Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 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, 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, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 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.
Recently I was at a meeting where people were asked to introduce themselves by sharing an experience in their life that still shaped who they are today. One person had grown up in a single parent household when that was still unusual, another had become the carer for an elderly parent at age 11, yet another had lived in a war zone. All these events had deeply shaped their identity and how they viewed the world. When the apostle Paul introduced himself to the Christians in Rome, there is one event that had deeply shaped him. That is his encounter with the risen Christ. That shaped his identity and his entire outlook on life. Paul is writing to a Christian community of Jewish origin. A community he did not establish and had never visited, so introductions matter! His greeting is striking. He used only his own name – no co-sender – and called himself a servant of Christ, who was called to be an apostle and who was set apart for the gospel. Scholars think that how Paul describes the gospel in verses 3 and 4 are not his own words, but a Jewish Christian formulation that would have been known to the Roman Christians. It may be that he was trying to show that what he had preached agreed with what the Romans believed. But perhaps it was simpler. Perhaps Paul was merely trying to express that even though they had never met, they had one thing in common: a new identity in Christ. They were God’s beloved, called to belong to Jesus Christ and to be saints: people of grace and peace. There are many things that shape our identity. Our life stories; our relationships with family, partners and friends; our work and our interests; our goals in life. To what extent have your life experiences been shaped and challenged by the encounter with Christ? When asked to introduce yourself, what story would you tell?
God of love, called by you, may we know who we are: you call us beloved, you call us to belonging, you call us to follow, you call us to be holy, you call us to be saints. In all that we are, in all that we say and do, may we share your grace and peace and by our love may the world know that we are yours. Amen.
Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), URC