Hey you wanna know how cool you are? You've reached the the conclusion of part 1 of Romans. Now, I know, I know I already praised you for finishing the "half way" point - which is still a cool accomplishment but this just shows you that you're that much cooler. Really though I want you to know that ahead of time because the mood and focus of Romans is going to take a shift starting on Sunday and the blogs for next week. Romans 1-11 is one piece where Paul talks about sin, salvation, God’s relationship to Jesus, Jesus relationship to us, and the extension of God’s chosen beyond Israel. The readings for this week have been a giant appeal (rant) to his fellow Jews in an effort to bring them on board. Today Paul concludes that argument by reassuring them that God's plans are "irrevocable" and thus if God has chosen you then God will find a way to redeem you.
Guess what. I'm talking bout you here ;)
As you read Romans 11 try to remember that this is all part of Romans 9-11. Reading just one of these chapters alone is out of context and thus more confusing. Reading it is a giant letter might make better sense of it. I'll share some more thoughts and commentary down below. For now, let's form your own opinions, gather your questions, and spend time with God in reflection.
Scripture to Read
When I think of Romans 11 I think of a story from when I was teaching the Preschool ARK class upstairs. ARK is on of the few mixed class options available to families as an add on program where their child will learn a little about God from me and then build a larger network of friends from different age groups that they otherwise might not interact with. In theory this is pretty cool and offers mentoring between the older kiddos and the more fearful younger ones. In practice, this can be absolute madness when the 5 year olds lose all discipline when they see the younger 3 year olds make sounds, roll around, and generally wander off during the lessons. There was one lesson recently I was doing where I was teaching about prayer and I don't know what happened up there that day but those kids found a stash of candy hidden somewhere in a classroom because they were just WILD. However, one sweet girl (whom I'll call Ava here) is the only 4 year old in the class. She is quiet, the best listener on the planet, and eager to engage in questions. When the class was acting up and going wild I invited Ava to come over and help me in the science experiment for the day. I highlighted her to the group as my super special assistant and poured all the love on her when she helped. She was giggy, happy, and proud to be acknowledged. How do you think those wild 5 year old girls handled that?
Not too well.
"I wanna help!" "Can I try that?" "She's already helped some!" etc. etc. etc. I smiled softly and said "Well, Ava has been a really good listener today while you have been a little crazy. If you promise me that you'll be a good listener for the rest of the lesson you can help me do the last part."
Suddenly, I had all eyes on me. I looked to the preschool teacher who helps me, she passed me a wink and a thumbs up, and we shared a good laugh after the class was done over how the whole atmosphere changed.
This to me is how Paul addresses Romans 11. He makes one final plea to the Jews explaining that they are the modern day account of Elijah and the worshippers of Baal. (Long story short if you didn't read it: Elijah is being hunted down by Queen Jezebel. All of the Israelites have turned to the worship of Ba'al and not God. Elijah has a dramatic showdown between God and Ba'al by burning a water soaked altar and killing all the priests of Ba'al at the same time. This display brings back many the wayward Israelites.) Paul argues that they have wandered away to worship an idol (the law) and that Jesus is the new Elijah. (this is theologically correct according to Christian tradition.) When they presumably don't listen he turns over to the Gentiles who are paying attention and eager to help and shows how they are part of God's tree now, worthy of God's mercies, and will be part of God's glorious kingdom. Then, like the jealous preschoolers who wanted to be a part of the science lesson Paul suddenly turns his attention back to his peers and offers them a lesson with a warm smile reminding them that God's plans are irrevocable. God is love. God is mercy. God is justice. Nothing changes that - not even us. With this final point made once and for all Paul seals off part 1 of the book and brings us to the end in Romans 12-16. Tune in Sunday to hear what part 2 of Romans is all about. ;)
How can we put Romans 9-11 into practice? I think we can take some of that from Youth Sunday. The youth in some ways represent "the gentiles" to anyone who has been coming to church their whole life. For many of us, myself included, you were a "good" Christian by going to church each Sunday. I might not have always wanted to be there but I did it because that's just what you did. The pastor preached a message and you kinda knew what to expect. Some heady language, some not funny jokes you feel obligated to laugh at out of respect, and some variation of the same sermon they preach every week. God is love episode 769.
But, Youth Sunday is quite different. You have no idea what to expect. You might even feel some distrust towards what they will say because you never see them on Sunday morning. They don't have a deep sense of who God is or might even say something "wrong" against conventional church thinking. Despite all of this, Youth Sunday ends up becoming a favorite service every year because you see the hope of the church in their faces. They break up the expectations of what church looks like and challenge conventional thinking. Romans 9-11 to me is Paul asking you and I: How's the air quality in the church? Is it feeling a little stuffy inside? Do we need to let in some fresh air to bring us some renewed hope? I know the Youth did for that soul and I hope you all feel the same way. How is your soul, today? Do you need a breath of fresh air? Be open to that and I promise you that God will provide.
Praying with Hymns
Today we will conclude our time of study and reflection by singing a hymn that just feels perfect for Romans 9-11 - Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior. Maybe you haven't been all in on your faith for awhile now. Imagine that God is walking by and you have once chance to jump in with the crowd and follow, no questions asked. Paul's asking today: Are you ready?
Speaking of youth Sunday lets have some kids lead us in todays hymn. :)