Friday, July 28 2023
When last we left St. Paul in Romans chapter eight, he was filled with exuberance in his proclamation of the saving grace of God for all people. In chapter nine, our text for this Sunday, we meet a very different Paul. He seems to be in the depths of despair wondering why his own Jewish people have not freely embraced the message of Jesus. Yet he wisely remembers that God will continue to be faithful to Israel.
The gentile Christians in Rome would have been immersed in a powerful imperial narrative contrary to the story of the Bible. From the brothers Romulus and Remus to the current emperor seen as the lord of the earth, the story of Rome was one of divinely sanctioned power, privilege and domination of peoples. It would be easy for gentile Christians in Rome to assume exceptionalism for themselves over the Jewish community who had not come to believe in Jesus. But Jesus is not another emperor. Paul strenuously counters the myth of Roman dominance with the story of God's continuing invitation to Israel as the bearers of God's hope for the world. The gentiles are invited to join Israel in God's mission to redeem all things in Christ.
In our time, another imperial counter narrative is alive and well through the myth of American tribalism and Christian nationalism. As Christians faithful to God's vision in an increasingly secular culture, our mission is to oppose that counter narrative and to keep alive a global vision of God who first called Israel and now invites us as well to reconcile all people to God and one another.
Friday, July 21 2023
Friday, July 14 2023
Here are a few initial thoughts for my sermon on Sunday. This week we will look at Romans chapter 8 where St. Paul sums up the theological argument he has been presenting through the first half of the letter. We will focus our reflection on Romans 8:31-39:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In 21st Century American Christianity there are two divergent, but equally dangerous theological takes on this Scripture profoundly departing from St. Paul's intention. The first sees the promises of God as being owned by the 'right kind" of people. Those trumpeting this belief make a loud and brittle proclamation of self assuredly accepting those promises for themselves while excluding everyone else. We can see this in the rising tide of white nationalism. The second is quite different but also dangerous for a person's spiritual welfare. It assumes an almost secular vision of God's promises -- a breezy pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for nice people. I think we Episcopalians are more tempted to this second vision.
St Paul is not talking about the stingy withholding of God's compassion, nor about an optimistic Christianity asking nothing of anyone promising only sunny days. What he is talking about is assurance. Paul knew the experience of powerful suffering. He teaches us that hardship is not God's turning away from us, but a sign of God's presence with us in life's difficulties. All of God's covenant promises with us are made incarnate in his gift of Jesus' redemptive suffering on the cross. God stands in solidarity with all those who experience anguish, pain and grief. This is the gift of our blessed assurance that God is with us. and this is the place where we find our hope.
Friday, July 07 2023
From this week's Gospel
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)