- September 10, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for September 10, 2017 (Proper 18 REV, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: ROMANS 1:1-17; Psalm 149; Matthew 18:15-20
Title: I am not ashamed of the gospel
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Today, my friends, we kickoff our Autumn study of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are going to stick with this letter as our primary Sunday focus from now until Advent.
Now, don’t worry! I sent this plan to Bishop Steve back in June for his review, and he gave me his endorsement.
This is a change from the regular lectionary that is used around the world. And we are making this change for TWO major reasons.
First, this season marks the 500th Anniversary of the kickoff of the Reformation by Martin Luther. To be clear: this Reformation movement did not begin with Luther, but he was the one catalyst through whom the scattered embers of discontent spread across Europe erupted into a blazing fire of revolution. This happened way back in October of the year 1517.
Now the primary inspiration for Luther’s own discontent with what the Vatican had become was his study of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
And this leads us straight to our second major reason for focusing on this text.
If we want to understand the history of the Church, if we want to know what drove Luther and the other Reformers, – let us even say that if we want to understand the Gospel at all and what it is! – then we TOO must study this Letter!
We need to know it. Every Christian needs to know the basic about the Letter to the Romans. It is foundational and essential.
Some have even argued, because of its profound effects on Augustine and Luther and Calvin and so many others, that the Letter to the Romans is one of the most important letters ever written by a human being!
Think about that! One of the most important letters in human history!
Does it not then make sense for us to know it, and understand it? Especially since it “belongs” to us, it is part of our sacred scriptures?! Well, that will be our goal over the next 11 weeks between now and the start of Advent.
And so we kickoff today at the very beginning: the first 17 verses of this Letter.
Let’s remember that this was a real Letter written by a real person to a group of real people for a real reason.
It says, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Actually, the real word is a “slave” of Jesus the Messiah.
That alone already speaks volumes about the author of this Letter! Writing to people he has never met, this Paul is proud to begin by claiming to be a slave!
Just imagine: if you were to introduce yourself to people you had never met, would you begin by explaining that you are a slave to God?
You are darn right that they might look at you funny!
So right from the start we know that there is something different about this author.
And who is it that this slave Paul is writing to? “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).
That’s a bad translation, in my opinion. In our language, “saints” refers to a specific class of people who are officially recognized as, well, frankly better than everyone else.
That idea of a special class did not exist in Paul’s time. Originally, what it meant was those who had been set apart for a special purpose.
Just as he had been set apart for the gospel of God, so too all of them had been set apart for the gospel of God! Just like all of YOU have been set apart for the gospel of God!
And THIS is the other major item to be introduced here at the beginning of this Letter: the gospel itself. The good news of God! The real reason that Paul is writing!
We will spend a lot more time talking about the contours of this good news in the weeks to come, but let’s begin today by establishing a few basic touchstones.
The Gospel is about the power of God, the righteousness of God, and the goodness of God. The power, the righteousness and the goodness of God.
As I said, we’ll talk more about these things as we go along in Romans.
But today, I hope that you will be able to sense just a little bit of the boldness and the joy that Paul felt in being set apart for the gospel.
He says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Romas 1:16).
I am not ashamed of the gospel! Can you say this with me?
Please, repeat after me: I AM NOT / ASHAMED / OF THE GOSPEL.
It’s difficult for us to see all of this today in our very different context. But Paul is making a radical claim about the power of this good news message to bring different groups together into one.
In that day and age, the Jewish people – and remember that Paul was proud to be Jewish! – they tended to divide the world into two groups: Jews, and Gentiles.
That’s an over-simplification, but it’s on point. JEWS was their name for their privileged group, the chosen ones, and the Gentiles were all of those uncircumcised others.
However, in the Greek world, they broke humanity down differently. For them, the world was generally divided into two groups in this way: GREEKS, and barbarians.
Greeks were the privileged group, the IN group, the cultured ones. And all of the others were barbarians – the ones who refused to adopt refined Greek ways.
But blessed Paul, this divine apostle, when he speaks of the Gospel, he sees the world in a new and different way. He refuses to use any derogatory name. He says rather than the Gospel brings salvation first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
He uses the privileged names of both groups, and he affirms that God brings them together into one.
Jews and Gentiles, Greek and barbarians, wise and foolish – in Christ, God is bringing all together into one to create one new humanity!
And THAT is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. Because it is amazing, and beautiful, and powerful. And it is exactly what the world needs most, both then AND now.
I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL.
Can you say that with me once more? Together? I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL.
Now, nothing takes the place of practice, in every aspect of life. So I want you to turn to your neighbor seated closest to you and look them in the eye and say it like you mean it: I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL.
I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith!
So as we kickoff this new season together, remember these words, my friends. Take them with you. Make them your own. And may we all have the grace to share in the boldness of Paul and in his confidence in the gospel. Amen.