“Making the List,” Romans 16: 1-16

You may be familiar with the name Fred Craddock, he literally wrote the book on preaching that you’ll need if you ever decide to take preaching at Gardner-Webb and plenty of other seminaries and divinity schools. He’s revered in preaching circles, was a long time pastor and teacher of preaching before he passed away a little over two years ago. He has a fairly famous sermon[1] on this exact text from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he begins by apologizing to the congregation and admitting that in his classes at Emory in Atlanta he always advised against preaching from “the lists.” “Avoid the lists,” he said, “they’re deadly. Don’t preach from the lists.” The reason is fairly obvious, the lists are boring, right? Genesis 5, the account of the generations from Adam to Noah, is no one’s favorite chapter of Scripture. Most of us, when we open Matthew, skip the first 17 verses (or at least skim them) to get down to the good stuff. A list of names we don’t know isn’t particularly interesting to any us. Saturday my sister graduates college, I’m already dreading it. Corley is way too early in the alphabet. We’re going to have to sit through so many names once she’s already gone across. Craddock tells a story about a slightly more interesting list of names, he talks about a time he was called for jury duty in the suburb of Atlanta that he lived in and the clerk, for whatever reason, chose to call roll out of alphabetical order. So to hear your name called and get credit for being there you had to actually listen to the list. And he heard some gems. There were multiple Bill Johnsons, and every time one was called multiple people raised their hands. There was a man who came even though his wife was summoned because he “didn’t want to bother her with this.” And then there was a man named Zerfel Lashenstein (Lie-shen-stein). The clerk had trouble with that one, eventually Mr. Lashenstein stood in a huff and declared that he didn’t understand why he should have to serve on a jury in a court that couldn’t pronounce his name. The woman next to Craddock leaned over and said:

“Lichenstein. I wonder if he’s a Jew.”

He said, “Well, I don’t know. Could be. Does it matter?”

“I am German. My name is Zeller.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. That was forty years ago.”

“He and I could be seated next to each other in a jury.”

“Well, you were probably just a child when all of that happened years ago.”

“I was ten years old. I visited Grandmother. She lived about four miles from Buchenwald. We smelled the bodies.”

Lists of names can be much more important than we give them credit for. Go to Washington DC and look at the list of names on black marble. Watch as families come up and place flowers and etch the names onto pieces of paper. It is much more than just a list of names.

Paul’s list is more than we might be inclined to give it credit for as well. Romans is an interesting letter of Paul’s, it’s the only letter he wrote that wasn’t to a church or person that he already knew. Paul had never been to Rome at the time he wrote his letter, he was planning on going. He was looking for new places to go, new churches to start, and he had targeted Spain as the next region he would target. He wanted a new home base for that mission, remember he had been based in Antioch, in modern day Syria, for his travels through Turkey and Greece, that would have been a long trip to and from Spain, Rome was much closer. Rome also had the allure of being the center of the empire, and of having a fairly wealthy group of citizens who could help fund this trip.

So with no specific problem to deal with in this letter Paul really lets loose theologically. Romans is basically a resume and a trial sermon rolled in together. He opens with his credentials, if you go back to Romans 1. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Decent credentials, that probably gets you in keep pile. Then he spends almost the entirety of rest of the letter unpacking what it is he believes and teaches about God and Christ and how Christians should live together and in the world. All that is there in the letter and then we get to our passage, we get to the list, the reference page at the end of the resume, right? And Paul proceeds to mention pretty much every person he knows in Rome. It’s a long list. And that’s good strategy on his part, he gives all the people who know him, all the folks who could vouch for him. By including all these people he’s letting others know, “these folks know me, they can vouch for me, if you’re not sure about me talk to them, they’ll tell you what I’m about.”

But it shouldn’t take us long to realize there’s more to this list than just people Paul knows will give him a good recommendation. “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.” They risked their lives. All the churches are grateful to them. Those aren’t just names on a list. “Great Eenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.” The first convert. The one who let Paul know this wasn’t a waste of time. That’s more than a name on list. Mary worked very hard for you. Andronicus and Junia were in prison with me. Ampliatus is my dear friend. Urbanus and Stachys. Apelles who stood by me when no one else would. Herodion. Tryphena and Tryphosa and Persis. Rufus and his mother. You know what, actually she might well be my mother too. Name after name after name, but these aren’t just names on a list for Paul. These are his people. These are the ones who have supported him and shaped him and given him the strength to carry on when he was doubting himself. These are the ones who visited in prison or were in prison with him. The ones who have taken care of him when he was sick. The ones who have prayed for him and worked alongside him. This is so much more than just a list of people. These are the ones who made Paul who he was. The names may not mean much to us but they were so much more than a list of names to Paul.

I could give you a list. I could give you a list of people whose names don’t mean anything to you.  A list of Sunday School teachers and Youth volunteers and ministers at First Baptist of Laurens who taught me the stories of faith and how they could impact and shape my life and who told me I might be called to ministry. I can give you a list of professors at Presbyterian College and Gardner-Webb that encouraged and nurtured that call. A list of friends who have helped and supported me. Of parents at churches who trusted me with their children for some reason. You all would make my list. For hearing a 25 year old preach and not laughing him right out the door. You’d be on there. I could give you quite the list. Most of the names wouldn’t mean anything to you but to me it would be so much more than just a list of names.

I’d be willing to bet you all could give me a list. A list of people who don’t mean anything to me but mean the world to you. This morning we gather to celebrate the people who would be on our list, remember those who since 1851, have been serving and teaching and nurturing and encouraging and praying and loving. The people who have made us who we are and this place what it is. The people who have been inside the Pleasant Hill Baptist building and made it Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

At the end of that sermon mentioned earlier Craddock describes the first church he served, in 1950. It was little country church up on hill, with a creek running behind it and every year they would have one baptism service in the creek, on the sandbar. After the baptisms there would be a picnic and then they’d gather around a fire. An older church member would introduce the new folks, where they lived and where they worked, and then the members would go around and introduce themselves. And each person would introduce themselves the same way.  They’d say “My name is ———-, and if you ever no somebody to do washing and ironing.” “My name is ———-, and if you ever need somebody to chop wood. My name is ———, and if you ever need somebody to babysit.” “My name is ———, and if you ever need work done on your house.” “My name is ————, and if you ever need someone to come sit with you if you get sick.” And around the circle they’d go. Craddock said when it was all over, when everyone had left and it was just him and another older gentleman in the church who stuck around to put out the fire, the man walked over to him and said “Craddock, folks don’t ever get any closer than this.”

Who’d be on your list? Who are the folks who have been there? Who have prayed and encouraged and shaped you? Who’d be on your list? It is an important question for us to ask and answer, because it reminds us that none of us found faith out of a vacuum. None of us got to where we are now by our own gifts or through our own merits, we all had people who went before us and pathed the way, put up lights on the road so we could see, called out to us to guide us back when we lost the path. Who’s on your list?

Here’s another question, whose list might you be on? Are you following the example and doing the same for others that was done for you? Whose list might you get on if you took an extra step, gave some extra time, added a name to your prayers, made time for a phone call you’ve been meaning to get to? Who has God placed in your life who needs you to take an interest and invest in them. Who’d be on your list, and who is out there waiting for you to do something to make it on to there’s? Maybe we ought to pray about that.

 

[1] Craddock, Fred. “When the Roll is Called Down Here,” Preaching Today Sermon Series: Tape 50, 1987

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