I love the ending of Romans, and it fits with the group we are profiling, maybe one of the most diverse groups: “the Middle Class Melting Pot: Progressive Potpourri.” This is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural group, economically diverse group. The difficulty when you have a group like this within the community is that the mix of backgrounds, morals, and social context often causes dissention, fighting, and societal breakdowns. However, within this group, what keeps this from happening is an awareness and acceptance of themselves, and the needs of the greater community, keeping a balance of being authentic to themselves, while being a productive member of the community.
In the closing of the letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 16:17-23, Paul gives his final recitation to the follower which is focused on a strong admonishment against those who purposefully cause dissention and have no desire to work towards the betterment of the faith. What Paul recognizes and knows is that when people cause dissention or what we would call today conflict, often the reason is power, money, self-esteem, etc. but in the end is rarely serving God.
Actually, when looking at the Greek, the tie between those who purposely cause dissention and Satan is unmistakable. But that makes sense, since much of Paul’s writing gives us an understanding that Satan is not necessarily a “boogie man” that lurks around tempting us; rather, it is a pure evil that is within us, and all of society, that causes people to fall away from God. However, we have something stronger that can pull us back and away from that which is wrong and evil to that which is good, and we have to rely on seeking what is right and good.
In other places in Paul’s writings he lays out that one can discern who is speaking for God and who is not by assessing the message that they give. Are they trying to build up the community or are they trying to tear it down? Are they obviously seeking to serve their own needs or are they working for a deeper purpose? Are they building each other up or are they tearing each other down? These are central to the question of community.
My senior year of high school I was on what was probably the worst wrestling team our school had assembled in years. It was not that we were bad, but there were too many holes in our lineup to allow us to win. In sports, one might call it a rebuilding year! But as bad as we were, it was one of the best experiences of my life! Each day we came in, never pointing out each others weaknesses, but working to accentuate each of our strengths. Through the season we saw growth, and more wins, but more importantly, we forged something that while other teams saw mild support of their teammates, especially at tournaments, our team was always present supporting and giving that us that special edge! For me, that was one of the most incredible witnesses to community because, even though it was an individual sport, we modeled community and being a whole.
Here the crux of the message that Paul gives is that there is a greater truth than what we know and in order to understand it we need others. When we are working merely for ourselves, we lose sight of the greater goals and miss out on a full life because everything tends to be about us. However, when we lay aside all of our self determination, look around us, and absorb the Holy Spirit, we find ways to connect and be free to serve and seek the Lord, with the community around to support and help us grow.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen