Somebody said it before I did, and better
Serendipity. No, it is not a useless and, worse, misguiding “Study Bible.” It is when various random things happen together to produce something positive that you weren’t shooting for. Happened to me today. I got stuck (or so it seemed to me) doing the “Lectionary at Lunch” for the Romans 11:33-12:8 text this week, since no one else had signed up for it, it’s my job to get people signed up, and Concordia Seminary faculty members on campus in mid-August are about as common as Cubs fans in St. Louis. Literally. So, I “volunteered” myself. Sorry if it gets posted late.
Romans 11:33-36 is easy. It is a hymn of praise. What else could Paul have possibly written after describing the mercy of God for all people (Jew and Gentile) in Christ? It is at 12:1-2 that things get dicey. I won’t repeat what I said on the L@L recording. Whatever I said wasn’t, as usual, exactly what I wanted to get out. Fast forward to this afternoon, and I’m working on another assignment, this on biblical interpretation and “difficult passages” (women, slavery, sexual ethics, stuff like that). And what I was trying to type into my word processor sounded a lot like what I was just saying on the L@L recording. Best, then, to make sure that I’m not completely making it up (and have a few footnotes). And so I went to my go-to exegete, Martin Franzmann. There it was, 43 years ago, and way better than I could say it.
For some reason we Lutherans have a hard time with what we (not the Apostle) call “Sanctification.” That is, what happens after you “get justified.” We fall into one of two ditches: either we never preach it because we are afraid of having people think that their salvation depends on it (and, ironically, both “Gospel Reductionist Libs” and “Confessional Law-Gospel” types both do this) or we preach only stuff that we think we should get our people to do, lest they fail to “give glory to God” or don’t receive the “full promises” of God, or some other “Evangelical” (in the American sense) phrase. Either way, notice that biblical “Sanctification” never gets preached.
Then you read the Scriptures. Most preachers will probably run to the Gospel Reading this week, because it is easy to make it say what we think it says (“Christ,” “Church,” easy-peasy stuff, right?). But I’d commend to you the Epistle Reading. Because it will force you, and your people, to wrestle with Monday. That is, what does life “in Christ” (Rom 12:5) look like? Yes, confess with Peter Jesus as “The Christ.” But confession is never mere lip service. Recall that with the confession comes picking up crosses, and following (Matt 16:24; the reading conveniently stops at 16:20). The connectedness of Matthew 16:16 and Matt 16:24 is the connectedness of confessing Christ and living in Christ. That’s what I, and probably most of your congregation, struggle with. And this where the Apostle, and our father in the faith, Martin Franzmann, help guide us.
The members of the new people of God are called upon to anticipate, in their bodily activitiy, the life of the world to come, to assert in action the reality of that world now. They are to be God’s bridgehead in the alien and hostile territory of this world in this age. Consequently their worship is a constant and embattled no of noncomformity to this world. . .
They [this “new people”] can continue to be the strenuous minority for God in this age only by being perpetually transformed by the mercies of God brought to them continuously in the Gospel. The Gospel is their only power, that “Word of God at work … in … believers” (1 Thess 2:13). This is not a mystic’s dream of being absorbed into the life of God; it is a conscious, waking, responsible life in the presence of and in the service of God. In every case, as each case may arise, the child of God is called upon to “prove” the will of God, that is, to weigh and ponder and decide what the revealed will of his Father God is asking of him now. The child knows that will; it asks of him that what he says and does be “good,” that it be a kindly, gracious furthering of the welfare of the man whom God has set before him as neighbor.
Martin Franzmann, Romans. Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 217-18.
[I’ll stop there, lest I break copyright law; if it helps keep the lawyers off my back, here is a link where you can buy the book. Note to the ad people over at CPH: your description sells this book way short; I’m not at all sure what a “narrative(!) interpretation” of a letter(!) would even look like ].
Catch those key words: “bodily activity,” “now,” “anticipate,” “perpetually transformed,” “mercies of God,” “responsible life,” “neighbor.” That’s Roman 12. That’s the Apostle. That’s confessing Christ. What does it look like “now“? Paul spoke that Word (because it was “given” to him; 12:3)) to the Church in Rome. It is your task, preacher, to speak that Word to the Church in wherever-you-are, because it is “given” to you: “The one who teaches, in the act of teaching; the one who exhorts, in the exhortations” (12:7-8).
So how will Christ serendipitously be confessed by you today?