Welcome Through Faith

“Welcome Through Faith”

Romans 3:10-12,19-24 (3:22-24) – October 31, 2021

            Do you know someone who is a stickler for the rules? I mean, really picky about following every rule in the book? Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”? Some people are just made that way. It’s part and parcel of their character.

            The Apostle Paul was used to dealing with people like this. In fact, he WAS a person like this. Someone who was very particular about following all the rules – all the laws in the Mosaic Law Code, in the Hebrew Scriptures. No one kept the Law of Moses like Paul! I mean, Rabbi Saul, before he had the sudden meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road.

            It’s been years since then, and Paul has been a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever since. In fact, he’s known as the Apostle, or missionary, to the Gentiles, which is a wonderfully ironic thing for such a former Rabbi and law-abiding Jew of the highest caliber.

            Paul had been all over Asia Minor, and lots of places in Greece, but never to Rome. He had several friends who had moved there, since it was the capital city of the Roman empire. Someone must have asked Paul for a teaching letter, similar to ones he had written before, sent to cities where he had established churches. Which brings us to this letter to the Roman church.

            In this carefully written letter of dense theological language, Paul hits home several important truths: in chapter 3, he describes faith and righteousness. (Also, unrighteousness.) Similar to many churches, the Roman church had two sides, or factions. Jew and non-Jew (or Gentile), or an “us” side and a “them” side.

            My goodness. This sounds really familiar. Have you experienced splitting up into two sides, in some organization you are part of? Or, some group, even some workplace? Where there are two distinct sides, and a divided understanding of how everything worked? That was how it was in the Roman church. The Jewish believers tended to follow the rules, the Law of Moses, as was their culture and habit. The Gentiles…did not.

Rome was a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot! Not the place for a strict, rule-following, faithful Jew! Or, is it? The Gentile believers were, by and large, not familiar with these rules about eating, the clothes you wear, the everyday practices of living – from a Jewish perspective. Did that make these Gentile believers somehow lesser, inferior believers?

            Paul started out in the first chapters of Romans by telling ALL the Roman believers that everyone is in deep trouble, in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. That does not sound like very good news! (News flash: it isn’t! And, Paul does this on purpose!) “Things were not well with the house churches in Rome, and today’s churches find themselves, once again, in polarizing times.” [1] 

Is it any surprise that Paul “argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God’s promised blessings? Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is “apart from the law.” [2]

It doesn’t matter where or when we find ourselves in history. Martin Luther had huge problems in the 1500’s with opposing factions, with bloodthirsty people on polar opposite sides of an issue, and both sides called themselves committed Christians, too.

“The reality [Paul] presents is, itself, a profound polarity: the unrighteousness of all humanity (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), contrasted with the righteousness of God (the righteousness of God has been manifested via God’s work in Christ).” [3]  

In the first century, in Rome, Paul did not have quite the same in-fighting problem as Luther. But, Paul needed to let everyone know that ALL people had fallen short of God’s glory – God’s righteousness – whether they followed the rules or not.

            That is good news! Good news for ALL the people! Jews and Gentiles, both. Sure, ALL of us are unrighteous, and not fit to come into God’s presence. But, GOD! God through Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. We ALL are now offered relationship with God. Thank GOD!

            Paul reminds all these believers that they are in Christ. Each of them has belief, faith in Christ. He describes and defines faith. Faith is not the things we do, not the good works, the obligations we have got to fulfill to placate a mean, vengeful God. Instead, faith is based on our relationship with God. Faith is a free, loving, intimate relationship with a kind and good God. A loving and just Parent.

            However, this relationship is not just vertical – not just “Jesus and me.” This relationship is also horizontal, with other diverse Christians from all over the world, through faith! “The brothers and sisters in Rome believe, that is they entrust themselves to Christ Jesus’ patterns of life, including the call to welcome one another courageously across the Gentile-Jewish divide.” [4]

Paul’s practical counsel from chapter 15 of Romans is addressed to both factions, both Jews and Gentiles: that means EVERYONE. His counsel? “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Has Christ welcomed you? Then welcome others in Christ’s name!

What would Jesus do? Would He love everyone? Would He welcome everyone? Who would Jesus exclude? No one! We are all invited into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. Plus, we all are offered this simple, profound counsel: “Welcome one another.”


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday9ae.html

“Justification by Faith,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-8

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Thanksgiving to God

“Thanksgiving to God”

2 Cor 9-11 thanksgiving, words

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (9:11) – November 19, 2017

Today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, many people across the United States celebrate as Thanksgiving Sunday. “According to the Internet there are 12 nations – large and small – who celebrate in one form or another their nation’s Thanksgiving Day; whilst other forms and styles of celebration include local “Harvest Thanksgiving” services.” [1]

Both scripture readings this morning feature words of gratitude and thanks to God for giving us our many blessings, and specifically for the blessings of the harvest. First, our psalm for this morning lets us know God has provided so much for us to enjoy. Not only the bounty of the harvest, but more than that. Our Psalmist lets us know God has made the earth and water, and everything else, and provides everything for humanity’s benefit.

Let me read again from Psalm 65: “You, God, soften the earth with showers and bless its abundant crops. 11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture, and the hillsides blossom with joy. 13 The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!”

All this bounty is considered to be given to humanity to enjoy. All the harvest and bounty that this psalm celebrates is what the apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Corinth, too. Except, Paul goes one step further.

When we read Paul’s suggestions in this passage today, he urges the believers in Corinth to be generous. Sure, in Paul’s previous letter, in 1 Corinthians, the people from that church were collecting for the poor and persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. Now, with this updated message to Corinth, Paul praises the church for continuing with the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and urges them to be generous. He broadens his suggestion and encourages them to give gifts freely. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

What about that last phrase, anyway? “God loves a cheerful giver.” Sure, Paul is urging his fellow Christians to be generous. However, this goes over and above mere giving of alms, or slipping a dollar in a panhandler’s cup, or even a five-dollar bill in the Salvation Army kettle in the holiday season. Paul lets us know we ought to give cheerfully (Gr. hilaron), or “hilariously,” in the sense of very joyfully. But, he doesn’t want us to throw our money around needlessly. And, not in the sense of thoughtlessly, either.

Money, charity, and giving are discussed in the Bible in several places. I will highlight one: “cheerful” givers always receive God’s loving approval (Prov. 22:8). So, God wants all of us to be cheerful, generous, and open-hearted.

There is a problem here, and Paul mentions it. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

One of my favorite bible commentators, Bob Deffinbaugh, writes “Some people simply do not enjoy being generous. It causes them great pain to give up more of what they possess in order to bestow it upon someone who needs it more than they do. Once I suggested to a friend who was dying that she give away some of her possessions while she was alive, so that she could enjoy the act of giving while she was still alive. I had seriously misjudged the situation. This woman did not want to give anything away before she died, because she found no pleasure in giving. Only after her death, when she could keep her possessions no longer, would she reluctantly will them to someone else. How sad.” [2]

This is a cautionary tale for all of us. Certainly, the idea of reluctantly giving away money or worldly goods is something most of us associate with Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol fame. I know very well that there are great numbers of people who only give “grudgingly.”

So many people love their stuff, don’t they? Or, if not “stuff,” then they are awfully attached to their money, or even their time. Some might hate to part with anything of value, period.  And, especially, “We should not give because we feel there is no alternative, or because we think others will look down on us if we fail to give.” [3] It’s sort of tGod’swisted and perverted, and just like the Pharisees. That is the exact opposite of the reason Paul tells us to give.

As Bob Deffinbaugh relates, “To use an analogy our Lord employs, when we see a brother who has no coat, we don’t have to own a coat factory; all we need is two coats (see Luke 3:11). The reason we may not have the means to give to the poor is because we have not sown from that which we have in order to reap more to give. We, like the widow who cared for Elijah, may need to give first to those in need, and then look to God to supply our needs.” [4]

We can follow Paul’s words and suggestions, and ask—how would we celebrate God’s blessings to us? How could we give thanks? Like I suggested to the children earlier today, we can be generous. Give of what we have. If we have a little extra food or canned goods or pasta, give that. If we have an extra coat, give it to a coat drive. If we have some free time, volunteer or donate that. If God has been good to us and we have some extra money, be generous with whatever God has blessed us with.

When my husband and I were hiking through a state forest some years ago, we came across a stream. The path turned and followed the bubbling, flowing stream. As my husband and I continued walking, we came to a little waterfall, where the water bubbled and traveled downward from one level to another, and then went rushing along its merry way. I think of giving like this. Paul lets us know that generous giving flows out of God’s generosity to us. If we dam up that trickle of giving, we might end up with a backload of water that can’t flow, can’t run free and clear, and cannot transmit God’s blessings to others.

When we understand that everything—every single thing!—we have comes from God, it is much easier to share what we have with others. God supplies both the seed and the harvest. He is the one who makes us rich so that we might be generous on every occasion. Our giving is a demonstration of thanks to God. We thank God for what God has given us by giving it away!

And, what is the final point of Paul’s suggestion? What is the most wonderful thing God gives us? Praise the Lord for God’s unmatchable, unspeakable, unsurpassable Gift—Jesus Christ! Jesus and the grace He freely gives to us is the reason we give to others.

We give thanks that our generosity is rooted in the generosity of our God in the person of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can say “Happy Thanksgiving,” indeed.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/pentecost23[30]c_2016.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 65, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2016.

[2] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

[3] http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/2corinthians.pdf

2 Corinthians, Expository Notes, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2005 edition.

[4] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)