Romans 1: 1-17
There was a whole lot of chaotic news that crossed my news feed this week, how about yours? I’m worn out from it. We know now that the devastating earthquake in Nepal left over 6,000 people dead and 1,000’s more without water or shelter. We also know that peaceful protests against police actions turned into violent riots by some down in Baltimore and that the death of Freddie Gray is considered a homicide at the hands of six police officers. It seems that the world is a mess right now and there is probably another tragedy somewhere, someplace waiting to happen.
One might wonder, “God – with all due respect – what’s going on here?”
Let’s first have a look at our chosen passage today from the Narrative Lectionary before we try to figure that one out. We have scibbled over from the Acts of the Apostles to Paul’s Epistle or letter to the Romans where we begin with our passage today. Paul is on the move from the East to the West and had purposed to visit Rome continuing on to Spain.
So he writes this letter to introduce himself and his understanding of Jesus and some of that really early doctrine but quite frankly, he too sees the world as a mess. He felt he had to write to address some of the squabbles folks were having about this early Christianity. Had the people just used the discernment and knowledge from God all would have been ok but no, humans are humans and so we make errors and rely on our own knowledge without prayerful consideration of what God wants.
We begin at the very beginning of Romans….
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
This quite a heady beginning to a letter, don’t you think? Paul is never without words. I do like Paul because he is one who stands on his convictions where the Gospel is concerned, he is a true believer in every sense of the word. I don’t agree on all that he argues to be true, but you have to hand it to him, as most converts to the faith are, he is beyond passionate. But geez! Wordy, wordy, wordy. Reading Paul is like talking out loud with marbles in your mouth. So we have to take it slow.
This Epistle is not just a letter where he says, ‘hey Romans, what’s up?’ It’s a theological masterpiece. He begins by telling the folks who he is and more importantly who God and Jesus Christ are. That’s the ticket for Paul. All you have to do is put your faith there in God and Jesus Christ and every little thing’s gonna be alright, salvation will be yours. It’s been twenty years since Jesus died and not everyone has gotten the faith bug yet; that’s why he is so eager to share the gospel.
He is not ashamed of the gospel. That is his thesis for the letter and the solid foundation upon which Paul stands. God’s righteousness or faithfulness in God’s commitments and in God’s relationships with us are real and are revealed through faith and for faith. In other words, God keeps God’s promise, it is irrevocable. Covenant promises to the Jews….still en effect! Covenant promise of Jesus Christ to us….going strong! As Mary C. Boyes asks in the title of her book, “Has God only one Blessing?”. No! God is not limited to blessing just Christians, or just whites, or just straight people, or just the rich. God has blessed all and all people can be a part of the faith.
For us though it is about accepting that and trusting God to keep those promises even when it looks like God isn't doing so. It is having faith "through the period of not seeing and not knowing." So what does this mean then in light of the events in Nepal and much closer to home Balitmore? Faith is trusting that God will reveal Godself to us in these tragic situations. And God has.
In Nepal we know that God is present when a fifteen year old is pulled from the rubble or a tiny baby scantily clothed, layered in dust being held high as he was rescued. Any signs of life found can be seen as God bring order out of chaos.
And what about Balimore? What can possibly be said about Baltimore? A child handing a police officer a bottle of water, now there is a sure sign of hope. Residents cleaning up the debris from broken windows and boarding up windows of stores? That’s hope too.
When we see and recognize these signs of hope we are living into our faith in a God who is solid, whose promises have been kept. But honestly, it can’t stop there. If we are to accept God’s part of the bargain then we need to own up to our part of the bargain. We need to have a living faith that works towards a world that God, I believe, is looking for, one where each individual is valued for who they are, where love prevails, not hate and violence.
How might that look given our own diverse political positions? This is what Jesus whole teaching on the kingdom of God is about. About loving our neighbor and doing for our neighbor what we would do for God and for ourselves. God is in the streets and ally ways of Baltimore and Nepal because God’s promises are true. Can we say the same for ourselves?
May the spirit of God be present in your hearts and minds today and may the thirst for justice be a tangible action in your understanding and zest for the Gospel.