Category: Robert Moses

Romans 12:1-8

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 27, 2017.

In his book, The Heart of Whiteness, author and professor Robert Jensen recalls an encounter he had with Les Payne.  The two men were on a panel to discuss the chapter that each had contributed to the book, When Race Becomes Real (2004).  Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, an accomplished author, and columnist, and was at that time the editor of Newsday.  As Jensen recalls, Payne was by all accounts the more experienced and seasoned of the two, especially on a complex subject such as race.  And yet as the two men sat down together on stage, Jensen remembers doing what came “naturally” to him: he felt superior to Payne.  It seems strange that a person would begin to feel superior to another whom he knows has a more accomplished record.  But, in Jensen’s own words, the feeling of superiority stemmed from one fact: Jensen is white, and Payne is black.  This superiority complex is a feeling that Jensen would later have to acknowledge and confront.

Feelings of superiority need not be limited to race relations.  One’s race may lead a person to feel superior to others outside that race.  But people may also feel superior to others on the basis of a whole host of reasons.  People feel superior on the basis of the level of their education or the institution from which they obtained their education.  People feel superior to others because of their earning power.  People feel superior to others because they reside in a “better” neighborhood.  People can feel superior because of the successful careers of their children; the list goes on and on.  Feelings of superiority seem as “natural” to the human experience as the air we breathe.  Paul’s words, then, in our passage seem unnatural: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).  Paul is asking believers not to think too highly of themselves, but rather to think of themselves in a way that would lead to “sober” understanding.  How can believers have sober judgments of themselves?  How can believers escape this seemingly “natural” feeling of superiority to others?

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Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 20, 2017.

I do not think it will be a farfetched assessment to say that we live in a culture in which people desire and seek after the spectacular.  People are looking to buy homes that have eye-catching curb appeal and exude “charm.”  Developers want to build the amusement park that has the “wow” factor to draw in visitors.  Technology companies continue to build “flagship” devices for consumers who desire “premium” gadgets.  The news media is seeking the next spectacle, whether an event or person, to drive up ratings.  It is fair to say that there is an insatiable appetite for the spectacular and many have found ways to cultivate this desire, feed it, and profit from it.  As a marketing website puts it, “Why hire a conference center when you can have a castle?”  It is fair to say that we are all chasing in some ways after the next spectacular thing that will bring happiness or the next dramatic event or encounter that will leave long-lasting impressions.

It may be worth asking how this desire for the spectacular affects believers’ relationship with God.  Thus, it is perhaps not sheer coincidence that our lectionary passage falls in the season between Pentecost and Advent, what Christian tradition has referred to as “Ordinary Time.”  Ordinary Time stands as a corrective to desire for the spectacular and dramatic that our culture is trying to cultivate in us.  Our passage invites us to think about the various ways in which God moves in the ordinary.  In Romans 10, Paul details Israel’s rejection of the gospel.  As Paul sees it, this rejection stems from willful disobedience on the part of Israel to pursue its own path for righteousness based on works, rather than the divinely initiated path that is based on faith.  Thus, while Israel—the people of God—have failed to achieve righteousness, the Gentiles have obtained this righteousness that is based on faith (Romans 10:5-13).  Concerning Israel, however, Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

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Romans 10:5-15

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 13, 2017.

We’ve all had that feeling: when a costly misstep leads us to question our place in the home, at work, or in society.  For many of us, most days are filled with confidence—we feel we are doing a good job of parenting and being a good spouse; we are living up to the expectations of our employers, and we are serving our society in commendable ways.  But then comes the blunder that leads to sharp self-criticism; the missed goals and targets for the year that causes us to question whether we are up to the task; or the bad news about our children that raises questions about our parenting or our marriage.  We work hard and strive to be a success at everything we do, but any of the above can lead to even the most confident among us asking whether we are good enough.  We can become gripped and overwhelmed by the shame we work so hard to avoid.  When our lives are built on doing and achieving, failure to produce successful works can result in shame.

In Romans 10:5-15 Paul contrasts the type of righteousness that Israel has sought to achieve through the Law with the type that God has provided through faith.  The former type of righteousness Paul labels as being generated from human effort; according to Paul, Israel sought to establish her own righteousness (Romans 10:3).  This type of righteousness is pursued through human effort, and it is achieved through fulfilling the requirements of the Law.  In Paul’s own words, this is a righteousness “that comes from the Law” (Romans 10:5); it comes by a person doing and living by the Law.  But such righteousness can be far from many, especially for those who do not lay claim to the Law by birth.  In this pericope, one of Paul’s biggest issues with this type of righteousness is that it is not “near” to everyone.  And by this Paul reiterates a point he has made earlier in Romans that the Law is the possession of only one group—the Jews.  Thus, if righteousness is based on the Law, then it would leave out non-Jews, and this would, in turn, suggest that God is a God of Jews only: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (Romans 3:29-30).  In other words, God has to have a basis for establishing righteousness that would apply equally to both Jews and Gentiles.  This is what Paul calls in Romans 10 “the righteous that comes from faith” (Romans 10:6).

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Romans 9:1-5

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 6, 2017.

Psychologists and researchers have for decades observed that exposing people to inordinate amounts of violence and human suffering on TV can desensitize people to violence and suffering in the real world.  When continually exposed to violence and suffering in the media, the images no longer engender the sorrow and anxiety that such images are expected to arouse.  In late 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen warned that many are failing to pay attention to the human aspect of the refugee crisis.  Speaking during a panel discussion at the University of Maine, Mr. Cohen lamented: “Frankly, it’s a little bit depressing to think that we’ve become desensitized to human suffering … We don’t look at the human dimension, the dimensions of the catastrophe of people who have nothing, who are homeless.” (Reported in the Bangor Daily News.  See The BDN Editorial Board, “In becoming ‘desensitized to human suffering,’ Maine was all too ready to join the fray,” BDN Maine (Nov. 17, 2015). Mr. Cohen’s wider point is that politics and national interests can often distract us from seeing the human lives that are at the center of many crises.

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