Today we return to the Narrative Lectionary and rejoin it in the epistles, or letters, section of the Bible that the Narrative Lectionary follows after Easter. This is the letter from the Apostle Paul to the followers of Christ in Rome, hence the name of the book, Romans.
Paul is something of a grand communicator of our faith. He likes writing letters to these new, upstart churches that are popping up in the region as he and the other evangelists wander around sharing the hope of faith in Christ Jesus. He himself is responsible for a number of those letters, which we know as books, in the New Testament having written maybe as much as 2/3 of the New Testament. One way or the other, Paul’s communications with the churches, and now to us, has a profound impact on how we see God.
In particular, his letter to the Romans. Considered by many to be Paul’s magnum opus, his signature writing, the letter to the Romans captures Paul’s fundamental thoughts on what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Most of which seem to end up in the first seven verses of chapter one. I wanted to paraphrase that first section as Paul condenses a whole bunch of theology into seven verses but he doesn’t use enough conjunctions, adjectives, or articles to really make any difference if they were removed. Not using extra words is just Paul’s writing style and he can be a little difficult to sort out sometimes. Kind of like reading Shakespeare in many ways and like Shakespeare, taking the time to understand what Paul is saying is most often worth the effort.
Today Paul is talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ which leads us to ask the question, what is the gospel of Jesus Christ, after all? As opposed to the gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? The church in general and Paul specifically is using kind of confusing terminology really and I wish we didn’t use it but 2000 years later here we are. And really, they all point to the same thing. When it comes right down to it, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are writing about THE gospel of Jesus Christ.
The distinction between gospel and gospel matters. When we think in terms of the Bible books that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote then we think of the gospel as something like a book that can be picked up and set aside as needed. The gospel of Christ Jesus works a little differently. Once it takes ahold of you, once it grabs you, once it becomes part of who you are, it isn’t something that can easily be set aside.
This is true because the gospel of Jesus is more of a living thing, a power, that exists around us. Paul calls it exactly that. This gospel is the power of God. I think today we might even call it a SUPERpower. What’s your superpower? We all have something going on for us but what is God’s superpower? It’s the power of salvation for those who have faith, both Jew and Greek, meaning every person of faith. It’s the power of healing a broken world. It’s the power of saving each and every one of us from being punished for our sins, instead forgiving us and promising heaven. THAT’s some superpower! And the good news. The really good news!
The really good news that Paul is trying to get the word out about.
The challenge for us in today’s world his how do WE communicate the Good News? I think that’s a fair question in general and specifically, how do we get the word out about the gospel like Paul gets the word out about the gospel? Because ultimately our job is letting people know what salvations looks and feels like. Because ultimately our job is letting people know they have been forgiven for their sins. Because ultimately our job is letting people know about the really Good News.
This is probably the hardest thing for each of us. How do we share our faith in ways that people will listen to? The church used to have invite a friend Sunday but I think that was a misguided if well intentioned effort. I think it was misguided because it usually meant we invited friends that already went to other churches. Shuffling the kingdom is different from growing the kingdom. And really, every Sunday should be invite a friend Sunday.
One thing I know that we have to do as a church is figure out how we can use technology and social media really well. You may not know this but I’m just coming back to social media, Facebook in particular, after about an 18 month mental health sabbatical from using social media other than the minimum for church stuff. It had really gotten into my head and not in positive ways. As my wife Lora told me, you need better friends on Facebook. She was right!
What I learned is that technology and social media not great evils in and of themselves. But how we use it certainly can be. Note, the evil is not the tech itself but it is us. As it has always been. There have always been technological advances. We don’t always think these terms but there was a time when having ink and writing paper readily available to the masses was a huge technological advance. Same with the printing press as that became a game changer about the time Luther and his call for church reform was becoming well known.
What we must do is use technology really well, much like Paul wrote letters and Luther’s followers used the printing press. We can push back against this idea if we want but we do so to our peril. I know that not everyone is a technology or social media user but the vast majority of you are in some fashion. The reality is that social media and technology is how people communicate and if WE are not communicating our faith on social media we’re missing the opportunity.
I’m not talking about sharing the usual and plentiful, and also frequently theologically mistaken, memes. I’m not talking about ‘share this if you love Jesus’ memes. Those are a dime a dozen and don’t actually convey the gospel. What conveys the gospel? Sharing what we are DOING because of our faith. The real and tangible things like serving at Matt Talbot and going out to deliver Meals on Wheels. Making quilts. Conversations at Beer Study and Bible Tasting. Setting up for a baptism. Many, many things that we do to Bring Christ’s Love to Life. Those are the kinds of things that are important and matter to people. You know, all those feeding the hungry and clothing the naked kinds of things that we do.
The first thing we can to is reorient our thinking. We do lots of things but we don’t think of sharing what we are doing on social media. Ask yourself if what you are doing is Bringing Christ’s Love to Life. Some things don’t. I don’t think mowing my lawn does. But if it does, take a moment and share that on social media and tag Spirit of Hope. That let’s people know two things. Your faith is up to something good and you are connected to Spirit of Hope.
Let’s share that Really Good News and see what happens!