A sermon preached by the Rev. Justin Clemente on February 10, 2019, the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany (World Mission Sunday), at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD.
Mission vs Missions
In this season of praying for Epiphany, today the Anglican Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. And I’m so glad we’ve gotten in right by calling it World Mission Sunday. Not World Missions Sunday. That is a critical distinction, and talking about the latter will get you off track very quickly.
Here’s what I’m getting at – missions hearkens back to an era where the thinking was that Western Christians, coming from a “Christian” society, were to send off people to go “over there” into other lands to preach the Gospel far, far away. Supporting missions in that sense was simply one component of the Church’s wider calling. That’s not where we want to start.
Rather, mission encompasses the entire Church and sums up its existence. Indeed, as has been said, “the Church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.” It is what the Church is made for. And so Jesus says to his Apostles in John 20, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Whether you are in Africa, Antarctica, or America, the stance of the Church and every believer ought to be a missionary stance. The importance of this cannot be overstated because we are facing a task unfinished. We are facing the challenges of the 21st century mindful that Jesus calls us into mission with the goal to reach all of every creation with this Gospel.
Into our time today, we’re going to look at what our epistle reading teaches us about this Gospel mission our Lord has given us. Let’s turn to Romans 10:9-17.
The Availability & Scope of Salvation (vs. 9-13)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Listen to the availability of the great promises given here – everyone who believes upon him will not be put to shame. Salvation is not restricted to ethnicity, where you came from, how you grew up, whether your family was religious or not, nothing! And then, as you hear the greatness of the promises, hear also the extent and scope of salvation – salvation in Christ is for all. This week, you will not meet a person who does not need the Gospel you possess. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
John makes this absolutely clear at the end of our reading today: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John doesn’t say – here are some things Jesus did – take him or leave him. No! He says, believe upon him! And we see the same thing here in Romans 10 – the availability and the scope of salvation.
Naturally, this leads us to the necessity of evangelism, where is exactly where Paul goes next.
Beautiful Feet & the Necessity of Evangelism (vs. 14-15)
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
How are they to hear without someone preaching?, Paul asks. Here, the word for “preach” means literally “to herald” or “announce.”
Tim Keller writes, “A herald was, in a sense, a living newspaper; heralds were a major means of transmitting news by making announcements in the marketplace and city streets. So the word ‘preach’ does not refer only to what today are called ‘sermons.’ Heralds operated in the streets.” (Romans 8-16 For You, pg. 81)
Listen again to how Stott summarizes Paul’s argument in this section: “The essence of Paul’s argument is seen if we put his six verbs in the opposite order: Christ send heralds; heralds preach; people hear; hearers believe; believers call; and those who call are saved. And the relentless logic of Paul’s case for evangelism is felt most forcibly when the stages are stated negatively and each is seen to be essential to the next. Thus, unless some people are commissioned for the task, there will be no gospel preachers; unless the gospel is preached, sinners will not hear Christ’s message and voice; unless they hear him; they will not believe the truths of his death and resurrection; unless they believe these truths, they will not call on him; and unless they call on this name, they will not be saved.” (The Message of Romans, pgs. 286-287)
Keller concludes here, “This passage leaves us with two stark truths: that ever human is responsible for how they treat the ‘word of Christ’ and that every Christian is responsible for communicating that ‘word of Christ.’ Everyone will answer to God for whether they supplied that last ‘link in the chain’: whether they believed. We must ensure that, wherever it is that God has placed us, no one around us can say they have not heard or understood.” (Romans 8-16 For You, pg. 84)
You see, the Scriptures, and, thus, faithful Christian belief, always hold three things together: 1) God’s sovereignty in people coming to faith, 2) the responsibility of Christians to proclaim the faith and 3) the responsibility of all people to respond in faith. Verses 14-15 show how necessary (by God’s own choosing!) the task of evangelism is.
I want to end my comments here by encouraging you: whenever you shared the Gospel of God with another person you have do something beautiful. Whenever you shared our great need met with God’s great love in Christ, you are not bigoted, you are faithful! Verse 15 says “beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” They are still. I recently watched a video of believers in Malawi, Africa receiving the Bible in their native tongue – even through the video, their depth of their rejoicing was palpable. For those who will humbly receive it, it remains the best news ever.
Verse 16 makes clear, though, that not all have obeyed the gospel. I understand Paul is talking about the Jewish people here, but that hasn’t changed, has it? The gospel is still an offense. It offends our pride, it offends the values of our culture. But let us never think that in sharing the Gospel we have done something wrong. For this is our task, and if we don’t share it, who will? In the words of the song we sang earlier today, “O Church arise and put your armour on / Hear the call of Christ our Captain.” Jesus is calling his Church today to be faithful to the mission he gave her! To not vacillate, to not waiver, but to be faithful to the Gospel, and always believe that the feet It’s brought on are beautiful. Moreover, I’m praying this year that God calls forth in our midst new found faith! We have seen him do it before, and I pray we will witness it many, many times again.
The Power of Christ & His Message (v. 17)
“ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The last thing Paul says in this passage is that the gospel is the word of Christ. What does that mean? It means Christ is the author and Christ is the message. It is from Christ and it is about Christ.
Listen: if you really commit to be used by God for the spread of the Gospel, if you really commit to pray for opportunities to share the Good News and then follow through when God gives them to you, the Lord will surprise you. For when you share the Good News, you might as well be handing that person a lit stick of dynamite. The power of the message we proclaim lies not within us, but with Christ himself. He says his Word will not return void (which doesn’t, by the way, mean that will bear immediate fruit), and he is faithful to that – your life is the proof.
As we think about World Mission Sunday, let us think lastly upon this: the Lord of the Harvest will accomplish his Great Commission. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, who alone works great marvels: Send down upon our clergy and the congregations committed to their charge the life-giving Spirit of your grace, shower them with the continual dew of your blessing, and ignite in them a zealous love of your Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.