In American culture of the 21st century (and before this time, too), we are often so defined in the eyes of others by the answer to what is so often the first question that comes up during the social ritual of “small talk”: “So, what it is that you do?” You’re answer to that question defines in so many ways the direction that the conversation to follow will take, or, in fact, whether or not there will be a conversation at all. For years, my answer has been my affirmation: “Oh, I sing opera.” And now, I am ready to change that answer. But my mind and my speech need some work.
I will write more on this later. But I thought that I would start the morning by sharing with you the devoational text I wrote for our congregational Advent series (a tradition of the Calvary Baptist Church that I most love), because, well, it is totally on topic.
In the world of classical music, where I sometimes work, New York is the center of the world—we’ve all heard the words “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” (from the song New York, New York) and that is the truth of the business. Your resume is greatly enhanced by performing with even the smallest of companies that have a New York, NY address – and actively pursuing a career in classical music means subjecting yourself to the annual fall audition season, again, in New York.
And what gets you those auditions? It’s your bio – the written version of what a lot of people call their “elevator speech”—your individual 5-minute (or 250 word) sales pitch that says why you are unique and special and why the person receiving it (or hearing it) should pay attention to you. In Romans 1:1-7, as in most opening chapters of Paul’s letters, we are reading Paul’s very own “elevator speech”. Only, his speech is less about who he is than it is about what it means to be a follower of the risen Christ.
I imagine that, for Paul’s world, Rome was the same as New York is in mine. Paul had not yet been to Rome; and while Rome may have been the center of the political and cultural world of his day, it was not the center of the growing movement known as “the Way”. And so, Paul had to “audition”. And, as in so many of his writings, his “audition” shows us the way to be the followers of Christ that we so want to be.
Now, my bio begins with a quote from the Washington Post. Not Paul. Paul begins with a statement of his calling, of his mission in Christ, and continues by stating the promises of justice, inclusion and grace which formed the basis of his ministry among the Gentiles and his mission to expand the message of Jesus throughout the known world of his day. And when I read it, I like to imagine Paul, alone, sitting by an oil lamp, maybe scratching his thoughts on a stone or a scrap of old parchment, writing and re-writing to get the message just right. Because here, in these opening words of Romans, he did get it just right.
Paul reminds us what we are waiting for, in this season of Advent, that “to all who are (M)beloved of God in Rome (and in all the world), called as (N)saints: (O)Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And without Paul, we, descended from Gentiles, Gentiles ourselves, would not have this knowledge. So, let us remember today and every day, that the message Paul shared with the Romans, that message of faith, belongs to all humankind – even if they don’t know they are waiting for it.
I think I had better go back and work on that bio some more….