Romans 12, Charlottesville, and Dr. King
Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
We’re back for a new year! The new school year marks a time of renewal for all of us, whether we’re in school or not. Here at the church, new classes are getting started, new groups are being formed, Youth Group returns. The new year is a time for newness and creating new routines.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at God’s Expectations for us. No better time then when we’re starting new routines than to look at how God wants us to live our lives. After all, he has entrusted his Kingdom to his followers. We should know what we need to do as followers of Christ.
Last weekend on our All Youth Retreat, we went to Paul’s letter to the community at Colossae as our source of truth. Paul wrote that letter to help their community understand who Jesus was and what living as a follower of Christ meant.
Tonight we’re looking at the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Same idea, much bigger audience. Instead of a small community in what is now Turkey, this letter was sent to the church in Rome.
The first section of this chapter is only two verses, but it sets the tone for Paul’s entire point. Here’s what he says (Romans 12:1–2):
1So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is — what is good and pleasing and mature.
Paul is showing us that the first expectation of being a follower of Christ is to be transformed. Paul says we should not live by the “patterns of this world.”
Our world is a little messed up right now. If you turn on the news, the pattern of this world is seemingly hate and violence. Fringe hate groups have been emboldened to speak out and attempt to spread their vile hate across the country and the globe. This is not acceptable behavior.
Paul is saying do not give into what the world is trying to put forth. Do not give into hate, rather be transformed in your thinking and place your focus on God’s “good and pleasing” will. God’s will isn’t violence and hate, it is love and acceptance. Placing our focus on love will radically change how we approach our lives. This is God’s first expectation.
The second part of this chapter of scripture gets into specifics. According to Paul, God’s expectations for our lives are to live a full life based upon the gifts God has given each of us. Let’s look at what Paul says (Romans 12:3–8):
3Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
Paul is telling us to live as a follower of Christ, we need to be united and humble people. Our gifts are unique and we need to live into them. God has created us with these individual gifts and using them to the fullest honors God.
There are many ways to determine what gifts God has given each of us. There are tests and worksheets. The easiest is to ask each other. Our friends and family and teachers and leaders see our gifts, even if we don’t. Living united means sharing the gifts we see in each other. Don’t be afraid to share gifts you see in other people.
This is where the Lectionary scripture ends for tonight, but the rest of the chapter is too good not to share. Paul continues with God’s expectations for our lives (Romans 12:9–21):
9Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic — be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14Bless people who harass you — bless and don’t curse them. 15Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
This is so good!
According to Paul, God’s expectations for us are to live into love by being “on fire in the Sprit” and hating evil, being hopeful, welcoming, prayerful, empathetic, and respectful people. Jesus explained that the most important commandment is to love God with our whole existence and then let that love affect how we treat people. Living into love allows us to do all of these things and then some.
But Paul wasn’t done. He had one more nugget for the Romans and for us. Paul closed the chapter with this (Romans 12:18–21):
18If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, “Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back”, says the Lord. 20Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
After what happened in Charlottesville, it’s hard to think about living at peace with all people. There are some people who just want to incite violence and live in hate. Yet, by living into love, we are to do the opposite of what the world expects. By living into peace and returning evil with good, we are following God’s expectations for his Kingdom.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a lot to say about combatting hate and violence. The expectations of God conveyed through Paul’s letter are echoed in one of Dr. King’s famous quotes:
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
God’s expectation for us as followers of Christ is to live in love.
As Paul said, we need to transform our minds to this focus. The world would have us focus on ourselves, on what we want, on our desires. But if we focus on love for God and love for others, that love will transform us from focusing on our desires to what the world around us needs.
Focusing on love for God and love for all will show us those dark places that are devoid of stars. We’ll see with the eyes of Christ and we will shine the light of love.
The expectation of God is transformation of the world through love.
In a minute we’re going to share in communion together. There is no better way to share love with each other than by sharing a meal together. The message of communion is to be reminded of what Jesus sacrificed for us every time we break bread.
As we enter a new school year and as we set these new routines, let’s be reminded every time we eat that sharing love is our expectation. Let’s be reminded that we are to transform the world to a place of unity and peace that is on fire in the Spirit. What an exciting place that will be!