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romans1.1-17-themissiononourmind.m4a

Today we are beginning a new series called “Romans and Mission.” The first Western autobiography ever written tells us about a man who was in deep anguish over his sins and then he heard someone in a nearby house chanting, “take up and read,” “take up and read,” and he read from Romans and was converted. This man was Saint Augustine. It has been said that all of Western theology since is a footnote to the writings of Augustine. 1000 years later there was a Roman Catholic monk in an Augustinian order who was the most strict and obedient monk you might ever meet and yet who always took the longest time making his confessions. This monk hated the righteousness of God because he knew that he was not righteous in and of himself. Then through studying Romans his whole outlook on life changed. His name was Martin Luther. He began the Protestant Reformation. It was reading Paul’s letter to the Romans that took these two nobodies (and many more like them) and changed them and the world would never be the same. Yet the letter to the Romans was written originally to people who had already been changed so that they might help Paul reach a particular group of nobodies. And so for us who gather here in faith Romans means having a particular mission on our mind.

 

Romans 1:1-17 

 

  1. You have an important part to play in the mission of God not only to reach people in Niagara County but even to reach people in another part of the world.

    1. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome to secure their help with a very ambitious mission strategy. At this point he only offers hints as to the mission on his mind but these hints would have stuck in the back of their minds as they heard the rest of this letter.

      1. First, there is the way that the apostle Paul describes his desire to visit Rome. He wants to see the Christians in Rome so that they might mutually encourage one another by each other’s faith. Paul does not sound like an evangelist who wants to come to Rome in order to hold a crusade or a bunch of tent meetings to reach those who are not yet Christians in the city and surrounding region. He does say that he wants to reap some harvest among the Christians in Rome as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. The language of reaping some harvest sounds like the language of a missionary. But the vague nature of his description suggests that Rome is not his destination for missionary work to bring the gospel to those who have never heard. Instead, Paul sounds like a missionary who will be looking for some kind of support so that he might reach the rest of the Gentiles in another place, (which brings us to the next major hint)

      2. Second, there is the way that Paul describes his obligation as an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles as to both Greeks and barbarians, the wise and the foolish. Paul has been busy setting up churches throughout the eastern Mediterranean among the Greeks in strategic locations so that they might reach the surrounding regions. But now he has finished founding those churches and he hints that the next part of the world where Paul wants to establish churches is among the barbarians. Barbarians is a Greek word that sounds like its meaning – it is poking fun at the way that their foreign languages sound to the supposedly more-sophisticated Greco-Roman ears. When Paul says “to the wise and to the foolish” the idea in English is more like ‘to the sophisticates and to the rustics.’ So Paul wants to take the gospel to a part of the world that the sophisticated Greeks and Romans thought of as uncivilized. In other words, Paul is hinting that he wants to move onto some area he has not yet revealed but as it turns out is in the western Mediterranean. Thus if this stage where I’m preaching were a map – Paul has established churches on my left in the east, wants to come to Rome at the center, and then go from Rome to plant churches on my right in the west at the ends of the earth from their perspective.

    2. Thus I want you to listen for and hear hints of the mission on our mind as a congregation of believers in Jesus Christ. We are thinking too small if we just think of our part to play in saving people in our neighborhoods. Instead, the mission that is on our mind as a church has something to do with reaching people we might be tempted to think of as uncivilized and who sound funny to our ears. The place might seem like it is at the ends of the earth from here. But it is not as if we would have to do it alone. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome who gathered in many different house churches. He was going to need help from those who spoke the languages, he was going to need logistical support like places to stay and to get the right introductions because there were no Jewish synagogues where Paul planned to go. The point being that Paul needed the help of many people from many churches in Rome in order to be able to take on this mission he aimed to do. No doubt in the back of our minds we have other hints about what this mission might involve for us as a congregation but we have to discover the destination and the shape it will take together. It needs to be the mission on our mind – collectively, together, united. And as new people join us on this journey and as we do mission in our surrounding neighborhood and maybe even elsewhere in our nation we may notice other hints as to the big dream that God wants us to imagine. (But if you are going to embrace your part in a larger mission strategy to reach the world for Christ, then you need to hear the gospel again, for…)

  2. The good news of Jesus Christ inspires us to each participate in various ways in the mission of God to save the world.

    1. Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the Christians who were in Rome and sent this letter we have just begun to explore in order to begin that work so that they would joyfully help him to reach the ends of the earth. He writes this to Christians who already know the good news of Jesus Christ and who know it well. But his goal in proclaiming the good news is to get them interested in the mission on his mind and to encourage them to get involved. Therefore, he lays out as his thesis for this letter the last two verses we read today: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Paul is saying there in the first part of verse 17 that from beginning to end (“from” indicating origin and “for” indicating goal) the righteousness of God is from faith. Moreover Paul’s quote from the Hebrew Scriptures would be better understood this way, “The one who is righteous-by-faith will live.” This is what Paul wants to unpack in this letter to the Romans so that they will want to help him to reach those they considered barbarians with the gospel.

    2. We heard last Sunday that a faith that matters is one that makes a difference in the world by bringing God’s blessings to other people not only in words but also in actions. Paul is proclaiming such a faith. Earlier Paul spoke of “the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations” I can’t help but think of how to understand that phrase apart from the truth that it is the one who is righteous-by-faith who is alive for the righteousness of God is revealed from beginning to end from faith. God gives us a faith that makes us righteous before Him and that leads us to be a blessing to others – not just those who sound like us or think like us or look like us – but also those who are somewhere else around the globe. May you not be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Amen and amen.

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