Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for February 24th: Psalm 51; Jonah 4:1-11; Romans 1:8-17. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is the first Friday of Lent. Lenten Fridays are an especially solemn day within the solemn Season of Lent. Lenten Fridays invite us to come closer to the events of Good Friday. Maybe reading these biblical passages may encourage us to read beyond them in the sacred text.
We are nearing the end of our survey of the biblical writings in our online Bible Study Group. This was based on the Massachusetts Bible Society’s Exploring the Bible Series. As of January 1, 2023, the Massachusetts Bible Society is now part of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. You can read more at https://www.sneucc.org/newsdetail/conference-boosts-biblical-literacy-programming-with-mass-bible-society-partnership-17253488
I have been leading Bible study since 1988, but one book that I have never focused on is the Epistle to the Romans. We have delved into a line-by-line study of many other biblical books, including those of Paul, but never of Romans. Romans is daunting, and it has scared me off. It is Paul’s summation of his gospel proclamation. It is addressed to a prominent community of believers whom Paul has never met, and who may not have been welcoming to Paul, his apostleship or his gospel. Romans is Paul’s introduction to the church in the central city of the Empire. In Romans, Paul treads cautiously between reaching out to the believers who hold him and his message suspect while also inviting them to be open to what he proclaims.
In today’s passage, Paul states humbly, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Scholars argue about the meaning of this litotes, this understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by a negative. Is Paul conscious of the fact that he is presenting to the Romans a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who died a criminal among other criminals or is Paul aware of his own humble situation as a provincial whose claim to apostleship is outside that of the Twelve? Either way, Paul does not shy away from proclaiming this gospel.
Even if Paul is self-conscious about Jesus or himself, it is unimportant because the gospel “is the power of God.” The gospel, the proclamation of and about Jesus, is not words that linger in the air for a moment and fade or rest on a page and are passive. The gospel is dynamic and living; it is a power unleashed in the world. Think back to the first creation story in Genesis as God only needs speak the Word and it is accomplished. The gospel carries the “power of God.” And Paul adds quickly that the power of the gospel is “for salvation.”
In this context of an active not passive gospel, salvation must also be viewed as active not passive. “For salvation” cannot be limited to believers waiting to be rescued or delivered from the world. Christ crucified does not only redeem us; He renews us. “For salvation” must be a call to actively bring deliverance into our lives and into our world by not being ashamed of the gospel, but like Paul, even if self-consciously aware of the strangeness of Jesus and of our own role in sharing Jesus and acting in imitation of Jesus, we must trust in the “power of God” to inspire us to work with God to change our lives first, and then to dare to believe we can change the world.
This sounds bombastic, but put it in the context of Paul without credentials or connections daring to preach to the Romans, in the heart of the Empire, and then consider the consequences. He literally changed the world because he was not ashamed of the gospel.
On this first Lenten Friday, let us not shy away from our faith and be ashamed of the gospel. Let us be enthusiastic in our belief in a crucified Saviour and in all of the absurdities it makes possible.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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