A New Direction for Lent: During Lent, New Ministry, New Paths will focus on a read-along Bible Study of the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. This is the first of the epistles found in the canon of the New Testament, and one upon which a great deal of our understanding of ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ and members of "the Church" are based. Please join us for a day-by-day, one chapter-at-a-time pilgrimage through this amazing work. Posts will appear Monday through Thursday, with during the five weeks of Lent. Check in as you read, comment as ideas and questions come to you and join us as we explore one of St. Paul's great works!
Chapter 1: A Beginning
The big questions to be asked and answered in these first verses of the epistle seek to explain who Paul is, why he is writing to "the Romans" and from what position of authority he is attempting to speak. I admire that, both as a preacher/public speaker and as someone who attempts to write a few thoughts down for posterity. He gets to the point, and doesn't waste anyone's time.
Paul's authority comes from two places, first and foremost he proclaims himself a disciple and apostle of Jesus, the Christ. His authority in Christ is that of being sent out to draw the Gentiles, ALL the nations, into a primary relationship with God via a personal submission to a relationship with Jesus. On top of that, having told everyone that he claims the power to proclaim Gospel on behalf of the Almighty, he also indicts the sad mistakes in belief that have persisted to this point. All that idolatry? All those practices that denigrate the body, mind, soul and society? Those are now suspect, and more than suspect...it's time for a change. Clear the decks for action...It's now time to learn about this God who is creator, redeemer and sustainer. There is no other.
Paul sets a high bar. Too high, I am sure, for most. He offends those whose faith is in the state of the Empire. He offends those who ascribe to the state worship of the sanctioned gods. He singles out those mystery cults whose practices challenge his 1st century Palestinian, Pharisaic mores. He puts all of that on the table...and then says.....
That's the challenge...to read this letter now without pulling one bit out and calling it truth until all is read, marked, learned and inwardly digested. It might be tempting to call the "world" evil, and God good...but God only (via Paul) condemns the contemptuous choice of self-indulgence over investment in a relationship with the Almighty. It might be tempting to cull out from the letter the admonitions regarding sexual behavior (which many do in order to proof a scriptural bias against homosexuality), and yet Paul is calling out people who choose to subvert their nature with cultic practices. As with most things in scripture, to pull one verse out and call it truth is to ignore others that speak of grace instead of condemnation.
So, let's heed Paul...and step away from the stall in the market that trades in all the idols we have enjoyed indulging ourselves with in the past. Let's pause, let's listen.
We might learn something along the way.....