Surprise!

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Romans 16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

This passage, coming at the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, is referred to as a “doxology” – expressing praise to God. As is true in much of Paul’s writing, there is a lot of meaning packed into relatively few words. However, the part that grabbed my attention most this morning is:

“…the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages”

Paul is saying that the gospel of Jesus Christ reveals to the reader something that had been a secret for many generations – a surprise, if you will. This gets me to asking, “What’s the surprise/secret Paul is referring to?” Fortunately, this is not the only time Paul writes of this in his letters. There is also this:

Ephesians 3:In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

What’s the big mystery? That ALL PEOPLE can share in the promises of the gospel, not just the Jews. This is a HUGE deal. You see, for most of history to that point, our God had been the God of only a particular people, the Jews. The reality that, in Christ Jesus, God made himself available to everyone was a radical departure from the pattern of God’s relationships with humans.

Even today, the gospel surprises us by where it is thriving – and where it is dying. 

Truth? The gospel has been losing steam in much of the Western world for decades – especially in Europe and the U.S. This was brought home to me personally when I attended the Lutheran World Federation assembly in Canada more than a decade ago. I was one of the representatives of the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As we gathered as Lutherans from all over the world, I was struck to see there were more non-Europeans in the place than Europeans – representing a church that was begun in what is now Germany. This representation was loosely aligned with the fact that most Lutherans now live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – not in the West. I sort of understood this, but SEEING this reality took me by surprise.

God if full of surprises. God will surprise us by who is being drawn to our Lord Jesus, and who is walking away. Often the ones who are SUPPOSED to be part of the church reject it, walk away from it. The ones who embrace it are increasingly among those we don’t expect – ethnic minorities, the poor, the marginalized. Get ready church. There are greater surprises ahead.

Lord Jesus, you are continually challenging our assumptions about who is one of us, and who is not. Give us grace to follow after you and to embrace those you embrace. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

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