I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Shelby Foote, the great historian of the Civil War, tells a story of what happened at a church service in Richmond, Virginia in the years immediately following that terrible conflict. It was a segregated service. The rule was that the white people communed first and then the blacks who were seated in the balcony. As the communion procession started, a gasp went up. A black man was found at the rail. Everyone froze. The pastor stood there with the elements in hand. The congregants stared in horror. Then, one man, a distinguished elderly man, got up from among the front section of pews that day and slowly made his way forward to take his place next to the black man and receive the sacrament. It was Robert E. Lee, former commander of the Confederate armies.
You see, people can change. Paul is desperately clinging to that hope. His fellow Jews have rejected the Christ, the one who should be the focus of their whole religion. He himself had changed, on a road to Damascus some years before he wrote these words to the Christian congregation in Rome. He had been a zealous persecutor of Christians. People had died because of what he did. And then everything was different because Christ made it different.
Paradoxically, there is a great hue and cry for change in this time along with a demand that we cut off any contact with those whose ideas, words, or actions have not conformed with what is right, however “right” is defined. This is a contradiction which cannot really stand. Christ offers us another way. He has been collecting a scurvy lot of sinners around himself since the very beginning, including you and me. He forgives sins. That means they are no longer counted against us. Yes, consequences still obtain. For his rebellion Robert E. Lee was disenfranchised, never able to vote again. That day, however, when he presented himself at the rail of that church, next to a black man whom he had once sought to enslave by force of arms, he acknowledged that everything was different. The one who came to him in that bread and wine, even body and blood, made the man next to him a brother. Our land stands in need of the forgiveness and reconciliation which Christ brings. Will Christ’s people reconcile, or will they follow the cancelling culture of the world? I encourage you to turn off the newsfeed and find someone you disagree with. Listen to them. Remember, Jesus died for that person too.