I love Romans 12. I really do. I think it’s some of Paul’s best stuff. Through the first 11 chapters of Romans
Paul has been telling us in all sorts of different ways what God is like, and what that means for us, and about what God has done in Christ, and about what that means for us. This is what’s commonly called the indicative portion of the letter. Through 11 chapters Paul has told us that we’re dead in sins and trespasses, and that we’ve missed the mark. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, and so we need forgiveness – we need God to bring us to life.
And he’s told us about God’s great love and forgiveness demonstrated most profoundly in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us – the Godly for the ungodly.
Then in chapter 12, Paul begins what’s commonly called the imperative portion of the letter. Because of all the indicative stuff – because we’re like we are, and God’s like God is, how are we to live?
The imperatives in Paul’s writings are always easy to spot – they always start with a “therefore.”
We read the beginning of it last week: I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. And he goes on to describe briefly the communal nature of the faith. We’re the body of Christ together, and each of us function as individual members of that body based on the gifts God’s Spirit has given us. And he continues on here as he further describes what the life of a disciple – a member of Christ’s Body – might look like.
Let love be genuine – or literally, Paul writes: let your love be unhypocritical. Don’t just say the words, but really love God and neighbor in word and in deed. Hate evil in all its forms – violence, war, poverty, sexism, homophobia, greed, hoarding, callousness toward the suffering of others, abuse of those who are weaker than you, theft, disregard for and continued misuse of God’s good creation.
And while you’re at it, hold fast to what’s good.
Love one another like family.
And I love this next part: Paul tells us to “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Paul calls us to be competitive in regard to how we honor one another. And just think about what the world would look like if we’d just do that one piece – if we all put that proverbial 110% that competitors like to talk about into making sure that everyone else had it better than we do. Outdo one another in preferring – in honoring the other. And don’t be lazy, but burn with zeal in your spirit when it comes to serving the Lord. The language is intense! Paul doesn’t leave any room for wishy-washy discipleship here!
Being a cross-bearer isn’t easy. Discipleship involves discipline.
Disciples rejoice in hope, are patient in times of tribulation, and they never stop praying. In other words: They keep the lines of communication open – thanking God for all that they have, asking God for all that they need, and spending time listening to God by reading Scripture, sharing in the sacraments and taking the time to talk with other disciples, in order to hear God’s voice through them.
Contribute to the needs of the saints. Disciples share what God has first given them to meet the needs of their fellow disciples.
And extend hospitality to strangers – and this one can be really hard, because after all, strangers are strange! They bring new ideas, and ask new questions, and push in new directions that maybe we never thought to push before.
But hospitality is at the very heart of the Gospel.
Remember the strongest complaint leveled by the religious folks of his day against the Lord Jesus – “This man welcomes tax collectors and sinners and he eats with them!”
You want to know what a cross-carrying disciple looks like? Welcome a stranger – not in the sense of bringing them in so that they can change to be more like you, but in the sense of really welcoming them for who they are, and for what you might learn from them – how they might change your life, and maybe even your understanding of God.
And then, as if all this wasn’t hard enough, Paul pulls a Jesus on us – he takes our normal way of living, and he turns it over on its head! When someone persecutes you, bless them. It’s the whole turn the other cheek thing all over again! But there’s more – as long as it depends on us, as long as it’s within our power to do so, live in peace with one another. And when it’s not in our power – when someone does us harm anyway, we’re never to avenge ourselves. That’s God’s job! We’re to feed our enemies when they’re hungry, and give them a drink when they’re thirsty, and to respond to evil with goodness.
Jesus said: If you want to follow me as a disciple, take up your cross and follow me. And I’ve got to tell you: this is all enough to scare the begeebers out of me, because I remember all that stuff from the first 11 chapters of Romans about how I’m dead in sins and trespasses and about how I fall short of the mark of God’s glory.
But then I’m reminded, as well, of the other side of the indicative: that God in Christ has come to lead me through from death to life – to fill me with saving faith.
And I remember that I’m not on this journey alone.
The call is to take up the cross and to follow the one who has already taken up the cross for me
To follow the one who has already conquered sin and death
To follow the one who has already, and who continues even now, to give his own body as food for the hungry, and his own blood as drink for the thirsty – feeding us, and giving us drink, even when (or even though?) we live as enemies of the Gospel.
Thanks be to God! Amen.