Conduct Committees aren’t enough to save the NFL

The head football coach at Mesa High School used to joke that when I was born, he told my mom she should just “Give him to me now.” I was a big baby, from a big family, and I grew into a big man. As a young boy, it was fairly common for people to ask if I played football, sometimes skipping the initial question to simply ask “so what position do you play?” as if it was a given I was a football player.

I did play football, for 2 years, because when you’re told your entire life that you’re built for it, you start to believe it’s the right thing to do. I played center, the position that ‘hikes’ the ball to the quarterback for 2 years in high school before finally calling it quits. The teams I was on were pretty bad, but that’s not why I quit. I finally got fed up with being made fun of by my teammates, taunted by my coaches, and encouraged to be something I didn’t want to be.

The memory that sticks out the most came towards the end of my sophomore year. The coach (not my moms friend from earlier, but another coach) was chewing our team out because of how bad we had been on the field. He criticized us for not being tough enough, or manly enough, or aggressive enough, or some combination of those criticisms. I don’t remember the exact words; it doesn’t matter. Some form of those words were always used. Football, if you spend any time in a locker room, is about being a “man,” whatever that means.

During his talk that night, he picked up my helmet to make an example. “Look at this helmet! There aren’t an scratches! What, are you afraid to hit someone! Are you afraid to be a man on the field!”

It was a few weeks later that I walked into the coaches office and told him I was done. After an hour long conversation about the opportunities I was walking away from, I walked out the door and never stepped foot in a locker room again.

Watching Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL speak today about the recent abuse scandals in his league, I couldn’t help but think about my memories of playing football. What was the sport trying to teach me? What was the point of it all? As a pastor, I tend to think in these kinds of large, global terms. When people formally come together to do something, their actions general produce core concerns, implicit cultural objectives for what they are doing. Yes, it’s about the game itself. But it’s also about something more, something which extends beyond the field of play.

This is what I percieve about sports in America:

Baseball is all about tradition. (Probably too much so. It has trouble looking into the future, trouble innovating, and trouble drawing younger fans.) It’s about what has come before, it’s about holding up the history, and it’s about respecting where the sport cam from. There’s a proper way to do it, and that way is almost as important as the game itself. And this is often what defines baseball.

Basketball is a playground sport. It places community and team above just about anything else. If you’re on the team, you belong to the community and you will be supported. It’s what leads Bill Simmons to talk about “The Secret” in his “The Book of Basketball,” which, it turns out, is team chemistry. Even off the court there seems to be a strong emphasis on sticking together.

This is not to say that there are no problems in the MLB or the NBA. But the main focus in those sports is on something most people can agree is worthwhile.

What I experienced in football at the high school level, and what I hear from people who celebrate the sport, is an emphasis on a certain kind of masculinity, one which in any other context would appear archaic and barbarous. It places aggressiveness and toughness ahead of everything else, applauding participants for violent behavior. It may occasionally speak about camaraderie and community, but overall it wants men to develop a certain way of playing the game, one which wouldn’t be accepted in any other civilized setting.

If the NFL is going to “deal” with the domestic abuse problem it faces, it’s going to take more than a special committee. The culture of the entire sport of football is going to have to change. I don’t know where that begins, but if you care about football you probably should start trying to figure it out. Because the thing I worry about the most isn’t the epidemic of abuse in the league itself, but about all of those “men” I grew up with, who played football and were taught the virtues of aggressive, violent, tough behavior who aren’t playing professionally, and therefore aren’t subject to whatever new committee the NFL comes up with. I’m sure most respect the women and children in their lives, that most of them haven’t done the things Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have done. But it’s hard to read about those stories and not think that some of that behavior resulted from being brought up in a culture that applauds those kinds of behavior on the field. And it’s hard not to think about all the men who were raised in that culture, and still believe that to be a man, they have to be what they learned on the field and in the locker room.

Spirit of Gentleness

Last week I did Yoga on the roof of the Clarendon Hotel, about a mile from my apartment, under the light of the moon. I re-started my yoga practice about a month ago after a 9-month hiatus, and can’t believe I ever stopped practicing. I leave every time with gratitude for my body, how it bends and moves. And believe me, my body bends a lot less than some other bodies. Still, gratitude…

Our instructor for the night asked us to think about something we’d like to work on in our lives over the next lunar cycle (so basically, the next month). My mind immediately jumped to gentleness, a word a friend I was visiting used in a church service a couple weeks ago. Gentleness, as my body twisted and bent, and honestly as it creaked and shook. I’m not great at yoga. But as the instructor says “there’s no perfect in yoga, only practice.”

I’m going to go ahead and say that I think gentleness is the least represented of the “fruits of the spirit,” which Galatians lists as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I’ve heard lots of love, joy and peace sermons, especially around Christmas. Kindness seems obvious, and generosity will be represented in any a church lives out its mission to serve others. Faithfulness seem paramount to the Christian story, a God who is faithful to the unfaithful people, or whatever version of the gospel you’d like to tell. I grew up around some more conservative evangelicals, and can say I’ve heard too many sermons on self-control.

Gentleness was an intriguing thought as I did my yoga practice under the lunar light. I love yoga, but I always need a few days recovery afterwards. Am I being gentle to myself when I put it through a program that leaves much of it in pain? I mean, not excruciating pain, not debilitating. Just soreness. Maybe practicing gentleness means working my body in a loving way. Working out because it makes me more aware of the gift of my body, and less about trying to be “in-shape,” whatever that means.

I used to run to try to stay “in-shape.” I liked it most of the time, although I think what I was most interested in was the feeling afterwards. I liked accomplishing something, and I especially liked the feeling when my body was regularly being worked out. When I wasn’t winded walking up stairs, or when setting a regular workout schedule didn’t result in frustration because each individual run was so difficult.

I met someone at a conference in Indianapolis who mentioned that she walks. As in, she’s taking part in a 17 mile “walk” in a few months, and has been practicing by walking 7 or 8 miles at a time up the coast of Lake Michigan in Chicago. When I heard this, I thought about how much I like walking. When I got home last week, I decided to try it out. I put in my headphones, turned on the latest episode of “Wait, Wait…” and walked for an hour. 3 1/2 miles later I had made my way through neighborhood streets, a local park and a large stretch of the canal that runs behind my apartment. I saw at least 3 families of ducks in the water, and enjoyed a regular Arizona sunset, which, if you don’t know, is almost always the best sunset you’ve ever seen.

I like the slow movement of walking. I’m not that concerned with how far or fast I’ve traveled, only with the things going on around me in the world. I don’t have to be concerned with ouching myself, or looking for my “best time,” and maybe most important, I don’t have to worry when I don’t make my “goal.” There’s no ulterior motive, there’s only the walk. Only gentleness, with the world and with myself.

I’m not really sure what gentleness is. I’m sure there’s a definition out there, but I don’t want it. If there was an easy definition for gentleness, I wouldn’t need to seek it out. I’d just know what it was. I have a hunch that it has to do with treating things with more care, paying more attention to events in life for their own sake. Not dominating or overpowering or forceful. Gentle. Like accepting bodily aches as signs of growth, or appreciating what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. Moving slower, not pushing but accepting. Being present, and preparing space for whatever the world has to offer.

So for the rest of this lunar cycle: Gentleness!

 

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When In Rome

Here it is! The final sermon in the series.Also, get the audio here!

Romans 12: 1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers

At the beginning of March, at our coffee house worship, Susan Chew brought for our worship experience a story loom. She instructed the 30 or so of us in attendance to take a piece of fabric, and add it to the loom. It was to create a larger fabric that was built by our community. Well, after that night, there were still a lot of spaces. Susan asked if she could leave the loom in the fellowship hall, because she was going to use it a few more times, for the Sunday School class, for the youth group, and finally, for our final Wednesday Lenten service this past week. When I went into fellowship hall to grab the loom from our service, I was amazed at how full it looked. I even had to ask Susan when she got here if we needed to make room so that people could continue to add to the loom.

The loom, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is over here, to the side of the Sanctuary, awaiting the final additions, sitting practically full, but I promise if we wanted to add more to it, we’d have no trouble. It is, after all of these weeks, a sign of our community. It holds the pieces of fabrics that the many of us who have participated in its production have given, have carefully weaved through the different threads.

We have in Paul today, another passage about the many gifts. About the ways in which communities share together, so that a wide and broad and diverse collections of abilities and spiritual talents become part of the whole of our community, so that we cannot say we are just a church of singers, or we are just a church of youth leaders, or that we are just a church of those who care about our world, who care about welcoming all, or that we are just a church who shows up for worship every Sunday. We share these gifts together so that we can be a church of all of those things. That we are a church of all our gifts together.

But there’s more the loom teaches us, something that has been central to Paul’s teachings throughout Romans. In the middle of the loom, there is a red thread. You see, the loom doesn’t just represent our community, as much as it’s supposed to represent ourselves, as individuals. And so the red thread is just that. It is us, as individuals. Susan has explained it to us throughout these weeks, saying that each beam in the loom represents another aspect of our selves, so that one of the side support beams is the being stick, and the other side is the doing stick; so that the cross beams at the top are the speaking and the listening sticks, so that the very top beam is the God stick. And so God speaks, and we listen and then we do.

And all along, that little read thread represents us. And it’s surrounded now, it’s made up, of what? Of all the pieces our community has offered. Of the gifts we share together. Of the relationships we form. They are not just the things that are happening around us; they are us. We are them.

Because for Paul, the world is changing, God is acting in the world, and now we need to come together, to form new communities of new individuals, not defined by the old rules, but rather defined by the continual gift of Jesus Christ in our world. And if we’re going to go out into the world and form community with the people that used to not belong, that need to be welcomed into this new thing we are doing, well, then we are going to be changed by it.

This is the point in Romans that has a passage that looks a lot like passages found in other letters of Paul, like Thessalonians and Philippians. It’s the part where he stresses that the community needs to treat its members better. He writes “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” It happens in all of his letters. Because these new communities, if they’re going to be a force for transformation in the world, are going to have to be different, run on different rules, follow different goals. and those goals are going to be driven by love, shared by all. Do not be conformed to this world; rather be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

What does a community that has been changed by the work of Christ in the world do? We begin to participate in that change, in that transformation, remember that it has always been God who has acted first, but that we are called to respond. As we have been changed, as we have grown, we share that message with the world, and things change.

Listen now to the second half of our scripture, which perhaps shows that change. We are no longer, Paul seems to think, bound by retributive violence, by the need to turn to war and violent struggle. We are now freed, by the work of Christ, to pursue peace among all people.

Hear these words, also from the 12th Chapter of Romans:

Romans 12…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

In the 1950’s, right around the time when the brand new People’s Republic of China was developing the Atom Bomb, there were rumors that the United States Government was planning to attack, to start a war in the newly minted “Cold War.” Not much more than 10 years removed from World War II, Christian peace activists obviously worried that this would become a reality, that a war would break out between two nuclear states; a war that would immediate include a sizable percentage of the world’s population.

And so, 10’s of Thousands of peace activists sent bags of rice with the words from Romans 12 on them: If you enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” China at the time had entered into a massive drought. It was devastating the country, leading to the starvation of millions. And so Christians sent these bags of rice to the White house.

The sort of lore that goes with this story is that in a White House briefing, when encouraged by his military council to begin a war with China, President Eisenhower tossed a bag of rice on the desk, and stated that if thousands of Americans continued to send in the bags encouraging the country to avoid war, then there was no way he was going to attack China.

What are the lessons here? That, as Margaret Mead famously said “never underestimate the power of a small group of concerned citizens to change the world; indeed, it’s the only things that ever has.” This is surely part of it. After all, a small group of several thousand citizens concerned about the U.S.’ growing military prevented the country from entering into a massive war.

While I don’t doubt this fact, there’s even more going on here than concerned citizens. There’s a small change that over time grows into larger change, even when we don’t see it. The people sending the bags of rice, after all, send a bag of rice. They attach they’re message from Roman’s twelve, they put some postage on it, and they give it to the mail man to be delivered. And that’s the last they hear of it. They know nothing of what happens to their actions, how it would influence the country.

This is Paul’s message, throughout Romans. Things are changing because Christ is working in the world. We are becoming new creations because God has entered the world. We are forming new communities of welcome and peace. We are reaching out into our communities to welcome those who are not welcome elsewhere. We are rewriting the rule book on who’s allowed and who’s not, but instead of adding to the list of unacceptable, unsavable, lost causes, we’re tearing pages out of the book. Because in Christ we’re all new creations, saved from lives of sin for the work of the creator, to participate in the creation of the kingdom of God on Earth.

This is the good news: That Christ has come into our world, but it’s not what we think at first. This is, after all, the messiah who rides into Jerusalem victorious on a donkey, perhaps as a slight to all the rulers of the world. After all, this kingdom is not of this world. It preaches a Good News that’s good news for everyone, that’s a welcome for all people, no matter where they’ve come from. And, as we’ve learned throughout Romans, this good news is bringing together folks that don’t belong together, that come from different parts of the empire, from the diaspora to the city block, from the suburbs to the downtown slums, from the palaces and places of power to the renegade revolutionaries who want to usher in the kingdom by their own hands.

We are now asked to participate in this work, in the procession coming into Jerusalem, picking up our palm leaves and preparing a way for the messiah to ride into this place, to transform our community. If we are ready to receive Christ in this place, than we are going to have to always be ready to be changed. To be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And we are going to have to reach out into the world and spread the Good News wherever we go.

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All Roads Lead to Rome

The 5th installment in my sermon series…though actually, it culminates the theological message. Enjoy the text, or download the audio here!

This last week at Bible study, after we were done reading Chapter 7, we turned for a few moments to the scripture I am going to read in a moment, from Chapter 11, in which Paul jumps into an exposition using the image of an olive tree with branches being grafted on to it to describe the inclusion of Gentiles into the Covenant originally made between God and Israel.

I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t have a whole lot of agricultural knowledge. I don’t have a lot of experience growing stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown stuff before, including a giant pumpkin when I was 13 in our backyard, and just this week I harvested the first of some sage off of a plant on my porch. It was a pretty exciting moment when I took the tiny scissors and cut off the small amount of leaves that had gathered over time.

Thursday became another learning moment for me. As soon as I finished reading the passage, Michelle Branson mentioned that the passage sounded a lot like actual grafting, which takes pieces from multiple plants and puts them together to grow as one plant. It leads, she explained to stronger plants. It’s like mixing animal DNA, and how dogs from mixed backgrounds don’t have some of the health problems pure breads develop over time.

It was great that Michelle brought all of this up, not only because I didn’t know it; it also gets exactly at the point Paul is going to make today, which is the point that Paul has been leading up to this entire letter: the kingdom of God will involve bringing all of the nations into one community, which will require that folks give up their need to be right, and quire signs of faith which unite humanity behind the promises of God.

What Paul is telling the Church in Rome is that they are to be one community, formed out of many communities. And they are supposed to do this through faith in Jesus Christ.

Listen now to our scripture for today:

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14in order to make my own people* jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! 16If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root* of the olive tree, 18do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 19You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.* 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And even those of Israel,* if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters,* I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’

27 ‘And this is my covenant with them,

when I take away their sins.’

28As regards the gospel they are enemies of God* for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now* receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all

Paul turns to the Olive Tree to describe what he’s been up to this entire time. As we’ve gone through Romans, we know that everything is different. We know that Paul has had a radical change. We know that faith has become law, that grace has removed obligation to the old way of doing things. We know that God is doing something new, not just in Paul, but in the world. We know that things are changing.

And Paul turns to the Olive Tree. The symbol of peace and victory. What the dove brings back to Noah on the ark.

Paul turns to the Olive Tree to explain things.

We know from what I said earlier that grafting branches onto an existing plant makes it stronger. And in gardening, sometimes you have to cut off the branches that aren’t producing life anymore. And so Paul see’s, in these two communities, in Jews and Gentiles that there is some grafting that needs to be done.

This, it seems, is the work that Paul see’s happening in Christ: that there would be, separate from the world of privileges and power, separate from the world of despair and death, a place where worth, where life, where the power to live is not contingent on your place in life, and it’s not contingent on where you’re from, and it’s not contingent of what you’ve done in the past, right or wrong; this is a community that comes from a fallen creation, a fallen, sinful world in which all have fallen short, but in which all are reconciled, like branches being grafted on to an olive tree, by the redeeming work of Christ.

These are two distinct groups. This is divided creation. Fallen humanity. Different groups of people, vying for their own interests, holding their accomplishments, their identities against each other. You can almost hear the echoes of Babylon’s tower to heaven, and the scattering of the nations. One conquers and occupies the other. Once claims moral superiority.

And so when the churches form, the Jews try to enforce the law, and Paul has to explain why that’s not necessary, and then the gentiles try to hold their new privileged status, because after all so much of this is about how they are welcome, which might make them feel superior for being the guest’s of honor, or something. And Paul, again says, knock it off.

Because this isn’t about your accomplishments. And it’s not about who you are, or about where you’re from, or what you’ve done.

It’s about God, working to save creation through Jesus Christ.

And because of that work, these two groups of people, separated by class, separated by status in the empire, separated by ethnicity, but traditions, by histories, by accomplishments, are being grafted into one community.

Let’s try to give some life to this image, to this dream of a community where distinctions fall, where all have been set equal, where none of the old baggage remains:

Shane Claiborne, a young evangelical activist, has this quote in his book “The irresistible Revolution,” in which he try’s to respond to a common Christian stance on poverty.

Some Churches, he explains, use Jesus statement that “The Poor Will Always be With You,” to say that it’s ok to go and feed the hungry, to volunteer sometimes, but there will always be poverty, so why should we work to try to solve it?

Claiborne’s response is not simply that we should do more, but rather to take Jesus at his word: “If the Poor will always be with you, then where are they?”

Claiborne and some of his friends took this pretty seriously. They started “The Simple Way,” an intentional community in Philadelphia that attempts to live in community with the poor, providing services and pioneering ideas to help those struggling to get by not by visiting as outsiders, but by submitting to the culture of the community itself. They have given up their own sense of place in life in exchange for a chance at a community in which “The Poor” might not be so different, so helpless, so “over there.” Rather, their community has sought to bring together diverse groups of people. It’s required giving something up.

Another story that gives life to this image of forming new community comes from a story John Fife has told about life in the Southern Arizona Desert. After hearing year after year of migrant deaths in the Arizona desert, a group of committed church leaders and volunteers created the No More Deaths.

Each summer, volunteers and coordinators spend the hottest months in the summer, hiking trails known to lead migrants through the seemingly endless desert. Their mission is not to assist anyone is crossing; rather, they recognized that no matter where you’ve come from, what you’ve done, or are doing, you deserve humane treatment. And so the groups hike with plenty of water, food, and medical personel, seeking to assist those who have lost their way, have run out of water, are in danger of dying in the hot sun.

John’s story begins on one of these hikes. As his group of maybe a dozen volunteers wanders the trails, they see ahead of them, maybe 50 feet or so, a group of migrants, who, as soon as they notice the group turn and start quickly running the other direction. One person in the No More Deaths group starts shouting “tenemos Agua! Tenemos Comida,” we have water, we have food.

The group of migrants stops, turning towards the No More Deaths delegation, and as they move forward, one of their members shouts “No tenemos Muchos, pero podemos compartir.” We don’t have much, but we can share.

Who’s out to help who?

It’s easy to think we’re put here to share what we have with those that don’t have as much. And there’s some truth to that. But it’s more than that; we’re invited to join in community with those whom are different than us. If Paul was describing it, he might say that we’re two different communities, with our own histories, with our own faults and problems and accomplishments. And yet, both groups are loved. We become one because of the work of Christ, and the effect it’s had on our lives.

There’s obviously more to this Olive Tree metaphor that anyone could ever explain in any series of sermons. Yet, I want to take it in two more directions related to what we’re talking about before we wrap up this morning.

First, part of the major shift in Paul that we haven’t touched on until this moment is that among the things that change for Paul is his sense of who this work is for.

Paul, after all, was really good at following the law. He was really good at making sure his own branch was as good as it could be. When he meets Jesus, however, this changes, and he realizes something: it’s not about him. It is, rather, about the community, about the “we” God is calling into creation.

It is not about you, and it’s not about me, and it’s not about those people we’ve never met. It’s about all of us, coming together to be one community. One people in Christ.

And the second way the Olive Tree metaphor is speaking to us this week is that if this is going to work, if the kingdom of God is going to reign on Earth, then everyone is going to have to give up their sense of being right against someone else’s wrong. We may have to “prune” our own branches. The story is not that we all did so well together that we got it all right. That everything worked out because each of us did what we were supposed to do. The story is that all, Jew and Gentile, sinned, fell short, couldn’t fulfill the law. That each of us, before God, does not have the ability to boast.

What, then, do we have to give up? What sense of right and wrong? What sense of superiority? What do we have to give up to be in community with those who are from a different than we are?

And more, and this is what Paul is talking about, this is why All Roads Lead to Rome: how are we forming a community that loves regardless of what the world says? Because Rome, as we heard in our first Sermon in this series, preaches good news that is only for some people. Paul has discovered the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is for all people.

Paul has to write to Rome, even though it’s not his congregation, because everything is about that; everything is about the powers, the media images, the temple ceremonies, the politicians with their agendas, telling people that they are not good enough, telling people that if they were like certain people, everything would be ok. This is not the Gospel; this is not the Good News

As we have made our way through Romans, we’ve heard a little bit of what Paul is up to. We’ve read about the work that is happening in his world, and how he, and the people of the way are responding to the changes.

How are we going to respond to this call? How are we going to work towards creating communities that celebrate diversity, that seek community where there is none now?

As we leave this place every week, we enter a world which is divided. If we are going to faithfully respond to the work of Christ in our world, how are we going to reach out to those who are different than us, to those who are not here now? How are we going to become one community, united in Christ, serving the kingdom of God?