Weekly Reflection for July 31, 2001

Reading: Romans 9:1-5

Theme: The High Cost of Evangelism

Message: Paul’s Anguish Over Israel

 1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

There is nothing chic or fashionable in the word evangelism. Indeed, in the Mainline the word is virtually anathema and most preachers would expunge it from their vocabulary given half a chance. It often seems there are more reasons to not do evangelism than to engage in the practice. The word itself strikes terror in the hearts of even the most hardy church member. Visions of door knocking, handing out tracts, and being generally obnoxious course through their memories like ice water – it’s no wonder they get cold feet.

In an effort to ameliorate the anti-E sentiments, church leaders have tried to redefine the E-word. Whereas the command that each Christ-follower must share the gospel was paramount in Jesus’ teachings, popular evangelistic dogma teaches that doing “outreach” and “inviting” folks to a worship service or an event is the equivalent. Putting oneself out and risking a relationship with a heathen or a pagan today seems beyond the realm of reasonable.

But then we’re confronted by this week’s epistle reading. Paul’s commitment to his community breaks the bounds of “normalcy” by today’s standards. Sure, we’ve all heard the prayer leader say, “Lord, break our hearts with the things that breaks yours,” but Paul’s heart seems more than broken … a good psychologist might even interpret his sentiments as unhealthy.

Of course, this passage has been constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed over the years. In its larger context the “salvation” of Israel has wrapped systematic theologians into knots as they leap to one side of the fence or the other. And yet Paul’s words are more than instructively interesting and theologically enigmatic. They model the import of Christ’s Great Commission and the depth of commitment we’re expected to make on behalf of our own communities. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed [anathema] and cut off from Christ for the sake of ___________.” Fill in the blank with the community you’d be willing to face a Christ-less eternity for … or at least begin building relationships with for the sake of the Kingdom.

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