This week we began preaching our way through St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and thought that it might be nice to find a theme.
Perhaps, “Toga Party!” …but maybe not.
Perhaps, “The Letter.”
Romans 1:1-7 is a greeting, because Romans is an “epistle”—a letter.
A letter can change your life: “Got me a ticket for an airplane. Ain’t got time to take a fast train. Lonely days are gone. I’m a goin’ home. My baby just wrote me a letter.”
No legislation, government, or program has ever done as much to change the world as a letter—in specific, the letter to the Romans.
Perhaps “The Letter… that Conquered Rome” should be our theme?
Just a couple of years after Jesus (the Word of God) was crucified, the Word of God (Jesus) conquered Saul (the terrorist Rabbi) on the road to Damascus. Trying to do the good, Saul persecuted the One who is the Good, who then appeared to Saul, knocking him to the ground and conquering his heart.
Just twenty years later, Saul (who we usually call Paul) wrote a letter to the believers in Rome and to us, fully expecting the Living Word to use the written word to wrestle us and bless us—just as he blessed him, and just as he blessed Jacob and named him Israel (The one who wrestles with God).
In 386, a young man wept under a tree in a garden near Rome, agonizing over the fact that God seemed so very hard to please. He heard a child’s voice say, “Pick up and read,” and so Augustine picked up the Letter to the Romans, read that we must “put on Christ,” and understood that we are saved “by grace through faith.”
In 1515, a young priest, charged with teaching Romans, agonized over the fact that he couldn’t seem to please God, and he couldn’t understand Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith,” or “from faith.” Suddenly, Martin Luther grasped the Truth that “We are saved by grace through faith, and this not of ourselves.” He realized that faith was not simply our choice, but God’s choice freely given to us, and he wondered if God might give it to all.
Augustine became the first great Latin theologian (that is, Roman theologian… that is, Roman Catholic theologian) under the direction of the newly “Christian” Roman Emperor. It’s ironic, but eventually the Roman church made it impossible for anyone to actually read Romans, except those sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.
Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic Priest who was thrilled by Romans but silenced by Rome, until he allied himself with some princes in the Holy Roman Empire. Well, the “principalities and powers of this world” teach us to judge ourselves “in,” by judging other’s “out.”
And so, Augustine eventually taught that Grace was only for some.
And Lutherans eventually taught that Grace was only for some, and along with other children of the Reformation, some taught that faith was something you could choose, and so be proud that you yourself had chosen it—like a work of the flesh.
The name “Jesus” means “God is Salvation.”
The institutions of this world teach that “We are Salvation.”
How’s this for a theme? “The Letter… that Conquered Rome… and How Rome Tried to Conquer the Letter… but Cannot in the End.” Jesus is the End.
Or how about this? “Take the Romans Road All the Way to the End.”
Evangelicals pick out five verses ending with a verse in chapter 10 and call it, “The Romans Road.” But we should take the road to at least chapter 11 verse 32: “For God consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Or, even better, chapter 14 verse 11: “It is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess (shall give praise) to God.’”
In the Greeting, Paul calls his message “the Gospel (Good News) of God.”
“The Gospel according to St. Paul” might be a good theme.
(It appears that Romans was the first complete Gospel ever written.)
And in the Greeting, Paul writes that he was called to preach this Gospel to bring about “the obedience of faith.” What is the obedience of faith?
My son, Coleman, is working on a Ph.D. fellowship in Geo-tectonics. It’s a bit of a miracle, considering that we once wondered if he would ever graduate from high school.
Imagine if I appeared to him when he was five years old and said, “You will receive a Ph.D. fellowship in Geo-tectonics and analyze helium isotopes on the mass spectrometer at the Federal Center in Denver… OR I am not your father.” That might have utterly destroyed Coleman, for he would have thought, ‘My father is impossible to please.’”
Lately, I think the Lord has been asking me, “Peter, do you think I’m hard to please?”
Well, I didn’t say those things to Coleman when he was five. Yet, on Mondays, when Coleman was five, I would often take him on a twenty-mile bike ride to downtown Denver where we would split a plate of nachos—it was always a party!
I rode my bike, and he rode a bike trailer attached to my bike. He could pedal, but not fast enough to actually contribute.
It was always a party, except for one afternoon. We were making our way back home. Coleman had been quiet. We were taking a break when Coleman, obviously troubled, approached me with great concern. He said, “Daddy, I have to tell you something. . . There was a place back there on that hill, Daddy. . . where, um, I wasn’t pedaling.”
I almost laughed out loud and almost exclaimed, “Coleman, I don’t need you to pedal!”
But I stopped myself, for I realized that he wanted to pedal, just as I was pedaling.
So, I said, “Hey, no worries, buddy… but thanks for pedaling.”
At that, we got back on our bikes (actually “bike” ), and Coleman pedaled all the way home, through high school with some scary detours, graduated from the same university as me with the same degree as me, and then went on to get a Ph.D. fellowship in Geo-tectonics and work on the mass spectrometer at the Federal Center in Denver –NOT because he had to, but because he wanted to.
And that is called, “the obedience of faith.”
Faith is a gift that comes from the Word of our Father.
And faith always wants to pedal in the image and likeness of God.
And just to be clear, I really don’t give a turd whether or not Coleman gets a Ph.D.
But I think I would literally die, just to hear him say, “Daddy.”
And, of course, your Heavenly Father—God in Christ Jesus—did.
Romans 8:15-16 · “When we cry ‘Abba (Daddy) Father,’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Maybe that could be our theme: “St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Say ‘Daddy.’”
It pleases him, makes you want to pedal, and the more you say it, the more your everyday adventures will become a party. Maybe, even, a Toga Party… just sayin’.