WELCOME REVOLUTION                                          

Teaching & reflection material based on Romans 15:7

The verse we look at today represents an astounding revolution. It was a revolution in the ancient world and it was a personal revolution for Paul. Here is one of the strictest of Jews keeping himself pure in his relationships with dodgy Jews & non-Jews. You can read his pre-revolution mind-set in Philippians 3:3-6. It was a very simple view of how people were organised in God’s world. There were ‘God’s people’ – and ‘the rest’! Gentiles – you and me! the whole of the rest of humanity! It’s a fascinating historical question:  How did one of the world’s greatest excluders do more than anyone else to turn Jewish sect into world’s greatest inclusive movement? Now the Roman empire was an incredibly successful movement to include different people. But they did it by power and patronage. Tacitus, the Roman historian, famously said: ‘They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.’ But – and here’s the intriguing thing – despite all their power and use of patronage they never successfully integrated the Jewish people. But Paul spent the whole of his ministry working, writing, thinking, preaching to do precisely what Rome failed to do – to create communities of integrated Jews and Gentiles. He worked at it with a passion. And Romans 15:7 is just a little window onto that world he intensively laboured to bring into being. Let’s look at it line by line.

1)      Welcome each other

Sometimes the smallest word carries a wealth of meaning and significance. This verse has just such a word. It’s the Greek word dio. It’s variously translated: therefore/then/wherefore/on account of. Paul is drawing a conclusion from all that’s gone before. Our verse is the conclusion not just of the immediate chapter but of a very long, closely argued case that started right back in Romans 1. The whole letter is about God’s way of receiving those different from us. This was never talked about in my church growing up. Romans was the letter about getting personal salvation sorted – justification by faith. The light was switched for me on Floor 6 of The Arts Tower in Sheffield. I was reading an article by a Lutheran bishop that Paul wasn’t talking about a personal struggle of a plagued conscience but working to get a community of Jews & Gentiles to work. All the previous chapters were leading up to this verse: welcome one another. *(historical note re. purpose of Romans)

‘Receive to oneself’ is the literal meaning of ‘welcome’ or ‘accept’: Friends are people we allow in to our lives, our thoughts & emotions. Friends are okay but how do we accept people unlike us? We’re drawn to people like us – ‘PLU’s’ as they’re called. But there is an innate fear of the person who is different, especially when the person who’s difference is up-close and personal and especially when people are in groups of different kinds. We’re drawn towards judgement, to feeling of superiority or inferiority. This was happening in church at Rome. But the way of Christ we’re called to walk, is learning to receive others who are different. And the maturity of a church is shown by the extent it not merely accommodates difference but sees difference as opportunity for grace & fruitfulness. Paul wanted harmony between peoples 15:5-6

2. Christ welcomed you

We’ve been caught up in a movement greater than ourselves. As Paul said in another letter: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  Jesus was able to receive even the enemy, even the failed friend and disciple. How & why do we hold people in a place where they can’t get to us? It’s the fear they’ll hurt us. But Jesus didn’t act like this. Gethsemane showed he was afraid but he didn’t allow it to control him. If you can live in that spirit it establishes new spirit of openness. And each of us has been received by this earth-shattering love. We must dwell long, hard and regularly on that love to transforms us. If you still live in fear of others & what they might do to you, you will never have a spirit at ease enough with itself. Notice the story of Katya Rosenberg who visited the person who raped her in prison

3. This brings glory to God

You & I can bring glory to God. We’re familiar with the idea that God’s glory emanates out towards us. But here is a verse, one amongst others in the NT, which states that a welcoming spirit and accepting behaviour brings glory to God. How? God purpose with humanity is focused on reconciliation, of bringing all things together in Christ. And he entrusts to us a ministry of reconciliation as well. A welcoming spirit brings glory to God by flowing in the same grace that comes from God. It is like the pride of a parent in their child doing something people appreciate. The parent isn’t insecure because of what their child does, they bathe in the delight of their child’s achievement – the child’s action gives glory to his or her parents. What a wonderful image that is of God. Bringing glory to God is

* Historical note (In fact you’ll never understand the letter accurately unless you understand the practical situation with which Paul was dealing. It is a letter about how God has faithfully revealed his justice in line with what he promised long ago to Abraham; that one day through him & his seed all nations would receive God’s blessing. That time had arrived according to Paul through the life, death & resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit. And it appears the letter was probably written following a specific moment in history. The Christian church was already in Rome in the 40’s AD. A Roman historian tells us that in the late 40’s conflict broke out amongst the Jewish community on account of a person known as ‘Chrestus’. Many scholars think this was an early reference to ‘Christ’ being preached by Jesus’ followers that provoked the Jewish community. So in 49AD Emperor Claudias banned the Jews from Rome. All Jewish leaders of the small Christian community left overnight. Would the community survive? It did! And it was led by Gentile believers! – shock horror! Just before Paul wrote Romans, however, Nero reversed the edict and the Jews came flooding back. And the tensions reflected in Paul’s letter fit this situation hand in glove. It’s about how the Gentiles with their newfound confidence shouldn’t with superiority think they could dispense with their Jewish brothers and sisters, looking down on them in judgement of their strange, restrictive ways. This is precisely reflected in the letter. And Paul argues with a passion for complete reintegration of Jews & Gentiles. 14 chapters lead up to this point where he says: ‘Welcome one another’)

 FOR REFLECTION

  1. Think about those people or groups of people you find odd or difficult to accept. How do they make you feel? How do you cope with such people? Do you instinctively move closer to them or hold back from them?
  2. Read Romans 14 about the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak.’ How were they tempted to treat one another? What parallels do you see in the Church generally? Are there parallels in our own church? And what about what happens in wider society?
  3. What happens when we judge others? Their choices, lifestyle & priorities?
  4. How does fear play its part in relationships between people or groups with differences?
  5. The word ‘welcome’ or ‘accept’ literally means to ‘take to oneself’. Spend a few minutes thinking about the phrase. What does this more literal understanding suggest or conjure up in your mind?
  6. ‘Christ welcomed you’: spend some moments in personal quiet reflecting on what Christ has ‘taken to himself’ in receiving you? In what does he delight? What do you struggle with within yourself, within your temperament? How do you see Jesus looking at you as he welcomes you?
  7. Reflect on the Katja Rosenberg’s story. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25666416  What amazes you? What do you find difficult? Are there limits to forgiveness? Is everyone called to do this? How does it throw light on Jesus’ action on the cross?
  8. When we add the words ‘to the glory of God’, what do we mean? Consider ‘It is like the pride of a parent in their child doing something people appreciate. The parent isn’t insecure because of what their child does, they bathe in the delight of their child’s achievement – the child’s action gives glory to his or her parents.’ In what ways does this illuminate the meaning of this oft-used but little understood phrase?

To hear me talk more about this, you can listen back to the podcast from the sermon.