Hearing, Believing, and the Call to Preach

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
                                                                                                         Romans 10:14-17

Making the Word present, St. Paul writes words that will be spoken. We speak of the Bible as the Holy Word of God—that which makes holy all that it touches—but it is not that the leaders of the Roman assembly took the parchment of Paul’s epistle and touched it to the bodies of those who had gathered, it was that the Word of God was spoken, filled with the holy breath of God in its proclamation, voiced in another’s human voice. Tone, timbre, frequency, pitch, articulation, volume, breath—Paul would not have known exactly how the words would have been brought to life off the page. He could only trust that when he put pen to parchment, the power of God was present, and that such resurrecting power would be released in a doxological movement that invited the church gathered in Rome to turn to God and to give thanks with their whole lives.

Faith comes in such a way. Hidden in human words is the love that set the universe in motion, the commanding mercy that raised Jesus from the dead, the purifying power that enters the hearts of sinful men and women and sets them aright. Faith comes because the Word of God, the incarnate One, Jesus Christ, was raised from the dead. Faith comes because this One, risen from the dead, is yet speaking.

As St. Paul believes there is one God and Father of us all, as he believes there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, so he wants these Romans, and all other communities to whom this is passed on, to know that there is one story, one overarching truth about the nature of human existence, about the One God hidden yet heard, trustworthy yet unfathomable, inscrutable yet utterly available to all who call upon him; One God, who is who He is, and who will be who He will be, One God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, One God, who brooks no opponents and whose story has the power to shape the life and identity of a faithful people both now and forever.

St. Paul now gives to the Romans the covenant renewal of Deuteronomy to be their own, but in the context of the new covenant, in the context of a later prophet’s word fulfilled: The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts. God’s covenant, God’s promise stronger than death, is now written on your hearts. Everyone who then calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Paul is on a roll now, asking a series of questions that cause the hearer to work toward a thoughtful response, using a pattern of contrast and repetition whose two-step rhythms build to a climax: call—believed—believe—heard—hear—proclaim—proclaim—sent—good news! By the time he’s done, his listeners will be ready to run toward their neighbor in love, presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice, obedient to the commands of God, remembering the Word proclaimed as they enter an idolatrous world turned in on itself, a world that mistakes its own destruction for pleasure. “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” St. Paul does what he says and says what he does, speaking them into faith, giving the gathered assembly Israel’s sacred history, sending them out in the power of the Risen Christ. For he writes in the faith that not only will his words carry his presence, but that they will carry the presence of the One who sent him.

When a text such as Romans 10 is read aloud, like any other biblical text we read in the assembly, at the end of the appointed passage we proclaim, “The Word of the Lord.” That little profession of faith, “The Word of the Lord,” is part of what authorizes us to dare preach. When you preach that word, your mouth will carry the infinite—the forgiveness of sins, the freedom from the satans of every age, the power of the resurrection unto life eternal. God will use your mouth, your vocal cords, your gestures, your stammers, your fears to do his work. It is a miracle every time the infinite God clothes himself in our humanity. For if your mouth is like mine, it has said some very human things, and they haven’t all been very nice. God will use you anyway. That’s his choice, he who brings Romans and Jews together in his love, he who reconciles enemies with his mercy, he who draws us to his presence with a word, with a breath, with a baby at Mary’s breast.

And so we go out and preach, preach Christ risen from the dead. In the power of the Holy Spirit, may we go out and proclaim the gospel, so that all the world might bow before the beauty of Jesus’ feet. “To him be the glory forever. Amen.”