Now on to week 2 of our journey through Paul’s letter to the Roman church.  This is an interesting month for me because I have (at best) and uneasy relationship with Paul.  Sometimes he is absolutely brilliant.  Sometimes he is terribly troubling.  Sometimes he is incomprehensible.  Which category does this reading fall in???

The passage on deck for this week is Romans 5:1-11.  You can read it here.

The Working Preacher Commentary on the passage is here, with the podcast here.

And then there is the Text this Week page for this passage.

 

 Facial composite of Saint Paul (* 7-10; † 64-67); created by experts of the Landeskriminalamt of North Rhine-Westphalia using historical sources, proposed by Düsseldorf historian Michael Hesemann
Facial composite of Saint Paul (* 7-10; † 64-67); created by experts of the Landeskriminalamt of North Rhine-Westphalia using historical sources, proposed by Düsseldorf historian Michael Hesemann — Source WIKIMEDIA

One of the challenges of preaching the Epistles is that often they are so dense.  There are multiple sermons possible from each passage.  That is what I have found this week.

You could preach about that intriguing approach to suffering found in verses 3-5.  This gives a chance to talk about the possibility of a positive result of suffering.  But it also calls us to question Paul.  Is he (and much Christian theology that has followed) ignoring the possibility that not all suffering is productive?  And how do we know which suffering, which struggles are productive/redemptive and which are not?  These verses could be a source of comfort.  They could also be a tool of repression and maintaining the status quo.

How do we deal with the lived reality of suffering and struggle in the world?  Paul never does claim that all suffering comes from God or that all suffering produces endurance and hope.  Some does.  The key (I think) is the love.  When God’s love is present and made real in our lives is there a higher chance that suffering is productive?  Also I wonder if we truly only know which suffering is productive/redemptive in retrospect.

 

Or you could wade into the justification discussion.  Justified by faith alone — and the suffering of the cross.  Washed in/justified by the blood of the Lamb theology is well supported by the last half of this reading.  It does prove that Anselm did not create the idea of substitutionary sacrifice out of whole cloth (though he did refine and perfect the concept).  On the other hand, this model of atonement is one that some find terribly troubling.  Where does redemptive violence and suffering fit into our understanding of God and how God is active in the world?

Is there a way to read this passage where it refers to some other understanding of what God is doing in Christ?   After all, one of the challenges of Christian life is that sometimes the centuries of traditional interpretations blind us to what else might be there.  Are we sure that when we read Paul through the lenses of Augustine and Luther and Calvin we are seeing all that Paul had to say?  How are we reconciled with God in the life death and resurrection of Christ?  Then again, that might be more of a lifetime research/writing project than a single sermon topic.

 

Then there is the big wrench in worship planning for this week (for some folks anyway).  This is the 2nd Sunday in May.  Which means that for many people there is some degree of pressure to do something “Mother’s Day-ish” for worship.  Where do suffering, endurance, hope and justification fit in with mothering?  On second thought, maybe that is not a great road to start down…

[For the record there is a thread of discussion in the RGBP Facebook group specifically devoted to Mother’s Day and worship]

 

 

8 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary Leanings: Suffering, Endurance, Hope, and Justification Edition (Romans 5:1-11)

  1. I think I may jump.back into the NL this week after jumping ship last week, taking the Pentecost Romans reading for last week. I tied that with Nepal and Baltimore, as well as cancer and addiction, etc. My supply preacher next eek can preach what she wishes. At a ministry team meeti g last night, the convenor talked about getting a Romans 8:1-2 verse of the day on his widget the same morning we read the end of the chapter and how he would like to hear a sermon focused on those themes. What does that have to do with Romans 5? I will tackle the suffering aspect, probably. Then, on the Sunday after Pentecost, I will take those early verses in 8 and talk about apostles and disciples, pairing It with a fruits of the spirit reading.

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  2. gah, this is a hard one. A large part of me wants to cut the reading off at verse 5.

    but just now I was also thinking about how, in the ancient world, suffering was usually considered a sign of God’s displeasure/punishment…God’s wrath, we might say. Then in verse 9 Paul says we will be saved from the wrath of God. Perhaps there is a connection I could draw out between suffering/endurance/character/hope and the cross, without *really* going down the substitutionary atonement road. maybe.

    Or maybe I’ll just focus on verse 1 and talk about how the kingdom of God subverts the empire, by bringing real peace through true justice (rather than pax romana through vengeance/oppression labeled as “justice”).

    I am also discovering (though a strange confluence of writing assignments) that this whole suffering/endurance/character/hope thing is one of those things that I love for myself but that I think are theologically suspect, at least in the way they’ve been used to trap people in terrible situations (or even create them). I don’t know if I can unpack that or not.

    Slightly more pressing at this moment: I have absolutely no idea what to sing this week…

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    1. I am cutting off at 5 too, for the reasons you state. I am making visits at a senior living complex about an hour away and am picking texts and music during breaks. Liturgy will come tomorrow morning . Thanks for your helpful thoughts.

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  3. I’m going to work on a compilation of Mother’s Day ideas to turn into a WikiPage here, and we’ll link to it from the Preacher Party, for those who don’t do Facebook.

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