It’s not a list!

That’s what the late preacher Fred Craddock bellowed when he was preaching on the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans 16 ends with a series of instructions: 

“…Greet Mary, who worked hard for you, Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles. . . . Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our work worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys…” (Romans 16:6-8) 

And it goes on. Some might think this is just a bunch of housekeeping items, as if Paul is naming names just to name them. 

So why isn’t Romans 16 a list? Lists just have information. A list Mom and Dad leave for the kids’ chores to be done on a weekend morning. A list of groceries to be checked off. A list of errands. Information. Necessities. Useful maybe, but nothing sacred. Romans 16 is something more

That is what came to my mind this week, as I had the honor to meet some of you and talk to others of you on the phone. Among the first things I saw on my desk when I came to unpack my boxes of books and supplies, was a telephone book. 

As useful as the telephone book is, I am sure none of us would call it inspiring reading, much less inspired. But I had another document too: a church directory. And I have to say, I find the church directory very different from the phone book. 

There is something special, even sacred, about this series in Romans. It is a list of the saints. The names in the “Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3), are not like the phone book! They are not just data. It is the people God loves and knows by name. 

They are beloved of God: each unique, each with unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, each with something to teach us all. Romans 16 names our brothers and sisters in Christ. And they are our family in faith, even if they lived so long ago, in a place so far away. It is so much more special than a “list.” I know when I look at the names on the church directory, it is so much more than a list. 

Think of the people you meet and know and love. When we see their names written down, we know it is not just information. Might you imagine them in something like Romans 16? If you wrote a greeting down, like Paul did, what would you say about your loved ones in the faith? What have they meant to you? Paul is issuing a reminder not only in his time, but in ours. When we are friends with Jesus, we are friends with Jesus’ friends. His family becomes ours. Perhaps writing down our own “Romans 16”-style list would remind us of who has sharpened us in the faith, who the Holy Spirit might be nudging us to reach out to and encourage, and what God might have to show us through the hands and feet of others. 

“It’s not a list!” It is a hall of fame of those belonging to, and empowered by, Christ to love and to serve. 

– Pastor Jonathan Balmer