I must admit: I like going on vacation. But there’s something about vacation that I don’t like, and it’s similar to what I don’t like about Christmas [which I, general speaking, love.] I can’t stand packing, even more than I dread the abundance of work that comes when you get home from a week away and have to do all that laundry and figure out where all of the bags you got out to pack in actually came from.
Packing takes planning, and thought. Especially if you’re going with someone who wants you to wear more than a swimsuit and t-shirt.
You’ve got to have the right pants, shirts, belts, shoes, socks, etc. You have to have the medicine, the shampoo, the toothpaste, etc.
Some people might even say you need a list.
My mother has a list like that – saved on her computer. Yes, it’s editable, but for the most part, she knows what she’s going to be taking with her. She knows the essentials.
The twelfth chapter of Romans is a crash course in what it means to be filled with grace, to be a loving representative of the Creator God, to be a Christian. It’s like the basic essentials of being a Christian.
Consider that for a minute: twelve chapters into the book of Romans, Paul lays out what a Christian looks like. It’s really that simple.
Now, he breaks the chapter up in three parts: there’s the introduction to grace, the way that followers of Jesus should treat each other, and the way that followers of Jesus should treat people who don’t claim to be followers of Jesus.
A classic, three-point sermon for you!
#1 Paul tells his church in Rome that they should be willing to live as a sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. He says that’s what real worship is. Think about that for a minute: Paul shows it’s valid, justifiable, worthy to live a life of sacrifice. Too often, we seem to focus on sacrificial death for faith and downplay someone who lives humbly, quietly even. First question today: what would it look like for you to live a quiet life of faith as your sacrifice to God?
#2 He says they should not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Somewhere along the way, Protestant Christianity read this phrase and said, “whoa! We’re supposed to completely pull back from the world. No culture, alcohol, films, books, etc. Only ‘Christian’ stuff.” That’s not what Paul said. He said we should be different, changed as our minds become more Christlike.
What do you take for granted? What do you assume is true? Is it really trye, or hasn’t been handed down culturally? [For instance, we don’t actually know how many wise men there were but most people would say there were definitively three. More contemporary to today, many people assume whatever their favorite news station says is true. Just saying…]
#3 Once you are transformed, you will be able to know God’s will. A little tricky, no? How do we know God’s will if it relies on us being transformed? How can we be sure? Remember the whole ‘journey’ motif? Seems like we’ll always be in process.
It’s that process that leads to the second section of Paul’s twelfth chapter: the love of those within the body of believers. It’s not enough to love people who believe like us (even if we don’t always agree and if we don’t always like them.)
Paul gives us a few pointers about what it means to be disciples representing Jesus in the world.
#1 Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should. Paul knows we have value because we’re created in the image of God. We were bought with the blood of Christ on the cross. But we ourselves are not to put ourselves above anyone else – even those who we deem not to know God the way we do – or in a position to judge others as God himself.
#2 Recognize that you have special gifts the community needs, and that so does everyone else in the community of faith. (The corollary is that no one is as gifted in every aspect.) This one works both within the church and outside of it: if you’re not in your community (church or otherwise), you’re withholding the blessing of your gifts to that community. If you disregard someone else, you miss out on the way that those people bring something special and powerful to your community, too. Don’t assume that someone else isn’t important to God or to the community of faith.
#3. Love sincerely; live in peace with everyone (as it is possible). Raise your hand if you know someone who is fake or ambiguous or two-faced or duplicitous. Raise your hand if that person is you (just kidding). Paul tells us that we need to love sincerely in and outside of the faith community. That guy you don’t like at work, learn to love him. The homeless person panhandling at Walmart every day who tells you he doesn’t want to get a job, learn to love him. Love takes time and work, right? Paul says, “don’t fake it.”
#4. Hate what is evil but focus on the good. Whew, the church has really grabbed onto this one over the years. Remember the Crusades? Or the way right for life groups treat abortion clinics? Somehow, we get that we’re supposed to oppose evil but we forget to put humility, and sincere love, and the worth of other people first.
#5. Be devoted to each other in love; honor others above yourself. Devotion. It’s normally a word with associate with our dog, or puppy love, or really, really old wrinkly people. But if you’re devoted, you love that person more than yourself and seek to lift them higher. You want their best, their wellbeing more than your own. Paul says we should be devoted to be outside of our community, who are opposed to our ideals, who are not like us. Paul says we should want their good.
#6. Be passionate about God and God’s kingdom. I don’t know about you, but even as a pastor, I sometimes wish there would be easier ways to say “Hey, God loves you,” than actually walking up to someone and saying that. It can be intimidating, can’t it? And that’s with people we know love us! Paul says we’re supposed to be bold, courageous, powerful, excited about the way that God is working in our lives.
#7. Be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer. Hello! Those are pretty hard core. It might as well just say “be more like Jesus.”
#8. Practice hospitality. Welcome everyone.
Welcome the pacifist and the militant.
Welcome the poor and the rich.
Welcome the Republican and the Democrat.
Welcome the Muslim, and the Jew, and the Christian.
Welcome in your friends and your enemies.
Whew, that’ll wear you out.
Are you tired yet? Should we come back to how to love people outside the church next week? I’m sure I have work to do on how to love you let alone people who don’t agree with me… at all! My list of “what to pack” is getting longer and longer, because I haven’t mastered these yet.
Last week, I read the story of a guy who gets it. His name is Justin Forsett and he’s the running back of the Baltimore Ravens. He wasn’t featured in ESPN’s article about Arian Foster, the running back for the Houston Texans, who said in the article that he was an atheist.
Foster talked about all the ways he’d been confronted, even verbally abused or ostracized by Christians, who challenged his atheism and disengaged when they couldn’t persuade him. But then there was Forsett, who asked him questions, who shared from his experience and understanding of the Bible, and who repeatedly said he was praying for Foster without recrimination.
Of all the Christians Foster knew, Forsett was the one he was still in relationship with, the one he still couldn’t ignore.
And then Paul says: Bless those who hurt you; in fact, want what’s best for them. Don’t take revenge.
I’ve got to admit that I have a hard time, not with necessarily taking bloody fisted revenge but with my words. I want to lash out. I want to defend myself or even one-up the other person. I want to win.
When were wrestling with all of Paul’s other instructions, we sometimes lose fight of letting God work on people’s hearts, because it’s our job to work on our own hearts and shard our experience. It’s not our job to change them.
But Paul says that if we want to really be Jesus-following people of faith, we have to do all these things.
In all this, Paul says we will overcome evil with good. Then we’ll show people something to hold onto.
What evil would you overcome if you practiced these essentials?
What would your life, your family, your neighborhood, our church, look like if you and I practiced these things?
It takes grace to believe that this is the way we should live, to follow it through, but it’s that sacrifice that Paul knew helped us to grow to be like Jesus.
By our life lived, gracefully and sacrificially.
By loving ourselves. By loving each other. By loving those who seem unlovable.
Think about it like the journey we’re traveling on, and we’ve got to get packed.
A little grace, a little patience, a little love.
It’ll be worth the trip.