The prepared text of the sermon preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church this morning is below. You can listen to the sermon recording at this link. It is worth observing that this was supposed to be the sermon last Sunday on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and the day before we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The sermon for next Sunday, from Romans 11:11-36, is meant to be a bookend to this one and delivered the Sunday after we celebrate his birthday. Alas, we didn’t have church last Sunday because of the snow. So here it is. One major change the events of this week made upon the sermon is the law signed on the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision here in New York. This change in the law is problematic for several reasons–not least among which is the way that the law legalizes abortion for any reason up until birth (technically the law says that the late term abortion needs to be for a health reason, but the court has ruled that “health” basically means anything) and that the child surviving an abortion doesn’t need to receive medical care so that it will die from neglect. This has put our state in a very negative spotlight this week. For those reading this around the country, you might be thinking that they are awful. My apologies to John Piper for borrowing a phrase he has used on multiple occasions such as this sermon and this article. Make sure you keep reading below. For more about the purpose of the letter of Romans, I would suggest this commentary I’ve written about the subject.
I’ve heard a Pastor from Haiti say that voo doo continues to be a common idolatry there and I’ve heard a missionary serving in Africa say that ancestor worship is still prevalent there. People know better but they keep doing idolatry. Aren’t they awful? As if that isn’t bad enough, we have witnessed the culture, society and government here in our nation approve same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is a homosexual couple on just about every television series on air today. It and other alternative lifestyles are being promoted to young children in schools. Aren’t they awful? As if that were not enough, a few years ago I read in the Buffalo News this headline: “Drag queen packs church hall for Buffalo’s Gay Bingo nights” with the subtitle “It’s ‘not your grandmother’s bingo’ at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where emcee’s one-liners, taunts and innuendo shake things up.” It is yet another reminder that they do not follow the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Aren’t they awful? And this very week, NYS has been in the news as our Governor and a majority of legislators cheered because they passed a law expanding abortion up until birth and allowing the denial of medical care to children who survive an abortion so that they die. They know they are killing children—every one knows—but they celebrate killing more! Aren’t they awful? Yes, hear the word of the Lord:
- We are meant to be cheering Paul on and saying, “Aren’t they awful?”
- The Christians in Rome would have.
- These verses sounded a lot like what many used to hear in their Jewish synagogues about those awful Gentiles. In fact, Paul followed the same logic and argument that you can find in the Wisdom of Solomon. That was a popular Jewish writing that early Christians would have known well and that you can read today in Roman Catholic Bibles in the Apocrypha. Wisdom chapters 13 and 14 sound very similar to these verses in Romans. They both begin arguing from creation to the knowledge of God, both say that idolatry is the most basic sin and that idolatry leads to immorality, and that there is judgment for those who practice such things. Wisdom was enjoying telling the history of those awful Gentiles—those awful other people—and so as you might imagine any Christian who identifies themselves with the Jewish people rather than with those awful Gentiles would be cheering Paul as he denounces them and maybe even thanking God that they are not like them.
- Moreover, Greeks and Romans thought of the barbarians along similar lines. The barbarians were those awful other people – the type that are not sophisticated enough to have left behind idol worship and who do horrible things. So the Greeks and Romans would be thinking of the barbarians when they heard these verses and be cheering him on saying, “Aren’t they awful?” They too may even be thanking God that they are not like them.
- And so we too are meant to be cheering Paul on as we read these verses and thinking, “Aren’t they awful?” Paul expects us to think that those who practice idolatry in other parts of the world are awful. He expects us to think that those who practice immorality and those who give approval to others to practice immorality are awful and he uses the most disgusting example he could to make the point – homosexual behavior. He expects us to think of “them” as awful – whether they are pagans somewhere else in the world, politicians in Washington, D.C., and in Albany, New York, or liberal Presbyterians here in Buffalo. We are meant to cheer Paul on as he describes them and say, “Amen!” (And then Paul says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Rom 2:1).)
- The Christians in Rome would have.
- Paul has just caught us in a trap because he wants us to see that we are all sinners in need of Jesus.
- Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to know that barbarians are not a different kind of people – we are all sinners. Read these verses again and you will discover that Paul did not leave any loopholes starting with the first verse: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ALL ungodliness and unrighteousness of people, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Unlike the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, Paul is not telling the story of the Gentiles and saying the Jewish people are different. Paul also is not telling the story of the barbarians and saying that the supposedly more sophisticated Greeks and Romans are different. Paul tells here the universal story of humanity. It is the story of idolaters in Haiti, sitcom writers in Hollywood, liberal Presbyterians in other churches, and you. The bad news is that there are not two types of people – us and them – there is only one type of human being: sinner. We are all awful. Every human being is without excuse for our idolatry and our immorality that grows out of it and thus every human being deserves to die.
- Paul tells us the bad news so that we will want to share the gospel with those other barbarians who are sinners like us. He tells us that God’s wrath is revealed against all human ungodliness and unrighteousness because now our only option is to turn away from our own unrighteousness to the righteousness of God by faith. As Paul summed it up in the two verses just before our passage today: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” –the righteousness of God is from beginning to end from faith – “as it is written, ‘The righteous-by-faith shall live.’” Paul was not ashamed to take the gospel to the Greeks nor to the barbarians. He knew that he is no different than a barbarian. The gospel is for you and for those you think sound funny or who don’t seem civilized to you. The word barbarian used in Rom 1:14 is the Green word poking fun at the way the foreign languages of others sound to “sophisticated” Greco-Roman ears. Paul wrote this letter to encourage the Christians at Rome to help him reach the “barbarians” in Spain with the gospel. He would want us to share the good news with our neighbors, those in liberal churches, all those who practice immorality and give approval to others to practice immorality, and idolaters somewhere else in the world. He wants us to share the gospel with people who don’t look like us, don’t speak like us, and don’t think like us, but who are sinners just like us. We will only be motivated enough to do this if we realize just how much we too are awful and deserve to die but because we are righteous-by-faith we live. Thanks be to God for that good news! Amen.