Friends, you've made it the final reading of the Romans worship series. You should be really proud of yourself! I know I've been saying this every other day it seems to the point this seems like a care bear conference but it's not without merit or truth. From the get go we've warned that Romans is not an easy read with long run on sentences, many Old Testament call backs, and a super dense theological revelation about sin, salvation, and everything else in between. Yet, you've read through it, engaged in worship, and have become better for it.
Before we jump into the reading a word of warning; this is just a really long list of names. However, it's also much more than that too. One of the best sermons I've ever heard came from Romans 16 from the preaching legend Fred Craddock. Craddock popularized the style of preaching that relies on storytelling more than a traditional teaching model. Craddock encourages that this isn't a list - to not call it a list - but to see it as a list of people that have influenced Paul. Who would be on your list? Whose list would you be on? I invite you to listen to Craddock's sermon if you have time and are curious for a message today.
Final bit of business: This concludes our series on Romans and we're rolling right into our next series, "Drink from the Fountain of Grace." You can find all information, and pre save reminders for the worship services on that series by visiting www.chagrinfallsumc.org/series
As for the blog this will be the new format for the duration of Lent.
Monday: Reflection from the scripture used in worship that week.
Wednesday: Lenten devotionals from Courtney and Dan Randall. Courtney grew up in this church and currently serves as a missionary with her husband Dan in the United Methodist Church. Our church sponsors Courtney and Dan with $100 a month. They have interviewed missionaries from around the globe and have shared with me the video and some discussion questions. Each Wednesday we'll share their work with you.
Friday: To go with our Lenten worship series we've ordered Lenten Devotional for you to pick up free of charge. Each Friday I'll copy the devotional from the book (and possibly add some of my own thoughts to it) to give you a tease of what the book is like. If you find yourself enjoying Friday's posts then make sure to grab a devotional so you can participate in something like that every day!
With that said, let's read!
Scripture to Read
- My Thoughts -
There is much to be said about this reading but to do so we must read between the lines and know some information that is not clearly spelled out. In that final section when Paul is offering greetings to all of his friends two things are not clear but a boon to the church nonetheless. First, half of those names are women and Paul describes them as "co-workers". For example, Phoebe was a gentile woman who was a deacon in the church meaning she had the responsibilities of teaching, preaching, and leading a Christian community. To further show the importance of this woman Paul designates her as a "prostasis" meaning leader, president, guardian or patron. The word conveys a deep respect and possibly implies that Paul was in debt to her in some way whether financially or by favors. In other instances we have Priscilla and Aquilla. These two are hugely important characters in Paul's writing as they appear 6 times throughout this writing. They are a married couple and co-led a church composed of rich, poor, slave, master, gentile, and Jews. What is note worthy is that Priscilla is likely the "senior" pastor and her husband the "associate" pastor as her name is listed first four out of the six times they are mentioned in the scriptures. Next, we have Junia. This is a classic case of trying to re-write history. (Least that isn't happening anymore these days...oh...oh wait. Oh no...) Junia for most of history has been considered Junias, the male version of that name. However, writings from the early church fathers and early copies of Romans have proven that Junia was a woman and Junias was a redaction to the text. So, why the change? Junias is listed as an apostle in the text which meant that they had seen the risen Christ and had engaged in missionary work. When the church had shifted to exclusively a mans role Junia had been a complicating matter. What do you do with complicated matters? Change it! So, she was changed to a male name to allege the story that no woman in scripture was an apostle. But, we know better now and it's an empowering note that the very early church validated woman as preachers and leaders. There are more notes on these women and you can read more about them from this article
Secondly, half of those names are people to whom Paul disagrees with theologically and whom we would consider an "enemy" of Paul. Paul, modeling the love of Christ to love neighbor and enemy is attempting to build bridges with this letter. In other words, he is attempting to be bi-partisan in his approach. Romans calls the church to focus on the core beliefs that Jesus taught - mercy, forgiveness, compassion, selflessness, generosity, etc and not the smaller unique things that each culture differs on. When Paul speaks about "divisive leaders" he is referring to religious teachers that will not move from their positions on what they believe. For example, a gentile who refuses to eat with a Jew or vise versa. Or in the context of today - an ultra liberal church or a ultra conservative church who would not welcome the other side or actively admonishes their beliefs. For Paul, he thinks this fails to be Christ like and argues that leaders or churches that do this are fulfilling their own desires rather than the unity that Christ calls for. It's a fine line to walk in todays age for certain, but nevertheless a necessary one for the future of the church.
Praying the Hymns
God Be With is perfect for Romans 16 as it joins in the farewells with Paul as he asks for God to be with his friends of ministry until he can see them again. As we say farewell to this series we give God thanks for what we've learned and what we will learn coming up. Join in song with me.
OK sharing two versions of this song. First, an English only one for you to sing along to. The second video is a Russian version of the song. With the current conflict in Ukraine I felt transfixed by the singing of this song in a different language imaging fathers singing this to themselves as they send their family away to safety. I imagine the innocent and upset Russian citizens humming a song like this longing for a day when the war is over and they can see their family and friends in Ukraine. On the saddest note - I imagine many Russian Orthodox churches will be singing this song in grief as they mourn the tragic and unnecessary loss of life on both sides of this conflict. I remind you, gently, that War in any form is incompatible with Christian teaching according to the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. If you don't plan on singing I highly, highly recommend closing your eyes and listening to the Russian version.
1 God be with you till we meet again; loving counsels guide, uphold you, with his sheep securely fold you; God be with you till we meet again.
Refrain: Till we meet, till we meet, till we meet at Jesus’ feet. Till we meet, till we meet, God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again; when life’s perils thick confound you, put unfailing arms around you; God be with you till we meet again. [Refrain]
4 God be with you till we meet again; keep love’s banner floating o’er you, smite death’s threat’ning wave before you; God be with you till we meet again. [Refrain]