10th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/9/2020
One of the casualties of our present COVID pandemic, or, I would add, our handling of it, is the toll it is taking on professional sports. Some athletes are declining to participate, and where games and events are still going forward, strict social distancing requirements will affect the bottom line of the teams' viability in the long run. At least for football, basketball, and baseball, there will be fewer games, and no fans will be allowed at those games. No fans translate into a significant loss of revenue. If you want to see your favorite athletes in action, watch the games on television or live-streamed on your other electronic devices. That means the media giants will exert even more control over the games and athletes than they already do. All this has the potential to drastically change the way we Americans view and value these athletes. That may not be a bad thing. After all, we have tended to shamefully idolize these athletes, making them like gods we worship with our time, talents, and treasure.
Now, don't get me wrong. These athletes are awe-inspiring in many ways. The high quality of their skills, dedication, resilience, and determination they display are inspirational. On top of this, what observer is not "wowed" by their level of conditioning and how well-sculpted their bodies are? Many of them are more than poetry in motion; they are beautiful in action.
Michael Angelo and Leonardo DaVinci, among other fine sculptors and painters, have spent their whole lives depicting the beauty of the human body. Of course, they are merely copying God's creative genius. After all, God Himself pronounced his creation of human beings and the rest of creation "very good." We can only imagine how much more beautiful Adam and Eve's bodies were before sin infected them.
Today, we treat specific parts of the human body as more "beautiful" than others. For example, hair, faces, or the body's overall shape receive most of our admiration and praise. But hands, feet, or ears are rarely considered when determining beauty. Despite this, St. Paul writes in I Corinthians, "God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked." Feet, hands, or ears might not be parts of the body that we would characterize as beautiful, but imagine what the body would be like without them! Their indispensableness to us causes them to have even more honor than those more aesthetically "beautiful" parts.
Think about hands for a moment. Would you call them beautiful? I remember walking into a room in the center of the Baylor Medical Center hospitals in Dallas, Texas, surrounded by glass cases full of hands. It was almost surreal; some might even say it was creepy. The room is affectionately referred to as the Room of the Hands. The significant glass cases surrounding you contain hundreds of plaster casts of the hands of some of the world's most renowned surgeons, well-known politicians, actors, and other celebrities. It is a fascinating display. Just looking at the size, shape, and condition of each pair of hands is like reading the life story of the person to whom they belong. Some of the hands are perfectly shaped and quite beautiful. Others were misshapen or even missing digits, revealing the toll of years of hard labor or dangerous mishaps.
Why not do a room of feet? We may not consider feet to be as enjoyable as hands or be on our list of the most attractive body parts, but they also tell a story. Consider the long, almost fin-like feet of gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps versus a ballerina's tiny yet sinewy, knuckled feet. Their feet are so well suited for their respective pursuits that we must consider them "beautiful."
In our text, we hear the apostle Paul speak about beautiful feet. He says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" He is quoting here from a centuries-old exclamation of the prophet Isaiah. "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation and says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
It is not the aesthetics, or "eye appeal," of the feet that either Paul or Isaiah have in mind. Instead, the beauty of the feet they refer to is in the excellent service they have performed. They assist the mouth in sharing the good news with the oppressed or those suffering under the threat of defeat or ruin.
In our technologically advanced age, with satellite television broadcasts, live streaming internet services, i-pods, sophisticated smartphones, jet planes, and automobiles, we rarely consider the importance of feet in communication. Paul and Isaiah allude to the common practice in their day of sending news from one place to another via runners or couriers. Under those circumstances, feet were essential for receiving the information. Often, report from the battlefield would be sent by two couriers, one presenting the good news and the other the bad. That meant for someone waiting to hear a word from the frontlines, just as much as you would dread to hear the sound of the running feet of the wrong news carrier, you would be equally delighted to see the running feet of the excellent news carrier.
The good news that Paul has in mind for the Romans, as well as for you and me, is the victory Jesus Christ has won for us all. The bad news is that sin has separated all sinners from God and brought them under His condemnation. But the good news is that God so loved the world of sinners that He gave us His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to receive the full punishment for our sins.
Jesus' crucifixion might be harsh news to listen to, but it is the very news that brings our hearts peace and eternal joy. That makes it great news! Jesus' resurrection from the dead proves that the wall of wrath and hatred between sinners and God has been broken down. The wages of sin have been swallowed up in victory. Jesus' victory over sin and death is also our victory.
That has brought us the good news that there is no longer any shame before God for you or anyone else who believes in Jesus Christ. God, in His grace, has decreed that the believer in Jesus Christ, like you, stands perfectly justified before God on account of Christ. Faith in Jesus saves you from God's wrath against your sins. How can the beautiful feet of those who brought you and me this good news be anything less than beautiful?
The aspect of this good news that was incredibly comforting and joyful to Paul's original audience was that Christ's atoning work had also done away with the distinction that had always existed between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews had always been weighed down by the demand to obey, keep, and observe the whole Law of God given to them, which included the Ten Commandments and all the ceremonial political laws. It was an unbelievable burden. For them, righteousness before God meant living by the Law and its dictates. However, that same Law made them condemned because it painfully reminded them that they could never keep the Law perfectly as required in their spiritually weakened state. That divine requirement also created a wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Gentiles, without the Law, were excluded from the covenant of God's salvation.
But the good news Paul had to share was that, on account of Jesus' perfect keeping of the Law in the place of all people and His willingness to take everyone's punishment on Himself, that old dividing wall between Jew and Gentile had also been removed. Paul writes: "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on Him."
There could be no more appropriate or fitting message for Jews and Gentiles in Rome, let alone the entire world. How beautiful were the feet of those, like Paul, who brought them the good news?
Many years ago, during my ministry at my first call in Riesel, Texas, a rather humorous incident happened involving our second oldest son, about four years old. He was always the one who did the unexpected. He was also our little showman. One Sunday morning, during the distribution portion of a communion service, my wife, Jo, and our five children were among the communicants. After I had distributed the body of Christ, one of the elders, a colossal man wearing cowboy boots, followed me with the sacred cup of the Lord. When he reached Jo, our son suddenly scrunched himself through the railing and kissed the elder's feet in full sight of the congregation. The solemnity of Holy Communion was broken up by the uncontrolled snickers and laughter of our other children, the observant members of the church, and even the elder himself.
However, this somewhat embarrassing incident has always given me pause to ponder. Given what Paul shares with us about how beautiful the feet of those who preach the good news of Jesus Christ are, why shouldn't we all be willing to kiss the feet of those who bring and serve us the good word and the eternal goods of God?
In this case, the elder was serving as God's holy instrument to bring the blood of Christ shed in death for their sins to those burdened by them. He was carrying the good news in tangible form. How beautiful, indeed, were his feet—dirty, old cowboy boots and all!
Sadly, we tend to forget just how dependent we all are on the preachers of the good news. Listen again to St. Paul: "But how are they to call on him whom they have not believed?" And how are they to believe in Him, of whom they have never heard? And how will they hear if no one is preaching? "And how are they to preach unless they are sent?" After all, he concludes, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."
We cannot come to know Christ on our terms. We do not discover and receive His great gifts on our own. We do not create faith in Jesus in our hearts. Faith in Christ Jesus as the Savior of sinners is just as much a gift of the gospel, the good news, as is the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. The beautiful feet of the apostles and prophets, through whom the Holy Spirit has brought the Gospel of Christ to the world. Also, the feet of our parents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, neighbors, or friends who have preached this good news of Christ to us are sights for sore eyes!
Nothing could be more beautiful in all the world than their feet! Their beautiful feet have brought us salvation! We might not feel like kissing their feet, but we should thank God daily for their beautiful feet! Amen.