Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 “Tenacious”

During the Battle of Britain, in World War II, Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying, “Never give up, never give up, never give up!” I have always thought these words rang true for Christians as we walk as disciples and servants of Jesus Christ and face seemly insurmountable obstacles. Paul’s words today, in his letter to the Roman Christians, convinces me that Churchill’s words could also be used to describe the Lord’s movement in our lives and in the world in which we live.

Paul spends three chapters in his letter to the Roman Christians discussing God’s relationship with his chosen people, the Jews. We have spent the last two Sundays struggling with Paul’s words seeking to apply them to our lives today.

In his closing statements, which are contained in this verse, Paul makes the stark, bold claim, “God has not rejected his people” (Rather meekly translated in our text as “by no means” Previously, he has based this claim on Old Testament stories and theology. He now bases his claim on himself and what God has done in his life.

Paul was an educated Jew. He had a rather distinguished pedigree and identified himself as a Pharisee. As a conservative, traditional, observer of the law, Paul opposed the new sect called, “The Way” (whose followers were later called “Christians). He didn’t just voice his opposition, but rather actively persecuted the early disciples of Jesus Christ. He imprisoned some and stood by while others were executed. In his writings, Paul states that he considers himself the “chief of sinners.” Living in opposition to the God whom he sought to serve, Paul was amazed that God would single him out, appear to him on the road to Damascus, forgive him, give him the ability to believe, and respond to God’s grace with faith. Paul wasn’t the only imperfect person that the Lord had used.

Jacob, one of the fathers of the Jewish people was a liar and trickster.

Moses was a murderer with a speech impediment—he stuttered.

King David was a rapist and murderer.

The disciple/apostle Peter betrayed him. The list of imperfect people is endless, both in the Scriptures and in the history of the church.

For example, John Newton, the writer of the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was a captain of a ship in the slave trade. Raised with minimal exposure to religious practices or teaching, he found himself calling out to the Lord, “To have mercy on him,” in the midst of a storm that threatened to sink his ship. Later he referred to this event as his “Great Deliverance.” The fact that God has reached out to him and drawn Newton to himself even after what Newton had done and who he had become inspired Newton to pen the words to Amazing Grace.

God is a tenacious God.

According to Paul, the Lord will not stop moving in the lives of the Jews drawing them into a faithful relationship with him, and God will not stop moving in our lives inviting us in to a closer walk with him, and transforming us in to his image.

In the book entitled, The Evolution of Faith, the author argues that the Christianity should drop its insistence that humankind is in bondage to sin. He supports his argument with several interesting points, and eventually comes to the conclusion that Christianity’s stress on sin is too negative and against the characteristic of God--God would never make imperfect (non-good) people. It is an attractive argument, but it doesn’t work for me. (I don’t think it would work for Paul, either.)

First, I’ve read about people who believe that they have attained a level of sinlessness. I do not agree with their claim of sinlessness. They are usually found to be self-righteous, with a distinct holier-than-thou attitude. Many times people like this frequently did evil, nasty, unloving things in the name of Jesus.

The second reason I have trouble with the author’s argument is me—myself. I can describe myself in many ways, but sinless is not one of them. I don’t think that I’m alone in this. Most of us try to be good people. We know, however, that even at our best we are a little “rough around the edges.” There are areas of our lives that we don’t like, and some areas of which we are ashamed.

We fear being too transparent, convincing ourselves that if people knew what we really were like they would reject us and flee from us. The good news of God’s love and grace is that our goodness doesn’t cause the Lord to love us anymore and neither does our sinfulness persuade God to love us any less.

God tenaciously loves us and moves in our lives. The Lord does this because of who he is, and in spite of who we are. We have nothing to be proud of in our relationship with God.

In fact, in Romans 11:20 Paul warns his readers not to be proud, but to stand in awe of what God has done and is doing. This is an echo of Micah 6:8 where we read that the Lord “requires” that his people love kindness, seek justice, and walk humbly before their God.

Paul anticipates that Roman Christians, to whom he is writing, will respond to his letter with the question, “How?” “How will God do this?” “How will God bring the people of Israel back into a relationship with him?”

Like any good, truthful theologian Paul answers their question honestly by saying, “I haven’t a clue. I don’t know.” In reality Paul writes, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways.” In other words, “Only God knows.”

God is a little too big for us. God works mysteriously in our lives sometimes in ways that only God can see. We know that God has used a blinding flash of light and a voice from heaven. God has used a burning bush, a storm at sea. Sometimes God uses more mundane avenues to draw us to him like a listening ear, a warm smile, a heartfelt hug, or simply the gift of presence.

There will be times when we can rest in the assurance that at the very core of our being we know that God is embracing us with his love and grace. At other times we may not sense God’s movement in our lives or in our world. There may even be occasions when we will convince ourselves that God is distant rather than near. Whatever our situation, we can remember Paul’s words, “God hasn’t rejected his people.” And he hasn’t forsaken us, because our God is a tenacious God of love.