Paul’s epistle to the Romans occupies much of the lectionary this summer (Year A, from the second Sunday after Pentecost through the thirteenth), so while I’ve focused on various texts for the first half of the summer, I'm going to be preaching on Romans for eight weeks, through August and September. This series might be described as “lectionary-inspired,” though the texts I’ll be preaching on each week do not correspond with the exact lectionary schedule (which moves on from Romans after Sept. 11). I'll be covering roughly two chapters a week, although we won't be reading the entire text aloud in worship.
As I planned, I looked for an overarching theme in Romans (one that was more creative than the old “Romans Road.” That’s just shallow proof-texting, and we’re going to be diving deeper than that.) I read and brainstormed, and even started some lively discussions on my blog, which sparked some on a few other blogs. What did I discover from all that discussion?
The theme of Romans is not quite that easy to pin down.
As I’ve reflected more on what should be the overarching theme for a sermon series on Romans, it’s occurred to me that the concept of there being a thesis around which Romans is wrapped is a very modern one. Paul’s epistle is not a work of systematic theology, so we can't read it like we do Aquinas or Barth. In fact, I suspect that if Paul was a divinity school student, his “Romans” term paper would not get a very good grade.
Instead, Paul is writing very much a stream of consciousness, addressing the problems in the Roman Christian community as he understands them. So while the question of a central thesis is one that I don't really think Romans is trying to answer, I do think there are some ideas that keep coming up in Paul's writings that reflect what he thought was most important about being a follower of Jesus.
As the “apostle to the Gentiles,” Paul spent a lot of time thinking and arguing with others about just what new thing God was doing in Jesus. Paul did not cease to be Jewish, and thus probably didn't see Christianity as a separate religion the way we do today, but neither did he believe that one had to go through all the steps of conversion to Judaism, such as circumcision, to be part of this new thing God was doing. So as hyper-critical as Paul can be of others whose ideas or practices he disagrees with, Paul’s vision of what God is doing is radically inclusive for his time.
So, all that being said, the theme for our series exploring the Book of Romans is “Grace is for Everybody.” We will be focusing on the radically inclusive, barrier-breaking nature of God’s grace. The schedule for this 8-week series follows.
Aug 7: I’m a sinner, You’re a sinner (Rom. 1:18-23; 2:1-6)
Aug 14: Righteousness by Faith (Rom. 3:21-31)
Aug 21: Law and Grace (Rom. 6:1-4, 15-23)
Aug 28: Nothing Can Separate Us (Rom. 7:15-20; 8:31-39)
Sept 4: Branches Grafted On (Rom. 11:1-2a, 13-24)
Sept 11: The Renewed Creation (Rom. 12:9-21)
Sept 18: Different Needs, One Lord (Rom. 14:1-8)
Sept 25: What We’ve Learned (Romans 15:14-22)
The author will be blogging through the series at The Truth As Best I Know It, so follow along to gain insight and/or give your input on each week's text.