The reading from Romans feels loaded to me. It uses words like justified and righteousness and saved. Words that I have heard used over the years in ways that I didn’t understand and weren’t actually all the helpful to me in my relationship with Jesus.
And so in this season of Lent in which we are invited to notice our relationship with God, I want to do a bit of unpacking.
I often begin with the best of intentions. I start each day with a short meditation (because that is all I can manage) with the goal of living into each day with an open heart. To be open to whomever comes my way and to meet them for who they are.
Much like when I stand at the beginning of a Labyrinth preparing to walk and to hear whatever the Spirit might guide me towards. And then I get stuck behind someone who is walking slowly and who for whatever reason, I can’t get around. And suddenly all of that openness is lost to me. I just want them to move or walk faster or at least at my pace so that I can get around them or walk the way I want to and resume my spirit of openness. But that is sometimes the lesson, right? It is in the practice of staying open regardless of slow walkers or people who we meet who we find frustrating or hard, that we actually practice hearing, being in relationship with or noticing God.
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).
But what do we mean when we say that? Because friends, we have a lot of words for God and a lot of words that we have decided are God’s. And not all of those words are great and not all of those words are true.
So let’s think for a moment about heart and about mouth. What begins in my heart and then comes out of my mouth. The heart being the place where our intentions begin, and the mouth being or representing for us our actions. The words that we say – what actually happens when we are out in the world.
‘But what does it say?” is how our reading begins in verse 8. Paul is talking about what is in the Law that was given to Moses. What Does it say, this law?
‘Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that the person who does these things will live by them.”
Throughout this season of Lent, at the beginning of our liturgy we remind ourselves of the summary of that Law, as written in the Gospel of Matthew. And just to remind you once more, the summary of the Law that has been given to us is Love.
We are to love God, and our neighbours and ourselves.
When a powerful lawyer asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest, Jesus says love. Love God with your whole self and love your neighbour as yourself. Everything else is hung on these two. Everything else.
I read that, and I feel like I can breathe again. Maybe I can follow Jesus. Maybe.
Maybe I just need to slow down my pace and see the people around me. See that they are also seeking the beloved-ness of themselves. Also wanting to be in relationship with God.
We thought that this reminder was an important one for us this year, because we said that as a community, one of the three things we want to grow in besides numbers and accountability is love. So for this season of Lent, we will repeat this teaching in Matthew to remind ourselves and one another of the commandments that we have been given.
We gathered this past Wednesday to smudge ash on our heads and be reminded who and whose we are. Of the dust that we are made of and that we go back to. That we are all made of that very same stuff – no matter what else may separate us. We are all made of dust and we will all return to it.
This is a time to think about our hearts and our mouths and what Jesus came to save us from.
But what about those words that I mentioned at the beginning?
I read this week that to think about heart is to think about being justified, righteousness is an expression of one’s intent, of doing right for the right reasons.
Of doing right for the right reasons.
We do right or try to do right because we are trying to love our neighbours – trying to live out of that love that we have been so freely given by the one who made us out of dust and loves us no matter what.
We may have any number of definitions of what the ‘right’ reasons are. But if we go back to the commandments, we are brought up short. Love is what our reasons must be based in.
So let’s pull this apart a little further because these are loaded words: the New Dictionary of Theology offers the following as a definition of righteousness:
Righteousness. The basic meaning of ‘righteousness’ and its cognates in the Bible derives from the Hebrew sedeq, which was usually translated in the LXX (Greek)… denotes not so much the abstract idea of justice or virtue, as right standing and consequent right behaviour, within a community.
Consequent right behaviour within a community. And this is where we can land in some stickiness but also where there is hope.
We are connected to one another in community. So that when we think about our actions, what we will do, what we have done, whether they are righteous or not – we have to think about them in relationship to one another. We are in community together and we have decided some things together about how we want to be. And if we are a faith community, we have based those decisions about how we want to be on the teachings that we receive through Jesus Christ. And Jesus tells us that there is no commandment greater than the one to love.
Love is what we are basing this whole thing on. And we come together in community to figure this stuff out together. It’s easy to love all by myself but harder and even more important once I come face to face with someone else or stuck behind a slow walker.
And so we come full circle and back to the Heart.
When we get to verse 10 and hear: For one who believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. A full-on sentence.
We begin to have a fuller picture of what we are talking about. Justified. Wikipedia says that the definition here is to be declared or made righteous in the sight of God. 
And what did we just learn righteousness means? It is about being accountable to one another in community. We can’t be righteous in the sight of God alone, it is how we are with each other that matters. How we treat one another, care for one another, I would argue make space for one another and who God created each of us to be, not just some narrow version of humanity but the full spectrum of all of us.
God puts us in relationship with each other. God looks at us meditating by ourselves in the morning on open heartedness or standing at the beginning of the labyrinth and says: “ Oh that’s really lovely, now go live those intentions out, have an open heart behind a slow walker, because that’s where it’s gonna count.” And I believe that we are being saved from is a life that would have us believe otherwise. We are being saved from the notion that any one of us is more important than the other. We are saved from an understanding that our words and our actions don’t matter, because they do. We are saved from thinking that we live in isolation and can behave any way we want. Because
  http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/righteousness/