Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you notice the passage above is all one sentence? Haha! That’s Greek for you. If Paul had been in a high school English class he’d have failed! It’s one of the blessings and challenges of reading the book of Romans. It’s incredibly dense. There is so much meaning contained in relatively few words, it can take a long time to unpack it all. This morning the phrase that caught my attention is in v.5:
“to bring about the obedience of faith”
What does that mean, “obedience of faith”? I’m thinking the Greek might better be translated “obedience that springs from faith”. It seems there are times when faith (the hope of things unseen) is a necessary foundation for obedience to the Lord, to the promises of the gospel. Hebrews 11:6 says “Without faith it is impossible to please God”.
Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the season of Lent. Lent continues from now through Easter Sunday in late April. It’s traditionally a time of introspection, repentance, humility. Tonight the congregation I lead will gather for worship and receive the mark of the cross in ashes on the forehead with the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I recently lost my stepdad after he struggled through a long illness. In many ways he greeted death as a friend. Life had become filled with pain, suffering, loss of life as he knew it. Frankly, it was hard to watch a man I remember as a giant of my youth slowly atrophy into a shadow of his former self. And then, one early Saturday morning a few weeks ago, he was gone.
When you lose someone you love it can be hard to be hopeful in that moment. The grief and loss are too great to see anything but pain and despair. Not just for the one who died, but for those of us who yet live. In this case I grieve for my mother whose life revolved around this man for almost 40 years. Talk about leaving a void.
And so tonight when I gather with the saints in suburban Dallas and feel a finger which will mark the sign of the cross on my forehead, when I hear the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I’ll be thinking of my stepdad. And perhaps instead of falling into the abyss of grief, I will embrace the hope of salvation in Christ Jesus. For my stepdad. For me. For you. Amen.