August 28, 2011
Last Sunday we took a closer look at the first 8 verses of Romans 12, which encouraged us to live humbly and even sacrificially with others because of God’s love for us in Jesus … and as followers of Jesus, to not only pursue our individual relationship with him, but also to personally invest in the church, Christ’s body, where each of us will realize our full potential. We continue in Romans 12 today. In verses 9 to 18 we read Paul’s bits of practical advice for Christians trying to live faithfully.
What is it about human nature that lets us forget the obvious good so often? Why do we seem to need constant reminders that caring for others is precisely how we will “serve the Lord?” Are we just that forgetful, or self-absorbed, or careless?
At an Outreach Committee meeting last Thursday, we were lamenting that OUC hasn’t given nearly the number of donations to the “back-to-school” offering as we have in the past, and agreed that maybe we collectively needed one more reminder … a minute for mission perhaps. Later that night I’m lying there in pre-sleep semi-consciousness, brooding over the “good I know to do, but have not done,” as the Bible describes, when God spoke. Yea, it happens that way to me from time to time. God said, “Oh come on Glen, go buy a kid a $2.99 pencil box, for Christ’s sake!” And I bolted straight up in bed, and Lynn said, “What’s the matter?” And I mumbled, “We gotta go to Zeller’s this weekend.” To which she replied, “Really? You tell me this in the middle of the night?” And I’m not sure I said this out loud (you’d have to check with her), maybe it was just my part in a silent prayer … “For Christ’s sake,” I whispered.
Why do we seem to need constant reminders that caring for others is precisely how we will “serve the Lord?” This list in Romans 12 is such a reminder. There’s nothing here particularly profound or even Christian, if you looked at it on its own, out of context. Oh, blessing those who curse us might stretch us a bit, and getting past the “eye-for-an-eye” mentality is certainly easier said than done. But overall this is a relatively benign list of simple gestures that will, if we can remember, (will) contribute to the greater good, and commonwealth of our world.
I think I’ve mentioned before a blog that a friend writes called “Science and Story” which gives voice to this human longing for living more fully … more hopefully, more gracefully, more faithfully. This past week’s post highlights “peopleforgood.ca”. Here’s their manifesto: “We’re People for Good. And our goal is to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time. It may sound ambitious but it’s easier than you’d think. In fact, you could help make the world a better place right now, just by doing something nice for someone. Rest assured, we’re not asking for money, we just want you to donate a little generosity.” And if you go to their website and click on “good deeds” you’ll find hundreds of suggestions … and even a way to add one yourself.
Does this feel a little too naive? Do we really believe something like this could change the world, with all its horror and hatred, for good? Or are we only deluding ourselves? And do we look at this list in Romans 12 in the same way … with a generous dose of worldly scepticism?
Today’s reading is part of the Revised Common Lectionary, a 3-year cycle of Bible readings that many Christian denominations (including UCC) follow. That means that this passage comes around every 3 years. So, 9 years ago, when I was still over on Maitland Ave, at Trinity United, in trying to give this reading some practical application, I wove together 3 different translations and printed it as 15 “bits of practical advice for Christians just trying to carry on.” I framed it and put it on the worship table and made copies for folks to carry with them, suggesting that they might try one-a-day for a couple of weeks, letting the list serve as that gentle reminder we seem to so desperately need … and then reporting back to me their results, if they wish. If you’re interested in experimenting with that, let me know after worship today and I’ll give you a copy too.
What has been significant for me though, in paraphrasing this reading, is that for the past 9 years that list has been in my office as Christ’s gentle reminder to me. And though I’ve struggled over the years with some of the suggestions, I have been profoundly shaped by verse 18 in particular … the capstone bit of advice: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, try to get along with everybody.” For 9 years, this has been my watchword … “so far as it depends on me.” And even though I offer these bits of grace for your sake and everybody’s, including my own (sake) … mostly I’ve been able to imagine over the years, that I also do it for Christ’s sake, as my gift to God. And has it changed the world? … who’s to know, but it has changed my world. And that’s the one and only place any of us can start … “so far as it depends on you.”
Who in Canada has not been touched this week by the death of Jack Layton? Regardless of your political stripes, when a high profile person of such integrity like Layton dies, a whole country pauses in gratitude … and right we should. On the morning after his death, in all the Tuesday papers, we first saw the now famous quote from the conclusion of his farewell letter to Canadians. And since then it has been quoted thousands of times, including as the benediction at his own state funeral yesterday. It resonates so profoundly with this section of Paul’s letter to the Romans and serves as yet another grace-filled reminder for those of us striving to live faithfully.
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, optimistic. And we will change the world.”
My friends in faith, so far as it depends on you, be loving, be hopeful, be optimistic, for Christ’s sake and the world.
Orleans United Church
Bits of Practical Advice for Christian Just Trying to Carry On
Let your love be genuine; don’t fake it.
- Run for dear life from evil and hold on for dear life to good.
- Be good friends who love each other deeply.
- Work hard at honouring others and practice putting their needs first.
- Be enthusiastic in spirit, ready to serve God by caring for others; but don’t burn out.
- Be cheerfully expectant and patient in uncertainty.
- Don’t quit in hard times; persevere in prayer.
- Be helpful to those in need among you and inventive in hospitality.
- Ask God to bless those who mistreat you – not to curse them.
- Laugh with your friends when they are happy; share their tears when they are down.
- Don’t be stuck-up and feel that you are better or wiser than others.
- Make friends with the everyday people around you.
- Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you.
- Discover the beauty in everyone.
- If possible, so far as it depends on you, try to get along with everybody.
Woven together from three different translations of Romans 12:9-18 – The New Revised Standard Version, Contemporary English Version, and Eugene Peterson’s The Message.