Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we read from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s not unusual for Paul to write letters. In fact, he wrote a lot of letters to the churches he founded. Some were encouraging. Some were letters telling the people to stop arguing with each other. And some, especially the letters he wrote from prison, were asking for prayers for himself and those in prison with him.
This letter is different, because he is writing to a church that he has never visited. What Paul is doing in the first verses of this reading is introducing himself to the Christians in Rome. When you look at this greeting, it is all one long sentence! We need to understand that Paul is not writing this letter, he is dictating it to a scribe. I imagine Paul, excited to write this letter, pacing back and forth and talking very fast!
Paul is both excited and disappointed to write this letter. Excited, because he is so impressed with what the people of the small Christian church in Rome are accomplishing – sharing the story of Jesus in one of the largest cities in the empire of Rome! Paul is also disappointed. He has tried many times to travel to Rome to meet with the church there. He has not been able to get there. He writes, “for I am longing to see you.”
Now that Paul has introduced himself, the last two verses in our reading spell out Paul’s theology in such a simple and direct way: “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. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith. As it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” The Gospel, that Paul is talking about, is the announcement that David’s heir has been raised from the dead, and thereby enthroned as king at God’s right hand.
Are we sometimes afraid, or embarrassed, or reluctant to share this Gospel, the story of how God raised Jesus from the dead? I think we need to risk sharing this Gospel with others. Even, and maybe especially, to those who already know the story. In this way, we strengthen each other in our belief in Christ crucified and Risen from the dead for our salvation by God’s faithfulness.
When we hear Paul talk about faithfulness, we might think Paul is encouraging the Romans to be faithful, and he is. But the faithfulness Paul is talking about is God’s: God’s faithfulness through which Jesus is made alive is his own faithfulness, in going to the cross. And God’s faithfulness in raising Jesus from the dead. When Paul says that the righteousness of God is put on display “through faith,” he is referring to the Christ event.
But what of our faith? Do you have faith? I believe faith is not something we have, it is what we do. Just as God’s showed God’s faithfulness through Jesus, we need to act out our faith with each other. In the epistle of James, we hear “Faith without works is dead.” So how are you and I called keep our faith alive? We follow Jesus in loving our neighbors, not just by being nice to each other, but by following Jesus’s example. By acting out God’s love for all people through service.
If we had a Savior who came and just sat and talked about God’s love, then we just could do the same. In fact, we do every Sunday through worship, Bible study, and by sharing the story of God and Jesus with our children. But we do not have that kind of Savior. Jesus came not only to teach about God, but to act out God’s love for us and all creation. Anyone, who thinks just sitting in church can make you a Christian, must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.” To be a Christian, we have to go out and act out our faith in whatever way God calls us to do. Amen.