current joke is, “What do you get when you cross a Jehovah Witness with a Presbyterian? You get someone who knocks on your door but does not say anything.”5

Communicating faith, through personal witness or in a prescribed sermon, is essential for bringing others to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. The time has come for Presbyterians to recapture a word-based method of evangelism. People will not know their need for faith unless the message is explained. People will not know what to believe unless the message is shared. People will not understand unless the message is announced. Preaching the gospel requires the demonstration of God's power and love in our lives but it also requires sharing the story of God's work in Jesus Christ.

Sending

People cannot call upon God unless they believe and they cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear unless the message is preached, but none of this is possible unless they are sent. Yet, too often we remain passive saints, sitting comfortably in our Lazy Boy rockers. This is quire a contrast to some of the songs we sing. One of our favorite contemporary songs is “Here I am Lord.” Do you recall the lyrics:

Hear I am Lord, it is I Lord,
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart.

Its a great song but I wonder, we sing, “I will go,” but how many of us do? We leave the sanctuary and head out to our homes but are we really going in Christ's name? Are we really responding to the call of God upon our lives to “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations,” or are we really returning to the safe confines of our living rooms? When we drive to work, do we really believe that we are entering into a mission field to which God has commissioned us to serve by preaching the message of salvation.

Joyful Delivery

By not going we miss out on a wonderful blessing. Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” By remaining passive observers in the great drama of faith, we miss the opportunity of seeing someone begin their new life in Christ.

On his night job at Taco Bell, 17-year-old Nicholas was taking orders at the drive-up window. He heard a woman scream, turned, and saw very pregnant Deborah Anderson standing in front of him. The high-school student pulled off his headset, called the paramedics, and tried to make the woman comfortable. But the baby wouldn't wait. "The baby's head just popped out into my hands," Nicholas said. Paramedics finally arrived and took baby and parents to the hospital. Nicholas cleaned up, "sterilized my hands about a thousand times," and finished his shift but later when he talked with reporters he was still radiating with exhilaration.6

Nicholas may not have had to “go” anywhere to participate in the birth of that new baby. The expected mom just happened to stop by the restaurant but those type of experiences are rare. What is not rare is the joy we experience when the other person commits their life to Christ. Having been in both, the delivery room and the living room, for such wonderful moments, I can honestly say that both experiences produce similar feelings of joy and wonder.

Paul's message throughout the book of Romans is consistent. He wants people to share in the wonder of new life in Christ by calling upon God for their salvation. But how can they call unless they believe that God has demonstrated his own love in that even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He also wants them to know that death has lost its sting. And how can they believe unless they hear the news preached, “Christ has risen” and how can the news be preached unless we are willing to go.


1 “Great Wail of China,” Balbir K. Punj, The International News Alliance, available [online] http://www.iht.com/ getina/files/265559.html accessed August 4, 2005.

2 “Christianity is China's new social revolution,” Richard Spencer, 30 July 2005 Telegraph Group Limited, available [online] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/07/30/wchina30.xml &sSheet=/news/2005/07/30/ixworld.html, accessed August 4, 2005.

3 Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations, San Jose: Resource, 1992, p. 24 quoted by Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com, January 14, 2003

4 St Francis of Assisi, source unknown.

5 Source unknown

6 San Diego Union-Tribune (5/23/96)  1997 by Leadership Journal.  Spring 1997, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 71

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