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Faith is not a private matter

September 20, 2016

17th Sunday of Holy Trinityevangelizando

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:9-17 (NIV)

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”

What’s the point of this story? It helps us understand the difference between faith and trust. We often try to explain the difference between a person’s faith in God and trust in God; concretely believing in God and trusting in God are two different things.
There are many who have faith in God or even believe in the existence of Jesus Christ and are willing to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but they don’t have enough confidence to put their lives and everyday problems in the arms of Jesus.

Today’s text speaks not so much about confidence, but especially about faith as a fundamental belief. There are many people who already believe in Christ, but they fail to have enough trust to see God’s works and miracles in their life. And there are others, who are good and decent people that find it difficult to simply believe in the existence of God and to believe in Jesus Christ as God and Lord. Many used to say, “You have to believe in something.” Yes, but in what? in superstition, in healers, in esotericism, in cabal, soothsayers, in our will and human capacity?
Is that what it is to believe? Is that the kind of faith of which the apostle is speaking in today’s reading? Of course not; he is talking about a very concrete faith, a particular faith; he is speaking about confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, as the authority in your life and as the Son of God himself.

There are many who say— I don’t know where they got this—, that faith is a private, personal matter. But today the apostle tells us something different, he is telling us: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” He is not talking about something private that we do with our hearts or intimately through our thoughts; he is telling us to proclaim it with our mouth, that is, to speak up and be heard in front of others that we believe in Jesus Christ. That is called declaring or confessing, as when we confess the Apostles’ Creed during the service. This applies to the church too. Churches have to have members who publicly and openly declare their faith to others, otherwise it is not the kind of faith for which Christ is asking, rather, it is nothing more than a tradition, or a habit. Faith in Christ must be public, shared, inviting and proclaimed.
Faith must be proclaimed not just during worship services but on every day of the week and with everyone. There may even be many people who attend church but then cannot confess their own belief in front of other people. They cannot tell others that they believe in Christ, and that is very sad because there it is shown that theirs is no true faith, and then church becomes a mere matter of religious tradition, but not faith.

For many of us, believing in Christ is not a problem. When we read today’s reading the apostle says: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is not a major problem and we can say yes, of course I believe, and I am even willing to declare so publicly and to proclaim it. But do you know that for many people this is difficult to hear and to accept it is a huge step. They are still not able or spiritually mature enough to declare it with their own mouth and even just to believe it, because they still do not really believe it in their own heart. They are not yet ready to believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, the Son of God, and much less to affirm that Jesus Christ may eventually become their authority, that is their Lord.

And why is that? Because they are not yet ready to believe. When are these people going to be ready to believe in Christ? It is only up to them. They alone have to decide. Salvation is a very personal matter. We cannot save others. Everyone must decide for their own life what to believe. For us believers it is very easy to understand this. But for other people to accept this confession is a vital dilemma. There are even people who cannot go to church, or participate in the life of the church, because they are not yet ready to believe internally. There are still spiritual blockages that prevent them from being free in this sense.
We often wonder: what can we do to make others believe? Perhaps there is not much we can do. All we can do is to gently invite people to church, but nothing more. Another thing we can do, and this is very powerful, is to pray for the conversion of people; we can even pray for the members of our family, for them to truly believe in Christ so they can accept Him and decide to put Christ first in their lives.

The apostle tells us today that one of the most concrete ways that a person can believe and invoke the name of the Lord and be saved is when they have the chance to hear the word of God: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

It is a great blessing that we can preach freely the word of God today. For many of us today, these words are perhaps not so amazingly important because we already believe in Christ and it seems natural that a preacher preaches this. Yes, we may have other needs, other spiritual hunger. But do you know that it is still very important for many people to hear this word today. Every day, at the same time that we are gathered here and now, there are people who are being persecuted, tortured and killed simply for hearing the word of God, for reading the Bible, for courageously declaring themselves disciples of Christ in front of people that are not. To be able to hear the word of God, to be able to open and read the Bible is a great blessing. We here in Canada and some other countries, have received a blessing from God to freely preach the word of God. If we can value this and give our churches the importance they really deserve, God will continue to bless and do more. But if we don’t have respect for the word of God and do not put Christ and His church in the first place in our lives, unfortunately, God’s blessing will slowly withdraw from society; with the consequences that we all know very well will take place.

One of the special reasons why God blesses countries, such as Canada or the USA, is because these countries were founded largely by Christian people, believers who confessed Jesus Christ as God and Lord. It was the case for our ancestors or the first immigrants in these countries. And we enjoy that spiritual lineage, this spiritual heritage or blessing that is still giving us the favor of God. But now it is up to us that are alive today to continue invoking God’s blessing for our people, our families, our churches, our cities and our country. The moment we stop believing in Christ, and we do not hold God, the church, and the preaching of His word as the most important of Sunday’s events, then our spiritual life begins to decay. We stop being hungry for spiritual things and it all starts to fall apart in the same order until to reach the same bases of other countries.
Even in the Biblical times it happened: ‘But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

It is very important that we arrange a good place for preaching the word of God and that each of us put the church, where the Word of God is preached, first. This way the church can continue to preach the word of God. We read in the Bible: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)
If there are things that are missing in your life and you cannot find them, if there are blessings that you miss in your life, if prayers are not being answered, if there are situations that cannot be solved that appear to be stuck, if there are things that seem to be falling apart, if repeated incurable illnesses happen, if there is poor quality of life and sadness in the heart, perhaps this is a sign from God to begin again to think it’s time to put the things of God in the first place in your life. Let us not neglect the word of God, the preaching and the church and we will see that we not only are believers, but also saved believers and will have the blessing and favor of God for many more generations to come in this country. We read: “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Remember that God is asking for our belief to be public, that we declare our faith not only with our hearts, in the interior, but also with our mouth, that is out loud in front of others, even those who may not believe, even in front of those who are our family. Let us put the Christian community in the first place in our life, even before our family and our traditions and free time so that God may work miracles among us.
That’s a beautiful promise from God for every one of us this morning.
May God richly bless us according to our willingness to believe in Him in private but also in public, showing Him in front of others.

Amen.

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