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Time after Pentecost - Lectionary 20 (A)
Text: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
August 17, 2008      

          How many of us ever use e-mail to communicate with others?  I am sure that most of us do, but as it becomes more and more a part of our daily lives, some of us are learning – to our misfortune – an essential fact about how this technology works.  We’re learning that e-mails are irrevocable.  That is, once you hit the “Send” button, you can’t take them back.  E-mails are forever – and once they are out in cyberspace, they can be forwarded and shared with millions of people. 

          This is the lesson that was learned by Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In their book, Send: The Personal Guide to E-Mail for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe share some   e-mails that Brown wrote during the worst days of the Hurricane Katrina disaster three years ago.  A couple of examples…

FROM: Michael Brown
TO: FEMA Staff
August 29, 2005
Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?

FROM: Michael Brown
TO: FEMA Staff
August 29, 2005
If you’ll look at my lovely FEMA attire you’ll really vomit. I am a fashion god.

          Needless to say, these e-mails and others did not stay private.  They were forwarded and shared and soon thousands and even millions of people had read them.  Perhaps Michael Brown was just trying to be funny and relieve some tension, but his messages certainly did not jibe with the emotions of a nation being confronted with the devastation of one of the worst hurricanes in its history.  As more and more of the American public became aware of these e-mails, the outrage began to build – and it was not long before President Bush had to show “Brownie” the door.   

          Maybe we haven’t had a “Brownie” experience with stupid e-mails (or maybe some of us have!), but I am sure that almost all of us at times have said something that we almost instantly wished we could take back – but we can’t, because once the words are out they are irrevocable.  Sometimes the mouth works faster than the brain and we say something embarrassing or hurtful – and then we (and others) have to live with the consequences.    

          The word irrevocable means “permanent” – “never to be changed.”  This is the standout word in today’s second reading from Romans – the only time that this word is used in the entire Bible.  As the apostle Paul writes; “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:29)  Yes, just as e-mails and thoughtless words can be “irrevocable” in a bad way, the gifts and calling of God are “irrevocable” in a wonderful way! 

          Today’s second reading marks the conclusion of a three chapter section in Romans in which Paul has been writing about the question about how the Jewish people fit into God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.  This was much more than just an academic question for Paul – because as he notes, he himself was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  And as he had stated earlier at the beginning of this section in chapter 9 (our second reading two weeks ago), he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in (his) heart” (Rom. 9:2) that most of his own people had rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  

          So what did this mean for the Jewish people in particular and for all people in general?  Paul’s basic point in chapters 9 – 11 of Romans was that Israel’s rejection of Jesus is what made it possible for Gentiles (people like us) to receive the good news of Jesus.  And indeed, this is what happened in the development of the early church.  When the Jewish people in general refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, that is when Christian believers began to more and more bring their message to the Gentiles who, in many cases, proved to be more receptive.       

          But in the end, Paul believed, all people – both Jews and Gentiles – will put their faith in Jesus and be saved.  In a strange way, Israel’s unbelief is a part of God’s plan to save all people – so that in the end all people everywhere will belong to God’s kingdom forever. 

          The reason why Paul believed this is because of his firm conviction that – as he writes in today’s second reading – “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  God had made a promise to Abraham that he would bless his descendants forever.  God has not and will not ever go back on that promise!  Or as Paul puts it, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.”   

          But be that as it may, what does this mean for us?  When we think about it, we too have many of the same issues that Paul was trying to make sense of.  How many of US have family members – parents, spouses, children, and others – who seem to have rejected God and Jesus and his church?  Have we ever wondered about their salvation?  Has this ever been a source of concern for us?  I personally have often thought about this concerning my own children.  Their present unbelief is, as Paul wrote back in Romans 9:2, a cause of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”  And I am sure that this is also true for many of you concerning people whom you love as well.   

          But one thing that I do believe is that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  When we are baptized, God promises to bless us and make us a part of his family forever.  And even though we may often break our promises, God never does!  No matter what we do, God will never reject us.   

          Some of you may have heard me say this before – that through baptism we become children of God.  As we go through life, we may wander off and often become backsliding, sinful, and runaway children of God – but one thing that we can never become is ex-children of God!  Because the promise that God gives to us at baptism is irrevocable – it will never be changed or canceled out!  And when we are ready to repent and “come back home” to a relationship with our heavenly Father, he will always forgive us and receive us back lovingly and joyfully.   

“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  May we always remember that when thinking about the Jewish people, when thinking about our friends and families, and also certainly when thinking about ourselves.   

There are a lot of things that we may not understand about how God works in our world and in our lives – but this we do know; that God loves us all and in the end will be merciful to all.  Yes, these are God’s irrevocable promises that will never be changed or canceled out.  We are God’s people – his beloved people – forever!   

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Amen!


George R. Karres,

Pella Lutheran Church

418 W. Main Street

Sidney, MT 59270