Romans 11:1-2a, 13-14, and 28-32

Proper 15A

August 17, 2014

Regret.  What is it that you regret?  Everyone here today has something, something big or something little.  Something from your childhood, or more recently. We regret things in our lives, bad choices, wrong actions, sin that hangs around our necks, broken promises.

But we are unique in this respect.  St. Paul writes, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” Irrevocable literally the means without regret.  For God, there is no looking back and wondering if He made the right decision, or wished He could have done it better, or that things could have been different. God is without regret. God does not regret making a good world, one that rejected His word and fell into sin. God does not regret making promises that, in order to keep, would mean the death of His Son, Jesus. God does not regret calling you to faith, and the gifts He has given to you, even when you squander and abuse them. God’s promise, heard throughout the Old Testament Scripture, have become real in the flesh and blood of Jesus.

            In that promise, God promised that he would bring salvation through Israel, through a descendent of David, and that this salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. Though all nations were disobedient to God, God chose one nation, the people of Israel, to be his people and to bring his message of salvation to earth. When some of those people rejected their Messiah, the descendent of David, did God then reject his plan? No. God continued to be merciful. He called forth all nations to believe in Jesus Christ and to receive the forgiveness of sins. Now, faced with Israel’s disobedience, will God forget his mercy? No. Paul lives in hope of an even greater day. A day when his work among the Gentiles might lead Israel, his brothers and sisters in the flesh, into the Church, his brothers and sisters in faith.

Just as the Gentiles were once disobedient and now received mercy, Paul sees a day when the Jews who are now disobedient will be led to repentance and receive God’s mercy. God has consigned all to disobedience, both Gentiles and Jews, that he might have mercy upon all, both Gentiles and Jews. Paul thus lives by hope, by a vision of God’s salvation gathering Jews and Gentiles together in one body, one church, one new Israel, that holds one faith in one God – Jesus Christ who forgives all people of their sins.

Our American culture prides itself on freedom of religion. People are able to believe what they want to believe. You’ve seen the bumper stickers that encourage attendance at the church or synagogue or mosque of your choice. You’ve seen the bumper stickers that use various symbols of various faiths to spell out the word, “Coexist.” The larger vision of these bumper stickers is that there are many paths to God and there are many people and we need to respect and appreciate these various ways to God. If all of the religions would just get along, there would be peace in the land. To practice your own faith is one thing and our American culture will support that.

But to speak about your faith, as if it might matter to someone else, well that is a different matter. You can worship God and speak to God however you want, believing God to be whatever you want him or her to be. But to speak to others about God or to act as if your God might have a word that is important to others, well that is considered argumentative, disrespectful of others, stirring up conflict, and in some cases even participating in hate speech. So while our culture will protect your right to worship God as you please, it also protects the rights of others and cautions you to be careful about bringing your God to them.

In such a culture, it would be easy to let everyone practice his or her own faith. It would be easy to fall into the false idea that our faith is a personal matter, something that is just between “you and Jesus.” The apostle Paul, however, knows differently. To be joined to Christ is to be joined to his mission and God chooses to be at work through His people.

God has a greater story for this world. It is not a story of peace by toleration of various religions. It is story of peace found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation from sin. All have been disobedient. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). And yet, God is faithful to his promise to have mercy on all. All “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ” (3:24). When you come near to Jesus, when you are brought to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit through His word, you are then sent near to those who are in need of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, neighbors and family, as God continues to work out His story of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. And God has no regret over this calling and giving of His gifts.

This is highlighted even further in our Gospel reading for today. Here, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus pleading for the welfare of her demon oppressed daughter. She cries our over and over again to Jesus for mercy. The language she uses is that of a believing Israelite, even though she is a Gentile. She uses the language of faith, the language that God speaks to His people.  And it is this faith that our Gospel reading focuses upon. This woman trusted that Jesus’ abundance could extend far enough to include a repentant enemy of God. She knew her position, sinful and unclean, but she also trusted in God’s gracious nature. His crumbs would be enough for her.

This is a truth that we need to be reminded of, as well, and the point which St. Paul is making in Romans 11.  As God comes into this world, he finds disobedience among all nations, but God remains faithful to his promises and works mercy, mercy for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, in Christ. Though the world be disobedient, God remains merciful. Merciful to all people who believe in Jesus Christ.

We speak that same language of faith, that which God has already spoken to us. We approach Jesus with humility, as beggars. We cry out in the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy!” And then He does! He speaks forgiveness through the Word. He feeds us with His body and His blood, as small of portions as they might be on a given Sunday, but even that much grace is more than enough!

God’s word brings people to life, people like the apostle Paul, and people like you and me. And God’s word then reaches out to others through the lives of his people. Each person becomes one more revelation in the flesh of God’s mission of mercy in this world. What conversation is God calling you to have with others? What strange and difficult speech is God calling you to say? It may be bold or it may be quiet. It may be large, like a life-long conversation with your father, or it may be small, like a brief conversation with a stranger on the bus. But it is God’s word at work through His people in the world. We are a people who live by a proclamation – the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. God is here, today, for you. Forgiving you your sin.

And God is here, today, for all, seeking to bring them to the faith. He will not stop. He will not remain silent. He will not regret calling and equipping you to fulfill His vision of bringing all nations into one body, the Church, the new Israel, in Christ. Amen.