IN: Being a Church Community, Romans 12:1-13, February 20th 2022

IN: Being a Church Community, Romans 12:1-13, February 20th 2022

Romans 12 – In: Community

2nd Sunday before Lent.

By John Harris

We continue our series on the ‘Up, In, and Out’ values of All Saints. Last week Peter started the series speaking on the topic of – Out. If we practice the Out, and invite people to a Sunday service, we need a community that is healthy and open to welcome people into.

So today we focus on the topic of ‘In’ exploring the idea of being a welcoming community. Community is more than about having a nice time together, or about getting on well together and having fun, it is about who we are, creating a space where people feel at home in. Community is a part of God’s purpose for the people of God.

Paul in the letter to the Romans writes to a church that has a diverse group of people – Jewish and Gentile Christians, men and women, slaves and free, the Gentiles were most likely from different backgrounds as well. It would appear that in the Roman church there was this tension over how the different groups saw one another – Jewish Christians thinking they were better than Gentile Christians and visa-versa, or perhaps masters looking down on servants. The challenge for the Roman church was how as followers of Jesus were they build community and maintain unity while embracing their differences?

So what does Romans 12 say to us?

12.1 – Paul opens with the instruction to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice and be transformed by the renewal of your minds
• The way that Jewish Christians thought about Gentiles, the law, worship outside of the sacrificial system needed to be renewed and transformed.
• For Gentile Christians the way they thought about Jews, about holiness in life and worship, about the pagan sacrificial system they had been a part of also needed to be transformed.
• Much of the Christian journey of discipleship is about allowing the Spirit of God to transform us more and more into the likeness of Jesus individually and as a church – a significant part of that transformation is allowing our minds to be renewed
• Here at All Saints we too have a gathering of a diverse group of people coming from different nations, different languages and also different Christian traditions – in what ways do our minds need to be renewed as it relates to community? Perhaps certain cultural stereotypes, or attitudes towards different church traditions and practices, towards welcoming the newcomer
• Just as the Roman church needed their minds renewed by the work of the Spirit to bring it more in line with what God’s will for them each of us can ask the Spirit to show us where we need our mind to be renewed.

In 12.3 Paul builds on this idea of being transformed by specifying one way that they need to allow the Spirit to transform them – they should not think of themselves more highly than others. How easy it is to think of ourselves more highly than others, often in unconscious simple ways without intending to do so – more spiritual, better gifts, the ways we serve, the jobs we have, how well we speak a language. In all these ways we can subtly set up distinctions between ourselves and others that doesn’t help welcome the newcomer, build unity, or work towards a sense of building a spiritual home.

To challenge this attitude Paul returns to one of his favourite images for the church in 12.4-5 – the human body as an image for the body of Christ. According to Paul you and I are in this together – whether we like it or not. We are a part of this body – both locally as well as globally. We are many different parts of one body, different functions but we all belong to each other.

Perhaps look at it in a fun way – imagine you are the part of a human body what part would you be? – a leg that enables you to stand, walk or run, a hand that serves, a nose that breathes, a heart that keeps pumping, a kidney or liver? Take a look around and what do you see – other legs, arms, hands, hearts and even kidneys? With our own bodies we need to do certain things to grow and remain healthy – none of this happens by accident, especially as you grow older.

As a church if we are to grow and remain a healthy community, if we are to create an environment where we can invite our friends or workmates to and know they will feel welcome and find their place, if we are to deepen our relationships with one another and be spiritually healthy we also need to do certain things. Paul’s point is that each of us belong together as one functioning whole –each of us have a part to play in creating and maintaining this healthy body. This is God’s design and vision for God’s people.

Paul then shifts to the practical ‘how’ in verses 6-8 – how do we build and maintain this healthy body, this healthy, welcoming community? As in his first letter to the Corinthian church Paul follows this body reference with a list of spiritual gifts – grace gifts given by the Spirit to equip and build up the church. Each gift is needed, each gift plays a vital role within the community keeping it healthy and vital. Knowing our gift and using our gifts, encouraging others in their gifts, all have their part to play in building up this body, serving God and each other. What you bring to make the body stronger is different to what I bring, which is different to what someone else brings – we need those differences to be effective. Perhaps if you are comfortable look around you and as you see people say to them – we need each other. God is calling all of us to bring who we are (our personality, character, experience) and what we have (time, spiritual gifts, knowledge) to make the body stronger.

In Romans 12.9 Paul moves from talking about the body and gifts to another of his favourite topics – love. He does the same in his letter to the Corinthians. Why? If the Spirit unites us, it is love that acts as the glue to hold relationships together. The danger Paul wants to avoid is doing community and using our gifts out of duty. To prevent this from just being an obligation our gifts are to be exercised in love. Without love it all makes no sense, a clanging gong Paul says in 1 Corinthians. The gifts lose their spiritual value, and it becomes less about relationship and more about performing an action.

This love, says Paul, is to be sincere – the Greek sense of the word is – without hypocrisy. Love is not for show but genuine. As our minds are renewed, as we regard one another in an honouring way, as we use our gifts to serve one another, and play our part, we get to know one another and create an environment where love can grow in a genuine, authentic way.

Love according to Paul is not just a feel-good emotion – it has a practical outworking. In 12.10-13 Paul provides some of those practical examples of love –
• love cherishes what is good – it is good to seek unity and gather for worship, to encourage each other, to ask how someone is doing, to listen to understand one another, to serve one another using our gifts, to pray for each other, to participate in a life group to build relationship and grow spiritually
• love is devoted to and honours the other person – we can do this as we use our gifts to build each other up, as we speak with someone we haven’t spoken to before, pray for one another, carry another’s burden, as we create space for difference
• it shares with those in need – we care for those in our community who have needs – the poor, the sick, the lonely, we journey with who struggle with doubts and questions
• love is faithful in prayer – as we pray for our church, each other persistently we contribute to building the body
• and offers hospitality – we welcome the newcomer, share hospitality with one another, we create a sense of home and family not just on Sunday but during the week as well for those who live away from family

This is the practical outworking of love. The list can seem idealistic but that doesn’t mean we don’t try as a church to move more and more into this. We are limited only by our imagination.

Community and relationship are not easy. It can be uncomfortable at times to speak to someone new, and I confess my own shortcomings in this. Yet as we offer ourselves to God, allow the Spirit to renew our minds, embrace who we are as a diverse body united in Christ, bound together in love, we will grow more and more into the welcoming and warm community that God desires us to be and fulfilling God’s vision and purposes for us as a church.

Shall we pray…