Lectionary Readings for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A
Today's reading marks the beginning of controversy. Chapters 9-11 of Romans have stirred spirited debate among Bible commentators. Some believe the chapters do not belong there. Others see the chapters as a disjointed interruption of Paul's thought. Much of the controversy concerns the notion of predestination and election. Underneath all this is the question of how people "get saved." A recurring concern links chapters 9-11; namely, what is "faithful God" doing with "largely unbelieving Israel"?
Chapter 9 begins in the middle of an unnamed problem. The problem — What is "faithful God" doing with "largely unbelieving Israel"? — does not become apparent until Paul's argument unfolds in chapters 10 and 11. The first thing that confronts readers of Romans 9 is Paul's grief.
It is vitally important to note the heart-wrenching tone of Paul's writing in chapter 9. Paul's words drip with sorrowful heartbreak over the paradox of his people, God's chosen, who also rejected Jesus Christ as Messiah. Paul, a Jew himself, would have laid down his life if it meant bringing the Israelites to Jesus Christ. Paul is sorrowful because the Jews had every privilege. They were chosen, adopted, visited by God's glory, given covenants, and boasted great patriarchs. Still, they rejected "Jewish Jesus." This short reading poses a significant preaching challenge. Beyond Paul's passionate lament over the Israelites' rejection of Christ, there is little else to highlight.
- Paul speaks with painful heartfelt sorrow, attested by two witnesses — his conscience and the Holy Spirit.
- The pain Paul experiences is tremendous and unceasing — an indication of the seriousness of the coming topic.
- Paul passionately expresses that he could pray to become accursed if that act would draw his kindred into relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Paul reviews a laundry list of privileges that Jews have been given spiritually: deemed God's chosen people, adopted by God, witnesses of God's glory, offered covenants by God, given the law, worship, and God's promises. Patriarchs dot the Israelites' history. Finally, Christ, himself, was Jewish — one of the Israelites.
- Christ is the Messiah over everything, blessed forever by God.
Key Preaching/Teaching Points:
Paul employs his grief over his Jewish kinfolk to try to draw them into relationship with Jesus Christ. How? Paul's heartfelt grief served as a sober wake-up call to Gentile Christians. If Paul, a Jew, was that concerned over the spiritual condition of his Jewish kinfolk, perhaps his transparency would influence the Gentiles to share in this concern. Apparently, the Gentiles were tempted to dismiss the Jews since they had rejected Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Paul also provides a laundry list of Jewish privileges provided by God. Despite these privileges, the Israelites rejected Jesus. Now the Gentiles were privy to these privileges as those newly adopted into the family of God. Perhaps, out of jealousy, the Jews would see the Gentiles participating in these privileges and decide to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Help the congregation get in touch with their feelings about loved ones — their kinfolk who need Jesus Christ. Compel them to take some definitive action on behalf of their loved ones: active intercession, personal interaction, beginning or improving communication, sharing God's love.
(Does your congregation know the following term alluded to in Romans 9:1-5?)
Anathema — Accursed, separated from Messiah, under a religious ban.
Questions to Explore:
- God provided numerous privileges and promises to Israel, including Jesus Christ appearing as a racial Jew. Is God bound to fulfill the promises to God's chosen people, even when they reject Jesus Christ?
- What impact do divine privileges seem to have on people's spiritual walk?
- What result might Paul's grief-stricken message have on Gentiles?
Evangelistic Preaching Tips
Paul's sorrowful approach has several possible intentions. First, his genuine grief underscores the seriousness of Israel's rejection of Jesus Christ and salvation. Second, it is an invitation to Gentiles to soberly join Paul in trying to reach the Israelites with the gospel. Finally, it is a foreshadowing of Paul's strategy to provoke the Israelites to jealousy because the Gentiles now share in the privileges once assigned solely to Israel. This passage invites a passionate, heartfelt cry for the lost. Which faces does your congregation need to see with new compassion? Who needs to be provoked to caring action toward others?
Note: Passion for lost souls is particularly needed for the effective delivery of this passage.
Romans Preaching Sermon Series Notes
Reading: Romans 9:1-5 [An Evangelistic Approach — To lead people to Christ]
More Than One Can Handle — Authentic Christianity overflows with such love and concern that Christians cannot contain it all. God's transforming grace is more than one person can handle — it must be shared. Not long after we enter into this life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, we cannot help but look over our shoulder at those who need a similar experience. Grief and sorrow are indications of deep anguish over those missing from God's family. This message of Christian grief is a compelling invitation to join the family of God. God's love is more than one can handle.
Aim: Compel pre-Christians to join the family of God, a family that cares deeply and genuinely about others.
Reading: Romans 9:1-5 [A Renewal Approach — To strengthen the faith of Christians]
Just Look at My Heart — Paul exposes his deep regret over the lost condition of his kinfolk, the Israelites. Only people we are close to can solicit such deep personal emotions. Who are you close to who has every privilege, yet ignores God's goodness? Who do you agonize over as they live a life apart from Jesus Christ? What is the very least that God is calling us to do for our dearest family and friends? If we told our family and friends to "just look at my heart," would they see genuine concern for their salvation?
Aim: Encourage the congregation to personalize their need to evangelize others by focusing on the people they know and love.
Reading: Romans 9:1-5 [A Reclamation Approach — To restore "de-churched" individuals to vital faith in Jesus Christ]
You Left Something Behind — Some local church may have offended you. Perhaps somebody said something or did something that made you stop attending. You're mad and rightfully so, but when you left the church, you left something behind. Your relationship with God is acted out in fellowship with other Christians. Their lives, their struggles, their triumphs, their losses, and their blessings have an impact on your Christian growth. Apart from fellowship with other Christians, your spiritual life suffers. Believe it or not, there are Christians who grieve over those who are estranged from Christ. Why not come back and retrieve the life that God has in store for you?
Aim: Invite de-churched people back into your local communion.
Provide Opportunities for a Faith Response
1. More Than One Can Handle. Invite people to share brief stories of praying for loved ones and sharing God's love with them as a testimony of Christian care and concern. These stories could be shared as excerpts in the Sunday bulletin or verbally during worship. Provide worshipers with slips of paper on which they may write the names of people that they care about deeply. Invite people to pray for, visit, or call at least one of those people during the week. Pray and plan as a church about how your congregation could demonstrate their love and concern for a specific group of people.
2. Just Look at My Heart. (See #1 above.)
3. You Left Something Behind. Invite people to join a compelling one-time or short-term ministry experience. Draw people into something meaningful, something that makes a difference in others' lives. For example, ask groups of three to four men or women to "adopt" an elderly widow and provide assistance to her once a month. Invite people to "save a life" by passing out water to the homeless during summer months. For other ministry ideas, see the print resource list below.
Provide Opportunities for Follow Up
Invite people to continue to track their spiritual journey in their prayer journals.
Share the impact of short-term ministry experiences with the congregation. Consider doing a video production with before and after interviews that could be shared in worship.
Helpful Print Resources
- Seeing Beyond Church Walls: Action Plans for Touching Your Community, edited by Steve Sjogren
- Conspiracy of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus With Others by Steve Sjogren
- High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret of Keeping People in Your Church by Thom S. Rainer
Resources for Romans
- The New Interpreter's Bible A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume X — Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. Abingdon Press.
- The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today) by John R. W. Stott
- Romans: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries by F. F. Bruce
- Romans: A Shorter Commentary [ABRIDGED] by C. E. B. Cranfield
Follow Up Resource Available in pdf
Small Groups & Accountability: The Wesleyan Way of Christian Formation, by Steven W. Manskar, Director of Accountable Discipleship, Discipleship Ministries
General Evangelism Resources
- Ancient Future Evangelism by Robert Webber
Webber explains Pentecost as the traditional time to declare one's Christian vocation.
- The Faith-Sharing Congregation by Roger Swanson and Shirley Clement
- Faith-Sharing: Dynamic Christian Witnessing by Invitation by H. Eddie Fox and George Morris
- The Faith-Sharing initiative Participants' Manual (Spanish Version) — El compromiso de compartir nuestra fe: Manual del Participante (pdf)
- The Faith Sharing New Testament
- That the World May Know Jesus Christ! by Brazilian Methodist Bishop Paulo Lockmann
- Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith by Henry H. Knight III and Douglas Powe Jr.
- Witness: Learning to Share Your Christian Faith