Then as one man's
trespass led to
condemnation for
all men, so one man's
act of righteousness
leads to acquittal and
life for all men.

For as by one man's
disobedience many were
made sinners, so by one
man's obedience many
will be made righteous.

Romans 5:18-19

During the crisis in Kosovo last summer, I sat preparing a sermon at a picnic table overlooking beautiful Middle Cove in Essex, Connecticut. As the snowy egrets made their stately way across the shimmering sheet of water, I went through my file of clippings about Kosovo. A sentence from one of the articles caught my eye.

"Macedonia's camps are sweltering cauldrons of hate," it read. This is a snapshot of human life on our planet; a minority of us live and work in idyllic circumstances while the vast majority suffer every kind of inhumanity and deprivation. "Violence and destruction!" cries the prophet Jeremiah (20:8). For most of the world's population, life is hell. That is the situation to which Paul addresses himself in the Epistle to the Romans.

Romans is the biblical book that has most often been the source for revolutionary and transforming ideas. An issue of The New York Review of Books (June 15, 1999) contained a groundbreaking essay by Peter Brown about the fourth-century bishop Augustine of Hippo, whose reading of Romans remains a fertile field for the Western imagination. Augustine found Paul's writings to be a precise account of the human condition, at all times and in all places.

Paul the apostle, like Jeremiah the prophet before him, looks about him and sees a vast landscape of evil and godlessness. Attractive surroundings do not mask the seriousness of the situation. The human condition is grave.

The Kosovar refugees of whom I read that day presented a case ...

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