Tag Archives: Romans

How Is God Here?

“At a depth in excess of four hundred feet somewhere in the south china sea, while looking for a Soviet submarine,” I say when colleagues ask me to describe a memorable communion experience.

USS THOMAS A EDISON US Navy Ethan Allen Class ...
USS THOMAS A EDISON SSBN-610 (Photo credit: UpNorth Memories – Donald (Don) Harrison)

A chaplain had come aboard the US Navy submarine I had served for a short cruise from Subic Bay and back. And once we were safely underway, I had asked if we could have communion. I remember little of the worship service: what scripture the chaplain had read nor his message. We might have sung a hymn, for the crew’s lounge had an upright piano from the home of our ship’s namesake, Thomas Alva Edison, and some talented musicians, but I don’t know which. None-the-less I clearly remember sitting with the XO and the captain while sipping an ounce or two of grape drink from coffee cups. This was significant then, because we were doing something that those on board the ship we had sought could not do. Clearly this was a God moment.

This memory of communion is significant now for it reminds me of Jonah who had fled from God’s presence to avoid prophesying in Nineveh. Yet even in the belly of that great fish, God had found Jonah.

Gods Own County
Gods Own County (Photo credit: tricky (rick harrison))

It is significant for this blog as each week I ask: “Where is God in all this?” The question presumes there are some places without God. The question presumes there are some places where we should recognize God’s presence and God’s creative and redemptive acts, and some places or actions that are not of a divine origin. The question presumes that God is not the creator of all things seen and unseen.

A better question, the question that I have sought to answer, is: “How is God in all this?” How is God in the warm sunny breeze outside my window and in hurricanes lashing at cottages along the shore? How is God in the miracles of modern medicine and in incurable diseases? How is God in those who support the Church and in those who deride it?

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.

— Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

Compassionate versus Hopeful

When you experience a hardship in life, would you prefer to see someone who is compassionate or hopeful?

 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
— Colossians 3:12 (NRSV)

 I am often hesitant when someone’s face expresses sorrow when I tell them of a personal hardship. I wonder if they are merely putting on a mask to look compassionate. I wonder how or even if their feelings of sympathy or sorrow will develop beyond an expressed desire to alleviate suffering.

...Hope...

But when I visit people in hospitals and nursing homes, I strive to leave them with a feeling of hope for the future, a hope beyond what we can see. I am motivated by their suffering. But compassion is not enough for me. Thanks to modern medicine, I can trust doctors, nurses, and technicians to care for physical symptoms and cure diseases of the body. But when people invite me to visit them in times of distress, I desire to offer spiritual healing.

I may frown and my stomach may twist into knots on hearing of your hardship. But that is not enough. Having received the gift of hope, I feel compelled to share it.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
— Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)

Are you hopeful or compassionate?

Finding Perfection

Can you trust your eyes to show you everything? Or do our questions guide what we find?

For example is what you are sitting on really solid? For over a hundred years scientists have known that large empty spaces separate atoms in even the densest solids. What appears as a solid surface is on an atomic level widely separated nuclei held together by electromagnetic forces.

English: Pinus taeda plantation, USA
Pinus taeda plantation, USA (Photo_credit: Wikipedia)

Conversely, can you plant ten trees in five straight lines each with exactly four trees? (see below for the solution) To solve this problem you need to change your point of view from planting trees in straight parallel lines and some of the trees must lie on more than one line.

If our philosophical framework for determining how we view life determines what we expect to find, then changing our perspective changes our reality.

Through his letter to the church at Rome, Saint Paul invites us to change our perspective and discover our perfection in Christ.

Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
— Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Solution to ten trees in five lines
Ten Trees planted in five lines
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What’s in Your Wallet?

Emptying my wallet to photocopy all of my credit cards and identification cards got me thinking about what my wallet said about who I am.

A magazine article reminded me that more people become victims of identity theft by losing their wallet than by someone hacking into an on-line account. Photocopying both sides of my cards only took a few seconds, but considering what they said about who I am took longer to process.

In addition to the usual credit cards, driver’s license, discount cards, and health care cards I have some unusual things in my wallet. Since no one has asked me about my Presbytery membership, that identification card did not return to my wallet. I had run out of hearing aide batteries so I added a fresh pack. I doubt neither they are all that unusual. I suppose having a few band-aids would not say much about me other than I like to be prepared to help out.

I doubt many people carry a service for wholeness in their wallet. I suspect this card would set me apart even among clergy. This service includes anointing with oil, so the oil is on my key chain as a constant reminder to pray for and with other people.

Cross in wallet
What’s in Your Wallet?

But the most important thing in my wallet is kept in a zippered pocket so it will not accidentally slide out. It is a constant reminder not of who I am but whose I am. I hope that you also carry a similar reminder with you and that it influences all that you do, and would clearly mark you as special among all people.

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 everyone else! – Romans 1:16 from The Message.

August 28th: “Burning Coals”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Second Reading Romans 12:9-21

C. Other texts for Year A for August 28thSunday in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

9 But knowing good from evil is the hard part. Yet that is the part of our nature that is made in the image of God.

10-13a These are the skills most likely to be acquired by flash-in-the-pan Christians.

13b Now things get tough. Invite strangers into your home. Who are strangers to us?

14 But Paul just wrote that we are to hate what is evil. Ahh! Note the difference between hating “what is evil” and the doer of what is evil. The doers are to be blessed.

17a Christians de-escalate violence.

18 How much does it depend on me? How do my purchases of goods made by Sudanese contribute to that war?

19 How many times times must I leave room for the wrath of God? What if my enemy hits me seven times? Not seven times but seven times seven.

21 Evil leads to more evil. Good leads to more good. Consider what caused the Berlin wall to fall. Was it the successive building of ever larger weapons? Or was it the prayers and aide offered to satellite countries.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This appears to be a continuation of the thoughts begun in verses 1-2. The intervening verses 3-8, dwell on the varieties of gifts and givers.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

In verse 14, some variants omit “you” thus, “Bless those persecuting [you]; bless and do not curse.” Throughout vv. 9-18 the victims/recipients of actions are not identified, except for this verse. The pronoun here answer questions that might flow from v. 19 “Never avenge yourselves;” e.g. “From what did they need to avenge themselves?” or “Should we not stand up for those who are persecuted, and deter their abusers?”

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 18:7 How many times must I forgive a member of the church who sins against me?

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • “heap burning coals upon their heads” ? If the fire in one’s home had gone out, burning coals would be carried in a plate atop one’s head as aid from those with a warm hearth. This and the verse preceding are from Proverbs 25:22.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Genuine love.
  • Emotional Center: Love your enemies.
  • Music: “In Christ There Is No East or West”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Repay evil with love, leaving room for the wrath of God.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Love differently than the world loves.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

What does it REALLY mean to act like a Christian?

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Kill your enemies by converting them with kindness.

August 21st: “Transformers”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Romans 12:1-8

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday, August 21st in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 “Living sacrifice” versus animal sacrifices.

2 What does being conformed to this world feel like? Being transformed to be living sacrifices.

3 The “Holier than Thou” need not apply.

4-8 Recalls Paul’s frequent illustration suggesting individuals as members of a physical body, with each adding to the whole.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Paring the pericope to vv. 1-8 focuses the discussion to how being transformed is exhibited.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Christians are to be living sacrifices, demonstrating God to the world, yet humbly accepting the imperfections of our efforts, and recognizing the gifts of others so that jointly we might embody a holy and acceptable worship.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Transformed to be perfect, yet reliant on others to be complete.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Sacrifice may be heard as an onus to bear rather than as a gift to presented.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation: Romans, John Knox Press, 1985) notes “that unity cannot be reduced to sheer uniformity,” as diverse members and ways of acting enrich the Christian community. He suggests a sermon on the costs of conformity, a sermon that those wishing to leave the denomination need to hear.

In “How to according to Romans” ??? calls this section the Pauline beatitudes. Each person should understand their spiritual gifts and use them in harmony, so that every member or part of the body is recognized as necessary and important.

N. Thomas Wright (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Romans”, Abingdon, 2002) exegetes the word “sacrifices” as conjuring in 1st century hearers images of animal sacrifices. Thus believers are to present themselves as sacrifices, but not to be burned but to live in contrast to the world.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Paul is beginning a section describing how Christians act differently from others.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Live your life so that others may see how you have been transformed by Christ.

July 24th: “Invincible!”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Romans 8:26-39

C. Other texts for Year A, Ordinary Time, July 24th, 2011

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

26 The Spirit stuffs words in our mouths when God needs us to speak and cotton in our minds when we must be silent.

27 Paul is contemplating the relationship between the first and third persons of the Trinity.

28-30 Note this does not exclude those who God did not predestine. But only affirms God working in and through those whom God has called. (People are not predestined to not know God.)

34 Assurance of Pardon.

35-36 Believers are not shielded from hardship, but only guaranteed connection with God.

38 Benediction.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The closing paragraph celebrates the conclusion of three arguments beginning with Chapter 5.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Assurance of being with God in eternity.
  • Hymn: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”
  • Hymn: “It Is Well with My Soul”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • If God is really for us, then why is life so hard/painful?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • In verses 31-34 Paul has primed the reader to answer in verse 35 that no-one can separate us from the love of God, for God is our defender, instead Paul jumps past defender surpassing even conqueror of those who might attempt to separate us from God’s love.
  • Paul ties the weak fleshy nature with the spiritual nature that is linked to the Holy Spirit via the Cross of Christ.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation: Romans, JKP 1985) surmises that Paul reasoned that any present suffering far outweighs the glory we are to receive. “[W]e can have confidence in our future with God only because that future is in God’s hands, not ours.” He advises that a sermon on prayer teach a focus on fulfilling God’s purposes rather than our own. He proposes that verses 33 through 37 be read as three questions each answered by an absurdity. The first two answer are rhetorical questions and the third a statement. He concludes: “Perhaps the greatest comfort here lies in the fact that we too are creatures. If no creature can separate us from God’s love, then in the end even our own almost limitless ability to rebel against God is overcome; and we are saved from our last and greatest enemy, ourselves.”

N. Thomas Wright (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Romans”, Abingdon, 2002) alludes that other authors interpret “sighs to deep for words” as inferring glossolalia. He reflects: “Being indebted to grace is like the permanent indebtedness that exists between those who have given themselves freely to one another in lifelong human love: a state of wonder and gratitude in which one’s own humanness is enhanced rather than diminished, ennobled rather than belittled.” He interprets the inclusion of Psalm 44:22 as drawing in the entire Psalm which flows from celebrating the love of God as seen in Israel’s victories, to complaint that enemies have prevailed, with Israel’s slaughter a direct result of its loyalty to God, and ending with a plea for God to wake up and help and redeem.

Frank Stagg (Knox Preaching Guides: Galatians | Romans, JKP, 1980) notes that verse 28, is cherished because it is misunderstood and abused into the “glib idea that everything is going to work out all right.” He cites Paul’s own life as providing examples counter to the idea that the good is to be understood as material, health, position, … since Paul suffered shipwreck, jail whippings, scourging, character assassination, stoning, … “We remain in the same old world, with the same old problems, but the outcome is assuredly different. The difference is that between “I myself” and “in Christ.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Christians suffer hardships like all other people, but Christ gives us a confidence that more than conquers whatever might separate us from God.

June 26th: “nurturing disciples through connecting and energizing the people of God”

This week, last week, and the next two weeks, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

John 21:15-19

Luke 8:4-8a – When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’

Romans 1:11-12 – For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Philemon 1:4-7

The Confession of 1967:

9.24 The new life finds its direction in the life of Jesus, his deeds and words, his struggles against temptation, his compassion, his anger, and his willingness to suffer death. The teaching of apostles and prophets guides men in living this life, and the Christian community nurtures and equips them for their ministries.