When reading Scripture, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to the “therefores.”
Back in college, I learned an inductive method of Bible study – a method that empowers each of us to look at the text – any Scripture – notice what we see – and to ask questions and to learn and to go from there. Dianna Paulk – the Methodist Sunday School teacher who taught this inductive method – would have us take a printout of the Scripture passage and a set of colored pencils – and sit with the scripture and circle the main words and concepts we were seeing – each in a different color – so we could start to see patterns. We circled any mention of God – Creator, Christ, Spirit – to see what God was up to in the scripture. We’d note socio-economic and historical things that raised questions for us or seemed important – things we wanted to follow up on. And, we’d note the ways the sentences were structured – particularly the connecting words – the “ifs, ands, and buts” and the “therefores.” Because those connecting words mark movement in the text – contrasts between ideas – the connection of thoughts in a series – and often, the big important points in the argument or the big moments in the story.
And among those connecting words, “therefore” is the big one. “Therefore” signals a connection, a transition, a movement into a summation, a main point. “Therefore” takes everything that has come so far – everything that is up to this point – the “there” – and it projects it on out into the future – the “fore” – the “what comes next.”
This. Therefore. That.
This morning’s Scripture in the 12th chapter in Romans begins with “therefore.” It is a big transition in what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s biggest letter.
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome – Romans – is his magnum opus. We have to imagine – Paul is this scrappy, dynamic apostle who is scrambling around the known Mediterranean world – bringing Good News that keeps him on the move, fired up every day – the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. The even better Good News, for Paul, is that this love is for everyone – male and female, Jew and Gentile, enslaved and free, all gender, all people. So he goes from city to city – creating communities – helping establish churches – and then on to the next – and then he writes letters back to these churches he loves, helping them sort out their problems. Like the letters to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians.
The Letter to the Romans is a bit different; it is a letter to a church Paul hopes to visit. He wants to go to the heart of the Empire – to Rome – to the center of the known world – and bring the Good News there. So he writes to the early believers in Rome – to introduce himself – and he pours out everything he believes.
That’s the first 11 chapters of Romans. Paul writes: What God has been doing across history, God continues to do in Jesus Christ. God loves us with a love that is generated and available through grace – it flows from God’s action first, out into ours. The law we have known is now summed up in that love. And there is nothing that can separate us from that love – not life, not death, not the present, not the past, not height, nor depth, not any power, nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.