God may have a sense of humour. As we enter the last 3 days of General Convention the Lectionary has provided us with readings from Romans 1, one of the key texts when it comes to discerning what God has to say about sexual morality. But, of course, Romans is so much more than just a place to proof-text on the issue of the day it is perhaps the finest systematic explanation of the Christian faith and then application of the same into the issues in the Roman church.
I have in mind 2 groups of people as I read this. First, those of you actually at Convention. I trust that I might write something encouraging for you in the middle of your awesome task. Second, I write for all those of us watching and praying for what is going on. I hope that, again, this will be something of an encouragement.
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
Paul is not a light writer. As he opens up each of his epistles he cant but help drop in key themes that he will expand upon later. These are, then, not empty words they are a rich mine of the seams that he will later begin to exploit. The great theme here is the nature of the gospel for which Paul has been called to be an apostle and set apart. What is this gospel? First and foremost it is the gospel concerning his Son. Often these days we hear people speak of what Jesus would say or what Jesus would do in a certain situation but they never talk about what God has done through Jesus. But for Paul this will not do. Jesus is the very centre of the gospel. So much so that in 3:25 he will refer to him as a hilasterion. This word is commonly translated as propitiationbut it more accurately refers to the Mercy Seat, the cover on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies where blood was sprinkled in the Day of Atonement; that is to say that Jesus is not just a propitiation but the very locus of Gods redemptive activity.
Jesus, then, is the Son. He is descended from David so He is the promised Messiah, Gods eternal king. He was shown to be the Son through the Resurrection when the Spirit raised him in all power the same power that Paul will later tell us raises us from spiritual death and the same Spirit who dwells in us. It is this Son of God through whom Paul received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith. The obedience of faithis a curious phrase it could mean either the obedience than comes from faith or simply the obedience that is faith. I suspect it is both.
And why is all this done? Ultimately not for us but for the sake of his name among all the nations. As we shall read later in the climactic chapters 9 & 11.
7 To all those in Romewho are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you– 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Allow me a personal note. There is nothing more encouraging as a Christian than to see other Christians standing firm in the faith. Those of you in the States need to know that your faith is being proclaimed in all the world. Of course, most of usare not as diligent in prayer as Paul is but perhaps a moment now for us all to pray for each other. For Paul that was particularly needy, he longed to get to the Romans and teach them more but not just for their benefit, he was quite sure the act would be encouraging for himself too.
13 I want you to know, brothers, 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 well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
And so we return to Pauls great compulsion. Called to be an Apostle he is now under a great obligation to preach to Greek and barbarian, to the most cultured and the most uncultured (I refuse as an Englishman, at this point, to make the almost obligatory joke about my American brethren ). This is his great desire and it should be ours too. To preach this wonderful gospel to all, whether they are the chief executive of a Manhattan Bank or the most simple, apparently unimpressive person. All (as we will soon find out if we read on) are sinful and so all need to know about the Gospel that is centred around Jesus Christ.
Delegates at Convention; this is your charge:
Make decisions that will discharge our joint obligation to preach the gospel to all since that is what we are set apart for.
Make decisions that affirm Christ as the very centre of Gods salvific work.
Make decisions that promote the obedience of faith.
And in doing so, as you vote for the gospel no matter how hard it may be, you will truly be an encouragement to the rest of us in all the world as we pray for you.
David Ould, 18 June 2006.