From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

What I’m Working On For Sunday

We’re up to verses 16 and 17 of Romans chapter 1 this coming Sunday, the famous “justification by faith” verses that launched Luther’s (ok, and others!) Protestant Reformation:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

The center of the text is the phrase “the righteousness of God” and what that means. And there’s much there. But before I get there this Sunday, I want to reflect on what’s sticking to my attention – Paul’s assertion that he’s “not ashamed” of the gospel. Why would he say that? He’s already said that the gospel is

  • what he is set apart for (v. 1)
  • is of God (v. 1)
  • concerns the Son thru whom Paul received grace and apostleship (v. 3,5)
  • something he’s eager to preach in Rome (v. 15)
  • is the power of God for salvation (v. 16)

All good things. So what’s to be ashamed of? What if I was writing to someone about my wife, who

  • loves me no matter what
  • is beautiful and smart
  • is an excellent mother
  • can bake a pretty mean rhubarb/strawberry pie

and then said “I’m not ashamed of her”? How does that follow? Doesn’t it just imply that maybe my wife has a speech defect or has 3 eyes, something that other people might be ashamed of? I know some scholars say Paul is using litotes (look it up – it’s like saying “I’m not amused”) but I think Paul is telling us something about the gospel: that in the eyes of the world it may be seen as shameful. Why do I think that? Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

First, I note that the “power of God” is linked to the “gospel” in Romans, while in 1 Cor. it’s linked to the “word of the cross” or “Christ crucified”. Second, I note that the “power of God” is folly and a stumbling block (Gr. skandalon – scandal). So now I’m asking myself – what’s so foolish about the gospel that it would embarrass me, that I’d be ashamed of it? What’s so scandalous about it?

I have ideas on this – you’ll have to come Sunday to hear them though! But here’s another question haunting my mind. If the gospel is something that is foolish, scandalous and shameful – why don’t we think of it that way in mainline America? When was the last time you felt foolish because you’re a Christian? When was the last time someone thought you were a dope because of the Faith? Why not?

Tune in Sunday for more “gospel in your face”!


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