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The First Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
The Epistle: Romans 10:8b-13
Sermon: "Lips and Hearts"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart"
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Lips and Hearts
A young man was sent to Spain by his company to work in a new plant. He accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his longtime sweetheart. Their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned. As the lonely weeks went by, though, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her. After all, she surmised, Spain is populated by beautiful women. The young man protested that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. "I admit," he wrote, "that sometimes I'm tempted. But I fight it. I'm keeping myself just for you."
In the very next mail, the young man received a package. It contained a note, and a harmonica with an instruction book. "I'm sending this to you," his sweetheart wrote, "so you can have something to take your mind off those girls. Fill up your free time practicing on this, and not on them." The young man wrote back that he was practicing on the harmonica every night and thinking only of her. When the young man returned home to the states at long last she was waiting at the airport. As he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, "Hold on there. First I want to hear how well you play that harmonica!"
Ah, the course of true love. This morning's Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans is about lips and hearts. Sounds more like a theme for Valentine's Day than for the first Sunday in Lent, I’ll admit. Actually they make for a very appropriate Lenten topic. Listen again to St. Paul's words in Roman 10: 9: "...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." This is what our response to the grace of God extended to us in the life and death of Jesus Christ is to be; believe in our hearts and confess with our lips. Those are the two crucial points to catch this morning; points that will lead us to the power of our faith. So let's look at each of them for a few moments.
Let's begin with our hearts. “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” Every year thousands of pilgrims climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the "stations of the cross" to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped.
Some believers do that. They follow Christ as far as the cross, but there they stop. The truth of the matter is that there is little power in believing that once upon a time there lived a good man named Jesus who taught many good things and then died on a cross. St. Paul says, "Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead...." When you add that affirmation that God raised Jesus from the dead, then you have the power of faith. Millions of good men and women have lived in the history of the world, and then died. Only one has been resurrected from the dead, and then opened the way of resurrection for his followers. Only that one still lives triumphantly. Only that one is still available to his followers today. I want to make a finer point here: that power of faith exists for you and me regardless of whether our belief is that his resurrection was physical or primarily spiritual. Either way, the point is that believing that his real presence is available to you now holds the power to transform life itself. That is the faith that saves us; faith in the resurrected Christ. That is faith with real power.
Some of us are not as strong in our faith as we might expect to be. Even though we have confessed our faith in Jesus Christ, even though we have been baptized and are faithful members of the church, we experience an emptiness inside; an emptiness we can't explain.
If your heart is empty, feed it on God's word. Spend a few minutes daily digesting God's word. A modern translation will usually work best. It would also be helpful to have a notebook handy for making notes on what you read. That is the best cure I know for spiritual emptiness. There is a richness and a sufficiency in the Scriptures that many of us are not even aware of because we don't take advantage of it. Investing yourself in the Scriptures is an act of faith. It is one way of confessing that you believe that God is real and that this Jesus really is alive and available to you and me right now.
The Bible is undiscovered treasure for many of us. How is your faith this morning? Do you believe it enough to invest real time in feeding your heart? St. Paul writes, "If you believe with your heart...." That's the first crucial step to the power of faith. But believing with our hearts is only one-half of what that power is about.
Here's the other crucial point: our lips. "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord...." Many of us have Christ in our hearts but not on our lips. It is not fashionable in many circles to speak of your faith in any hearable manner. Many people would rather spend an evening with an insurance salesman than with a Christian on fire for his or her faith. We would rather make a quiet witness to our faith. We don't want to offend. It’s probably because we are so used to hearing from people who can’t seem to speak about God without offending every person around them, or sounding like a used car salesman with a hot deal on a clunker.
But there are moments when we need to speak up; to say a word with our lips for the faith that is in our hearts. When a friend is floundering in darkness and needs someone to say something positive, something reassuring, something life-giving, then remaining silent is not the tact to take. There are times when the disciple must put in a good word for Christ. It need not be an eloquent statement. It need not have all the subtleties of theology ironed out. It need only be a statement of simple faith; an affirmation that Christ is alive and that Christ is available to all who call on his name. If your lips speak what is in your heart, speak what that person can see is expressed in the way you live your life, then it will be heard.
The now classic motion picture GANDHI starred the actor Ben Kingsley as the central character. Rarely has an actor made so convincing a film portrayal as Kingsley did in GANDHI. He spent months preparing for the role, visiting Indian locales Gandhi had frequented. He even learned to spin cotton thread on a wooden wheel, as the Mahatma did, while holding conversations with any who wanted to see him. He took on his mannerisms, speech patterns, humor, and his respectful gentleness with other people.
After a time, the physical resemblance between Kingsley and Gandhi became startling. It was nearly impossible to tell where Gandhi left off and Kingsley began. At one point, after filming a scene in a village south of Delhi, Kingsley stepped out of his car. An elderly villager standing nearby knelt to touch Kingsley’s feet as the actor walked by. Embarrassed by this gesture of unbridled devotion, Kingsley stopped in his tracks. Raising the villager to his feet, Kingsley hastily explained that he was merely an actor playing the Mahatma. "We know," replied the villager, "but through you he will surely live again."
We do not need Jesus to live again; he already does live, and his power is available to you and to me, to live through us. Through our devotion to him our lives can become so transformed that he will be seen in us. This is the world's appeal to you and me: to see Christ in us and hear him through us. Let your lips speak what your heart holds for Jesus.
Lips and hearts. Have you ever been around someone who is in love? Have you ever noticed how easily they talk about their beloved? That is the natural inclination of one whose heart is full of devotion for a lover or a Savior. Is your heart full of love for Christ, or is there still an emptiness? Spend time feeding on God's word; on our Savior’s teachings. Let your heart be filled, or filled again with your love for him. Let that love change your living, the way you live with others and love them, until Christ can be seen living in you. Then let your lips speak what your heart holds.