Has anyone been dreading today’s sermon–I mean more than usual? I sure was. After dealing with that loooong to-do list in Romans 12:9-12 last week, I really didn’t want to add 12 more items to the list.
Happily, before writing this sermon on Romans 12, I read it. In light of this summer of “growing deeper into community,” I quickly realized that Romans 12 contains not so much a “to-do” list, as a “to-done” list. It lists, not things we need to do, but things we already do. Listen.
Do 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.
In a world where attention spans are gnat-sized and where “friending”–or “unfriending”–takes only a single key-stroke, growing deeper into community is among the most counter-cultural things we can do. And this summer we’ve done it!
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
As soon as I got the idea for this summer’s theme, I asked Allen if we could have the handbells play. Handbells are the best example I know of community effort, of everyone having his or her own function. And if someone doesn’t play his or her note, the whole piece gets off track. (Handbell demonstration)
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;
Example: Ryan Durkee’s vision of those picnic tables. He envisioned us getting outside more for community building activities. Ta-da! 7
Ministry, in ministering;
One word: Deacons.
The teacher, in teaching;
Miss Janet and everyone else who worked in Vacation Bible School.
The exhorter, in exhortation;
I guess that’s me.
The giver, in generosity;
That’s definitely you all. When you learned that we were running behind on the Mission Spending Plan, you stepped up to the plate…and how!
The leader, in diligence;
Many thanks to Joyanna, Duke, and Dana, who ably have led us as President and/or VP.
The compassionate, in cheerfulness.
That would be every last one of you.
Let love be genuine;
Y’all are the loving-est people I ever met!
Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
We’ve got that: Last week we chose to listen to only one sermon instead of 11!
Love one another with mutual affection;
Too many examples to name.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Okay. So sometimes we might go a little overboard on this. A case in point. Last week, I recognized choir members at 10:00. When I said they hadn’t sung all summer long, the congregation erupted into applause. Isn’t it customary for someone to do something before you clap for them? I’m just saying…
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
A detailed description of our prayer time, don’t you think?
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
We do that with our special offerings—One Great Hour of Sharing and Neighbors In Need. We haven’t taken any special offerings this summer—except for the Deacons Fund–but Neighbors in Need is coming up in a couple of months.
Extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
We haven’t experienced persecution as a community. I suspect, though, that many people in our congregation have experienced persecution outside this place–the persecution of discrimination, of humiliation, of bullying. For those who have experienced that kind of persecution, I’m sure being part of this community gives them the strength and courage they need to “bless and not curse” their persecutors.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Joys and concerns every week!
Live in harmony with one another;
Here’s the thing about harmony—it doesn’t happen unless people are singing different notes. Community isn’t about group-think, about everyone saying and doing the same things and never having any conflict. Harmony requires diversity. And how beautiful that diversity is! How beautiful our diversity here at Pilgrimage is.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;
Haughty is naughty. Never!
Do not claim to be wiser than you are.
If anything, we could learn to better trust the wisdom we do have.
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.
If I were Paul’s editor–and I often wish I were–I’d tell him to rework this sentence. It’s clunky, isn’t it? If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Grammar and writing-style aside, Paul’s intent is clear–living peaceably with all is hard work. And living peaceably with all requires the participation of all. “So far as it depends on you”….You do your part. Others will have to do theirs.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves…No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In these final verses, we hear Paul’s word to a persecuted people. As a community, we can only imagine the kind of persecution he’s talking about. Our calling as a faith community that does not experience persecution is to stand with those who do experience it.
Folks from our community did that twice last Sunday. Early in the afternoon, nine of us attended an event at Temple Kol Emeth to mark the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank. We did so to stand in solidarity with one who was wrongly accused then murdered by a lynch mob. Later last Sunday afternoon, four other folks from Pilgrimage attended the premier of a documentary called Unconditional, which illustrates the plight of homeless LGBTQ teenagers. It was another way of standing in solidarity with those who experience persecution.
After 3 months of trying to grow deeper into community together, it’s heartening to read this quintessential passage on Christian community and find our community in nearly every verse. On your bulletin cover is a label with a phrase from Romans 12. The invitation is to do something with that phrase this next week—act it out, offer thanks for the way it’s done in this community, draw a picture of it. Anything to engage what’s listed.
It’s been heartening to find the Pilgrimage community in every verse of Romans 12, but ultimately, growing deeper into community isn’t an end in itself, but a means to an end. The end of Christian community is reaching outside this community to share the good news of God’s love with others. As much fun as we’ve had this summer, as much as we’ve learned about and practiced growing deeper into community, the point of it all has been to strengthen this community so that we can share God’s love with the larger community.
We already do that in many ways. And I’m sure we’ll come up with many other ways. Beginning today, we’ll have a little assistance.
Let me say from the get-go, this is a fund-raiser. Our new PUCC magnets cost $10 apiece. This isn’t a plug for you to buy one…though if you are so inclined. J I want to speak about the magnets in more symbolic terms.
Think of it as taking everything you’ve learned about and experienced of community in this place and sharing it with everyone you meet. The magnet will stick to your car; but the love of this place, that will stick to you. Just as people in a parking lot might see this magnet and, curious about what PUCC means, step closer to read the fine print, as you take the love of this place with you, may people lean in to get a closer look and learn what this love is all about.
Just as the fine print shows others how to get to our website, we have the opportunity to share with them how we have experienced God’s love in this place….which is the whole point.
Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, we’ve done a great job this summer of growing deeper into this community. Now it’s time turn our energies toward growing out into the larger community. Because there are folks who are aching to hear the good news that God’s love is for them….and after the summer we’ve had, we can tell them all about it!
As we sing together our community hymn, four folks are going to give us a “hand” in finishing our beautiful community banner.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.