I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
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 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 — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.
This passage and the one before are what makes Paul’s message to the Romans a personal letter rather than just a long-distance “sermon”.
One can imagine the recipients wrestling mentally with the difficult themes – then breathing a sigh of relief as they remember that the writer is a flesh and blood friend. Paul tells the readers that Timothy and three of his relatives – Lucius, Jason and Sosipater – are with him. He is lodging with Gaius, while Erastus and Quartus send greetings too. And his scribe, Tertius, inserts a cheeky little message from himself. The personal touch counts.
A few weeks ago, I spent an hour reading especially valued old letters kept in a box. They shared news from family and friends, near and far. Few (if any) are likely be added to the box now. Personal letter-writing by hand on a pristine sheet of Basildon Bond is becoming a thing of the past.
Thank God we have developed new ways to cross communication barriers and share our news, fears and hopes in person, even from far away. The pandemic lockdown and the desire for human contact it caused brought home to us the worth of telephone calls, emails, Zoom calls, WhatsApp, and a host of other new resources, enabling us to communicate in a meaningful way. They offered us the personal touch when other contact was denied.
Now we are back together in life and in church. We can talk over coffee, hug our families, chat to friends we bump into in the street and invite people into our homes. We can laugh and cry together.
The personal touch counts too when strangers cross our church thresholds. Warm and inclusive reception of all, regardless of their backgrounds or their needs, may serve to bring them closer to knowing God than even the most enthralling sermon!
Lord of all, We remember that Jesus said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Grant that we may always greet strangers as new friends, offering the same care and personal warmth that we extend to existing friends. You tell us that everyone matters; no-one should feel excluded. So be it.