Romans 10:8–13 (NRSV)
8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 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. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. There might not be a much better phrase to use on Valentine’s Day. The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. I am not much for the secular holiday of Valentine’s Day, but it is a day that fascinates me. Mainly because it is a feast day that has been honored for most of Christian history, but there is very little remembered about it. This feast day, is connected to three martyrs from the first millennium of the church, who were believed to have died on this day, and another eight martyrs that are known by the name Valentine but we are unsure of the date of their deaths. The legends of Valentine, are actually quite intriguing, of course we do not know exactly which Valentine we speak of. But we do know that they all lived lives of faith through persecution, and joined Christ in suffering.
Valentine, if the legends are true, was one of three people. Two of which were priests in Italy who died in Rome, and the third was a priest that died in North Africa. Of the three the ones in Italy are the ones that most of the legends are connected to. It is said that Valentine lived in 3rd century and was under house arrest because he was ministering during one of the persecution periods of history. We do not know the exact time but we do know that all the earliest stories place them before time of Emperor Constantine so Christianity was still illegal in the Roman Empire. Well this priest was under house arrest for teaching people about Christ, and while he was under investigation a judge came to him to put him to the test. This judge happened to have a daughter who was blind so for fun he decided to bring his daughter to the priest to see if she could be healed, and if she was he would do anything the priest said. Much to the judge’s surprise the girl was healed. So the judge then had to keep his side of the bargain. Valentine asked that the judge release all Christians under his authority from captivity, so that was granted. Because of this Valentine continued to teach and this judge and all of his family eventually were baptized into the church, his family according to legend had forty-four members.
Obviously this judge had a certain degree of influence and Valentine became a fairly well respected member of the community both inside and outside the church. But eventually his fame caught the attention of the Emperor. During this period of history it was forbidden for men to marry while they were serving in the military. The reasoning was so the soldiers would be focused on their duties instead of worrying about their families back home. I cannot tell you if that was a historical fact across all of the Roman empire of just in certain areas, but according to the legend of Valentine that was the case. Valentine taught and preached to all people, it did not matter who they were or what position they held, and some of those people who came to faith were soldiers. Through the course of time several of these soldiers came to the conclusion that the life they were leading in the military was not in sync with their faith and Valentine began to perform marriages for the soldiers. Because this was forbidden the emperor was upset and eventually learned where one of these secret weddings was taking place and captured this popular priest in action. Valentine was executed for this and this is how he became the patron saint of young love and marriage.
Why do I speak about this, why should we even care about the lives of people from over a thousand years ago that are connected to a branch of faith that is not our own? Because stories of faith have power. The word is near you, it is on your lips and in your heart. A story allows us to relate to people and to connect with them even if they are not sitting across from us. When we hear the stories of the ancient saints we can imagine what they experienced and at times we might consider what we might do if we faced similar circumstances. A story speaks to our hearts in ways that cold fact cannot because the story has flesh and emotion. We hear about St. Valentine and we can imagine a wedding ceremony at night between a soldier and a young woman. The story both ancient and contemporary draws us into a deeper relationship, it causes us to think and interact with another, while allowing us to look at our own lives from a different perspective. A story, our story is the most powerful tool we poses for the kingdom of God.
This phrase that Paul uses in this letter to the people of Rome comes from the very heart of Jewish scripture. It speaks of the relationship between God and his people. The word is near you. Near is one of those word that is loaded with meaning because it can reflect time or space. In either case it describes a closeness. When Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is near, he was describing the same thing that Paul is speaking about. The Kingdom, the word is close. It is right here, we can experience it soon or now, and we can reach out and touch it. The word is near you. The word in this case is not the same term that John used in describing knowledge or wisdom from God, but this is a testimony a saying, so in a sense Paul is telling us the story is near.
If we were read the verses just prior to this section we would learn that the story that Paul was speaking about was the story of faith which was spoken of by Moses and fulfilled in Christ. He speaks of the righteousness of those that live by the Law and how that righteousness is nothing compared to the power of Christ who came down from heaven, suffered, died, was buried in a grave, and rose again. The word is near you, Paul tells us, this story the power of the words is available all around us.
It is on your lips and in your heart. The concept of heart points deep within a person, it is not the organ the pumps blood throughout our bodies but it is the essence that pumps meaning and purpose throughout or existence. When the ancients speak of heart they speak of our passions our hopes and our dreams. Paul is saying that the word is near, the story of Christ and the power of that story is all around us, filling us and giving us meaning and purpose. It is coursing through our being and pours out of our lips. It is near, it is at the core of our being and on the tip of our tongues. Christ is in those that believe.
The letter to the Romans is seen by many as one of the most important letters of the New Testament, there is a reason it is the fourth book. It speaks of the power of God in our lives here today and for eternity that is available to us by faith. Faith and belief are often seen as synonyms but there are differences. Belief is not exclusively a religious word, because there are various levels of belief that do not necessarily require devotion to any religious system. These levels of belief are knowledge, trust, and entrust. We have various levels of belief in many things, but faith is the belief we have in God.
When Paul speaks of the word of faith, the word that is near on our lips and in our hearts, he is speaking about these levels of belief that are attached to God. Each of these levels speak of how we relate to God. Paul is challenging people to examine their belief. All that confess or proclaim with their lips and believe with the hearts that Jesus rose from the grave will be saved. What is being said here is that there are levels of belief, if we confess with our mouths we are moving deeper in our belief, we are moving from just base knowledge to trust. By speaking are saying that I trust that God is capable of doing what is said. But to believe in our hearts, that is a bit different. To believe in our hearts is take the word or story down to the very core of your being, entrusting our every passion and aspect of our lives to the belief that God is capable of doing what is spoke about Him. There is a difference in belief. It is that third level entrusting our passions to God where true faith lies.
When we entrust our hearts to God, we are proclaiming that everything that I am and all that I do is dedicated to God. Everything that makes us who we are has been saturated with the Spirit of God and the story of who we are cannot be separated from the story of God. This is why our story is so powerful to those that are beginning their journeys along the pathways of faith. This is why I first began to speak about St. Valentine. Valentine, allowed the story of Christ to be wedded to his very being. His life was no longer his and he was willing to forfeit all that he had for the cause of Christ. But he is not the only one. There are at least fourteen other saints celebrated on this day. Each one has a story of faith that is similar to that of Valentine. Each is a powerful testimony of what God can do in the world if we are willing to allow Him to work through us.
One of the most striking is the stories of St. Cyril and Methodius. These were two brothers from Thessalonica of Slavic heritage. These brothers were missionaries that took the Gospel of Christ from Thessalonica to Ukraine and to Moldova. These two men believed that it was important not only to speak the gospel but to teach it in the language of the people. At the time that they ministering the Slavic people did not have a written language, so these men created what would eventually evolve into the Slavic alphabet or Cyrillic. These two men translated scriptures and most of the early works of the church into the Slavic language and the people they taught heard the gospel. The fruits of their labor would not be seen fully for many years but one of those Slavic influenced church’s is the second largest church in the world. Unfortunately for them they did not see this with their own eyes, and they died only knowing that their life’s work was seen as blasphemous.
Valentine suffered a martyr’s death, Saints Cyril and Methodius both sought God fully yet did not see the fullness of their labors, yet their stories still inspire. We do not always know the power of our story when it is infused with Christ, but Paul assures us that we will not be put to shame.
Shame is another powerful word. It is a word of darkness one that speaks of separation from God, void of all Godly influence. Shamed people are seen as worthless. Shame is a painful word and those that wield the words of shame are dangerous. Shame is not of God, shame is not God’s desire for us. Shame is separation where God focuses of reconciliation. God will not allow those that are saturated in his story to be put to shame. God will not allow those who have fully entrusted every aspect of their lives to Him to be separated from Him. We are here today because of God’s faithfulness, each of us heard the testimonies of countless saints, saints we know as friends, grandparents, and heroes of faith. Some lived through terrible struggles and suffered greatly yet God carried them through it all. Those stories have been used by God’s Spirit to teach us a better life, and the same Spirit us using our stories to inspire those near us. I mention shame because shame is what sought to silence Valentine, Cyril, and Methodius, yet their stories live on even after a thousand years. God will not be silenced, God will not be shamed. In God there is no condemnation and no separation, all that call on his name will be saved.
Consider your lives. Consider the story that God has been telling the world through you. What is that story? The word is near you, it is on your lips and in your hearts. The word is that God so loved the world that He gave. He gave his son to live with us. He gave his son to teach us how to be human and to live a full life with God. He gave his son to take on the shame that separates us from God and provide reconciliation. He gave His son not to condemn but to save. He ensures that salvation through the risen Lord and that word is near. It is all around and in us if we are willing to grasp it. And if we are there is no more division or separation and that story becomes infused to our own. What is your story?