Summary: In closing out a series on the last part of the Letter to the Church at Rome, this sermon examines Paul’s use of personal names and how they tie to some of the themes of the book.
The Name Game
Text: Romans 16:1-27
How many of you like to watch the credits at the end of a movie? Wailam gets disgusted with me because I have a tendency to want to stay to the end of the credits in order to find out who performed a particular song used in the soundtrack, to ascertain the general area where the first and second units filmed most of the footage, and to see if any of the folks I’ve met through the game business over the years or if any of my former students played a role in the matte painting, modeling, or post-production. If I didn’t have these special interests, I’d probably get up and leave with the rest of the audience once the credits start to roll.
Actually, did you know there is quite a bit of controversy in Hollywood these days over the length of the credits. Credits are very important for someone in the film industry. They serve as your best bet for getting another job. That’s why you even see caterers and other non-film-specific mentions in the credits. Everyone likes to have some recognition. I have a couple of credits in computer games and I occasionally visit a site for game design credits or writing credits to see my name. Well, if everyone likes credit, do you think the people in the ancient world were any different? Don’t you think it encouraged them to hear or read their name at the end of a letter to a church? Don’t you think that letter became that much more important to them and relevant when they heard or read their names?
Of course, if you’re anything like me, you have a very human tendency to have your eyes gloss over or skip ahead past all of these lists of names in the Bible. About the most time I ever spent on a list of names in the Bible, before I discovered how important they could be, was when I was in elementary school and learning how to read phonetically. I was sitting in the back seat of our car and picked up a copy of the New Testament. I turned to Matthew 1 and began to sound out all of the names in the genealogy of Jesus. My parents were impressed that I was trying to sound them out, but it wasn’t until a couple of decades later that I realized the Holy Spirit was giving humankind a message in that long and, seemingly, boring list. The short answer is that the list showed us that God was working through the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the devout and the unsavory in order to prepare us for the Incarnation of Jesus.
Today, I know better. I take the verse (II Timothy 3:16) seriously when it says, not only that all Scripture is inspired, but that it (all Scripture) is profitable for teaching. Let me give you just a few reasons why these lists serve our needs (and the needs of the ancients) in the Bible.
• Provides continuity with the past
• Creates a bridge to upcoming narratives
• Highlights persons for important lessons
• Gives hearers and readers a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves
So, for those of you who think we might be “wasting” an entire Sunday morning sermon on this, I believe you’re going to be surprised. Even in this chapter which seems like a directory of names associated with Paul’s ministry and, at least at first glance, seems about as interesting as reading a telephone book, teaches us a lot about God and about the themes Paul has already shared throughout Romans (and which Pastor Nick and I have tried to share with you).
Of course, if we’re going to hear what God has to say to us, we’ll need to have the “eyes of our hearts” opened and ask God for those “ears” willing to hear that Jesus spoke about when He was teaching something difficult to understand or something that could be easily overlooked. So, let’s pray and then, I’ll read the first 16 verses of the chapter and I think you’ll see what I mean. [Holy Father, today we are in danger of misusing this time in two extremes: trivializing this passage or obsessing over it. Lord, like one of the people named in this chapter, I confess that I am a “lover of words” and that there is a danger of obsessing over these unusual names. Yet, I claim according to the grace I can claim through Christ Jesus and ask, by means of the Holy Spirit Who lives in my life, that You show us what You want us to see in this passage, today. I ask that even this catalog of names will become a vibrant testimony to how You work in the church and how You can work in the lives of this assembly of persons, today. I’m asking under the power of attorney granted in Christ Jesus, Amen.]