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A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City Mo., on August 28, 2011.

Romans 12:9-21

There’s nothing more irksome than someone who should be a person of integrity, a person we trust, being found out as a fraud. Occasionally we hear that polls have been taken of professions we trust the most and those we trust the least. The lists vary from time to time so the list is subject to change but guess who was the most trusted profession? Firefighters! In the last ten years since 9/11, firefighters have moved into the limelight. Perhaps it’s all in the job description—being required to step into the face of danger every time they head out for a fire … it’s not just that it’s admirable, it’s downright heroic! They get the highest marks but are followed by teachers, doctors and nurses.

Guess whom we distrust the most? That’s right, it’s the politicians! They’ve moved up the list in the last couple of years and I suspect we think that’s as it should be. Next on the list are car salespeople, lawyers, journalists, bankers and mechanics.

But what about being a Christian? Are Christians persons others trust or do they mistrust us because we fail to live up to the faith? This text from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is about a faith that’s lived with integrity and the wish that we grow out of our hypocrisy.

Romans 12:9-21

         Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.

10        Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11        Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Consider a time when you acted out of a deep and authentic place within yourself. What enabled you to act in a genuine way?

All:      “Let our love and our living be genuine.”

12        Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

13        Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14        Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

All:      “Let our love and our living be genuine.”

15        Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

16        Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

All:      “Let our love and our living be genuine.”

17        Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

18        If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

All:      “Let our love and our living be genuine.”

19        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.’

20        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.’

21        Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

All:      “Let our love and our living be genuine.”

I

In our day, we’ve rediscovered the value of wisdom literature. We have several versions of a number of those collections of wisdom sayings at our house that are a “fun read” when you only have a minute. Here are a few I gleaned from Life’s Little Instruction Book:

Wave at children on a school bus.

When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go.

Avoid any church that has cushions on the pews and is considering building a gymnasium.

Take your dog to obedience school, you’ll both learn a lot.

Loosen up. Relax.

Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems.

Read carefully anything that requires your signature

… Remember, the big print giveth and the small print taketh away. [1]

The Jewish Scriptures are filled with a whole section of writings called “Wisdom Literature.” They are sayings that inspire about God and to educate us for virtue. Typically Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are known as books from the “wisdom writings” collection (though some include the Psalter). The books of wisdom are not exclusive for wisdom as the Jews included wisdom sayings in many of their writings. Pay attention and you’ll see them everywhere. Some have even argued that Ruth and Jonah should be included as well because they are wisdom stories told to make a point and to inspire.

Wisdom is both universal and timeless, and they march across the centuries and speak to us even today. Because of this universal appeal, the collector of wisdom knew no boundaries of race, culture or tribe. They gathered their sayings from Egypt, Babylon, Greece and all over the known world. The originality came when those slogans were applied in the melting pot of the belief in one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The bottom line is that the true source of wisdom is God, and the only way to truly live these truths in daily life is to have a close relationship with God.[2]

These words from Paul build on the tradition of the Hebrew wisdom Scriptures and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Paul condenses the wisdom of being a new believer in Christ and gathers all these pearls of wisdom into a pithy collection we might call, “Proverbs for the New Church.” In being short and to the point, they are memorable. It’s easy to get a handle on their message because they’re so easy to carry with you. You could easily print these off and post them where you could see them and reflect upon them further.

II

The twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is a pivotal chapter. The lessons come after writing of the major doctrinal beliefs in the first eleven chapters. Chapter 12 turns the corner toward a more practical section on the ethical demands of living the faith in a modern world. He moves his letter through the collection of the church’s teachings – what we would call “orthodoxy,” or the “right teachings of the faith.” Now, he lays out a primer on “right living,” known as “orthopraxy.”

Most people look upon the teachings of the church and largely consider them “writ in stone.” The truth of the matter is that even the church’s theology has been dynamic. After the resurrection of Jesus and the formation of the first church at Pentecost, it wasn’t long before there was a controversy among people of faith over “right belief.” In fact, there has never been a time when the faith wasn’t being worked on, hammered on, and being refined.

Even today there are some strong currents at work in the ocean of Christian faith. We are uneasy about the church’s beliefs about mixing politics and faith. In truth, there are those who worry about this while others think, “What’s the big deal?”

Does the church have one teaching on those issues? No! As believers, we are then struck with the issue of how to respond. How do we connect with one another as people of faith who have opposing viewpoints? Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was written to a mixed group of believers, comprised of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. It was written to appeal to their sense of love. He lays out his litany of beliefs by resorting to the higher laws of love and Christian unity. Jesus Christ, the centrality of our faith is the measuring stick for how we maintain relationships with one another and with others outside the faith.

III

While there is not a coherent pattern to the sayings, there is a sense in which Paul’s “sound bites” are directed to the church. First, he wants the Christians who comprise the church in Rome to love one another. Here’s how Eugene Peterson takes Paul’s message and passes them on to those of us in the church today:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.

Run for dear life from evil; Hold on for dear life to good.

Be good friends who love deeply.

Practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

Be alert servants of the Master; cheerfully expectant.

Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

Help needy Christians, be inventive in hospitality.[3]

But the wisdom doesn’t stop there. Paul wanted the church to be able to relate to the world of unbelievers. These believers in Rome had already tasted of the government’s retribution. The Emperor in Rome had already expelled the Jews from Rome, including the Jewish Christians. They were forced to flee for their lives. After a few years of persecution, they were allowed to return. With that in mind, hear the words of Paul:

“Bless your enemies, no cursing under your breath.

Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy;

Share tears when they’re down.

Get along with each other; don’t be stuck up.

Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.

Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do.

‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry,

go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink.

Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.

Don’t let evil get the best of you, get the best of evil by doing good.”

As people of the Way, we are to live fully in our identity as “little Christs” and to live the way of love. May it be so.

[1] H. Jackson Brown, Life’s Little Instruction Book, Nashville TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1991

[2] Etienne Chapentier, How to Read the Old Testament, New York: Crossroad, 1989, 80

[3] Eugene Peterson, The Message, Navpress, 1995

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