Editorial by Rob Vandeman
The homiletics professor was not impressed with my sermon outline based on biblical genealogies. “Don’t preach from the lists!” he had scrawled across the top of my paper. Perhaps he was correct, but, then again, maybe not.
Take, for example, the list recorded in Romans 16. A list of names, strange sounding names, that gives a profile of the church in Rome. Paul was in Corinth getting ready to go to Rome and then on to Spain. As he sorts through his things, he begins to reflect and remember: Aquilla and Priscilla risked their lives for him; he was in prison with Andronicus and Junia; and Epaenetus was the first convert to Christ in Asia. There were others, including Rufus’ mother, a woman Paul claimed was also a mother to him. This is not just a list!
I remember the first time I saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It lists rows and rows of names, neatly etched into slabs of dark granite that form a long wall. I watched as a middle-aged woman ran her fingers over the letters to trace what was perhaps the name of her brother. Another woman held a child up so he could touch the name of a grandfather he would never know. I saw another woman kiss a name on the wall. Then I found Panel 34W Line 25 and traced with my fingers the name of my high school buddy, Byron Calkins. This is more than a list!
The names listed in the letter in Romans 16 are extremely important to Paul, because even though he is saying hello, he is really saying goodbye. Oh, he’s going to Rome, but first he has to go to Jerusalem. He’s going into a nest of hostility. “Pray with me, agonize with me, that I won’t be killed by the unbelievers … and that I’ll get to come be with you” (Rom. 15:30–32, adapted). This is not about a list!
MAKE YOUR LIST
Take time this holiday season to write down some names. Write down, like Paul did, the names of people who have been supportive along your journey; people who helped give shape and guidance to your life; people, who, without their assistance, you might not be in the church today. Share the stories behind those names with family and friends. And where possible, send them a note and say, “I thank God every time I think of you …” (Phil. 1:3, adapted). Because for you, those names will always be more than a list.
Rob Vandeman serves the Columbia Union Conference as executive secretary, Human Resources director and Ministerial Department liaison.