Aug 23, 2023
Key text: Romans 12:1-8
In many of Paul’s letters he begins after a general greetingby
dealing with the issues that are causing problems in a church. He
then goes on to deal with how we live out our faith in our daily
life or ethics. Paul is talking about how we lives which witness or
reflect God’s love and how we can serve others.
This is exactly what he does in Romans. After his greeting he introduces himself to the church in Rome. Often Paul writes to one of the churches he founded to tell them how to deal with some of the problems or division in them. He didn’t start the church at Rome but he wants to visit it and get their support to continue his work of creating new Christian communities, maybe even going to Spain. So he outlines what he believes. He starts in Romans 1-3 by saying this wonderful & blessed creation of which we are a part and humanity we share which reflects the image of God is tarnished. He says that although every human being has within them a sense of right and wrong and a sense of the existence of God, none the less we all fall short of the Glory of God. We all fail to love as God loves, with our whole selves, and we fail to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And this results in our death, our literal death our eternal death and the death of community of good relationships between people aand people and peqaople and God. The wages of sin is death! But from the middle of Chapter 3 right through to the end of Chapter 8 paul expounds on the idea that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus. Jesus death for us, Jesus’ new life for us, the gift of the Spirit which pours the love of God into our hearts and the way in which through this new life of Jesus at work in human being the glory of God is being revealed and creation is being made new. The Spirit of God is at work in us creating a renewed humanity and a renewed creation. All this he says in chapters 9-11 is not just for Jewish people or for non Jewish people it is for all people. And reight fom Chapter 3 through to chapter 11 time and time again he make it clear that this is a gift of God. Throughout all of History even though we fall short God never gives up on us. God loves us with a love we don’t deserve. God is merciful or kind to us even though God doesn’t have to be. And the defining way God is kind to us even though we don’t deserve it is in Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection. So chapters 1-11 are about the kindness or the mercy of God to us in Jesus. In chapter 12 Paul begins to reflect on what this might all mean for living the Christian life. (Chapter 12 to half way though chapter 15.)
Paul’s main point is that everyone has an important place in the ministry and mission of Jesus and his church. Every member is called to witness and to serve. Every Christian is not only included in Jesus’ love and mercy. Every Christian is included in Jesus’ ministry and mission.
For the church and for individual believers this understanding that every Christian is included in Jesus’ work is a powerful and even transforming idea.
It reflects Paul’s revolutionary idea from Galatians 3:28 (and in all his writing) that every person no matter their gender, race or class are the objects of God’s love and mercy for all are one in Jesus.
If that is the case then everyone has a part to play in the ministry and mission of Christ. Every member of the church has a role to play.
To illustrate this passage as we go through it, and the idea that every person has a part to play in the ministry and mission of Christ and his church, I am going to tell a little bit of my own story.
Paul begins chapter 12 with the words. “I appeal to you by the mercies of God”. As I said a moment ago this little phrase links chapter 12 and what follows to the first 11 chapters of Romans. For in those first 11 chapters Paul has essentially been outlining the mercy or the mercies of God.
For Paul this was very personal. He had been a persecutor of the church. He saw the followers of Jesus as those who would destroy the Jewish faith and way of life. He threw them in jail and even approved when one was stoned to death. Yet for him his life was turned around when he encountered the risen Jesus travelling on the road to the city of Damascus in Syria. The risen Jesus did not destroy him as he had destryed iothers, Jesus forgave him and called him to to join the work of forgiveness, reconciliation and the renewing of all things.
My story is not like Paul’s. As a child I was shy, badly co-ordinated, I cried easily and so I was a natural subject of bullying. I did not see any blinding light. I was not a persecutor of others. Instead of being turned outward in anger and hatred like Paul I was turned inward on myself in despair and self loathing. But just like Paul I believe that God came to me in Jesus Christ. As I say, it was not in some blinding light, but as a slow burn, a slow realisation with some wonderful moments, that I was loved I was forgiven and that God had a piurpose for my life.
Though, my story and Paul’s story and the story of millions of other Christians is very different, none the less through the ages men and women of all walks of life have experienced or realized the same thing. They have been discovered by, they have met the mercy of God.
From the time Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road onward his life was radically transformed. He was so grateful that he dedicated his life to introducing others to the wonderful discovery of the mercy of God. It was not that Paul had discovered God but God had discovered him.
As we saw a moment Paul believed that this gift of mercy was for all people, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old. I believe as do people like the historian Tom Holland that this radical inclusiveness of Christianity has also played a part in some aspects of Western culture becoming more inclusive and to the idea that every human being has equal dignity and rights.
Paul had a personal experience of this radical inclusion. A persecutor of the Christ and his church was not merely forgiven and given a new life, but he was also called by that same Christ to ministry and mission.
My experience was that I was not only forgiven, loved and befriended by God in Jesus Christ, but that I too was called to share that love with others. So when Paul says, I appeal to you by the mercies of God - he is I’m very sure speaking of all he has spoken of in Chapters 1-11 of Romans BUT he isn’t speaking about it as a theoretical framework, or a theological exercise, He’s speaking about it also as a matter of personal experience. (And we especially see that in the second half of chapter 7).
Paul is saying - look what God has done for me!!! Look what God has done for us. Look what God has done for creation. If God has done this for us then present yourselves as a living sacrifice for this is your reasonable worship - some translations have reasonable service... In any case the principle is the same - God has given himself to us, so in gratitude we should give ourselves to God and to others.
Now I need to make it clear that Paul is not asking us to nail ourselves to the cross. Instead he is saying that in the light of God’s mercy we should not give in to the thinking and standards of this world which in our times are about, money, power, celebrity and consumerism. He’s saying that instead we should set our minds on good and positive things instead of on things which are only to help ourselves or build ourselves up and tear others down.
He’s saying that we should not try to place ourselves over other people, but instead that we should use the gifts that God has given us to build them up.
He’s saying that instead of thinking of ourselves as number one as the most important person in our own little world we should think of ourselves as an important part of the body. That each of us has a place with Christ in the ministry and mission, the service and witness of the church.
As wonderful as it must have been for Paul to be forgiven his persecution of the church. It must have been even more amazing to him that he became perhaps the greatest evangelist and church planter in the church’s history. Not only that, but he was a key leader in transforming the followers of Christ from a Jewish male sect, to a faith that embraced men and women, menial slaves through to wealthy householders, and people from every race and culture. From fundamentalist inquisitor Paul was transformed into the greatest evangelist of a new faith which taught love and inclusion.
It should not a surprise us then that Paul here in Romans (and in 1 Corinthian’s and Ephesians) can affirm that every member of the church, no matter how humble or grand has a valuable place in the Church, in the body of Christ.
This was a wonderful discovery for me too. It was wonderful after all those years of bullying to feel that I was loved and included, BUT it was even more wonderful to know that also I had a part of the ministry and mission of Jesus and his church. I learned that I was a part of the body and the gifts and skills that I had could be used to serve God, the church and my neighbour.
To cut a long story short just as Paul was transformed from being a fundamentalist inquisitor into an evangelist of love. I was transformed from a timid, shy and insecure young man into a reasonably confident minister of the Gospel.
What was true for Paul is true for me, but it’s also true for each one of you as well. For each of you are a member, a part of the body of Christ.
Like Paul all of you are here because you believe God is a God of compassion who has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. You believe that God has given himself for you. You believe that you are forgiven, loved, and free. You are receivers of the mercies of God, and so Paul says to you I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present yourselves in the light of God’s mercies as a living sacrifice. Use your gifts and talent, no matter how insignificant you might feel them to be in service of God, your fellow Christians and your neighbours. For all of you, have a valuable part and place in the body of Christ.