Romans 1 / Sermon from Sunday December 22nd / Advent 4 / Mission Letter
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Advent 4 2013/ Romans 1:1-7
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. You may have heard that Canada post is planning to discontinue door to door mail delivery services. Think back, when was the last time you received a letter from family or friends with information that was super important? Someone is sick, something happened! It may have been a while. A report on a wedding or the birth of a child? If you're young enough you may never have received a letter like that: Hand written, in an envelope, with a stamp on it. In this the last Sunday in Advent let's look at Paul's letter to the Romans:
Today's Epistle reading is the introduction to Saint Paul's letter to the Roman Christians. Often we read the parts in the middle of the letters found in the New Testament so it's easy to miss that they are letters at all, but here today we can hear how it's a letter, maybe a bit different than we'd write (in some ways) but it's certainly a letter.
In this introduction Paul writes, "To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." That right there is certainly a letter, it's like opening with 'dear so and so ...' but you might also have noticed at the very, very beginning of the letter Paul writes, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God," mostly we don't start letters out like that unless it's a business letter where you put your name and address at the top on the left hand side. And why do we do that? Well when it comes to a business letter A) it's letter writing Etiquette B) because this sort of letter is generally addressed to people personally unknown to the writer. They have to introduce themselves.
From Paul's letters to the Corinthians to his letter to the Ephesians when he introduces himself, Paul usually says something like "Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God," short and sweet: In this case he has never been there personally so it's not so short, but it's filled with the sweetness of the Gospel.
Paul knows some of the people in Rome by reputation, he's worked with some of them elsewhere in the past, he send greetings at the end of the letter to people like Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus, and Tryphaena and Tryphosa. But otherwise he doesn't know (or know of) every Christian in Rome personally. In the beginning to His letter Paul is making it clear who he is and why he's writing in the first place, he's writing them on account of Jesus in whom both he and they believe. He writes them because of the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus which imparts God's grace to them.
Now in our life, in these days, apart from some kind of business or government letter we generally don't introduce ourselves at the beginning of a letter, and generally we don't sit right down and write a letter. We call on the phone, we e-mail, we message, we chat on-line, we FaceTime, we Skype, we text with our smart phones. Communication has the illusion of being fast, quick and easy. It may be fast but it's not easy and it's not so cheap: There's the phone bill, and cell phone data plan, the cost of the phone itself or even the cost of the computer or the tablet. Not to mention the phone lines, cell phone towers, Fiber-optic cables, satellites in orbit and the endless hours of computer programming and engineering that go into modern communication, along with private and government infrastructure investments and the man power that installs and maintains the whole system. Communication has a big initial upfront cost, and it costs a lot to keep up, but if it's important we'll pay for it.
St. Paul's letter to the Romans likewise wasn't cheap to produce, you might think, what does it take: a piece of paper and pen a little time? All of those kind of things were not so easy to get and in order to have good legible writing and in order to get the most you could crammed into the letter you needed a secretary to do the writing for you, and that cost money too. Paul's secretary for his letter to the Romans was a guy named Tertius. "Private letters [back then ranged] in length from 18 words to 209 [words] ... More literary letters tended to be longer ... [Paul's] letters averaged around 1,300 words. [His letter to the Romans is over 7,000 words long]" The longer the letter the more expensive to produce. When everything is added up, it's estimated in today's dollars, that Paul's letter to the Romans would have cost more than $2,000 to produce, that's before anyone had to incur the cost of hand delivering it to Rome. You couldn't text it, you couldn't e-mail it, you couldn't put it in a post box, you couldn't phone it in: Someone had to take it there personally and that too was expensive! Add that on top of the estimated $2,000.
That seems like a lot of money to spend to send a letter to people you've mostly never met. To a place you've never been. Why spend the money? Remember Paul is a missionary: Let's think about missionaries: On the day of His Ascension Jesus made all of His Apostles into missionaries. The crucified and risen Lord Jesus said "Go ... and make disciples of all nations," you've hear this before, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I Am with you always, to the end of the age.” Ten days after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit, and with a tongue as of holy fire descended upon his head Saint Peter got up and preached in Jerusalem that day, and 3,000 people believed and were baptized. They were from all over the Roman empire and the fact that some twenty years later there were Christians living in Rome to whom Saint Paul could write, even though no Apostle had personally gone to Rome to start a church, is a testament to the effects of the day of Pentecost, and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Paul wasn't with the Apostles on the Day of Jesus' Ascension or on the Day of Pentecost, yet Paul was handpicked by Jesus to do missions work. We too are called by God as Christians to share Jesus with the world. We may not all be called to be pastors or traveling missionaries, yet as Christians we are to be 'salt and light' Jesus says you are to, "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Jesus is your light and in the good you do He shines forth, just as Jesus did in Saint Paul.
The way in which you are called by God may be a little different when compared to how Saint Paul was called, yet the Holy Spirit is at work in you and you don't know how far and wide your influence as a Christian in the world might extend. The things you write, the words you share, the works you do. For instance as members of Mount Olive you are instrumental in something kind of amazing. Did you know that people in thirty two different countries around the world have listened to the same sermons you hear preached at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. From France to Paraguay, to Germany to Iran, even in Italy where Saint Paul wrote to the Romans: From the USA to points all across Canada. Mostly these are people we've never met, but just think, by coming here on Sunday to sing God's praise and listen to God's Word and receive His gifts, by bringing your tithes and offerings you help complete strangers hear God's Word. They may be fellow Christians in need of encouragement or even people seeking God who the Holy Spirit is working on even now. The simple act of getting up and coming here, of budgeting for the Lord's work out of the gifts He's given you does more than you know. Those little white envelops in the tiny box don't seem like a lot but there're people out there for whom they mean a great deal, those little envelopes become little letters spreading the Gospel here at home and around the world.
Saint Paul, in today's reading intended to introduce himself to these Roman Christians because he was planning to come to them. Near the very end of the letter Paul writes "But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions (that would be modern day Greece and Turkey), and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while."
While Canada Post stopping the door to door mail deliver may not be too important to you, or maybe it is, either way Paul's letter to the Romans and all the letters in the New Testament are very important, to the Christian they hold a dear and prized place in the heart. The Words Jesus has for you here in Romans and throughout the whole of the Bible are the most important words in the world. They are a super important letter sent from God to you. Now you may go to share these words in Honduras or Guatemala, in China or even in our back yard here in Regina (for instance while working with our local missionary DJ Kim): You may share these words with the work of your hands, with your gifts both great and small, or over coffee with friends, or even in a letter like Saint Paul, maybe in a text or in an e-mail. However you share it, God's Word is the most important gift you can give.
As the sun sets on Advent and the dawn of Christmas comes remember Jesus died for all your sins, for all the times you failed to speak of Him when the need was great or when the opportunity was right there in front of you. Be encouraged, while Saint Paul wrote over 7,000 words in his letter to the Romans even in this brief introduction he was able to tell Jesus' story in a nut shell (it doesn't always take a lot) between his from and to Paul writes these words: "[God] promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." A Lutheran pastor once wrote, "what happened in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of that eternal decree of the heavenly Father. As soon as His Son became a man, the unbearable burden of all humanity's sin was laid upon Him. And so, as Christ ... lay in a hard crib in a dark stable, the eyes of God looked into the future to see His Son already dying on the cross. Therefore, this atonement for sins, ... was already as good as accomplished [and we were reconciled to God]." You like Paul and countless others through history will be provided many times where, in Christ, you too can share a quick word about Jesus and that small conversation can do great things because the Holy Spirit makes it bear fruit, makes it increase, makes it grow!
Go and tell, make ready, be prepared, not for yourself alone, but for those in need. For the ones who don't yet know who Jesus is, for the ones who don't know that Jesus was born to save us from our sin. For those who need the reminder, who need the encouragement! Remember we may not personally know everyone whom we share Jesus with but they are not unknown to Jesus. Jesus has business with them and with you, and they and you are personally known to Him. People like you and Saint Paul are important in spreading the good news about Jesus. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 2 Corinthians 1:1
 Romans 16:3
 Romans 16:6
 Romans 16:12
 Romans 16:22
 ibid, pg 4.
 Matthew 28:19-20
 Acts 2:1-42
 Acts 9:1-31
 Matthew 5:13-15
 Matthew 5:16
 John 8:12
 Romans 15:23-24