Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background This week we move into the book of Romans while we look at the early church after Jesus. Paul is writing this letter to his church in Rome probably from Corinth in the early 50s (55ish). At this time, Paul is travelling talking about the life of Jesus in Jerusalem and Greece. He could have sent his letter en route if he passed it off to one of his crew. Paul had a bit of a crew with him at all times in his work. This is one of the letters that we know was written by Paul and not a disciple of Paul. The style fits his other letters and the first paragraph tells us all about it. The letter starts off with a lot of information to this group of people but it also raises quite a few questions. What is the Gospel for Paul? What is the power of God? How does the Gospel offer us salvation? And who gets that salvation from the Gospel as Paul writes it?
One of the first things we discover in the opening lines of the letter is that the gospel Paul proclaims places us in the middle of a much larger story. The Gospel (or Good News as translated) is an act of God. The gospel is about God keeping faith with us. We also see that Paul is thinking of Jesus as a human being appointed to his story. Jesus’ resurrection then is a fulfillment of a Davidic Messiah, a fulfillment of prophecy. The gospel is not a response to the Christ event, it is the event itself. The gospel is the Jesus’ story and Resurrection. The power of God then is resurrection, a saving kind of power of new life. Paul expects that we live out as resurrected expecting Christians. We are saved, for Paul, from death because God has that kind of power. AND on top of that, Paul outlines that this is available to everyone. Paul is specific that it comes to the Jewish folks first and then to everyone else but it is available to everyone. The Resurrection wins over death for everyone. Overall, the gospel is about what God is doing and what God has done.
What does this mean for us? When I read the word, “salvation,” I tend to shy away. Too often people have used this word in order to make us afraid of other things. But what are we being saved from? It is not the hellfire that many would like us to believe. For Paul, we are being saved from the notion that death is the end. We are being moved into new life and an inclusive community. We are being saved from isolation. I can get behind this kind of salvation. The only way that I am a better person is if I believe the good news that I am not alone and death does not win. God continues to move and God continues to bring new life despite death. Quotes of the Week “You have one business on earth – to save souls.” ― John Wesley
“None of us can ever save himself; we are the instruments of one another’s salvation, and only by the hope that we give to others do we lift ourselves out of the darkness into light.” ― Dean Koontz
“Let us be today’s Christians. Let us not take fright at the boldness of today’s church. With Christ’s light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God’s image, which is soiled in today’s humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.” ― Oscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love
The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.” ― Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” ― Anne Lamott
Romans 1:1-17 (Message) I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends. The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.
I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son—the Message!—knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.
Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God’s work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God. It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”
Questions for the Week What are we being saved from? What does salvation look like?
For Paul, the Gospel is good news for all people, how do we tell the world about it?