By far the most uncomfortable pastoral work I do is with people who want help for relatives in churches that are far away. I once got a call from one such relative who had been elected secretary of a church committee and wondered how she should minute the meeting. Worse are the complaints about pastors who do things I have done. (“My brother says they don’t sing hymns everyone knows. What can we do?”)
It's an old saw: When Protestants say “the Bible” they mean the New Testament, when they say “the New Testament” they mean Paul, and when they say “Paul” they mean Romans. I was looking forward to this opportunity to write Living By the Word. Then I received the specific Sundays I was assigned, and I confess I rolled my eyes a little. I could be yet another Presbyterian to write on Romans!
I was startled earlier this year when news anchor Peter Mansbridge called someone a Good Samaritan on The National, the flagship nightly newscast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I was surprised that in our secularized, multifaith society, newswriters assumed that listeners would understand an allusion from the Bible.
A few years ago, while serving as a hospital chaplain, I received a call to a dying man’s bedside. Upon entering the room where a beautiful old man was breathing his last breaths, his son introduced himself to me: “Hi. I’m the oldest son, John.”
One way to approach the epistle text for this week is to talk about the spiritual discipline of saying yes and saying no, an idea I was first introduced to by M. Shawn Copeland. (I find The Message translation of this passage helpful here.) God created us with the freedom to say yes and say no. But as Paul reminds us, we don’t always know how to use this freedom very well.