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My Name Is - Sermon, 12/22/19
December 23, 2019, 8:59 AM

The apostle Paul is known, at least in the theology world, for being a fine – albeit confusing – writer. At times, his sentences are long – to say the least. Some of the English or writing teachers among us might even criticize Paul for his numerous run-on sentences. Today’s reading from his letter to the Romans is no different. In fact, the whole reading – all seven verses of it – is one sentence. This sentence – all seven verses of it – fits perfectly in Paul’s traditional letter-writing pattern.

Paul’s letters generally follow a pattern which usually begin with some sort of salutation. Just like many of us – if we still practice the art of letter-writing – might begin our letters, “Dear so-and-so, my name is Reverend Foley. I hope you are well.” Paul’s letter essentially begins in the same way. “Dear church in Rome, my name is Paul. I hope you are well.” The big difference between how we write our letters and how Paul writes his letter occurs in the first six verses of this seven-verse sentence.

Instead of simply saying, “my name is Paul,” he provides something broader and deeper. Paul is more than his name; he is a servant and an apostle.

Paul, in the same breath as giving his name, says he is “a servant of Jesus Christ.” This is Paul, though. Paul, the guy famous for being knocked from his horse on the road to Damascus? Paul, the guy blinded by God in order that he might see the error of his ways? Paul, the former persecutor of Christians turned super-apostle. Paul, a servant?

Yes – Paul is a servant but he is not a servant of humans. Instead, Paul is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul says his life is one of service to Jesus Christ, a life of servitude called by his experience on the road to Damascus. Remember Paul’s conversion story? We remember this story every year on our church’s feast day. Paul had been known as Saul, a Pharisee dedicated to the persecution of the followers of Jesus. God was having none of that, though, and knocked Saul off his horse.

We hear this story in the Book of Acts when God blinds Saul and then gives the former persecutor of Christians a new name. Saul becomes Paul, the Pharisee becomes a Christian, and a practitioner of the law becomes an ardent servant of Jesus. What a conversion experience!

In some ways, though, when Saul becomes Paul, he is demoted. He goes from being an expert of Jewish law to becoming a servant. But not just a servant to anyone or anything. Saul, now Paul, is a servant of the one who brings new life and liberation.

Saul, now Paul, is, indeed, freed from a life of a servitude to the law to the freedom that comes as a servant of Jesus Christ. After his conversion experience, Paul is freed to become a servant. This might sound a little backward but Paul is more than just Paul, the former Pharisee. Paul is now a servant of Jesus Christ.

Paul also identifies himself as an apostle. For those of us who went through some sort of Christian education, whether in Sunday School or something like CCD, we might have had to memorize the names of the 12 apostles. The problem is, of course, that Paul is nowhere on the list of the original 12 apostles. Paul didn’t even know Jesus before Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. How could Paul possibly be an apostle?

To understand how Paul can identify himself as an apostle, it helps to know what the word “apostle” means. An apostle is one sent. Yes, there were the 12 apostles orginally associated with the first followers of Jesus. But those 12 people were more than just followers; they were the ones sent by Jesus into the world to proclaim Christ’s message of liberation and salvation. It makes sense, then, that Paul identifies himself as an apostle. After the conversion he experienced, Paul is made an apostle – he is sent by Jesus to tell the world of the good news of God in Christ.

An apostle is more broadly understood as a messenger – one is who is sent to proclaim a message. Paul is sent, not as some sort of pizza delivery guy, but as a messenger of the good news. Paul says he is “set apart for the gospel of God.” The message Paul brings is one of liberation and salvation, the truly good news we hear and experience in Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies and traces the good news – the Gospel – he is sent to proclaim. Paul is a messenger of the Gospel God promises throughout history, the Gospel foretold by the prophets, the good news from the line of David, the Gospel of the one who lived, died, and rose again, the good news through which we receive grace.

But the Gospel Paul is an apostle of is not just for good news for Paul. And Paul is not the only one sent by this Gospel of liberation and salvation. This seven-verse sentence also identifies his ancient audience – as well as his modern audience – as apostles. If we, like the ancient audience, receive grace and salvation from the Gospel, we, too, are called to “apostleship.”

We, too, are sent as apostles, as messengers, of the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we are given the Gospel to carry into the world, a world that is in desperate need of this good news. It’s good news but it’s also strange news.

The Gospel we are given to carry into the world is told by the prophets throughout history. The Gospel we are given to carry into the world is of a person given the title of “Son of God.” The Gospel we are given to carry into the world is of a person whose birth we hear about in today’s very familiar reading from Matthew.

Although long predicted by the prophets, the birth of Christ, Jesus, the Messiah, happens in a most unusual way. The birth of the Christ Child is foretold throughout the ages, announced by angels, and assured in a dream. The birth of the Christ Child could have brought scandal. After all, Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, was found to be pregnant before her wedding.

Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, could have been dismissed by her soon-to-be husband, Joseph. He was certainly within his rights to send Mary away, ashamed by her pregnancy. But, just as God intervenes in Mary’s life, God also intervenes in Joseph’s life. In a dream sent by God, an angel assures Joseph that Mary is, indeed, pregnant by the Holy Spirit. There is no need to dismiss Mary, according to the angel. Miraculously, like so many other miracles in the Gospels, Joseph believes the angel and becomes the earthly father of Jesus.

It is this message, this good news, this Gospel, we are given the mission to proclaim. We are called to be apostles, ones sent by God, to bring this message, this good news, this Gospel, to a hurting and desperate world. May we, like Paul, come to introduce ourselves by more than just our names, but as servants of Jesus Christ and apostles of the Gospel. Amen.

 
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