This was a shorter sermon as it preceded the AGM
We come today to our final sermon on Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome. It’s a strangely appropriate reading for the day of annual meeting. This will just be a short sermon and so let’s get straight into it.
After all the heavy theology about how we get right with God, and then the practical outworking in various ways - the calls for the renewing of our minds, of living as good citizens, of respecting differences over non-essentials. We come to these closing verses, most of which consist of mentioning lots of people, most of whom we nothing, or hardly anything about. Even so, we can learn a couple of important lessons. There are 24 named people here, most of whom are described as ‘workers’. There is a great sense of team-work in all this. Paul was no prima donna, going it alone. He was nearly always traveling with others and here we get a real sense of partnership in Christian work. A couple of names are of particular note. Phoebe (v.1) was a Deacon at the Church at Cenchrea is introduced and commended to the Church in Rome where she is going to spend some time. Then in v.3 come Priscilla and Aquila whose names do crop up elsewhere and nearly always with Priscilla’s name first. They actually taught one of the other great leaders in the early Church, a man called Apollos. These names, together with the names of other women in this list shows that the team work that went on was as much the work of women as of men. It also shows that churches were not insular - but there was lots of coming and going and mutual support. We have been starting to have some united services with our neighbours at Guilden Sutton and Plemstall and are hoping to go on another Church Weekend with them - and that should enrich us as well.
Moving quickly on, notice in v.16 ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ This is elsewhere referred to as a ‘kiss of peace’ and was a significant part of early Christian worship. Many people still think that the sharing of the peace is an innovation that only came in during the 20th century, but it isn’t. It is a recovery of an ancient practice that should deepen our sense of community.
Then in v. 17 Paul has one final warning - ‘watch out’ - watch out for those who cause divisions, particularly those who teach something different from the apostolic message. We must continue to hold to that teaching today.
Finally, Paul has an outburst of praise in vv. 25-27. Even though they are far apart he knows that the God who is with him is able to strengthen them. This leads him on to rejoice that the gospel was now being made to all nations (v.26) and this in turn should result in transformed lives (what he calls ‘the obedience of faith’). And that is why in the very last verse he ascribes glory to God. We today should have the same sense of partnership, the same holding to the gospel, the same sense of God transforming our lives, that we, too, are given to exuberant praise in our worship. Let us take these things to heart.