Ever since I was in college and took a line-by-line course on Romans with Dr. John Wilson — from whom I learned how to diagram sentences and who has shaped my life ever since — I have loved Romans. Whenever we go to church and are sitting the pews (or seats) prior to the service, I read Romans in my Testament and usually get through Romans about twice a year, though this year is slower because I’m speaking more often. What about preaching Romans?
I’ve got a new book of the sermons by Fleming Rutledge, an Anglican priest considered by many to be one of the foremost preachers in the USA. Her sermons are called Not Ashamed of the Gospel. They are elegant, practical, and theological.
Her first sermon is on Romans 1:16.
Why, she asks, did Paul get going by saying he was not ashamed of the gospel?
1. Because there was no snob appeal; no status whatsoever; Paul joined his fellow Christians.
2. Because it was dangerous. The earliest creed was “Jesus is Lord” was “subversive.”
3. Because its message was about a crucified person and crucifixion was shameful.
Paul connects “shame” and “foolishness” and “gospel” –> Romans 1:14-15: ” I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish: so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”.
She then probes: the American issue is wealth and it hard for the wealthy to admit their need of salvation. “A little help, maybe, just enough to to touch us up a little…” (some great prose here). She pokes at those who are embarrassed by those who claim to be born again. “And if we think this, brothers and sisters, then we are ashamed of the gospel” (19).
The problem is human nature, being in Adam. We are trapped in Adam. Why do we believe those who think they can end their problems? “because we have an unrealistically optimistic view of human nature” (21). The human story of Romans is the tragic one.
What we need is a “new humanity” (21). “It isn’t important to think of Adam as a literal person; the important thing is to understand Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5:12-21 as true descriptions of the human condition” (21).
“The first thing that a recovering human being does on the way to becoming a new human being is to stop worrying about being ashamed” (21).
On his way to Rome Paul writes this letter; he is not ashamed; he’s about to enter into the city of Rome and declare that Caesar is not Lord.