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In thanksgiving… for the Gospel that Unites (Romans 1:8-16)

26th November 2020

In thanksgiving… for the Gospel that Unites (Romans 1:8-16)

The Rev. Adam Rick

In his classic work on Christian community, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of the “privilege” of “visible fellowship” among Christians. He writes:

“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing… The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy.” (Life Together, pp. 18, 19)

This is no abstraction for Bonhoeffer. He wrote these words when the faithful church of confessing Christians in Germany was driven underground by the Nazi regime and not able to meet openly together. But Bonhoeffer wants to encourage his flock that true Christian community is no merely human contrivance, but a gift from God in Jesus Christ. It is Christ alone who forms the Christian fellowship and makes it what it is; it is Christ alone who forms the true bond between any two or three believers. Christian fellowship is an “incomparable joy” because it is a gift from heaven.

Bonhoeffer gets this idea from the Apostle Paul. In today’s Scripture selection, he speaks of his “eagerness” to come to the Christians of Rome (v. 15), of his thankfulness for them (v. 8), of his many - indeed “unceasing” - requests to God for the privilege of being in their company (v. 10). He knows that when he does so, he will be “encouraged” by their faith, and them by his (v. 12). Do you sense the earnestness of Paul’s desire? Do you sense his passion? Do you sense his appreciation of fellowship as the miracle that it is? Do you yearn for miracles?

Paul is a Jew, and he writes to a congregation of Gentile converts. Let not this small fact pass us by unnoticed. These two earthly peoples - Jew and Gentile - are long-standing and intractable enemies of one another. And yet Paul knows that by the power of Christ they have been brought together as one people. This is a miracle of heavenly proportions, and Paul knows it better than anyone (Ephesians 2:1-10, Galatians 1:11-16). It is no wonder that he yearns for the powerful joy of their proximity.

It was on the Cross that Jesus Christ forged together these two warring peoples. He made them to be one first and foremost because by his shed blood he reconciled them both to himself. This is what it means that Christian community, true visible Christian fellowship, is a gift from God in Jesus Christ. It is only by his atoning blood that such a community can exist at all. This is why Paul concludes this earnest desire for fellowship as he does: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). It is ultimately the gospel of Jesus Christ that gives Paul such joy, a joy which by definition is encountered in the warm embrace of fellow believers knit together by Christ’s blood.

Do you ever yearn for Christian fellowship? Not merely social belonging, not merely familiar faces, not merely any old human society of like-minded people. No. Do you yearn for Christian fellowship as the supernatural gift of grace that it is? Let us thank God for the fellowship of believers. Let us thank God for our global fellowship in the Anglican Church. It is no mere human society, but a gift of divine grace every bit as supernatural as the creation of the world in the beginning. Let us bless the Lord for his loving-kindness to us.

Rev. Adam Rick
Rector of Holy Trinity Parish in Hillsdale, Michigan, a parish in the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, a diocese in the Anglican Church in North America.


A Thanksgiving Prayer:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

BCP 2019, p. 681

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