Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (Romans 12:10-21) transports me to a drunken party in the Haw Creek section of Asheville, circa 1974, where many of the rowdier Reynolds High School teenagers were gathered to do whatever it was that high schoolers did when they had the house to themselves in 1974. I was about 3 years shy of being old enough to participate in these ventures, but there I was anyway, knocking on the door, curious about what I would find. I showed up (uninvited) to the party with my church mentor of sorts, although we didn’t use that term then. Tinker Greenwood was my Sunday School teacher and Royal Ambassador leader. He was a great golfer as well, and exhibited great patience teaching me the game. He and his wife Louise hired me to work on their dairy farm that summer, during which time I discovered that I didn’t know how to handle a riding lawn mower when I lost control and mowed over Louise’s flowers. Anyway, Tinker was really big into soul-winning, and in addition to teaching me golf and dairy farm work, he taught me how to share my testimony and lead people to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Which meant he taught me the Romans Road, a series of memory verses in the book of Romans that you use to explain to people their need of salvation, how to be saved, and the blessed assurance that comes with salvation. You could still wake me in the middle of the night after an evening of copious libations and I could recite you the verses – Romans 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 8:1,28,38; 10:9, and 10:13. So I was well prepared when we knocked on that door in Haw Creek and surprised the partying teenagers who came to the door. Tink waltzed in like he owned the place, and started witnessing. He was bad for this (or good for this, depending on your perspective); he’d get wind of a gathering of young folks, and off we’d go to win some souls. I followed his lead, and I think we were successful in leading one member of the golf team to salvation that night, but given his state of mind, I’m not sure how much of the Romans Road he remembered the next day.
The Apostle Paul charts quite a road there in the epistle to the Romans, the masterfully composed compendium of his theological thought. And while I don’t fault Tinker for this, the shortfall of the soul-winners’ map of Paul’s Romans Road is that it doesn’t go far enough. The condensed version of this hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy of salvation ends there with the assurance of 10:13, confirming that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And so the traditional soul-winner’s map misses out on some amazing sights along the rest of the road in the chapters following, with today’s passage in chapter 12 being a perfect example. You can even argue that these verses reveal the destination of the road, (this side of heaven, that is). It’s a description of where we’ll wind up as Christians after we acknowledge that we’re sinners and confess Christ as Savior. Here are a few of the road signs pointing us to that destination: we’ll be practicing hospitality, living peaceably, blessing those who persecute us, feeding our enemies, and overcoming evil with good. If this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because these are the same set of lifestyles Jesus blessed in his Sermon on the Mount. I love the way Paul describes one of these destination points as he riffs on Jesus’ blessing on the poor. Most English translations miss the meaning of 12:16 – saying that we will “associate with people of low position” or “condescend to men of low estate.” What Paul says is actually much stronger and more positive: once we are saved, we will literally be “carried away by the poor.”
Today our culture is carried away by many things – entertainment, the banking industry and Wall Street, sports, political talking heads, speculation on the last days – the list could go on and on. But I think Paul is onto something when he places this aspect of the Christian life square in the middle of his road sign that points us to peacemaking. When we share a common experience of the poor carrying us away to scramble eggs at the Vet’s Shelter or hammer nails on a Habitat site, it makes a good catalyst for crafting a culture of peace. Today our church gets to experience that firsthand, as we’re signed up to help raise the walls for this year’s Dream Build for Habitat. All this is not to say there won’t be major differences and disagreements over the best strategies and policies to deal with poverty, but those differences can be negotiated far more smoothly when we share the same road and envision the same destination point, and when we’ve worked together to raise a wall so somebody will have a decent place to live. And when we’re carried away by the poor, we have less time and energy to venture down the side roads of animosity and bashing and berating that crisscross the state of our world. The full length of the Romans Road takes us off that map for sure.
Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.