SERMON PREACHED BY
"How are they to hear without a preacher? And
how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15)
What a great joy it is for us to be here this evening. When
I learned that Calvary's choir would have the privilege of making
a joyful noise in this wonderful and historic cathedral church,
I immediately appointed myself chaplain and head groupie, and
decided to make the trip with them to my hometown. And, as a
friend of mine would say, "Viola!" In due course there
came an invitation to preach in this pulpit, for which I am most
grateful. So if the choir thought that by going to New York
they could escape their rector's preaching for one Sunday, they're
just plum out of luck. They must even now be meditating on the
words of the Psalmist: "I look up to heaven thou art there;
I look down to hell thou are there also."
I think you will agree that many devout, church-going, believing
Christians cringe at the prospect of being asked the question,
"Are you saved?" To answer "No" places them,
as a hymn used to say, "in peril of perdition." But
to answer "Yes" makes them vulnerable to the next question,
which will ask them to describe in detail the nature of their
Damascus Road experience, and the place, date and time of its
occurrence. On those rare occasions when I have been asked the
question, I tell the enquirer that I am a work in progress, thank
you very much, and that the Lord is still working on me. Hopefully,
I am in the process of being saved all the time, I explain. It
Salvation, who gets it, how it is received, and the benefits
that accrue from it, are topics near and dear to the heart of
Saint Paul. In tonight's lesson he tells us, first of all, that
salvation is open to all. This, I think is better conveyed in
the King James Version: "Whosoever shall call upon the name
of the Lord shall be saved." That somehow sounds more all-encompassing
than "every one." But the Blessed Apostle is also
quick to remind the Romans that this means that man-made distinctions
are irrelevant. Paul uses the example of the Jews and the Greeks,
who were divided racially, culturally and religiously, and between
whom there was no end of enmity and recrimination, but two millennia
later, we can fill in our own blanks. Paul tells us in effect
that to Christians, the water of baptism is thicker than the
blood of race, tribe and clan. Salvation seems as simple as believing
with one's heart and confessing with one's lips.
Then Paul asks some questions. There are easy answers to
the first two: To "How then shall they call on him in whom
they have not believed?" we could simply answer "They
have to believe in Jesus." To the question "How shall
they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" we could
simply reply "They have to hear the gospel." But then
Paul stops preaching and moves to meddling. The questions hit
home and do not allow for easy answers. In fact, these aren't
questions at all. They are rebukes in the guise of questions.
When Paul asks "How shall they hear without a preacher?"
he is really indicting the Romans for their failure to evangelize.
There can be no gospel to hear when God's people are silent.
When he asks "How can they preach unless they be sent?"
he is criticizing them for their unwillingness to be missionaries.
THE REVEREND DR. HAROLD T. LEWIS, RECTOR
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
IN THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE,
NEW YORK CITY
ON THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
10 JULY 2005
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the reason that the Bible
is the all-time best-seller is that it continues to speak to
God's people in every age. We modern-day Christians can be just
as complacent and as indifferent as the Romans were when it comes
to the cause of spreading the Gospel. In the Episcopal Church,
especially, evangelism has long been considered the longest four-letter
word in our lexicon. In fact, we secretly cherish an opinion
that evangelism isn't really necessary, since everyone with good
sense, and certainly good taste, would beat a path to our doors.
Some clever soul has rewritten the words to "Onward, Christian
Soldiers" to better describe some of today's Christians:
Like a mighty tortoise, Moves the church of God.
Brothers we are treading, Where we've always trod.
We are much divided, Many bodies we,
Having different doctrines, but not much charity.
Backward, Christian soldiers, Fleeing from the fight,
With the cross of Jesus, Nearly out of sight.
Now I'd like to suggest to you this evening that there is
a correlation between our failure to evangelize and the fact
that we find ourselves today in what one collect calls "our
unhappy divisions." It's a chicken-and-egg problem, really.
Either the fact that we don't evangelize as we ought has left
so much time on our hands that we have developed a penchant for
navel-gazing; or that our preoccupation with internal issues
and not eternal issues has sapped our energy that would otherwise
be used for ushering in the Kingdom. There is actually a third
alternative. Our obsession with in-house matters has chased
some people away! When I entered seminary in the late Sixties,
our chapel was littered with a profusion of experimental Prayer
Books, including the famous Green and Zebra varieties, as we
tried to discern if the Almighty wished to be addressed as "You"
or "Thou." From there we debated the issue of women's
ministry (lay and ordained) and since then our energies have
been devoted to the question of human sexuality.
What is worse is that as these issues are debated among fewer
and fewer people, we manage to further decimate our ranks. Anglicanism
once prided itself as being a great umbrella under which a variety
of theological views could find shelter Now certain people are
being forced out into the rain. A variety of litmus tests are
being used to determine who's in and who's out, who's orthodox
and who's not, and we are hurling epithets at each other with
what we used to call gay abandon!
My friends, what this church needs is a few good "whosoever"
preachers, preachers who assure folk that the Gospel speaks of
a heavenly banquet --- a smorgasbord open to everyone, and not
merely a delicacy for a few people with esoteric tastes.
Oh yes, there are professional preachers, who dress up in
vestments and stand in pulpits six feet above contradiction!
Would that they would heed the words of Ezekiel, who said "Whether
they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that a prophet has
been among them" (Ezek. 2:5). Would that they would heed
the words Paul wrote to Timothy, "Preach the word in season
and out of season," or as another translation puts it, "when
it is convenient and when it is inconvenient." (II Tim.
But Paul in tonight's lesson isn't talking about professional
preachers but about the multitudes --- the army of laypersons
whose job is also to be evangelists But unfortunately, they
too often have taken a vow of silence. A riddle kind of sums
this up: "What do you call it when you cross an Episcopalian
with a Jehovah's witness?" The answer: "Somebody who
goes from door to door but doesn't say anything!"
It was Francis of Assisi who said "Preach the Gospel
with conviction. If necessary, use words." Many could be
ushered into the Kingdom if people realized that the Christian
life can be a sermon, and for many it is the only sermon that
others will ever hear. We preach by example. One of the best
excuses given for not going to church is "My relatives were
visiting from Peoria and I had to stay home and make breakfast
for them." What does it say to your relatives that you
are willing to sacrifice worship to whip up some grits? When
relatives are in your house on Sunday, there are two alternatives
in terms of how they should be treated. Either take them to
church with you or tell them where they can find the bacon and
We preach when we take a stand. Someone said "Unless
you stand for something you will fall for anything." Sometimes
we must stride into the political arena and say that some things
are just wrong. Remember what Desmond Tutu has said: "Anyone
who believes that you shouldn't mix politics and religion has
not been reading the same Bible I've been reading." We
preach when we refuse to tolerate bigotry, when we refuse to
laugh at those jokes told at the expense of one marginalized
group or another.
Paul writes to the Romans "Whosoever calls upon the
Lord will be saved." Salvation is universal, but it becomes
especially effective for us who are aware of our need to be shaken
out of complacency and do something about the plight in which
we find ourselves.
Let us publish glad tidings. Let us take back the very word
"evangelical" from those who would maintain that the
saving message of Christ is an exclusive one, and not an inclusive
one.. Let us be "whosoever" evangelists, proclaiming
that every creature on the planet has a claim on Jesus Christ
as Lord and Savior.