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Don't Call It a List

Our Impulse for Community  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Let us pray...
Open your Bibles to .
Read
Romans 16:1–16 NIV
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon, of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
Paul is headed East, but his mind is already headed West.
To Italy and beyond. To the western edges of the Roman Empire. To the Iberian peninsula. To Spain.
To the Iberian peninsula. To Spain.
Luke talks about it in Acts. Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem—bearing monetary aid from the various Christian churches across Asia and Southern Europe. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians also mentions this journey to Jerusalem. His very last.
I can see Paul, take a longing gaze across the Peloponnesian Peninsula, westward towards the Ionian Sea where lies the boot of the Italian Peninsula. Midway up is the mighty Imperial Capital of Rome, sitting majestically on seven proverbial hills.
“Oh, if I could only go to Rome! How exciting would it be to preach Jesus Christ there! So near, and yet so far!”
"Not yet, Paul” whispers the Spirit. “You must wait a little longer. For now a letter would have to do.”
So he does. As he concludes his letter, Paul calls a roll. And the names sound so foreign. So strange that I spared one of our kids the pain and suffering of having to read it for Scripture Reading today.
List is boring. One of those instances when you’d much rather skip a chapter in your Bible reading, and move on to 1 Corinthian 1. Haven’t you done that before? You’re reading Genesis. Suddenly you are confounded with a list of strange-sounding names. So, instead of ruining your plan of reading the Bible from cover to cover, you speed-read through the names.
A list of strange-sounding names. I thought roll calls belong at the beginning of class.
And why here? I thought roll calls belong at the beginning of class, not at the end.
But as he has done time and again, Paul writes a letter to the Christians in Rome, having not been there. Having not seen the place. Having not seen the people. He writes a letter to them, and sends it through Pheobe, a deacon from Cenchraea, Greece.
“Baga!” growls my burley history teacher. It’s the start of third period, and I dread it every time it comes. He’s an old, retired soldier-turned-teacher. May have been a marine. Like Joe our Pathfinder drill instructor, grunting his deep, guttural, Indian-chant-sounding commands: “Left face!” "Right face!” “Dress right, dress!”
And what a list!
And in , he
But Paul rattles on with his roll call.
Anyway, my history teacher’s roll call is particularly annoying. So impersonal. My name always comes about third or fourth. After the A’s. He looks down on his attendance sheet. Doesn’t even look up. And growls my last name.
“Baga!”
“What, what! Did he just call my name?”
“Baga!” He growls again.
“Here!”
“What did you say?”
“Ah, here, sir!”
“Alright.”
I’m Baga to him. Nothing more. Throughout his class, me and my classmates are called only by our last names. No first name needed. Much less nicknames.
He doesn’t even look up. He reads only the last name. “Baga!” “Here!” “Here what?” “Sir!” And moves on to the next
And I’m supposed to say, “Here, Sir!” with a snap, or he’ll mark me absent even if I’m there.

Complication

So Paul rattles away with his list of names.
Paul seems to be making a roll call.
Boring roll call. I wonder if he was holding this baby when he was rattling on with his list. I wonder. Eight months on, and I still find myself going back to Pam Warda’s folder filled with names and pictures of the Auburn Church family—to put faces and names together.
“Oh, Yes, that’s Jim Poller. Saw him at Pine Hills Academy the other day, picking up his daughter.”
He tells the Roman Christians he’d never met, to greet a list of individuals he may have scarcely known. Is Paul looking at a directory right about now? I wonder. Eight months on, and I still find myself going back to Pam Warda’s folder filled with names and pictures of the Auburn Church family—to put faces and names together. “Oh, Yes, that’s Jim Poller. Saw him at Pine Hills Academy the other day, picking up his daughter.” "Started perusing through the new directory. “So that’s Peter Van Auken. He offered to give me his old classical guitar, if I could show him how to properly play it. A very tempting offer.”
“So that’s Peter Van Auken. He drives a Lexus sports car. Good old Dr. Van Auken. Often see his car at the ARC. He offered to give me his old classical guitar, if I could show him how to properly play it. A very tempting offer.”
“Yes, and Oh, this name…and that name...”
What benefits could one get from reading a bunch of strangely unfamiliar names?
“Greet Janice and Michael O’Haver for me, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. Tell Michael, “Great job on the newsletter!”
"Greet Steve and Cindi Holm for me. Tell Steve, keep doing your great job at the ACS and ARC. And Cindi, great voice!”
Names could give you a glimpse of the demographics of the Roman churches in Paul’s day. If you’re interested in sociology of religion. Boring!
Romans 16:1–16 NIV
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon, of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
And I barely knew any of you, if at all! I wouldn’t be here!
Or simply to be able to say, “I have read the Bible from cover to cover!”
I wouldn’t be here!
So we read Paul’s list.
So Paul rattles away with the names. And if for nothing else, these names give us a glimpse into the demographics of the churches in Rome in Paul’s day.

Priscilla and Aquila

Romans 16:3–5 NIV
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Romans 16:3–4 NIV
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Romans
Romans 16:3
Romans 16:3 NIV
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.
A husband and wife team. Except that here, it is a wife and husband team. Paul knew them well from his second missionary journey. In Greece. They labored together. Well enough to call her by her Prisca. I knew a wife-and-husband team early in my ministry. Auntie Auring and Uncle Ric. Auntie Auring had the stronger will and a more compassionate spirit for ministry. Stayed at their house for over a year. Uncle Ric’s contribution to this partnership was to let her do what she did best. She was the stronger partner. Everybody at church knew it and they often put her name ahead of his whenever they were mentioned together. And what about Epenetus? Why is he lumped together with Prisca and Aquila? Ah, yes, he must have been part of the small group that met in Prisca house. Prisca and Aquila must have taken him back to Rome with them. Paul reminisces: “I still remember the day we baptized Ep—the firstfruit our labor there! Tell him, tell Epenetus, I still remember like it was yesterday. Tell him I miss him.”
Take Priscilla and Aquila. A husband and wife team. Except that here, it is a wife and husband team. Paul knew them well from his second missionary journey. In Greece. They labored together. Well enough to call her by her Prisca. I knew a wife-and-husband team early in my ministry. Auntie Auring and Uncle Ric. Auntie Auring had the stronger will and a more compassionate spirit for ministry. Stayed at their house for over a year. Uncle Ric’s contribution to this partnership was to let her do what she did best. She was the stronger partner. Everybody at church knew it and they often put her name ahead of his whenever they were mentioned together. And what about Epenetus? Why is he lumped together with Prisca and Aquila? Ah, yes, he must have been part of the small group that met in Prisca house. Prisca and Aquila must have taken him back to Rome with them. Paul reminisces: “I still remember the day we baptized Ep—the firstfruit our labor there! Tell him, tell Epenetus, I still remember like it was yesterday. Tell him I miss him.”
Epenetus is lumped together with Prisca and Aquila indicating that he is part of small group that meets in their house.

Mary

And Mary, tell Mary how much I remember how hard she worked for the Lord when we were working together. She still does. Darting to and fro between small house gatherings, encouraging the brethren. Tell Maria “Hello,” will you?

Andronicus and Junia

And what about Andronicus and Junia? Husband and wife team no doubt. “Tell Andy and his lovely wife Junia, I will always remember how we languished in prison together for the gospel.” Like fellow veterans bound at the hip through shared adversity. “Both of them are apostles like me, and both are equally outstanding at that. In fact, they were apostles before I became one.”

Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys

And then three slave names lumped together: Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys. Why does a free-born Roman citizen bother to mention slaves’ names?
“Because they’re are my friends, co-workers, brothers. I love them and miss them. How I wish we could still be working side by side, but they’re in Rome now.”
Three names lumped together perhaps because they meet in the same small group in their master’s house.

Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus

And then two prominent, high society names: Apelles and Aristobulus. Jewish historian Josephus writes about a certain Aristobulus, a grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Agrippa I who, Josephus says, “died a private man,” that is, not as a public official like his brother Herod Agrippa I. Greet Aristobulus’ slaves—brothers and sisters, all of them. Oh, and Herodion, especially.” Why does Paul single out Herodion among the nameless slaves in the household of Herod’s grandson Aristobulus? Perhaps because Herodion is their leader in that household church of slaves.
And Narcissus. There was a prominent former slave in the early 50’s AD around the time of Paul’s writing to the Romans. One of Claudius’ closest aides. Paul says, “Say hello to Narcissus’ slaves—brothers and sisters, all of them!” See how powerful this statement is! Slaves from one household forming a small gathering within their master’s house. And thriving!

Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis

And then three women with slaves’ names. Tryphena and Tryphosa. I have twin cousins. Identical. Edgar and Eddie. I’m not kidding. Mischievous they were. Double trouble. But not Tryphena and Tryphosa. Leaders of thee church they were. Perhaps leading their own house church, too. And “the beloved Persis.” Paul is being coy. This woman’s leadership is so well recognized Paul says, “Please say hello to the beloved Persis.”

Rufus

And Rufus, another slave’s name. Likely the son of Simon of Cyrene in , the very Simon who carried Jesus’ cross. Young Rufus. And Rufus’ mother who is unnamed, but acknowledged.

Syncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas

And then five successive slave names, Syncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas and their small group. I laugh at these poor slaves’ names. We are given our names, but many of them are given names they’d much rather not have. For Romans had the propensity of naming their slaves after their gods, or some character. It’s the same as if Paul were saying today, “Say hello to Spider Man, Captain America, Batman, Robin, and Cat Woman—brothers and sister, one and all!”

Philologus, Julia, Nereus, Olympas

And finally, another small group of slaves or former slaves, a man named Philologus, perhaps his wife Julia; siblings Nereus and Olympas. They lead another small group.

Shift

You can’t speed-read through these names. For each name is dear to Paul. He knows them. And they know him.
Names do not simply represent individuals. They represent community.
So don’t call it a list. Call it church.

Unfolding

And what a motley crew they were! Slaves and free. High and low. Women and men. What we have here is a sampling of the women and men that turned Rome and the world upside down.
These are some of the people that made the early Roman Christians so famous—not because they happen to be in the right place at the right time, in the Imperial Capital, but because they truly were on fire for God. Which is why Paul wants to see it for himself.
A community of believers meeting in small gatherings in people’s homes. Led by spirit-filled individuals. Irrespective of gender. Irrespective of social or economic status. Irrespective of age.
This is the church on fire. The church that would conquer the Roman Empire from within, not by armed revolution. Not by social revolution. But by a revolution of love. The same love that exist between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Unfolding

And what a community! And what a church!
These names are some of the people who made the early Roman Christians so famous—not because they happen to be in the right place at the right time, in the Imperial Capital, but because they truly were on fire for God. Which is why Paul wants to see it for himself.
These names represent the Roman churches’ heroes of the faith.
We would do well to pause as we say each name. And remember what they did. And allow the mention their names to inspire us to emulate what they did. A level of community, a level of church that changed the world.
Read
Romans 1:8–10 NIV
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
A community of believers meeting in small gatherings in various homes. Led by spirit-filled individuals. Irrespective of gender. Irrespective of social status. Irrespective of economic status. Irrespective of age.
This is the church on fire. The church that would conquer the Roman Empire not by force or arms. Not by subverting the social order. But by the power of reciprocal love.
The same reciprocating love that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
These names are the vanguards of the church’s egalitarian revolution of love.
It is an unfinished list. So go ahead and add to it.
How about Jeff Pierson. Let’s add his name.
Darran Simms.
Pam Haddad.
Marilyn Herron.
Steve Holm.
Olivia Genobaga.
Stephen Price.
And don’t call it a list. Call it church
But it’s not a list. So don’t call it a list. Don’t call it a list. It’s not a list. It’s not a list.

Questions for Discussion

What would it take for Auburn Church to become something like the house churches in Rome? How might you contribute towards making sure this happens?
How did you feel when you realized that most of the Christians on Paul’s list were slaves? Does it bother you? Comfort you? Why?
If you were to finish this “list” of name, who would you add? Why?
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