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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Romans 9:19–33

You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God.” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.”

What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (NRSV)

“Oh Paul, you can be so confusing for Christians in 2018.” That is the first thing I always think when I turn to this part of the letter to the Romans. This letter is Paul’s way of trying to discern what God might be doing in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Paul is making his argument as to how God can (and will) save both God’s people Israel as well as the non-Jewish Christians called Gentiles. Frankly, he is trying to figure out how Gentiles like you and me can be included in the covenant between God and God’s people without becoming Jewish first. Chapters 9 through 11 form the apex of that argument.

Yet in this particular part of chapter 9, when removed from its context, it can feel as if Paul is beginning to ask how Israel can be included, not Gentile Christians. When we look at the larger context we discover that “Paul’s concern is not that most of Israel doesn’t believe Jesus to be the Messiah and therefore will suffer the consequences. His concern is with those Gentile Christians who have themselves drawn that conclusion” (Beverly Gaventa, When in Romans). Paul is determined to show how God’s call and gifts are irrevocable for both Jews and Gentiles.

Perhaps the word we can take away from this passage is caution. We need to practice caution whenever we think we can definitively determine the mind of God. We need to practice caution whenever we lift up a particular passage of scripture and try to place it down in our day and time without any sense of its original context. We need to practice caution every time we start to wonder if we can start drawing the lines for God as to whom God will include in God’s healing and salvation. As Paul might say, doing those things without caution will only cause us to stumble.

Great God of Mystery, I am thankful that you are God, and I am not. As I move throughout this day, help me to remember that simple truth so that I can live with a heart wide open to all you would have me know. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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