• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! It’s very interesting that we have this reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans today, in light of the discussion that most of you were here for at coffee hour last week. We talked about the founding of this mission, and interestingly, two aspects of our discussion mirror the Epistle reading—the gifts and talents that people have and willingly use in the Church, and the relationship that we as Christians have with one another. St. Paul says that we’re all given different gifts, by the Holy Spirit, to use in the support and building up of the Body of Christ. We’re all members of the same Body, but member has its own function. Notice that St. Paul’s assumption is that all members of the Body have been given gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we’re baptized into Christ, we’re filled with the life of the Holy Trinity, and each of us are given gifts to be used for the glory of God. St. Paul wants to make sure that we realize this, and that we’re using our gifts. The Scriptures clearly say that if we don’t use the gifts that God has given us, that they will be taken away. [Think of the parable of the talents] So St. Paul is reminding us that all baptized Christians have been remade in the image of Christ, and we’ve all been given a share in the gifts of God. St. Paul lists a few of the gifts of the Spirit in this reading, but we need to remember that which person has which gift is a decision made by God alone. St. John Chrysostom writes: “[St. Paul] does not say that one received more, and another less, but what? Different. For though it is a grace, it is not poured forth at random, but framing its measure according to the recipients, it letteth as much flow as it may find the vessel of faith that is brought to be capable of [receiving].” In other words, we’re filled with the grace and gifts of God as much as we’re individually able to contain. We’re not all the same, and so the gifts of God to each of us will also be different. So St. Paul lists a few of the gifts of the Spirit. The list here is not exhaustive, and in other places he lists more and other gifts- Here, St. Paul writes that some are gifted to prophesy, which in the Scripture and the Christian Tradition is not necessarily linked to foretelling the future. Prophecy was for the “edification, and exhortation, and comfort” of the believers (I Cor. 14:3, 22)— speaking in truth about the true God. Others are gifted to minister (diakonia) to one another—to serve one another, to listen, perhaps to offer prayerful advice—to offer ourselves in service to another. Some are gifted to teach each other, or to exhort one another—to offer support and edification to our co-strugglers on this path to salvation in Christ. Still others are gifted to provide for the material support of Church [which is vital—the Church is supported through tithes and offerings of the members to do the work of Christ in the world, in the ancient Church this was literally bringing material goods into the Church, today it is mostly giving the money that’s needed for the Church to exist physically]. Some are blessed to be leaders, or even to show mercy on their fellow man. All of these gifts are given to be used in the community of the Church. In other places in this chapter St. Paul talks specifically about how Christians relate to the world outside the Church. But right now, he’s talking about the way that Christians live together. And St. Paul’s list seems to be put together in such a way to say “pursue wholeheartedly what you are blessed to do, and don’t try to do the work of others.” This is the only way that the Body can function properly. In the building of a local parish, the Holy Spirit brings together the people with the talents that are needed to do the work of God. So the leaders must lead, those blessed materially must give, the teachers must instruct. And as he ends the list, he reminds us to do these things with a Christian heart—with simplicity, and diligence, and cheerfulness. After reminding the people how they are to work together in the Church, St. Paul also exhorts the Roman Christians in their relationships with one another. Not only does the Church work together, but as members of one Body we’re called to love one another, and to help one another in our struggle for salvation. “To be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love”—to be friends with one another. “In honor giving preference to one another”—looking out not for our best interests, but for the wellbeing of the another. “Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”—this life that we’re called to lead as Christians, this life of serving Christ, of sacrifice and of love, it’s a life that requires constant effort, constant struggle. St. Paul exhorts us to remain fervent and diligent in our service to the Lord, which not only helps us run the race, but also helps all those who are struggling around us. He also tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer.” At the center of our life in Christ is our relationship with Christ and our relationships with our fellow human beings. Our life of prayer is where we build a relationship with Christ, time alone, in the quiet, time to talk to God, and time to listen. To pray for ourselves, our fellow Christians, and everyone that we know. And we’re to do this continually, steadfastly, without ceasing. As we continue to be the Body of Christ planted here in McComb, MS, these are lessons St. Paul taught to the Romans that we have to learn from. The Holy Spirit has gathered the group of people here that He wants. Each of us has gifts and talents that we’re called to use for the glory of God and the building up of this Holy Church. And we each have to give 100% of what we’re blessed to give, in order for the work of Christ to be done in our lives and in the world around us, the world we’re meant to call to salvation in Jesus Christ. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!