Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 22, 2017
Text: Romans 11:29, Old Testament: Psalm 133, New Testament: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-36
Sin is the sign God’s authority is not accepted.
Sin shows independence from God. Sin is people wanting to live life the way they think is right, the way they want, regardless of whether it follows God’s will for their lives.
Sin is uncompromising pride in our own rightness as much as it is outright disobedience to God. People can sin when they are certain they’re righteous by doing what they think is God’s will.
There are many examples in history when religious people thought they were chosen by God to fulfill His will. But what they did was sinful. They convinced other people their cause was righteous. But they were acting independently from God’s will.
They presented themselves as faithful to God. But they were hiding behind an interpretation of Scripture that did not do justice to God’s Word. They used God’s Word as a pretext to exterminate others in the name of social justice.
The French Revolution is considered a turning point in the history of self-rule. It’s hailed by scholars as benefiting humanity. It was waged in a Christian country by Christians against other Christians.
Hunger had come from repeated national failures in the French crop. Poverty came from social inequities. The Third Estate in France was the mass of impoverished people who were neither clergy, aristocracy, or merchants. They knew from the Psalm 41:1 and Psalm 113:7 that God looks kindly on the poor and desires them to receive help from those who are blessed with plenty and wealth.
They weren’t receiving God’s blessing.
They had heard clergy preaching that God favored their cause. But they had no evidence from their personal lives this was true. They were hungry and poor. Marie Antoinette was the perfect foil for their desperation.
Marie Antoinette was the fifteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa and the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I of Austria. He represented the spiritual prestige of the Church in Rome. Their daughter was born an Archduchess of Austria. She knew only privilege from Christian belief in the divine right of kings that was derived from Romans 13. She never knew hunger or poverty.
When Marie was nine, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his Confessions about stealing a bottle of wine and wanting bread to eat with it. But he believed he was too elegantly dressed to beg for bread in a bakery.
Rousseau then remembered the words of a “great princess who in her thoughtlessness said when she was told the country people had no bread, “Then let them eat cake.”
Rosseau’s was not writing about Marie Antoinette. Marie was a little girl living in Austria at the time. They hadn’t met. But “Let them eat cake” was later attributed to Marie by the Paris mob. Street fighters for justice in Christian France demanded her head in revenge for her privilege. Their hunger justified the Queen of France’s execution based on rumors about what she thought.
She was just one of thousands who were executed in the name of justice.
The people of Paris’ mob, the aristocracy who were being executed, the revolutionary thinkers who aroused the mob, the philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire who justified revolution, and the soldiers who failed to keep the peace in Paris’ streets were Christians. They were baptized in the Church.
Each had a religious role to play to stop the public violence that shook not only Paris but the entire European continent and America. They justified both their actions and their inactivity as God’s will. Natural rights, human rights, political rights emerged as international ideals in the blood running through Paris’ streets. The guillotine’s blade of justice cut Christianity’s bond to the divine right of kings. It elevated ideals of God-given human rights for global acceptance.
But not everyone was beneficiary of those rights. Those who were executed were denied natural, human, and political rights. Their murders were thought to be necessary sacrifices for righteousness’ sake. As far as world sentiment is concerned, they were “reasonable” sacrifices to the people’s will.
It shows the limits of reason to represent God’s mission in the world.
Reason is often used to justify decisions and actions that do not follow God’s intentions. Reason condones injustice and violence as necessary means to obtain a greater end of justice. The end justifies the means.
When personal decisions and actions become public expressions that are claimed to represent the national will, they have political connotations. History judges these decisions and actions by whether they improve life for future generations, not by whether they were moral, or godly.
That’s why the French Revolution is not condemned by contemporary intellectuals like the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust are. Marie Antoinette barely gets a sympathetic tear. The French Revolution is regarded as heroic, virtuous, even admirable; Even if it’s contrary to God’s way of making peace.
Romans 11 wrestles with God’s intentions when faithful people take a reasoned course of action by taking the life of someone who was a child of God. Jesus was that someone.
The deacon Stephen, and James, the brother of Jesus were such some-ones. Other some-ones were Christians throughout Rome’s Empire who Jews considered sinful for worshipping Jesus.
Jewish high priests believed they were defending God as the only true God.
Paul analyzed whether Jews are saved since they didn’t believe in Jesus as God’s Son. Does Paul demonize the righteous Jewish leaders demanding Christian punishment for sin? Does Paul call his Christian brothers and sisters to take the lives of those who were taking Christian lives? Does Paul, who once was guilty of taking Christian lives himself, as Saul, justify Christian violence against those who are arguing with them over the truth of Jesus Christ being God’s Son?
Does Paul demand Roman protection from the violence Christians were experiencing?
Not once does Paul incite Christians or Romans to violence against Jews. Neither does Paul claim zealous religious righteousness against Christian life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be, will be, or ought to be punished by God, or anyone else.
Paul reflects deeply into the political divisions between Jews, Romans, and Christians. He could certainly sympathize with a Christian position of retribution and revenge since he was now a target of attacks as a Christian. But he does not cast stones. Nor does he cast Christian persecution as victimhood.
Paul declares God is sovereign over the arguing parties. God’s mercy given to Christians in Jesus Christ’s blessings is the same mercy that elected the Jews as God’s covenant people. The Apostle Paul sees Christian suffering comes with God’s mercy.
Christians are the minority group being socially vilified, publicly humiliated, and politically marginalized. Yet Paul does not politicize the situation by focusing on the religious reasons being used to justify violence against Christians. He says the gift of mercy Jews received in being elected as God’s children is irrevocable.
Paul focuses on the point of Jesus Christ – God’s mercy. God’s mercy is the only means by which people who are hostile can be reconciled with one another. God’s mercy is the only means to reach the goal of peace.
This message was totally lost by Germans during the Weimer Republic. Here was another country, like France, that was primarily Christian. Germans demonized Jews for Jesus’ death like Christians had for centuries. They thought they were justified in their anger. They were so certain they represented God’s will they considered only German Christianity as God’s will. Only an Aryan Jesus was the true Jesus.
This was not only what the masses of Germany’s Christians thought, it was what leading Church theologians taught. Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emmanuel Hirsch were Nazis. They used the Bible to justify Hitler’s racial vision of a German Christian racial purity. They were dead set against Jesus in their interpretation of Christ’s mission, or Jesus’ understanding of God’s will.
Jesus calls His followers to be peacemakers. The Apostle Paul takes Jesus’ sovereignty seriously in Romans 11. Jesus is God’s Word. Paul was committed to teaching Jesus’ method of peacemaking, not someone elses. Paul was committed to being a role model of Jesus’ method of peacemaking. Christian power does not lie in revolutionary methods of power politics. It lies in God’s love and mercy.
Jesus doesn’t use Saul Alinsky’s methodology to make peace in the face of injustice. Alinsky was a socialist community organizer who once said, “If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?” For Alinsky, any method was fine as long as it gets the desired results.
Alinsky also said, “The organizer dedicated to bringing change to a community must first rub raw the resentments of the people in the community.” Think about that. All sorts of people demanding social change must rub people the wrong way to get the change they want. Hitler as well as Marx did as much. Both were baptized Christians.
This is not Jesus’ method of discipleship. Christians are not bound by what they want but by what Jesus wants from their example. Social change does not come by rubbing people’s resentments raw, but by offering them God’s mercy.
All are blessed by God’s mercy from Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved.” God’s mercy is the method by which He reached His mission of social justice. Jesus has shown us God’s mercy is the only means by which we can find peace together.
God’s mercy leads sinners to value one another despite our sins. God’s mercy opens our ears to hear what others are saying and opens our hearts to feel what others are feeling. If we are following God’s Word, we will have open ears to hear each other and open hearts to feel the pain in each other.
Then we can see by faith what it means to be reconciled to each other.
The Apostle Paul didn’t focus on the justice Christians wanted from Jews and Romans. He focused on what Christ’s mercy has done to reconcile Jews, Romans, and Christians in the community of faith we call the Church. Through the sins of some, others receive mercy. But even those who sin will receive mercy through what God has gifted in Jesus Christ.
This is the wisdom and knowledge of God that overcomes sin and unites us with God. Paul concludes in Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”
The Apostle Paul focused on Jesus’ mercy that’s given to those whom God calls who commit sins against others. God’s mercy is an irrevocable gift!
Through God’s irrevocable gift of mercy, the world can be reconciled.
For the last week, we have heard much about what has happened on streets in our land. We’ve heard emotional public commentary that has further estranged and divided God’s people.
We’ve been astounded and shocked by what we’re hearing. We thought our nation and national leaders had been taught to value one another and to be sympathetic to those in need. Instead, we’re hearing how far we have yet to travel in our journey to peace and unity.
The words of outrage and protest we’ve heard are painful. We’ve seen violence that is reprehensible and upsetting. They show unresolved hatred that education and national prosperity have not abated.
The faces on our television and computer screens are not impoverished by lack of opportunity and are not famished from lack of bread. They are a far cry from the suffering on Paris’ streets at the end of the eighteenth century that led to violence. Yet they are equally impoverished by failing to see God’s gift of mercy in one another. They are destitute of God’s mercy and kindness.
This is not a time to do violence toward one another by words or deeds. It’s a time to offer each other the irrevocable gift of God in Jesus’ mercy.
God’s unmerited gift of mercy is the pathway to hope that lies in reconciliation. Jesus has shown us that. He has chosen us to show it. We’re to live it by being merciful. Such mercy does not avoid or ignore sins of hatred that are committed. It calls for accountability to God to advocate the common blessing of all humanity who are created in God’s image.
Neither does it minimize righteous indignation as an excuse to sin. It calls for accountability to God alone to be the judge and jury over human sin. We’re to live with one another by Jesus’ Golden Rule – period.
Such mercy calls us as a people to contrition – with appreciation for mercy that we haven’t earned by hatred for others. We’re called by God to appreciate His gift to us in Jesus Christ to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life that leads to peace and reconciliation.
We’ve seen it in Jesus and are to be role models of Jesus. We’re to stand before injustice like Jesus with humility and gratitude for God’s watchfulness over the sinfulness of all humanity. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
And, we’re to call others to be merciful as our Savior Jesus Christ is merciful, that one and all might find God’s light of mercy illuminating the darkness in America’s heart so we can find the way together to His glory.