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GOOD NEWS IN THE CAPITOL! (Romans)
April 27, 2015Posted by on
(We update this page each week. Scroll down to the bottom for a link to the most recent lecture. And enjoy!)
Have you seen the “Hunger Games” movies yet? Have you read the books, from which the movies came? They’re dark, intriguing stories speaking to some of the major social issues of our time.
You might know this already – but just in case you don’t: much of the imagery and framework for the stories of the Hunger Games come from the world of ancient Rome, capitol city of the Roman Empire. Rome became an Empire in the first century BC, and continued along through a whole complex history of cultural change, plagues, warfare, trouble, and amazing accomplishment. The Western Roman Empire is reckoned to have “ended” in 476 AD, with the end of the last truly Roman Emperor. But the real story of its decline and fall is more complicated that that.
In the movies, “The Capitol” is the great city of the empire of Panem (Latin for “bread,” from a famous quote about keeping the people happy by giving them “bread and circuses.”) It’s the greatest city by far. The “districts” are outlying areas whose major function is to produce resources for the Capitol to consume. People in the outer districts are seriously oppressed and mistreated, it’s a miserable way to live. Part of how the Capitol keeps its hold on the districts is an annual “Hunger Games,” an arena in which “tributes” from each district must fight till the death – for the entertainment of everyone, and the celebration of Panem’s cardinal virtues: “strength and valour.”
“Why are you bringing this up? Surely the movie exaggerates, and ancient Rome wasn’t so bad.” Perhaps. The point is this: Rome, like “The Capitol,” was the greatest city, and the largest by far – and it represented the triumph of the Roman gods, and the “righteousness” of Roman social values. People coming to Rome for the first time were overwhelmed by the streets leading to massive, marble-clad buildings lining the Via Sacra, the temples to the gods, the Emperor’s palaces, the many public buildings which far outstripped anything a newcomer would have ever seen. Newcomers witnessed technology they’d never thought of before, and beauty and grandeur. Whenever Rome built a colony, the city of Rome was the building plan – the culture of Rome was the way of life – and Latin, the Roman language, was the speech of action.
Like any capitol city of any nation, Rome was full of images of its own glory and values – statues of past heroes, temples to the gods, fresco paintings everywhere telling the stories of the beginnings of the Empire. It was a place of dignity, pride, power. In AD 70 Emperor Vespasian founded a dynasty with the motto “Aeternitas,” “Eternity.” “Panem today, Panem tomorrow, Panem forever.” Much like Panem, Rome was a city saturated with its own story.
The Good News of Jesus Christ speaks into the lives of people dominated by this place of power and wealth – in the most poignant ways imaginable. We’re beginning studies in the “Letter to the Romans,” a New Testament writing from the apostle Paul. Some time in the mid-first century, a scroll of the “Letter to the Romans” was read in the Sunday meetings of Christians in Rome – and this scroll contains in it a new “story,” a new way to see the world, a new way to live. This new way to live isn’t based on the victories of the ancient heroes and the current Emperor – it’s based on God’s amazing victory that He has done through Jesus Christ. It’s not just a victory over the barbarians that threaten on the borders of the land – it’s a victory over the brokenness of the entire Creation.
The crisis of the “Letter to the Romans” was a matter of being refreshed again in our vision of the victory of Jesus Christ – and then, how to live out this victory every day in a world that hasn’t heard yet. What does the victory of Jesus Christ mean in a world where everyone’s locked into a social class or a racial class or a religious division? What does the victory of Jesus Christ mean in a world where wealth and power and violence get you everything that one can get?
This amazing letter will speak to us in some unique ways. No, we don’t live in Rome – but we do live in the most beautiful country in the most advanced culture in the most advanced time of human history. Our country is rising. As the rest of the world struggles, we are finding our strength. We have most of the answers we need, right? And the answers we don’t have, we’ll discover soon, right? Who needs 神? Who needs anything from Jesus Christ? Stay tuned!
January 18: “How 神 Makes Things Right” What is this letter about? What’s the “story arc”? In this one, we’ll start by exploring the meaning of some words you’re going to see a lot of in this letter. What does it mean to be “not ashamed”? What is “grace”? What is “peace”? What is “gospel”? These words weren’t originally religious words! So let’s hear them the way Paul’s friends heard them.
January 25: “Good News in the Capitol: Telling Stories” What was it like living in Rome in the first century, for those who received this letter? How did Rome “tell its story” to people? What did it mean to be living a different story, with a different King, a different victory, a different hope? In this one, we’ve got a small PowerPoint which we’ve put into a PDF for you here. These are the photos that go along with the lecture. Unfortunately, the lecture cuts short at about 25 minutes in – but you’ll get some ideas from it, anyway.
February 1: “Good News in the Capitol: Stop it!!” In this letter to our brothers and sisters in the Capitol, Paul has a beautiful agenda. He writes partly to talk about the things that bring us all together – no matter where we’re from. To get to what brings us together, he has to talk about some of the things that separate us. As we’ve seen, “the whole world is under the power of sin.” It’s not simply that we all “commit sins” – it’s that sin itself is a power that’s bigger than we are. So in this world dominated – but not determined – by sin, how do people cope? How do Jews cope? How do the people of other nations cope? By seeing what doesn’t work, we can begin to see what does work!
February 8: “Good News in the Capitol: Hope, Reconciled!” 神’s agenda is much bigger than making us feel good about being bad – more than getting rid of guilt. He’s working to make us right – to heal what’s sick, repair what’s broken, lead to something new. He does that by drastically re-orienting our vision toward the future – toward hope – toward something wonderful that He has promised to do. What is the problem between humans and 神? Does He have the problem? Is He angry, fed up with our weakness and sinfulness? Do we have to make Him stop being angry with us? Or are we the ones with the problem? Have you ever been “alienated” from someone else? What has 神 done to overcome our anger with Him? our fear of Him? our inability to trust Him? By embracing what He has done for us, we can be made right!
February 15: “Baptism: Flushed out of the Matrix!” God’s agenda is not simply to get us forgiven and guilt-free – it’s to make us “right.” And Paul gives us a beautiful word picture to help us grasp it – “died with Christ, buried with Christ, raised with Him to a new kind of life: you are ‘dead to sin, alive to 神 in Christ’!” Do you remember the 1999 movie “The Matrix”? It’s another movie about how powerful stories are. Find out about how faith and baptism flushes us out of the Matrix of this world’s story, and into the Real World! Click here to see the defining scene from the movie.
February 22: “Getting Free from Self-Hatred!” God’s agenda is not simply to get us forgiven and guilt-free – it’s to make us “right.” But something always seems to go wrong: even when we know there’s something wrong with the world, we find ourselves in the wrong, too! Even when we have the right information, good information, good rules to follow: we find ourselves breaking our own rules! Something’s wrong: not just with the rules, but with us! In Romans 7 Paul helps us see how this happens, and why: and especially, why self-hatred doesn’t work as a motivator to change!
March 1: “Out of the Matrix, In to a New Family!” Why doesn’t having the right information work?! Why doesn’t strenuous effort at self-improvement really fix us and make us right? Because the world is too broken for that to work! Because we’re too broken for that to work! So God brings about the changes in us in a new way – not the old way of harsh struggle, but the new way of becoming children again, under His power as Father.
March 8: “Suffering is the pain of birth, not death!” When we receive 神’s Spirit into our lives, we begin to experience this world as He does – seeing it and responding to it as He does. Part of that experience is knowing the pain, frustration, and futility of this created order as it tries to make its way. But 神’s Spirit also gives us the special sense, the deep and joyful insight into hope – an insight that moves us with power and creativity into the lives of the people, bringing gifts from God Himself! This is probably one of the most important lectures that I’ve ever given in my life. It may not be the best one, but it’s one of the most important.
March 15: “Learning to Trust Enough to Obey!” One of the great mysteries of human behaviour: “obedience,” that is, “doing what you’re told to do,” is not natural: it has to be learned! There are many reasons for “obedience”: some are healthy reasons, and some are very damaging. In this letter, we are learning about the very best reasons for “obeying” 神: because this is where we find Him! Because this is where we find what we’re made for! In this lecture we’ll explore a little of what it means to “obey” 神, how to do that, what it means. 神’s ancient people struggled to obey Him, and often they failed: but He always did the right thing to help them find their way back to Him again. How can we learn to obey Him in a way that leads to His blessing, without the failure?!
March 22: “When the Plan doesn’t seem to be working!” After reminding us of the life-changing power of the Good News and showing us some truly stirring encouragement, Paul steps back to help us deal with what looks like a really big problem: what about the times when it looks like 神’s plan isn’t working? when the opposition is so serious? when people who should be the very first to hear and accept, are the most resistant?! Chapters 9 – 11 are all about how 神 works throughout history, how He has made a way for all kinds of people to find Him. There is every good reason to hold on to hope, to joy, to creative life that loves very deeply and effectively!
March 29: “The Olive Tree” A little more about how 神 works through history: why His chosen people didn’t accept Him, how He is staying faithful to them, why He is staying faithful to His promise. Why we read “all” of the Library, not just the new part. And especially, how in Jesus Christ not only is every barrier between 神 and humans torn down – every barrier between different kinds of people is torn down, too! It’s very exciting to see the story of 神 and people work out in new relationships between people, too.
April 12: “New Life in a New Community – of people who are different from each other!” A long title! But it’s true: 神’s work in us leads not just to our personal lives being changed – He leads us into a new kind of friendship – a friendship with some people who are like us, but also with many people who are different from us! And this is where the real power is!
April 19: “New Life in a New Community – the high priority of loving each other!” All of 神’s work in history comes to a beautiful new place in us, as we learn how to love each other, even though we don’t see everything the same way. We start with 神’s commitment to fill us with His Spirit so that we can help each other with His power and wisdom – and from there, we live the way of compassion, safety, learning together.
April 26: “Night is almost over – the Day is almost here!” The tremendous power of 神’s promise of a new world gives us the strength to survive the craziest injustice – and gives us the perspective we need to overcome our deepest impulses of disgust, revulsion, judgment, the criticizing spirit. This is how 神 changes us, and brings different people together into the same sacred friendship!
May 2: “So you will be ‘established’!” So many things in this world seem to be large and strong and ever-lasting – but the truth is that very little in this world, and very little in our lives, will last beyond us. 神’s good heart and powerful hand, His promises, and our place in His people – these things will last – these things are His mission to redeem all people.