In January 1990, as Operation Desert Storm was lighting up the skies over Iraq, I was asked to preach on Romans 13. When people refer to Romans 13, they are usually thinking of the first seven verses, which suggest that submission to the authorities, who have been placed there by God and given the “sword,” is the duty of every Christian.
The people of Israel stand on the threshold of their inheritance, the land of promise. The long-awaited day of glory has come; it’s time to remember their story, their failures and, most important, their deal with God.
The juxtaposition of this text from James with Mark’s story of the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman reveals a wicked sense of humor on someone’s part. The passage in James begins with an assertion of the fundamental incompatibility of faith in Christ, the Lord of Glory, with partiality in human relations. It then goes on to list a variety of ways in which believers might typically display such favoritism.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The woman in front of me was a woman of integrity, deep faith and sincere commitment to the church. She had been hired to be a pastoral assistant, and in that role she had contributed substantial time and amazing gifts to the congregation. She had asked for a meeting with me only after trying to speak with her supervisor, the administrative pastor.
Paul was in Rome, the epicenter of empire, the magnet for people on the lam such as fugitive slaves. He was a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” not only because the Messiah had captured his heart but also because he had boldly proclaimed the grace and peace he had found. Somehow, through the Christian grapevine, Onesimus found Paul and sought shelter with him. Now Onesimus is going back to his owner.
When I was in first grade, teachers assigned students to reading groups based on how well they could read. They would name all the groups after birds so that everyone would feel equal, but you could always tell how well you were doing by what bird your group was named after. There were the Eagles, the Robins and the Pigeons. The Pigeons were not reading War and Peace
When Reinhold Niebuhr wrote glowingly in his diary about small churches in rural communities he admitted that some are “small and mean.” He had in mind the church I was serving. Although it has been nearly 20 years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday. For three years I went to bed every night with knots in my stomach.
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