Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Read-along of Romans, Chapter 11: Stumbling, so as to fall?

If the part of the dough offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches are holy. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild shoot, were grafted in their place to share in the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. (verses 16-18)
 As I age in life, priest-craft and-by God's great grace-wind up getting closer to obtaining some small portion of wisdom, I grow to admire Paul more and more. The reason? He teaches a kind of resolve to a life in Christ that attempts to strike a mindful balance between realizing a blessing in our salvation of which we can boast and a humility that challenges our very human willingness to engage in triumphalism when we discover we are favored. Simply: what we attain in Christ Jesus is not the blessing but rather the realization of a blessing that has come to us from those who have gone before. What we have is not ours, but a heritage that has come from others, and which we in turn must offer to others as we pass through this mortal life.

That emphasis on being called to boast of Christ, rather than in the favor God that we experience in Him is of paramount importance as we start the downhill run toward the summation of Paul's letter to the Romans. He is guiding us through a mine field in which we might at any time trip over a temptation to supersessionism (and thus into anti-Semitism), or into a type of certainty of sanctification in a self-generated holiness that outdoes the Pharisees in zeal (and arrogance).

We are who we are in Christ because the whole expanse of history is purposed by God toward the sanctification and salvation of all.  The only ones who will fail to see that new life are those whose own willfulness and stiff-neckedness leads them to reject, rather than embrace, the free gift of grace God is offering. God proffered that grace, first through the promise, and then through the Law. God fulfilled that grace in the person of Jesus....but make no mistake....and see above to understand that by finding life in Christ we are not placed above anyone.

Instead, we are made servants to all, that all might come to know the forgiving belovedness that is our heritage through a life lived in the love of Christ.

We are redeemed and raised because we are loved, and not because there is something we can do to accomplish it. At the same time, if we are redeemed and raised to a new life in Christ, then it is high time that we start acting like it.

And what does that life look like? The practice will be given wings in the next two chapters, so that Jew and Gentile, slave or free, will be able to find their way as they seek to offer Christ Jesus to the world. For now, Paul asks us to pause, and to recognize, the beauty and holiness of our mutual adoption as children of God and heirs of the kingdom. We grafted branches are given nourishment from a root that has been cared for and tended by the Master from the very beginning. Let's give thanks that we have the opportunity to thrive on what it offers...give thanks for those who will follow and pray for those who were pruned (including our own poor selves from time to time) in order that the whole plant might be more vital through time.

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