Life Carries On: A taste of prayer in Romans

Taking a Sunday off during a sermon series is a little problematic. But like the British band Big Audio Dynamite says, “Life carries on, even when I’m not there.” And that’s true. Life is happening to other people and in other places even as you read these worlds. As human beings, we are the centers of our own little universes. People and situations revolve, interact, and move through and around us. We sometimes act as if the possibilities of life are limited to our own experiences, senses, and imaginations. But other people lives, thoughts, and experiences that are not our own. We are all centers of our own little universes but we are not the center of the entire universe. Yet with God’s Spirit, we can see what a full, thriving, and loving life can possibly be.

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:12-25 is amazing because Paul is making a bold claim here. He’s telling this small community of two dozen people that they are who the world is waiting for. These men and women, rich and poor, slaves and free, are everything. Now, there is a dangerous way to read this passage. If the Roman community took these words as an excuse to push others away or to act like they are the only people entitled to being with God, then Paul’s words create an us-vs-them view of the world that is problematic. The Roman community would seem themselves as “winners” and reject, forcefully, anyone who doesn’t fit in. Their relationship with God would be an entitlement that would be for them alone and no one else.

But Paul isn’t, I think, doing that here. We need to remember the context of Paul’s letter. He is writing to a small community located in the capital city of the Empire that killed Jesus. They are a community that celebrates and worships someone who was killed as a criminal in the worst way possible. They worship and celebrate what should be the epitome of weakness and smallness. And as a mixed community, they are filled with slaves who had no control over the violence inflicted on their bodies. This community is insignificant. Yet it’s this community that Paul says is worth everything. They, through the Spirit, will change the world.

And how will they do that? Paul doesn’t go into details here but will later in his letter. The how is rooted in the why because living with the Spirit makes a difference. We can see that in our prayers. When we pray, the Spirit is helping us to believe that our smallness can talk to the everlasting God. In our worship service, that’s why each Sunday has a specific prayer of the day. Before we read God’s story and share with Jesus a holy and special meal, we ask God to make that Spirit live within us. This Spirit doesn’t ask us to create a world of winners and losers. This Spirit asks us to live a life of love that is as complete as God’s love for each of us. Because it’s this kind of love, a love that even sacrifice itself for its enemies, that all our universes need.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 7th Sunday After Pentecost, 7/23/2017.