Good News or Bad News? Reflections on Romans 10:5-15
But for everyone, there needs to be a breakthrough of some kind, a moment when we call out to the Lord and access "the righteousness that comes from faith" (Rom.10:6). It may be a moment of loss or weakness when we realize we don't have the resources to handle life alone. It may be a moment of softening of our hearts toward someone or some group we have kept at arm's length or thought of with hostility.
John Wesley's experience, for example, was much less dramatic than Paul's, but no less life changing. His was an interior experience of the love of Christ forgiving his past failures in a Chapel on Aldersgate Street in London in 1738. For most of us there is more than one moment of recognition; it is rather a journey of progressive moments.
We discover that, when we call out to the Lord, God doesn't have to go very far at all to reach us. God is not like the friend who lives four hours away and both of you agree that you wish you lived closer so you could visit more. (Then you see on Facebook that they have been within twenty minutes of you several times over the past few months.) God is in the neighborhood and comes when we call. With challenge and difficult tasks—not with candy coating and cheap grace—God comes. With the opportunity for a forgiven, reconciled relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, in a word, with salvation.
I was reading an article in our daily paper about a camp for grieving children. It's a weeklong camp for kids between ages six and seventeen who have dealt with a death in the family. It's called El Tesoro de la Vida, which means "the Treasure of Life," located near Granbury, Texas. The camp director Denis Cranford said, "Our ultimate goal is for a child to know that he or she is a kid first and a griever second. They don't have to be any one's big sister. They don't have to be the man of the house—all of the …roles they take when someone dies."
One of the campers, Vicente Ocura lost several family members within four years: grandparents to illnesses, his teenage cousins to murder, and his newborn brother to a birth complication. On one day of camp, eleven teenage boys participate in a "trust fall." When it was Vicente's turn, he took off his black-rimmed glasses, pulled himself up on a ledge, and covered his eyes with a black-and-white bandana.
"Spotters ready?" counselor and therapist Brian Miller shouted.
"Ready," the boys replied.
"Ready," Vicente said before he fell backward off the ledge and landed in the arms of his camp buddies.
"We got you, buddy, we got you," one of the campers said as Vicente got back on his feet.
Miller moderated a discussion afterward. He told the boys, "Vicente just fell off a platform that could have injured him, but he trusted us to be there and catch him … There is a parallel to that when we sit down in a circle talking about stuff we don't talk about." (From the article "A Safe Place to Grieve," Dallas Morning News, July 28, 2014).
They say that where you stand on something depends on where you sit.
So where do we stand on God's proximity and mercy for all—is it bad news or is it good news?
If we don't want God meddling in something we're doing and want God's affections for ourselves and those like us, it's bad news. God is intrusive, too close for comfort, and indiscriminate in who God accepts into the salvation circle.
But if we have gotten to the end of our rope and have no resources with which to strengthen ourselves, if we find ourselves on a path from which we cannot find an exit, if we look into someone else's eyes and discern their sufferings and their humanity, then all that Paul says in this passage is good news.
Nobody has to fetch Christ from heaven or haul him up from hell. For "the word is near us, on our lips and in our hearts." If we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.
"For one believes with the heart and so is justified and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 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" (Rom. 10:10, 12).
Good news indeed! Thanks be to God.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.