December 4, 2016

In which Rev. Christopher digs deeply into Romans 15:4-13. A very expository sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent at St. Peter’s Comox. 

Romans 15:4-13

Have you ever watched the television show Community? If you have not had the pleasure it is basically a group of college students spending six years avoiding studying for exams. But there was this common trope in the show to play on the word “meta.” Everything in it was “meta” meaning something that was a thing within a thing that pointed beyond that thing. There is something kind of “meta” about the scripture before us this morning because its a piece of scripture telling us about how we read scripture. That makes my brain explode and I think that this is an opportunity too great not to dive into.

The passage we heard from Romans arises out of a larger line of reasoning from St. Paul. He’s talking essentially about getting along as followers of Christ. The new church was quite a thing. Dispersed throughout the Roman Empire having seen their nation destroyed and oppressed the descendants of Abraham recognized Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah. But the Holy Spirit pressed on and did something newer still. Not only did some of the children of Israel and Judah recognize Jesus as the Son of David, their King bringing them into a new kind of kingdom, but also they found themselves joined together with Gentiles, those who made and worshiped foreign gods, people not of Jacob’s line worshiping God together with them. This is what the early church was, this blending of Israel and the nations together in the person of Christ.

If you any experience with multi-cultural communities you just know this was bound to cause some chaos and confusion.

And so St. Paul recognizes that some people out of their desire to obey the Lord Jesus are going to one thing and others may do something else discerning and reasoning as best they can how to be good servants. What does St. Paul say about these disagreements? He says when you disagree be convinced in your own heart and do what you do in thanksgiving to God. He says when you disagree do so in such a way that builds each other up and not in such away that tears each other down.

And so we find ourselves in this discussion about disagreements in these new communities with this line “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us that through endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we may have hope”

He says that we as Christians need to accept one another as Christ has accepted us, so that together with one voice we may join in the praise and glorification of God our Father as his adopted sons and daughters.

And then he begins this beautiful thing, cascading the narrative of Israel into what the Holy Spirit was doing in the birth of the Church

“Jesus became a servant to the Jews” Why? “So that the promises of the patriarchs might be fulfilled.” What was the promise of the patriarchs? God said he would make of them a great nation. And they would be his people and he would be their God. And from they would be a blessing to all nations. St. Paul shows how Christ makes Israel a blessing to all nations fulfilling the promise of the patriarchs.

JA Holzer, Abraham Leaves Ur: Faith, Church of the Covenant-Boston MA 1890


“As it is written ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name'” (Romans 15:9b/2 Samuel 22:50) Where is it written? Its from the end of 2 Samuel. After King David has been delivered from the Philistines, from the rebellion of Sheba and the insurrection of Absalom and the hunting of Saul he sang this song. We hear it at the very end of the narrative of his life. And the anointed king of Israel sang: who sets me free from my enemies.You exalted me above my foes;from a violent man you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name. He gives his King great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.” And this was the promise of God to David and David’s line that they should serve him and obey him and one would sit upon his throne forever. And that is who Christ is, the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David. And we hear in this song at the root of that promise. In the deliverance of David is his praise of God together with the nations. And what do we find in the early church but the people of Israel singing their praises to God in the midst of the nations.

Jan de Bray, David Playing the Harp, 1670

“Again it says ‘Rejoice you Gentiles with his people” (Romans 15:10/Deuteronomy 32:43) Having leaned on the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants St. Paul turns us now to Moses. Where before we hear a song at the end of David’s life we hear one from the end of Moses’s life. The Lord teaches Moses and Joshua this song and they gather together all of the people and they sing before them about what God has done in calling the patriarchs, in their liberation from Egypt and in the giving of the Law and now with their impending entrance into the promised land. And he ends the hymn “Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants;he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.” Even this song of Moses looks to the atonement of Christ that leads to the joint praise of Israel and the nations together. After this Moses climbs up to behold the promised land and die.

Andres Severetnikovs, Moses and the Promised Land, 1999

Have you noticed how these are all songs? And again,“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” St. Paul turns us now to the Psalms of Temple worship. This by the way is the shortest Psalm 117. Just two lines. Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord” Praise, praise, praise together. You got the point yet?

But St. Paul presses on, the prophets too must be heard. “And again Isaiah says: ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope’ (Romans 15:12/Isaiah 11:10) For in times of uncertainty and upheaval the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets and the prophet Isaiah. And their hope even then as foreign armies with foreign gods assailed, oppressed, exiled and tormented them was that the Gentiles would hope in a descendant of David and in the God of the King of Israel and together they would rest in the peace that comes through him, and the Spirit poured out through him.

Raphael, The Prophet Isaiah, 1511-1512

5 verses. Can you believe all of that was crammed into five verses of scripture. Now we heard about what St. Paul was doing in them with our heads, silence them a moment. Open and lift up your hearts as you hear:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For this was written that we might have hope and endurance as we wait upon the Lord, accepting each other and joining together in praise. We must accept one another. Not because its the polite thing to do or because there is some kind of universal law of equality, or because people have a right of acceptance. We must accept one another because Christ has accepted us and together we much accept one another not for each other but for the purpose of the praise and glorification of God. And so let us join together in that gift resting and rejoicing and enduring in that hope as we wait upon the Lord. Thanks be to God.