Worship can take a variety of forms. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes about worship that is pleasing to God. His dialogue expands to include a discussion about what makes a community of faith distinct from the culture surrounding it. This passage raises as many relevant questions today as it did for its primary audience.
Text: Romans 12: 1-8
You’ve all heard the expression ‘a sober second thought.’ The implication being that some actions in life require thorough thinking. We don’t take hasty action that could be detrimental to us or others. In the opening of our passage from Romans this morning this seems to be what Paul is asking of us. Take a moment to pause and ensure you are making the right decision. So that you may present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
Many have read these words in reference to our bodies. This passage is often referred to when it comes to lude behaviour, drunkenness or drug use. However, Scott Hoezee writes about these words that, “In this particular context Paul seems to have in mind not “worldly” things like immoral sexual practices or riotous living and drunkenness or any number of other tawdry behaviors. No, here the turn from worldliness involves principally a new way to regard our very selves, our talents, what we’re good at, and then how we regard those around us, too.”
The reason for this is we need to consider what comes next, a section of scripture which speaks about our gifts and how we use them for God’s kingdom. A reminder that as the church we are one body in Christ. Paul reminds us that it is ok to think well of ourselves, just not to think to highly of ourselves. Keep the ego in check, don’t let things go to your head.
This passage asks us to figure out what it means to live as a community of faith which follows Jesus Christ. The key to understanding that is found in the first verse of our passage, the true worship. Worship, then is central to who we are as Christians and who we are in relationship with one another. Not just this hour on Sunday, in fact I would argue that this time of formal communal worship is not what Paul is talking about. Paul is referring to something deeper and which is more central to our identity as a Christian. This is our day to day actions, how we treat one another, talk with one another, support one another.
Paul reminds us that each of us is different. We find here a passage about parts of the body, a passage that Paul expands upon in his letter to the church in Corinth. If each of us makes up a part of the body of Christ, each functioning within the life of the church then what should this community of faith look like? We are grounded and gathered together through our relationship with God as we understand it within a particular tradition within the Christian Church.
However, our ability to understand ourselves as a faith community only works if we take into account the surrounding culture. We can only define our identity if we understand what differentiates us from the culture we are part of. The Church in its earliest days was an alternative community. The earliest followers of Jesus were Jews who began following a new Rabbi. Eventually that mission grew and expanded. Those earliest followers were an living as an alternative Jewish community. These followers of Jesus grew and eventually became known as Christians. Within the context of the Roman empire, again they were an alternative community. Their beliefs were so radical from Roman culture that the average Christian risked death simply for holding to their beliefs.
Over time this changed and Christianity went from being an alternative community to being what everyone in European and then, if you follow one narrative, what everyone in North America was. To live in this society meant that you were a Christian, the church was no longer an alternative community. Alternative communities existed within Christianity, which I would argue were the monastic movements. It is only in very recent history, the last 50-70 years were the political and temporal power of Christian culture in Western society has begun to wane. Christendom is a thing of the past and we are left wondering what to do and how to live in a culture which doesn’t meet out our values or expectations.
Commentator Eleazar Fernandez writes, “Throughout the ages, the church has been faced with the challenge of naming, articulating, and living out its life as a distinct community … Worship is confused with marketing technique, stewardship with fund-raising, spirituality with meditation techniques, vitality with growth, and ministry with programs and services.”
Friends, often we let the tail wag the dog. The question we need to ask of ourselves is how are we different from the culture that we are situated in? What defines us and makes us different?
We exist in a culture which is full of rampant consumerism. It seeks to occupy us with distractions of every kind. Satisfying oneself appears to the primary goal of many activities. The cult of celebrity goes hand in hand with that of consumerism.
Paul’s words to us this morning are all grounded in the language of humility and service. Our every action should be one of encouragement and hospitality. One could argue that hospitality is a mark of the church. Supporting soup kitchens, food banks, shelters all of this is part of the hospitality that we offer. We open our building to groups and organizations which work for the betterment of our community. All of this is good and all of this is hospitable. However, we need to move beyond hospitality as charity and approach hospitality as an act of justice.
This passage works as a set of core values that Christians are to follow and we can continue to move in the ways and patterns we always have. Or we can challenge ourselves to go further. Next week we will look at the words which follow today’s passage. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. A call for discernment to know the difference. Being hospitable as an act of justice requires us to name what is evil and promote that which is good.
It means we need to speak up in the naming and stand up to protect what is good. All this through the gifts we’ve been granted by God. All this, not as individuals, but as a community. A community of faith, following Christ, recognizing the benefit and the harm of the culture we are surrounded by. Set apart, yet a part of.
Reach out and be radical in the way you offer hospitality. Doing so will elevate those around you and empower them through God’s justice. All of this is pleasing to God and is the way that God wants to be worshiped. Amen.