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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before May 22, 2016

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and 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.

What I Am Learning:

The Deep Logic of Our Faith:

When Roman citizens were accused of a crime they would be given a hearing. When the accused person was found innocent, the judge would say that they were "justified." This was an announcement that the falsely accused should once again have the trust of and good relationship with the rest of the community.

This makes a kind of sense. When someone is accused of committing a crime the rest of the community assumes that they may have broken their relationship with the community. But when they are found innocent, the judge called them "justified" to restore the person to a trusting relationship with the community.

With the gift of faith (by which we mean trust in God's love for us) we are also restored to relationship with God, our self, neighbors and the earth. With the gift of trust we have peace with the God.

Paul argues that all of this is a gift of pure "grace." God's gift of a restored relationship with God, self, neighbor and the earth is free, undeserved, can't be worked for but only accepted. It is unconditional.

The logic of here is Because.... Therefore.

Because God loves, affirms, accepts, forgives and calls us

Therefore a new and renewing life is ours.

This is the deep logic of our faith. God's gift of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness undergirds and precedes everything else. It undergirds and precedes and makes possible our spiritual practice, our critique of worldviews in theology and Bible study, and our practice of LOVE in the world.

It is like the ground we walk on, the air we breath, the water we bathe in. God's unconditional love is like the star stuff the earth is made of, a supernova of love that makes new and renewing life possible.

Sadly, trusting this unconditional love does not come easy to us human beings.

Many Christians are captivated by another logic: If...Then...Else....

This logic tells them (and sometimes us) that

If we fulfill all the rules

Then God loves us

Else we will be punished now and for all eternity.

The is the deep logic of our fear, our own self despite and the calling card of authoritarian Christians of every sort. They propose that God's glory is primarily shown in power over others, that our obedience is the price for God's love. Since our theology always forms us in our lives, these Christians seek power over others "for their own good."

Paul does not agree. When he used the word "glory" in Romans, he is talking of the glory of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the glory of a God who wants power with human beings, not power over others.

Sadly, Lutherans and Episcopalians have often taken God's free gift of grace "apart from works of law" as an invitation to passivity. In this rather perverse view, any act of love grounded in God's free and justifying love is an attempt to earn God's love and so it's safer not to do anything at all.

This is nonsense.

The Roman citizen who had been justified didn't go back home to do nothing. She went back home to take part in the mutual love and respect of her neighbors. It is true that we human beings often slide (and maybe mostly slide) into believing that we have to earn God's love through our actions. In the end, however, it is not living out love for God, self, neighbors and the earth that lead us back to the logic of If... Then... Else.... Good works don't lead to work's righteousness. It is lack of trust in God's free gift of love and acceptance and forgiveness that leads us back down this path. But this even is just a new opportunity for God to surprise us again with God's free gift of love and acceptance.

Boasting:

In this passage, Paul talks of boasting twice. We don't like is talk of boasting much. But we also don't understand what boasting meant in his culture.

A "boast" was a public claim to a particular status in the culture. You wouldn't make such a claim if others wouldn't accept it. A family's status in first century Mediterranean culture determined who your children could marry, who would make deals with you, and how likely your family was to thrive. A boast was a public claim to a certain status. It was a necessary part of life in that culture.

Of course in that society, like our own, there were standards you had to live up to to have a high status. The rules always won, however. The culture profoundly channeled human energies toward wealth, power over others and the addictions and violence that inevitably come with such a culture.

Paul wanted to change the game, however. He encouraged the Christians in Rome to boast in two things:

  • boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God
  • boast in our sufferings

He encouraged them to publicly announce or "boast" that what makes life worth living is our hope that God is bringing a new way to be human in which we have power with each other instead of power over each other.

He encouraged them to publicly announce that what makes life worth living includes the suffering they experience by living in this hope in a culture of domination.

He was not saying that we should be full of pride and competition with each other.

He was suggesting that God in Jesus offers a whole different way to live. Instead of giving allegiance to a competitive culture where we are measured by wealth, fame and power over others he offered a culture based in God's radical and complete love and affirmation of all people and thus the cooperation of and power with others. This new way to live gave them a way of life that that led to power with others and the a way of peace and true enjoyment of life.

As crazy as this sounds, Paul encouraged his friends in Rome to go public with Jesus' vision of the reign of God in the very heart of the Reign of Tiberias Caesar. They could do so because they no longer look to their Roman culture for their status but to the God who has filled their hearts with love and hope.

In God's free and unconditional love we too are filled with love for the world that God loves and proclaim our crazy hope for a world healed, restored, and at peace.