Meanderings

Wholly Holy – Romans 12:9-21

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart
produces good,
and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil;
for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke
6:45, NRSV).

When I have finally filed all the bills, caught up on my
email correspondence, and put my sermon to bed I usually feel satisfied. That
is, until I remember that the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus undertook the
task of and almost succeeded in organizing all of God’s creation. Linnaeus
devised the taxonomic classification system that botanists and biologists use every
day. This system has a precision and flexibility that has allowed it to stretch
to contain the insights and knowledge gained in the 200 years since Linnaeus
lived.

Linnaeus’ system breaks living things into smaller and more
discrete groups based on smaller and more discrete sets of characteristics.
Each division whittles away at the identity of a creature until finally you are
left with only one possible answer. For example a creature belonging to the
kingdom "Animalia," the phylum "Chordata," the sub-phylum
"Vertebrata," the class "Mammalia," the order
"Carnivora," the family "Canidae," the genus "Canis,"
and the species "Familiarus," is none other than the family dog. Paul
begins the 12th chapter of his Letter to the Romans with the injunction that
Christians should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the
renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what
is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). In Romans 12:9-21, Paul lays out the
characteristics of what it is to be a Christian.

Marks of the True Christian: Let love be genuine; hate what
is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor. Do
not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality
to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with
one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to
be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for
what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on
you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room
for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay,
says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they
are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap
burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome
evil with good (Romans 12:9-21, NRSV).

Living into “the Marks of a True Christian” that Paul
provides us is, was, and shall be a daunting task. With this “to do” list in
hand, it may be well to remember Jesus’ simple but full dual commandment to
"love the Lord your God," and to "love your neighbor as yourself"
(see Matthew 22:37-39). Paul’s litany of Christian characteristics is begins and ends in verses 9-10. Verse 9 outlines the attitude – displaying genuine love, hating evil, loving good –
while verse 10 reveals the action – to "outdo one another in showing
honor."

To summarize quickly, let’s review the marks of a Christian:

  1. Avoid hypocrisy – let your love be genuine or real (9).
  2. Be loyal – love one another with mutual affection (10)
  3. Give preference to others – show honor (10).
  4. Live generously – assist the saints, welcome the stranger
    (13).
  5. Return good for evil – act, don’t react, when hurt (14).
  6. Live empathically – share in rejoicing and weeping (15).
  7. Live harmoniously – connect with each one you meet (16).
  8. Show respect – do not treat slights in kind, honor all (17).
  9. Keep the peace – as far as possible, live in peace (18).
  10. Live without revenge – God will judge, we cannot (19-21).

Americans are taught from childhood that competition is good
– it builds character, strengthens drive, fuels ambition, and pushes us to do
our best. But the competitive spirit now extends beyond our playing fields or
boardrooms or shop floors.

  • Competition between spouses destroys the trust and love
    necessary to maintain the relationship.
  • Competition between children escalates into gang wars that
    destroy families, neighborhoods and lives.
  • Competition between Christians also exists – and like other
    misplaced matches of worldly rivalry, it creates only losers.

Paul calls us to enter into serious competition. But it is a
contest with a considerable difference. There is no "winner-take-all"
warfare against outsiders waged in the name of liberty, justice and the

American
  Way

. The biblical challenge calls Christians to
"outdo each other in honor.”

It is in that tradition that Paul defines marks of true
Christians as those who would "bless those who persecute" them
(v.14), be "patient in suffering, persevere in prayer" (v.12) and
give food and water to their enemies (v.20).

Outdoing one another in honor is not the world’s way of
competing. The world may brand our efforts as foolish, futile and failing.
"You’re full of it." And we should say "Thank you." When we
compete with one another for joy, compassion, tenderness and forgiveness, the
world will know what we’re full of.

What do I mean? Jesus teaches us in Luke’s sermon on the
plain:

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart
produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it
is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45, NRSV).

It is what we are “full of” that we offer the world. Our
words reflect what our heart is full of – an abundance of heart-evil produces
harsh words – an abundance of heart-good leads to virtuous words.

So here is the challenge. How do we fill our heart with goodness? Paul suggests that a large part of that depends on how we honor others –
friend or foe alike. Our membership vows
imply the same thing. Having proclaimed
Jesus as Lord and Savior, we then pledge “our prayers, our presence, our gifts,
and our service” to the church. We offer to others out of God’s abudant love for us.  I am praying about the abundance of our
hearts that Pinehurst UMC is ready to offer this week to all that we meet.  I am praying  about the abundance of  your heart that you will offer this week. What are you "full of" today? What are you offering the world?