God is the beginning, and the middle, and the end!

6 Aug

Good Morning,

I am finally back to work on the book of Romans.  I helped with Vacation Bible School at my Garfield church.  I had forgotten how exhausting it is to have a week keeping up the kids.  Then, two funerals in one week, plus a huge fundraising dinner.  I am rested up and we are up to the second half of chapter 3.

But even though I have been away, Paul is still arguing about Jews and Gentiles being the same before God.  I would not have wanted to argue with Paul!

Remember that the context of Paul’s world is the Jewish faith.  This might seem like a stupid statement, but I am amazed how often we forget this text is written in a very particular context to people who had a very specific world view.  Also, I am using “The Message” again, because I like it.

I think it is important to realized that Jewish hated Gentiles. They had been oppressed by them, killed by them, had their land taken, and the one thing Jews could say in return was, “the creator of the universe loves us and not you.”  So, now read verses 21 to 24 and it is no wonder people tried to kill Paul so often.

21-24 But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

We take these words as comfort.  We are put right with God through God’s love for us.  And if Paul, as a Jew, is saying that the Gentiles are put right with God in his time, then certainly we cannot exclude anyone from this grace of God in our time.

 The next two verses talk in terms of sacrifice.  Again, this is the context of the time.  In Paul’s time, the only way to get right with God was to make a sacrifice of something.  It was how they understood this relationship with God.  This understanding of blood sacrifice is not meaning for me.  I like Eugene Peterson’s, writer of The Message, phrase, “altar of the world.”  I think my image of Jesus death, informed by my culture, is Jesus’ non-violent presence against the violence of our world.  It is not a sacrifice that God needed, but rather a reality of violence that Jesus did not bow to and that the Divine broke through with the resurrection of the Christ

25-26 God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

The last five verses are wonderful.  Let them roll around in your head for awhile.  God is the beginning, and the middle, and the end.  God is the true actor in all things and we are the ones who can choose to response.  A friend once wrote a beautiful theology, God as music, Spirit as song, Jesus as the dancer.  We are invited to join the dance.  We don’t make the music.  I have come to believe we don’t even get to choose our song, but we can dance.

27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.

29-30 And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.

I hope you dance today.  There is great joy is seeing the Divine as the one who names us, claims us, and bring our lives meaning.  We do none of this, but we can dance.

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