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