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22nd sunday in ordinary time

Romans 12:9-21

Living the Faith

Christian Assassinations

August is usually a slow month for the stock market and news stories. The business community goes on vacation. Congress adjourns and the President returns to his Texas ranch. The movers and shakers attempt to escape and relax at their mountain retreats or beach front cottages. This creates a mood of boredom in the newsrooms. Reporters search for interesting and exciting news stories. In the midst of this tranquil lull, Pat Robertson found a way to awaken the journalism community out of their summer slumber by advocating for the assassination of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

The Bush Administration has decided that the South American president is too friendly with Fidel Castro and possess a threat to the security of the United States. Fortunately for the US President Chavez was able to turn the other cheek and bail the US out when Ecuador stopped shipping oil. Ecuador is the second largest South American supplier of oil to the US. With oil supplies already low, the loss of their oil would have had a dramatic impact on prices. President Chavez announced that Venezuela would cover all of Ecuador's commitments calming world market prices.1 However, this did not impress Pat Robertson.

The television evangelists remarks illustrates a common misconception in the American political mind that separates individual morality and ethics from the morality of national government. Both the political left and right abhor the slaying of innocent life on the street corner or in the home but continue to defend other forms of killing through abortion, capital punishment, and war. American society is plagued by “Convenient Christianity” that picks and choose its priorities, agenda, morals and ethics. The political right elevates national security to supreme importance and is willing to take whatever necessary action to preserve and protect America's social, political and economic lifestyle regardless of the cost in human life so long as it is our enemy who is suffering. The political left is willing to sacrifice the morals and values of the community to defend individual autonomy and personal freedom.

Anyone who seriously reads the entire Bible, understands that morality and ethics cannot be divided into the private and public sector. How we live in the privacy of our homes must be consistent with how we live in the public arena. The Old Testament prophets warned Israel and Judah that God's judgment was coming because their political leaders were engaged in practices, both religious and political, that were inconsistent with the covenant that God had made with them in the desert. John the Baptist denounced Herod for his adulterous relationship with his brother's wife because the immorality of the King had political and religious consequences for the nation. Religion and politics cannot be separated. The apostle Paul's words to the church in Rome must be applied not only to our personal lives but also to our national policies and laws.

Theology Matters

The twelfth chapter of Romans is an amazing chapter in its structure. It comes after a rather lengthy discussion of some very weighty theology. Paul did not intend to write a textbook in theology. His purpose was to unite Jewish and Gentile believers around the central work of God in Jesus Christ. He hoped to show them that their cultural differences were set aside by their spiritual unity. To achieve this goal, Paul explained that both, Jew and Gentile, were guilty of violating the law of God; both could only enjoy the fruit of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ; and that when a person experiences the grace of God they are set free from the torment of sin and death. While he never meant to write a theological book, Paul's letter to the Romans contains some powerful theology.

Having devoted so much attention to the work of God in Jesus Christ, Paul then gets practical. The combination of faith and duty is a reoccurring theme in the apostle's writing. Belief must always impact behavior. Paul always moves from “this is what I believe,” “to this is how I shall live.” Creed and conduct are a consistent unity.

Implied in this relationship is the thought that the Christian life is based upon a theological foundation. It is not enough just to be kind. We are not polite simply because we learned it in kindergarten. We do not share our toys just because others will admire us. Everything we do or do not do is based upon the nature and character God has revealed in the pages of Scripture. In essence Theology Matters. How we live in this world should be an expression of what we believe and what we believe should shape how we live. We should have a Biblical rationale for everything we do.

This cannot happen unless we know the story of redemption from the blossoming of the Garden to the descent of the Celestial City. Without knowing the story of Abraham and Sarah we cannot understand the special privileges we enjoy as Gentile believers. Without knowing the story of the Exodus we cannot understand the importance God places on living in obedience. Without knowing the story of King David we cannot understand what it truly means to be one nation under God. And without knowing all of the above we cannot experience the liberating power of the gospel to free us from the torment of sin nor how to live a righteous and holy life.

The Christian life is not solely an existential experience based upon our ever changing feelings. The spiritual life is grounded upon the written story, is shaped by the revelation of God throughout history and is continually guided by the recorded message from Genesis to Revelation. Our behavior is to be shaped by this written word of God, not feelings. However, we cannot accomplish this unless we are familiar with the written text.

From Words to Life

The flow of Romans is similar to I Corinthians 12 and 13 but less expansive. Paul begins the section by emphasizing the connectional relationship of all believers. We do not exist as independent entities but as members of one body. Each member has something to contribute to the health and well being of the whole and then concludes by describing the one quality that is to govern our lives. Herein Paul reveals his second great truth of this passage--the absolute and overriding requirement of love.2

During my sermon preparation I googled the Scripture reference, Romans 12:9, looking for sermon ideas. For those non-computer oriented people, I searched the internet looking for sermons on Romans 12. Nearly all of them had the theme of love in their summary or the title of the sermon. Within the church, love and the Christian life have become nearly synonymous. Unfortunately, we have cheapened the word to a sentiment cliché. We have reduced it to a friendly smile and a warm hand shake on Sunday mornings but Paul refuses to accept such a shallow expression. He insists that love must be sincere. Our deeds must move from words to life. He will not allow someone to mumble the syllables. The thoughts, the verbal sounds must have some form of tangible display. He therefore lists at least 6 things that believers could do to express their words of love into deeds of life:

  1. share with God's people who are in need;

  2. practice hospitality;

  3. bless those who persecute you;

  4. rejoice with those who rejoice;

  5. mourn with those who mourn;

  6. feed and give drink to your enemy.

His instructions bear a remarkable resemblance to the admonitions of Jesus in his sermon on the Mount. They are very other oriented. They require us to be assertive, to initiate contact. The spiritual life is not passive. The spiritual person would never be accused of being a couch potato. The Christian life is not lived in the safe confines of the Christian home. In outlining our responsibility of showing hospitality toward the stranger, a Christian leader from the third century once wrote, “We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to inquire after and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads.”3

In reviewing that list, what actions can you honestly say you have performed this past week? How have you been generous? To whom have you been hospitable? The Deacons could answer the latter in the positive. They held a luncheon for those who have lost a spouse. It was a great way of showing generosity and hospitality. I hope their witness of love to those who live alone will permeate this congregation. My prayer is that we become known for our hospitality as a church.

These personal acts of righteousness, while quite noble, are not always easy. They are even more difficult to apply to our national policies and international relationships. Yet, I wonder what would happen if we did. I wonder what would happen if President Bush invited President Chavez to the White House for dinner? I wonder what would happen if instead of threatening with plots of assassination, Christian leaders worked with the governments Iran and North Korea to provide food, education and health care to the people.

The Scripture states that such actions we will reap burning coals on their heads. This reference was very bewildering to me until I read a commentary that suggested that burning coals were a symbol of repentance. The reference therefore would mean that the only way we have of prompting an enemy to repent is by serving them. Think of the impact this teaching might have if it was applied more often to international relations.

Regardless of how far you want to apply its teaching, the implication is clear, Paul expects our faith to have a profound and radical influence on how we live. Passivity is not an option just as God actively sought us out and revealed his love so are we to actively reach out to others.

There Are Still Dos and Don'ts

Paul began this section in Romans by encouraging the people of faith to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. The spiritual life is not a works oriented grind. It is not a grueling drudgery of petty rules and regulations designed to prevent us from having fun and enjoying life. It is the living display of the reality of God's grace in our lives. But Paul knows that we still need a reminder of the existence of certain prohibitions. The negative must be held alongside the positive. This is difficult for a secular world that relishes freedom, chafes over restrictions and has forgotten that God is a god of both law and grace.

The search committee of the presbytery was conducting a telephone interview for a Designated Pastor position. The candidate was asked about their position on the clause in the Book of Order that restricts service in the church to those who are willing to maintain faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness. The statement essentially excludes those who live in a sexually intimate relationship outside of the covenant of marriage. The candidate stated that he tended to side on the grace of God when they conflict with human rules.

God is a god of grace but God is also a god of Law. Not only was the Law of God revealed in the writings of the people of Israel but Jesus himself affirmed the priority of faithful obedience to that Law. We are free from human regulations and interpretations but our freedom is not a license to live according to the desires of the flesh. Paul explains to the Romans that their behavior was still governed by certain parameters. If they wanted to express genuine and sincere love, they had to stay within these boundaries.

The Life of Faith

Paul has given us a brief summation of the life of faith. We are called not only to believe in certain theological truths but to live what we believe. That life of faith will require us to express our beliefs through positive acts of love and also by controlling the impulses and desires of our heart. Only through obedient living that has both positive and negative expressions will we be able to truly demonstrate the power of Gospel.

I wonder what would happen if the people of God would live this kind of life not only in their personal lives but in also in the world of international relations?

1“Modern Robin Hood speaks Spanish,” Marcella Sanchez, available August 26, 2005, Seattle Post-Intelligencer available [online] accessed August 25, 2005.

2John Stott, Romans, (Downers-Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 330.

3Ibid, 332.

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