Words that Change the World
Scriptures: Romans 1:1-17; Isaiah 52:7-10
When my family first moved to Spokane we received a lot of
help from people in the church, just as Nadine and I did when we moved here. A realtor in the church helped us find our house, a banker helped us get a loan, an insurance agent set up our insurance, a contractor put in our backyard patio, and a stay-at-home parent in the church took our children to the park while we unpacked boxes. It was great. But when we finished, one of my children commented on all these people who helped us and then said, "Dad, what is it you do for people?"
I didn't know what to say. It reminded me of a teenager in
the church who one day said to me, "What's your job?" I said, "You know what my job is, I'm a minister." The teenager said, "No, but what's your real job?"
Being a minister is a strange job. We don't really do
anything except speak words to people.
At the beginning of the letter to the Romans, Paul describes
his job as follows: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." The word gospel means "good news" or "good speech." If you were counting, the word gospel is used five times in this passage. It is the same word used by Isaiah in our first scripture reading: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news." Paul's job is to be a messenger of good news. In other words, he is a person who traffics in words.
Sometimes people say talk is cheap. They say that "sticks
and stones my break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Is that true? Can anyone's life be altered by words?
Here is Paul's answer, verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of
the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith." Paul gives a summary of the gospel in verse 3. He says it is "the gospel concerning [God's] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." Paul's good news is a story-a story about a Jewish man, born of a woman named Mary, who was put to death on a cross and then raised from the dead so that he could give life to all who believe in him. That is Paul's message-words! Can words change someone's life?
There is one situation I know my words have changed people's
lives. It's in a wedding ceremony. About one year ago Carrie Elwell and Jeff Barnett stood before me saying their vows to each other and exchanging rings. Then at the end of the ceremony I said, "Jeff and Carrie, I now proclaim that you are husband and wife." Those words changed their lives. When they came into the ceremony, they were two single people. When they left they were married. The words they spoke and the words I spoke changed their lives.
Recently we saw another example of this in the life of one
of our church members. Two weeks ago a jury foreman stood in a courtroom and said to one of our church members, "We the jury find the defendant not guilty." That's it, just two words: "not guilty." But those two words made a big difference in the life of that church member.
That's how it is with the gospel, Paul says. "I am not
ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith."
Of course, if you don't believe the gospel, if you don't
believe the good news, it does you no good. If you were counting, the word "faith" is used in this scripture passage seven times. The two key words in this scripture are gospel and faith, good news and believing the good news.
What if I had said to Jeff and Carrie, "I now proclaim that you are
husband and wife," and they went out and said, "Oh, I don't believe that. Pastor Ken is just saying things. I'm not sure I believe in marriage at all." If they said that, they would be missing out on the new reality created by the words that I spoke to them.
So it is with the gospel. The gospel says you are not
guilty. That's what Paul means by the word "justification" which we will talk more about in chapter 3. Justification means that God finds us "not guilty" for the sake of Jesus. That's the gospel-the good news.
But it does you no good if you don't believe it. Hence we use the
phrase "justification by faith." If you believe the good news, it will be good news! God finds you "Not guilty." Believe that, and you don't have to go on punishing yourself. You don't have to go on living with guilt or fear. You can live instead with gratitude.
About 500 years ago there was a young monk who had a
terrible problem with guilt. He felt he would never be good enough or holy enough to be accepted by God or welcomed into heaven. But one of his teachers gave him a book to read. The book was Paul's letter to the Romans. The young man got half way through the first chapter when he read these words:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
Words-mere words on a page. But those words changed that young man's
life and the subsequent history of western civilization. The young man's name was Martin Luther.
Interestingly, there is a sequel to this story. About 200
years after Martin Luther, a young man went to a church meeting in London. At the church meeting they were reading Martin Luther's commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans. Talk about the power of words. This young man was listening to Martin Luther's words about Paul's words on Jesus. Later the young man said that as he listened, "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." (Quoted in Conversions, edited by Kerr and Moulder, p. 59). That young man's name was John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, the man for whom Wesley Gardens and Wesley Terrace was named.
Like the apostle Paul, all I have to offer you this morning
are words-words that come from this book. But I am not ashamed of my job. Because these words have power. They have the power to change lives and alter history. They have the power to give frightened people hope, timid people courage, wayward people direction, and aimless people a new sense of purpose for their lives. They will change your life, but only if you believe them and if you join with others who are living into the new reality they have created.