Preachers tend to avoid preaching on the passage from the Letter to the Romans that is one of our lessons for this Sunday. This is often because what Paul says is not necessarily clear in itself and because this passage may seem to be primarily about sin and death which are not at the heart of our faith. Still, it is worth tackling the question what is the message communicated in this passage from Romans.
First, it seems clear that this is not a historical account. Paul is not comparing the quality of life in the past, in the time of first human beings and in the time of Moses, with the life of those who lived in his day. Consequently, if this is not a historical account, this passage applies to all of us, and it gives us some important truths about our life now.
Second, what Paul seems to be really doing is 'expanding' the gates of salvation to everybody. It is true, it was the Chosen Nation that received the promise of the coming of the Messiah, but he is coming with a 'free gift of grace' for all. Paul is saying something extraordinary for a Jewish ear: he is preaching salvation outside the Chosen Nation.
Just as we all share in the one human nature, so can we all share in the free gift of Christ. Paul sets our lives on a new trajectory, full of hope: we have all received the invitation to grow from Adam to Christ. What does it mean? It means that to be fully human is for us to share in the life of God. This is our salvation. To be saved is to have this extraordinary relationship, friendship with God, which we can begin to enjoy already here on earth.
It is only in the light of our friendship with God that we can properly understand that we are sinners and that we are forgiven. When we are friends with God sin is never in the centre of that relationship. It is God's mercy and forgiveness that always precedes it.
Third, this is a very exciting message that must not be kept in secret. It is our task as disciples to spread it out all over the world. Jesus himself gives us encouragement:
What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.
Wherever we are and whatever we do we are invited to bear witness to Christ and not to be afraid to do so! We do not live in the world of heroes, and most of us will never have to face death or imprisonment for what we believe. It also means that bearing witness is no longer a high-profile case that will get your picture printed on the cover of a Sunday magazine. This is undoubtedly a good thing.
But it also means something else. We can make friends with those who do not believe and in this way show them the way to Christ. But who are those people whom we still have to reach with the message of the saving friendship of God, to whom we have to bear witness? Perhaps they are very close to us, perhaps it is one of our relatives with whom we have cut off all contacts. Perhaps it is a group of people or a class within our society that we treat with suspicion or hatred: people of different faiths, political convictions or colour; the poor, the rich or convicts. The free gift of Christ is also available for all. We must not exclude anyone from our hearts and close our friendships before them.
There is nothing more powerful than witness born among friends because what we actually preach is the extraordinary message that we can be friends with God. And when we bear witness of that friendship with God it is not to make anyone feel worse. It is to show them the source of all mercy and forgiveness, to preach this love that God has always had for his people.