The Narrative Lectionary points us to Romans 5:1-11 this week. There can be a brief stopover in Romans 3:28-30 on the way. The suggested Gospel text is Matthew 11:28-30. In all of these texts, we find the truth about who we are in relation to God and how our only hope is to be found in the grace of God. One thing I’m immediately mindful of is that this text does not say that grace takes away our problems and issues. No, it seasons them into the kinds of experiences that shape us into more grace-dependent people.
The entire passage is predicated on the initial ‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith…” (5:1). This has been the theme of Romans thus far. Generally speaking chapter one proclaims the power of the Gospel to save all sinners. The second half of chapter 1 and chapter 2 remind us that the Gentiles are lost without the Gospel. Chapter two reminds us that the Jews are lost without the Gospel. In fact, chapter three reminds us, everyone is lost without the Gospel. Chapter four uses two ancient examples of faith, Abraham and David, to remind us that even the greatest men of God were simply men saved by faith in God. Paul has been shifting his attention back and forth to his two main audiences, Jewish and Greek Christians. In chapter five it feels like he looks up from his scrolls to see us and to remind us that all of us are justified by faith. If that’s true, then several things are set into motion.
Just scanning down through the text we see that the results of faith bring peace, grace, hope, endurance in suffering, the love of God, and more. These things belong to the faith-filled because of the sacrifice of Jesus (vs 6-9). Justification is another weighty theme in this pericope.
But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
The basis of the whole story of God’s people is the love that God has for humanity. That love provoked a significant sacrifice. The blood of Jesus brings about justification for sinners, reconciliation to the God from whom we were separated, and salvation (vs. 10-11).
The preacher has some big decisions to make in preaching this text. For one thing, the text is packed with weighty theological terms that demand a succinct explanation. Will modern listeners tolerate a theological education such as this from the pulpit in one sermon? Each concept could provide enough fodder for a dozen sermons. Even if the terms are defined and understood, we know that various theologians see some of these concepts differently. For instance, much ink has been spilt on the wrath of God and atonement theories. An especially interesting sequence is found in verses 3-5 as a pathway from sufferings to hope is laid out for the Christian. This message needs to be heard loud and clear. So many people are experiencing painful realities. They need to know that God is not only near, but His love is plentiful in their hearts through the Holy Spirit.
The richness of Romans is evident here. We pray for those preaching this text next Sunday, that God would open their eyes to the most needed Word to be found for the congregation.
Next week we move to the new life in Christ. Paul is logically leading us through the human experience with God. We are sinners, unable to save ourselves. God loved us enough to provide power for forgiveness. But more than forgiveness, power for living life no matter what we go through that might hurt or challenge us. In chapter six we are told that there is not only salvation but a new life awaiting those who put their faith in Christ. I am going to carry the ‘Not Ashamed’ theme throughout these chapters, because each one of them centers in the Good News about which Paul was not ashamed. This week, not ashamed of grace. Next week, not ashamed of life. In Romans 8, not ashamed of hope.
You’re invited to read and share resources and participate in discussion of the Narrative Lectionary texts each week at my Facebook page called Narrative Lectionarians. Also on Sunday mornings I’ll be posting my sermon notes and, later in the afternoon, audio. So If you’d like to receive that in your email box, be sure to subscribe to this blog.