Sun, Aug 09, 2020

Faithfulness and/in proclamation

Duration:12 mins 48 secs

As some of you probably know, cooking is one of my passions.

A few years ago now––

for my fiftieth birthday party––

I did a sort-of cook’s tour of the Mediterranean in regards to lamb kebabs…

with different types from Turkey, Greece, and Spain…

with appropriately matched wines;

and I traditionally cook a Spanish rabbit, chorizo, and mushroom stew for Easter day.

My tastes are a bit eclectic…

but it’s very Mediterranean-centric:

ranging, geographically, from Morocco to Lebanon.

And one of my specialities––

which is common to the region–– 

is quail.

I learned this really nice recipe from a Greek chef in Melbourne––

how to cut the quail properly, so that they lay flat…

with the little wings tucked under…

so that they don’t overcook;

then, marinating them for about an hour or so in a blend of: 

good-quality extra-virgin olive oil; 

lemon juice; 

a couple of cloves of garlic; 

a bit of salt; 

lots of dried oregano; 

just a hint of chilli; 

and a little grainy mustard;

then served with a nice Greek salad.

There’s really nothing better on a hot summer’s day with a bottle of chilled rosé.

The sharpness of the marinade––

from the lemon juice and mustard––

really offsets the rich, slightly sweet quail meat.

It’s not something that I make all that often…

as much as I love it.

It takes quite a bit of planning and preparation––

not least, a trip into the Central Market.

And it’s fiddly.

It’s a bit fiddly to make.

And, to be honest, it’s quite fiddly to eat.

If you have ever eaten quail, then you know what I mean.

It’s not really something that you can eat with a knife and fork.

The bones are too small.

And you have to work hard, at times, just to get the meat off.


It may seem a little strange, but that’s the first thing that came to my mind…

when I read this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It’s a bit of a quail of a reading––

a lot of work for very little reward.

We have been ploughing through this letter for some time now.

For a while, the readings set by the lectionary were in an unbroken stream––

each week’s passage following immediately after the previous.

From here on, that doesn’t happen.
So I’m not sure why we have this one.

At first glance, there’s not much there.

Paul seems to be using some scriptural quotes to back up something that he’s just said.

So, perhaps it might help if we begin with a bit of a recap––

a summary of where we have been…

and how we got here.

In the letter, Paul constructed an imaginary character…

with whom he has been in dialogue and debate.

That character…

or persona

would appear to have been a Gentile––

a non-Israelite––

but one who was attracted to the Hebrew religion…

and thought that to be acceptable to God––

in order to truly belong to the people of God––

he, and others like him, had to follow the Hebrew Law…

notwithstanding what Jesus Christ had done.

Paul, in response, has argued, ‘No’.

Gentiles do not need to follow the Law to belong to the people of God…

precisely because of what Jesus has done.

In so arguing, Paul has consistently differentiated Gentiles from Israelites. 


he claims… 

are not reconciled to God by being made to observe the Law… 

but by God’s gracious mercy in response to Jesus’ faithfulness. 

And yet… 

Paul has argued…

keeping the Law still constitutes Israel’s relationship with God through the Covenant.

It’s part of who they are, as Israelites.

That’s how they live in relationship with God. 

In effect…


Paul claims that there are different ways that we come to God; 

there are different ways that we relate to God. 

Instead of recognising this–– 

instead of recognising God’s plan to include the Gentiles, apart from the Law–– 

Paul has been arguing that Israel assumes that they can––

and need to––

bring the Gentiles to God by making them Israelites.

This imaginary character whom Paul created––

and with whom Paul debates––

shares this view. 


And, sadly, isn’t that an attitude that we still see so often? 

My way is the right way. 

Only those who believe what I believe––

only those who do what I say–– 

are loved, accepted, saved by God.


Perhaps the next logical conclusion to this way of thinking…

is what we find at the start of this morning’s reading from Romans.

Sadly, the next logical conclusion to thinking that you alone possess the truth––

that you alone are right with God…

and that your way is the only right one–– 

is to ask, as Paul does here:

Who will ascend into heaven?”… 


Who will descend into the abyss?” 

But, in so raising these questions, Paul immediately rules them out. 

Paul, effectively, prohibits this way of thinking. 

It is not our place to speculate about people’s eternal fate. 

Let alone to make pronouncements about it! 


Has the church missed that one!

For too many churches that’s their whole raison d’être

I remember more than thirty years ago––

when I was leading a church youth group––

taking the kids to a youth rally…


towards the end of his address… 

the speaker asked these teenagers how they would feel…

if they were standing at the pearly gates waiting to enter…

while their brother, or sister, or mother were consigned to the fires of hell before their eyes…

because they hadn’t preached the Gospel to them;

because they hadn’t bothered to save their souls.

It was a horrible example of theological guilt-manipulation.

But, let’s be honest––

in a less-in-your-face version––

it’s the sort of sentiment that has underpinned so much of the church’s life and history…

and, certainly, its missionary endeavours.



after affirming, yet again… 

that God is merciful and gracious to all––

without exception;

indeed, that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”––

Paul exhorts his readers to proclaim the Gospel…

not through some misguided sense of guilt…

but in order that others might know the faithfulness that comes via Jesus;

that people might know…

and live in… 

a reconciled relationship with God. 

And, yes, Paul does urge us to help people come to know this for themselves.

But, in the end, how do we come to know about the faithfulness of Jesus? 

How do we come to trust in it?

We don’t come to faith through intellectual debate and argument.

We don’t come to trust because someone says, “Trust me”.

We certainly don’t come to faith by being harangued into it;

or through guilt-manipulation.

We come to faith––

we come to trust someone…

we come to believe in someone––

when their actions match their words…

when they prove to us that they can be trusted.

We come to faith when we see it lived…



People will come to know…

and to trust in…

the life-giving love of God––

made known to us through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ––

when they see it lived, enacted, and incarnated.

As Saint Francis of Assisi once said: 

“Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words”.

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