Last Sunday – our pastor Phil shared the Vision for our Church for 2021 and tied that a little into the reading from Romans 12. This week, Phil is going to turn that upside-down and focus the sermon on Romans 12 and tie that into some concrete ideas of how we may implement our Vision or to animate our Vision – to bring our Vision to life.
Theme: Inside, Outside, Upside-Down
Series: Vision 2021
Bible Reading: Acts 20:17-38
Preacher: Phil Swain
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Last Sunday – the sermon was about sharing or casting the Vision for our Church for 2021 and tying that a little into the reading from Romans 12. This week, I am going to turn that upside-down and focus the sermon on Romans 12 and tie that a little into some concrete ideas of how we may implement our Vision or to animate our Vision – to bring our Vision to life.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is said to be one of the key books of the Bible. We believe that Pauls letter to the Romans was letter #8 out of the 13 that are in the bible and the last that Paul wrote before his time in jail. It was written around the end of his last missionary journey, just before he went to Jerusalem. Paul always had a dream of going across to Spain to preach Jesus there and to visit Rome on the way – and this letter was not only to teach and encourage the church in Rome, but to prepare the way for a possible visit to there in the future. After three missionary journeys, setting up dozens of church plants and talking to many Christians who were trying to live out their faith in real life, the letter of Romans seems to be Paul’s way of bringing together a comprehensive overview of everything he had taught and observed.
Scholars often break the letter to the Romans into two distinct sections:
- Chapters 1-11 is teaching the Roman church what to BELIEVE – covering the sinfulness of humankind, the forgiveness and grace we find in Jesus and the freedom that this forgiveness brings.
- Chapters 12-16 – covers how we are to respond to what Jesus did for us. It outlines how we can LIVE OUT the faith that is talked about in the first 11 chapters.
So Romans 12 that we had today is the beginning of this “response” section – how we live as people and communities of faith. Romans chapter 12 also has two parts. Paul says that in the light of what Jesus did for us:
- Verse 1-8 challenges us to consider how we personally respond in our own lives, faith and relationship with God; and
- Verse 9 onwards challenges us to consider how we practically respond in the way we interact with those around us – our faith communities, local communities, our enemies and those in need.
One scholar labelled these two sections of Romans 12 – inside and outside. What does the theology of Romans 1-11 mean for us on the inside … and what does it mean for us beyond us, or on the outside. It actually reminded me of the Berenstain Bears book that was read to me as a child … inside, outside, upside-down. And I guess that is the point that Paul was making. If God did all this for us in Jesus – as Romans 1-11 tells us … then then what does it mean for us – both inwardly in our own spirituality and relationship with God – and outwardly to those around us … in a way that turns everything upside-down.
Like the wise master told their student … if you wish to change the world, you need to start with yourself. Paul is affirming, if you wish to turn the world upside-down … start looking inward and then let it flow outward.
So today, I wish to “zoom” in on a couple of key parts of Romans 12 and tie them into some of the more concrete ideas we have to bring move Vision forward.
For example, Romans 12:2 encourages us “renew our minds” or as I suggested last week; to have a “considered faith” – A faith that is inquisitive, that wrestles with questions, that listens to diverse views and that is open to God speaking to us through the Bible and others. So – what could be some concrete ideas on how do we create some space and encourage opportunities for us to do some “considering” on faith and life.
One idea that I wish to put forward is not something new, but I think it will be helpful. In the lead up to Easter, I want to offer an example of what such a “considered faith conversation” might look like. I am in the process of writing an 3 part Easter Bible study, but not the usual comprehension type study where you look up a bible verse and answer a question, but rather one where we dig a little deeper into the biblical understanding and theology around Easter and see where the questions take us. Foe example, if I asked you, “Why did Jesus die on the cross” there is a very easy answer – “Jesus died to save us from our sins”. We have known that since Sunday school.
But if I asked the question of “how does that work?” How does Jesus – as the son of God – dying on the cross make it possible for God to forgive us that was not possible without the cross? Now that is a good question. And there are plenty of questions like this that people – both within and beyond the faith – have been asking for centuries. The goal here is not to stir up doubts or pull the rug out from under our faith, but rather by pondering these questions and dilemmas, by having discussions and conversation and exploring the Bible and other resources and listening to each other … I believe that we will become more grounded in our faith and have a deeper and more considered understanding of grace, forgiveness and salvation. I think it will help us to grow and in doing so help our discipleship process.
As I said, I am writing these studies with the help of a number of people and resources, and I know that a few of our bible study groups will be having a go – and I’m willing to come along to help and even open to an online group (talk to me if you are interested) – and also hopeful of making them available in an interactive web format that you can access as an individual or a group … wherever you are. I am excited about this. I think this will be good.
But jumping back to Romans 12. If verses 1-8 is all about what is happening in us on the inside – God’s transforming and empowering of us; the verse 9 starts to shift this thinking into how this transformation effects the way we relate to the people around us – or how it impacts the outside.
Paul shares a series of 21 short sayings, or challenges, or axioms – short punchy statements – about living out our faith. Douglas Moo writes: “These verses contain a volley of short, sharp injunctions with little elaboration.”
There is some evidence that these saying did not originate from Paul himself but rather were sayings that were being used and shared among the churches that Paul had been visiting during his missionary journeys. Can you see how this adds extra weight to these verses? These are not just a bunch of Pauline insights but tried and true sayings that have been found helpful by ordinary people within the early churches on how to live out our faith. I don’t have time to spend time exploring these depth but let me focus on just two – one from verse 9 and one from verse 11
Romans 12:9b – Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Is it just me, or does anyone else find the word “hate” very strong. The Greek word for hate is, “Apostugeo” which literally means to abhor, to shudder with horror. It also can mean to
“turn from and to avoid”. It is a strong word. One book I read compared this axiom “hate what is evil” to our reaction to a really messy nappy: “I want nothing to do with it and I want it out of my house and life as soon as possible.”
As followers of Jesus we are called to discern what is good and evil and to make our stand for good. I was trying to think of a good example of this and being Valentines Day – maybe we can use the example of St. Valentine. Valentine was a priest around 260CE – in the era where Rome was really into persecuting Christians. There is a lot of legends or questionable stories about Valentines but what we know for certain is that Valentine was martyred on the 14th February, 269CE because he wouldn’t stop telling people about Jesus. He stood for what was good and right. It is also said that Valentine defied the orders of the emperor Claudius and secretly preformed Christian weddings. Valentine discerned what was good and evil, and clinged to what was good.
I spoke last week about how God is stirring people within our church to stand against evil forms of injustice and to speak out against the things that are wrong in our society. I am talking to a number some people on practical ways on how we can do this and look forward to sharing them with you soon.
Romans 12:11 – Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.
This was the axiom that jumped out at me when I first read the passage. There was something about these 13 words that really resonated with me. I never want to be lacking in zeal … I want to encourage all of you to keep up your spiritual fervour.
The Greek in this verse is quite revealing. The first part of the verse could also be translated “Do not be sluggish or slothful in accomplishing things”. The Greek word for fervour is Zeo … which literally means boiling over; red hot; glowing. Now that is a challenge, how do we resist the urge to do less or go slow but rather be red hot in our relationship with Jesus and service to God’s mission?
How do we do that? I think that some of the other Axioms Paul includes in this passage give us some great hints … be devoted to one another, be generous with your hospitality … be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Especially the prayer one.
There are some other ideas on how to move forward our Vision this year that have emerged from Council or conversations that can be found on the last two pages on our Vision documents. And just as Paul found on his missionary journeys, I am sure there will be adaptions as things change.
As I stand at the beginning of 2021, I am excited, but if I am honest, I am also feeling a little overwhelmed. There are some significant challenges before us that we are in the process of addressing, but they do weigh heavily on me. I am also aware that we are still feeling the impact of the pandemic and the changes that has brought. 2021 will be an exciting year but it will also be a year that will require a committed and sustained focus.
I humbly ask you to be praying for me, and for the Church Council and for all of us who are serving in our own way within and beyond the church. Please pray for wisdom and guidance of where to be best investing our time, energy and skills to make the biggest impact of the kingdom. Please pray for divine empowering and strength to be working through the challenges and moving forward. And please pray that our relationship with Jesus, our connection with Jesus – without whom we can do nothing – remains strong and real and vibrant so that we “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.”