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Greet One Another

Romans 16:1-16


You cannot leave our text this morning just hanging in the air and not acknowledge it, so let’s spend a little time this morning looking at the most over-looked, under-practiced, and least considered commandments of God. And it occurs not once, not twice, but five times in the New Testament.

1 Peter 5:14, Greet one another with a kiss of love.

1 Thessalonians 5:26, Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

1 Corinthians 16:20, Greet one another with a holy kiss.

2 Corinthians 13:12, Greet one another with a holy kiss (The Corinthian brethren had to be told twice)

Romans 16:16, Greet one another with a holy kiss.

5 passages, 2 apostles, 1 command. Right now some of you are thinking, All right! I was hoping to find a friendly church and it looks like my prayers have been answered. Welcome to Kissing Church of Christ.

Others of you are looking for the door, because there is no way you are going to let some of these folks get their lips that close to you. But before you commit too quickly to either place membership or renounce it, let me set the context for these commands. Look with me in Romans 16. We'll read verses 1-16. (Read text)

This is what I call one of those phone-book passages (In the last century, the phone company would send you a book that had everyone’s name, address, and phone number in your town. It was extremely helpful since we didn’t have google or whowhere, or a phone that didn’t require a cord.) Anyway, on first glance this passage is about as compelling and meaningful as reading a list of names from the phone book. It's just a bunch of hard to pronounce names. Theologian Emil Brunner, however, said, Romans 16 is one of the most instructive chapters in the New Testament because it encourages personal relationships of love in the church.

It is a bit striking that when Paul wrote the letter, he had never visited the Roman church. So how could he have known so many people there? The answer seems to be that he developed these friendships through meeting people in churches all over the world. I've never been to Calvert City, Kentucky but John and Paula Harrington live there and my family loves them deeply. I have never been to Petoskey, Michigan but Jim and Katie Canada live there and through my relationship with Jim I have the opportunity to know and pray for several folks that I have never actually met.

Mobility was just as much a feature of life in first century Roman culture as it is in ours. The travel was obviously more primitive, but they got around. Somehow, despite his mobility and the long distances that separated him from people he loved, Paul was able to forge deep, meaningful relationships with his friends.

Now you don't need a theology degree or a PhD in psychology to figure out how relevant that ability is for us. Email is in greater use on a daily basis than the US Postal Service. Everyone has a cell phone, and the ability to text. We have voice mail, and social media. We have more ways to stay in touch than ever before. And even with all of that accessibility we are more isolated and alone than ever. Our relationships have been reduced to a series of 0’s and 1’s streaming along high speed cables roughly at the same pace of our lives. We are more electronically connected than ever, yet more relationally disconnected. We are more accessible, but less intimate. We send and receive more messages, but communicate less.

So when we encounter a command that orders us to speak to one another, to slow down and greet one another, we've encountered something that will not only change our lives, but our community.

I fully understand that when we read in Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss that our eyes naturally gravitate to the word kiss.  But that’s not the important part of the passage.  In the first century a kiss was a symbol of acceptance, much like we shake hands today. If Paul was writing this letter today, he probably wouldn’t include the word kiss, because it is not what Paul was stressing. With apologies to our young men who are looking for a christian pick up line, this is not the kissing passage, it is the greeting passage.

Elie Wiesel wrote, The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. When you are being ignored, or treated with indifference, you immediately tend to wonder about your worth, you begin to question what is wrong with you, why would you not be worth their time or attention. Being ignored can feel worse even than being rejected, making you feel as if you don’t matter at all. Every psychological study I have read about human wellness over the past 20 years has included the fact that humans have to feel connected to each other to be happy. But Psychologists can only discover how we were originally created by God. And God knew that greeting one another is a big deal because people are important.

One of the reasons that Romans 16 is included in your bibles, is not just because Paul was trying to fill space, or because he needed to get his word count up. There is something deeply spiritual, something Paul wants us to understand and put into practice. So, what are we supposed to learn from the names in Romans 16.

First the people in this list represent a rich racial mix.

It is very important for us to realize that the list includes both Jews and Gentiles. And racially you don’t get farther apart then these two groups. Because most of us are Gentiles, we don’t really understand that problem, and yet, we still have ways of separating ourselves from others don’t we?

When we first moved to Texas there were several folks who would talk about our boys. They didn’t talk about how intelligent they were, or how tall they were, or how kind and compassionate they were, or how good looking they were. They talked about those new kids that talked funny. You see we moved to Texas from Guin, Alabama and the southern draw is pretty dominate in that part of the state. And while the folks in South East Texas have their own version of the southern draw, our boys stood out because their normal was different than everyone else normal.

Regardless of your culture, we all have this need or desire to elevate ourselves by putting someone else down because they don’t look, sound, or act like us. We have as many ways to separate ourselves as there are days on the calendar. That’s why Paul commanding the Romans, and Greenbrier, to greet one another as a way of breaking down the racial barriers that divided those Christians is so powerful. It is a way of physically showing our community that at the foot of the cross we are all equal.

Paul would later say in a different letter that it makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free, a man or a woman because you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28). It was another way of saying be sure you greet your brothers and sisters who you have joined in the body of Christ.

Next this list shows that Christ is greater that social rank

Many of the names in Paul's list were common slave names. Ampliatus (vs. 8), Urbanus (9), Hermes (14), Philologus and Julia (15).

Some, however, were from a different social class. Narcissus was a rich and powerful man who exercised considerable influence over Emperor Claudius. Rufus is thought to be the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus' cross to Golgotha. Aristobulus is thought by many to be the grandson of Herod the Great and friend to Emperor Claudius.

Climbing the social ladder based on the type of clothes you wear, or what kind of car you drive, or the size of your house is not an American problem. Human nature has always tied a persons value and worth with the size of their bank account. After all successful business people have to be smarter than us regular folks. Except, that’s not necessarily the truth. Success depends more on who you know, and luck than it does on your abilities. Paul understood this, and his command to greet one another was a way of breaking down the social barriers that divided those Christians. A way of physically showing them that at the foot of the cross we are all equal.

And Thirdly this list shows that a greeting is more important that gender differences

Nine of the twenty-six names are women, and four of them are commended for their hard work. Paul mentions Phoebe, who was a close friend and worker with the Paul. When Paul needed someone to not only take this letter to Rome, but to travel from house church to house church and read the letter to those churches, Paul chose Phoebe.

In a society where women were considered less than their male counterparts, Christ and His teachings showed how very valuable these women were and are to the work of the body. Paul's command to the Romans to greet one another was a way of breaking down the gender barriers that divided those Christians. A way of physically showing them that at the foot of the cross we are all equal. And if we truly believe that we are all equal at the foot of the cross, it will revolutionize the way that we value one another.

I want to give some entrepreneur here an idea for a bumper sticker and if you use it to make a million dollars, all I ask in return is that you help out with the gym floor. Here it is: World peace begins with hello. Now I'm not telling you that all we have to do is say Hi to each other and Republicans and Democrats will be able to have civil conversations. But what I am saying is that without that first step, nothing more will or can happen. Greeting people is the first and most important step in breaking down barriers.

Paul wants to know if we do more than just see people, do you really make eye-contact? I know you engage people, but do you really ever say anything?  Paul is telling us that Greenbrier has got to be a church that values people. And for that to happen every one of us must be involved in greeting the people that God allows to join us on this journey. 

We have all had the misfortune to visit an unfriendly church. Can you remember how you felt when someone wouldn’t even speak to you? There was a time when we were visiting a church and after being directed to where we were not allowed to sit because that pew belonged to someone else, we finally found a place that no one had claimed. We quickly realized why this was an empty place when the air conditioner kicked on and blew directly into that space. But the 100 mile an hour wind was not the coldest part of that church. No one said hello, no one greeted us, as a matter fo fact the only eye contact that was made was when the lady sitting in front of me, turned around looked me in the eye, put her fingers in her ears and huffed as she turned back around. Needless to say we never went back.

Paul is telling you that Greenbrier cannot be that way. If we are going to truly be a Church that strives to be like Christ, a church that wants to Model Love in the Model City then we must develop a warm, loving, engaging, embracing attitude. So as we close let me offer you three quick suggestions for how we can truly be great at greeting one another.

Touch

Mark intentionally tells us that Jesus believed in the power of touch. Mark 1:31 He took her by the hand, 1:41 Jesus reached out and touched him, 5:41 He took the child by the hand, 6:5 place His hands on a few sick people and heal them. 7:34 he touched the man 8:23 He took the blind man by the hand, 9:27 Jesus taking him by the hand. 9:36 Taking the child in his arms. 10:14 he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads.

Jesus knew the power of touch and that touch is a gift from God. But, like every other gift God has given us, we've turned touch into something it wasn't intended to be. Peter and Paul both put a very important qualifier in front of the word kiss. They called it the holy kiss. And I believe that we can begin to redeem human touch by making it holy as well.

I am a touchy person so if you want to come and pick me up off the ground squeeze me and shake all of the change out of my pockets that’s fine with me.  But we must also realize that not everyone is like that, so we need to try to read everyone.  Sometimes I am right and sometimes I am not but there are some touches that are always safe. There is the preachers handshake, you know the two handed body shaking type, a pat of the back, a hand on the shoulder. Just quick, safe, holy touches that don’t violate anyone’s space. But make a warmer more touching church. 

Remember names

I had the privilege of working with a Church within 500 miles of here, and every Sunday there was a man would walk up to me and greet me with a gruff, “Preacher.” After about 6 month I told him it was okay with me if he just called me Jeremy. He looked me in the eye and say, I never bother to remember preachers names, they will be replaced soon enough.

Anyone want to guess how well our relationship went after that? Does anyone think I felt like I was wanted or even needed? I understand that for some of us it is difficult to remember names. So, let me say that if you forget my name, I am completely fine if you ask me my name again. I believe that most of us are. But, there is something powerful about using someone’s name. Think back to the story in John 20. Jesus has died, and Mary was beside herself, lost in grief, standing outside an empty tomb. Then, she hears someone talking to her, wondering why she is crying. Thinking the voice behind her was the gardener so she said “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” That’s when Jesus spoke her name and everything changed. Fear was replaced with love and hope. 

It’s a story that happened over and over in the Gospels. Cleopas was on his way home to Emmaus living in fear. Jesus’ closest disciples huddled together behind closed doors waiting to be arrested. Peter had gone back to fishing, not knowing what the next day or hour would bring. Yet, there on the road to Emmaus, in a back room behind a locked door, or on a deserted beach, Jesus spoke their names, Thomas, Peter, Cleopas and Mary, and all at once they knew that everything was going to be okay. Names have power, and if we want to be a place of welcome, everyone needs to hear their name while they are in this place.

Speak

Which once again for some of us is harder than others. Paul understands that there is immense power in the words we use. Solomon said What you say can preserve life or destroy it. (Proverbs 18:21) That’s why it is so important to learn how to speak to one another.

Jim Martin tweeted out yesterday, On Sunday Morning, one of the most important things you can do is to simply speak to someone in that gathering whom you do not know that well. One of the loneliest places for some on Sunday morning, is in a church where everyone seems to connect with everyone else — but you. He’s right, there are folks here this morning that will leave and wonder why everyone else seems to be connected. So find someone and reach out to them, you never know what God can do through that connection.

During the Fall of 1991 someone greeted me with a handshake and an introduction. I was a freshman in College, away from home for the first time, I was a little afraid, alone and intimidated. This guy walked past my dorm room stopped and said in a shaky voice, "Hi, I'm Wayne Dalrymple I’m from Boaz, and I'm scared to death." That’s all it took. Wayne and I became fast friends. He knows my secrets. He's heard my confessions. I've heard his. We were in each others weddings, present for the birth of children, and all of that began with a simple greeting that made all the difference in the world.

If we can do those three things, if we will be willing to touch, remember names, and speak then I believe that we can fulfill this commandment to greet one another. What Paul is asking you to do is pretty simple but very powerful; it’s a very Biblical thing. Greet one another.

Every time you enter a room your attitude will say one of two things. Here I am! Or, There you are! I'm asking you to go out there this week with a There you are, attitude. That's how God wants to greet you. There you are. I've been hoping we'd meet and there you are. That's the most important greeting you will ever receive and it is waiting for you.



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