Romans: 16: 27

We tried to hear it all, not one verse or one slogan from a billboard on a highway, nor echoing obsolete battle cries from the wars of religion: ‘saved’-  our Reformed movement is newly reconciled with Luther and Rome! 

I’m pretty sure I got it wrong –  and that so did you. It’s bigger than the both of us. Happily, it’s a story of God’s saving, more than it is one of our response. 

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Romans 16: 17-23

I find in today’s notes assurance that human nature is familiar –  the earliest movement included strong women leaders, gathered in primary affiliation groups or households, worked through people, personalities, characters, stories, not simply by dominating dogmatic dictation. 

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Romans 16: 1-16

Try to read these slowly, the way we read the ‘begatitudes’ in Torah –  imagining who bore these names, and why these 26 names were chosen for repetition. When you mention members of your family, or highlight examples of your congregation, who do you name first, to what hearers? 

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Romans 15: 14-21

Paul echoes his opening rhetoric of affirmation –  Romans are full of goodness, knowledge, 

And able to admonish, guide and direct each other. He is distancing himself from condescension –  People deserve respect. 

When you offer your truth, opinion, testimony –  do you imaging your audience this way? 

Part of the breakdown of our civil society starts here –  demonizing others as stupid, ignorant, leaderless. Liberal elites caricature working people, and ordinary people type-cast professionals but Paul writes anyhow –  admitting that it is in part a bit bold –  to remind Romans (and us) of what we already know –  and appeal to us as potential allies. 

This is not command-and-control strategy, but building a movement of shared purpose, with room for different gifts. 

Paul’s gift and mission, as he defines it, crediting God and the Spirit for it, is apostolic, to the Gentiles, a minister or servant or priest of Christ Jesus, as others have the gift and mission as priests of the Temple, Paul will help Gentiles respond,  as Temple priests help Jews respond, to the grace of God.

Becoming sacrifices through offering sacrificially. We don’t use the word ‘sacrifice’ as Paul did –  search the word ‘sacrifice’ on billbrucewords.com for more on that –  lLast summer, I noted a novel by Joyce Carol Oates –  ‘The Sacrifice’ (2015) – left in the church study -  an alleged ‘white cops rape black girl’ event in New Jersey, through the voices of various characters – who is, and is not, the ‘sacrifice’ in racialized America? 

Last summer, I also noted a 2014 novel by Dave Eggers - ‘Your Fathers, where are they?  And the Prophets, do they live forever?’ (that’s from Zechariah).Again, the novelist speaks through characters’ dialogue, about post-boomer generations’ loss of purpose. Who is, and is not, the ‘sacrifice’ in post-industrial America? 

This summer, I’m enjoying ‘Radical Sacrifice’ by Terry Eagleton –  you might fairly worry that I am going to follow through -   ‘Leviticus’ in September and October –  the code of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘purity’ needs a reading, from our glib liberal and left of centre pov! 

The rest of today is Paul’s ‘boast’ –  a nod to his decade of work  from Jerusalem and Judea, 

Through Syria into Turkey, then Greece and even Balkan frontiers.

As a person seeking employment, I may be oversensitive to the conventions of boasting –  

Inflated resumes, listing successes –  and the dangers of allowing modesty to hide light under a bushel. I preached that once as ‘Humbler Than Thou’ –  Imagine Paul in 56CE,  pausing to acknowledge change since Jesus’ death –  and accelerated growth in the movement in its second decade –  God was up to something, and Paul was participating, but not running the thing! 

Our most recent decades, perhaps since 9-11, or a burst ‘tech bubble’ see accelerated decline in our movement. Is God chastising our liberal vanities? Your and I are participating, but it’s not all our fault! 

I keep preaching that God’s doing fine –  but we have lost our assurance that we’re helping God well –   ‘where does my world need mending, and who will help’  that’s ‘Mending the World’, our church’s report in 1997 how have our alliances changed, and do we feel more connected, or isolated and mistrustful? 

14 As for myself, I too am convinced,  my brothers-and-sisters,  concerning you that ye yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another. 

15 But I have written to you in part rather boldly, as one who would remind you, because of the grace given to me by God

16 to be a [priestly] minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, acting as priest for the gospel of God, in order that the sacrifices consisting of Gentiles might be acceptable [to God], sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 

17 I have then this boast in Christ Jesus with respect to things pertaining to God; 

18 for I will not dare to say anything of  the things which Christ has not accomplished through me to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, in word and deed,  

19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit, so that from Jerusalem in a circle up to Illyricum I have completed the gospel of Christ, 

 20 being thus ambitious to preach the gospel not where Christ has [already ] been named, let I build on someone else’s foundation.  

21 Instead, as it is written:  “They shall see to whom it was not announced about him, and those who have not heard shall understand” (Isa 52:15) 

 

14 Personally,  I've been completely satisfied with who you are and what you are doing. You seem to me to be well-motivated and well-instructed, quite capable of guiding and advising one another. 

15 So, my dear friends, don't take my rather bold and blunt language as criticism. It's not criticism. I'm simply underlining how very much I need your help in carrying out this highly focused assignment God gave me, 

16 this priestly and gospel work of serving the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish outsiders so they can be presented as an acceptable offering to God, made whole and holy by God's Holy Spirit. 

17 Looking back over what has been accomplished and what I have observed, I must say I am most pleased – in the context of Jesus, I'd even say proud,  but only in that context.

18 I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. 

19 In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. 

20 This has all been pioneer work,  bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshiped. 

21 My text has been, Those who were never told of him - they'll see him!  Those who've never heard of him - they'll get the message! 

Romans 14: 13-23

The distinction here is between the holy and profane –  that’s not true/false, or good/bad, or beautiful/ugly. It’s an unfamiliar category for us…. What is divine?  What’s not? Surely all creation is sacred –  though some is desecrated by humans 

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Romans 13

This summer, Romans chapter 13 got too much media play. No Paul is not a totalitarian urging abject submission. Yes, this text has been abused to demand compliance, and cited to excuse complicity, around many collective sins: “I was just following orders” 

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Week 4 of Romans: 12:1 - 15:13 What to do with all that?

Paul has laid out what’s not yet put right, How God puts things right For us and for them…
So what do we do?

If the gift or invitation is so unconditional – It is not amoral – God’s righteousness and faithfulness in Torah and Christ, Asks our trusting response – ‘Fruitfulness’, lest we get ‘pruned’.

If the first chapters were cosmic theology, Mythic sources for belonging, believing, and behaving, This next stretch is more mundane – Moral behaviour in response to the message, Including ethical language to negotiate  Between different moralities

Paul’s other letters worked inductively, Reacting to specific community issues –  This is more  deductive, From the scheme of the first 11 chapters.

Chapter 12  Recaps the mythic source of the duties to follow –  Offering oneself sacrificially as an act of worship, Non-conforming with this world’s norms, But transformed, to conform with Christ’s model.

What follows in c12  enumerates ministries and character traits, Suitable for members of the  ne shared Body of Christ (an idea introduced in 1 Corinthians –  and picked up after this by the writer of Ephesians) our corner of the tradition tends to exhort without the source! Paul calls on the authority of scripture to support the advice – Returning at the end of the chapter to the mythic frame: Make room for the vengeance to God – in the Wrath to come –  Mercy only in the context of ‘spiritual warfare’.

C13 is famous – or infamous – for endorsing civil authorities – In the context of the mythic frame, (remember God sets up Pharaoh and hardens his heart) We obey the penultimate authorities, Since God elects them to their roles, or from their roles Meanwhile, we obey from conscience and pragmatic human morality, And not just because of ultimate justice in the  wrath to come.

C14 advises peaceful coexistence with Christians of different moral norms – as I often recite ‘reasonable and faithful people may differ’ – dietary choices about meat, halal or kosher or not, may vary – observance of special days in a ritual calendar, too – but if we make other Christians ‘stumble’  for these ’adiaphora’ non-essentials, as Lutherans call them, our judgmentalism adds risks for division and harm

The beginning of C15 completes the argument of c14, Adding the appeal to ‘we who are strong’
To find empathy for ‘those who are weak’ Paul’s own robust conscience and trust in God, freeing him to break ‘kasrut’ laws, does not permit him to deride those who keep kosher,
choosing to remain within the Jewish community observant of Torah he claims Christ as his model, who surrendered his ritual purity to mingle with the unclean, who kept company with tax collectors and sinners. I chose to break the reading, and the weak, After the formula of benediction – You can see next week, In the briefer reading of half of c15, and c16, Whether you find the ending of Romans, Substantially different from this week’s community ethics.

That’s my daily 500 word quota –  If you have time this Lord’s Day, First day of the week – Re-read, and listen again, To these translations and others: 
 

Romans 11: 25-36

This is ‘theodicy’– why does God let bad things happen – Of course Paul quotes Job, And counsels humility – but whatever the mystery of Israel’s rejection of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles it may be better to ask what we Christian insiders since reject of God’s revelations to humanity, for instance through Mohamed.

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Romans 11: 11-24

When in v.13 Paul narrows his audience to Gentiles, I wish again he spoke Cree,  which distinguishes ‘you’ and ‘us’ into ‘us’ with or without ‘you’, clarifying who is addressed, and who is assumed to overhear, akin to literary theorists of implied audience. 

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Romans 11: 1-10

A decade after this initial writing of Romans, the ‘Jewish Wars’ flare up, by 70CE the Temple is leveled, Jews are banned from residing in Jerusalem,  and the ‘diaspora’ is the only place and people, demanding a re-reading and re-writing of Torah –  Talmud and rabbinic Judaism in Jamnia and Babylon, Christian scripture and church in Egypt, Syria, and Rome. Paul is addressing his peers and contemporaries. 

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Romans 10: 1-21

Paul prays to God for their salvation. What is salvation?  Do just some, or all of his former co-religionists need it? Does Paul really mean he wants them to get ‘tickets to heaven’,  that their current ones are invalid, and he’s selling Christian tickets? Please God, no! 

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