A Sermon based upon Romans, Chapter 12
In the 12th Chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, he gives us a lot of good advice.
In verse 2 he says: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God...what is good, and acceptable, and perfect." It is interesting to be that in the verse right before that, Paul call this "transformation" (this renewal of your mind) "spiritual worship"
So when people rejoin their best thinking (the renewal of your mind!) together with the Spirit of God, a transformation occurs so that we become more than just what our experience can dictate. We are not "conformed" to "This world", but rather we break through to something new; we feel transformed, whole, healthy.
St Paul tells us to "let love be genuine! Love one another with a brotherly affection; and try to "out-do one another in showing honor" (That's a competition I'd like to see! Imagine our elected leaders, for example, trying to show one another more honor than they receive? Not to think of oneself more highly than we ought to think? Put a little self-control on our ego outbursts and avoid ad homonym attacks?)
The Apostle says that we should "never flag in zeal; be aglow with the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope; be patient in tribulation' be constant in prayer contribute to the needs of others; practice hospitality."
Paul sounds a ot like Jesus when he goes to say: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them! Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty [all puffed up with pride], but associate with the lowly! Never be conceited." (I can tell you that that's hard for some narcissists & self -centered "high & mighty" personality-types to do!) It requires empathy, sympathy and humility.
St Paul tells us to "repay no one evil for evil, but take thought [instead] for what is noble in the sight of all. (!) If possible, so far as it depends upon you, to live peaceably with all." ALL! Wow - if everybody would start to do that, we would have "Peace on Earth, and Goodwill among all men & women" as the angles had sung at Jesus' birth!
The Apostle advises the Roman recipients of his letter: "so not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." He sounds very much like Jesus in all of that ! Especially when he advises : "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, If he is thirsty, give him drink." After all, Jesus said in Luke 6:27
I say to you that hear me, "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate
you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you...And as
you wish that men would do to you, so do to them!" Yes, that the
Golden Rule! That'[s the real Jesus.
And Jesus said something very similar in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew
5:44): "I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute
you, so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in
heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends
rain on the just and on the unjust...You therefore mist be merciful, as your
heavenly Father is merciful."
St. Paul's advice, while similar, anticipates a different outcome. He quotes the Old Testament Proverb 25:21-22: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head and the Lord will reward you." So, by contrast to Jesus' Golden Rule (in Luke) and Jesus' call for us to show mercy like God's own (in Matthew), the Apostle Paul is hoping to heap coals on the heads of his enemies, and Paul is looking to the Lord for a reward" (The Pharisee in him peeks through, on occasion. But we can forgive him, can't we?)
By and large, if we Christians would simply follow some of that advice from St. Paul -renewing our mind, proving what is good and acceptable and perfect; using our individual gifts with liberality, with zeal, and with cheerfulness... hating what is evil, and holding fast to what is good...showing honor to one other...rejoicing, being patient, contribution generously to the needs of others, & so forth - our live & our world would be better for it. None of that is impossible!
So why do we not see such traits in everyday life? Why do our political leaders and celebrities tend to display the exact opposite temperaments and attitudes as St Paul and Jesus would have us do?
Why is there so much animosity. recrimination, stubbornness, social conformity, enmity and desire for revenge in our society? It makes me wonder who are we listening to...in place of the Apostle Paul and of Jesus Christ?
A few weeks ago, when I preached about the 23 Psalm, I said that the world tend wear us down...I mean, just think: what used to be our one hour of "nightly news" on TV is now "wall to wall" bad news that you can tune into "24 hours- 7 days a week" on cable-TV, on cell-phones feeds, and on the internet! We are inundated by relentless, over-the-top anxiety-inducing reporting! - Too much bad news, in such volume, can threaten to swamp the Good News,
Another thing that gets us down is when we are obsessed with what we lack- our wants, and our needs, and our fear that we will have insufficient funds- we lose hope in ourselves and what we can do. Other times, we feel alone and adrift in a friendless world. We feel a bit depressed - despondent, despairing -- or simply "down".
The Bible writer who best caught the spirit of our "de-spirited" world may have been the Prophet Jeremiah. He is known as the "weeping prophet" (in part ) because of the text we read this morning,
He is thinking back to when the ten tribes of Israel - who had formed a kingdom of their own, separate from Judea & the king of Jerusalem - were destroyed. The kingdom of Israel, with its capitol city in Samaria, had been utterly devastated by the Assyrian General Sennacherib;s invading armies. Many thousands of Israelites were killed, and those who survived were sent away as prisoners of war. They became known to history as the "ten lost tribes: of Israel. Only the two small tribes of Judah and Levi remained in Palestine. The Assyrian Empire repopulated Northern Israel with other prisoners of war from far flung tribes captured elsewhere. It was a very sad time
Jeremiah looked on the devastation of what had formerly been Israel, and thought of the ten lost tribes, as he said: "My grief is beyond healing. My heart is sick within me... Hark, the cry of the daughter of my people, from the length and breath of the land:"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved,"
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded. (!) [That's empathy.] I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. There is no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my people not been restored?
O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that i might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. (Jermiah 8:18-9:1)