At Peace with All
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
July 27, 2014
Romans 12: 1-21 (CEB)
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Show video: “Reflections on the deaths that haunted us…”
If that was a secular, or humanitarian reasoning against war and strife, then what we come to in Romans chapter 12 this morning is the spiritual counter to violence and destruction. Keep that clip in mind as you hear now these words from Paul.
Read Romans 12: 1-21
There’s a lot going on in this twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I could probably preach twelve different sermons on this passage alone; what it means to be a living sacrifice, how each of us has different gifts to contribute to the work of the body of Christ, the ways we can offer hospitality to strangers, and on and on. But what I want to do this morning is to look at all of those things through the lens of this one statement from verse 18: “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all.” Because when I look at what is going on in the world around us, and when I hear these words from Paul, it seems we have here the key to turning the tide of violence, suffering, and strife in our world.
And it begins with self-sacrifice. It’s my observation that self-interest governs our actions far more than we realize. It really makes me wonder what this world would look like if we all offered ourselves completely sacrificially the way Christ did. This week, a gentleman was celebrating his birthday with friends at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. When the ticket came, he gave a birthday present to himself, a $1,000 tip to his waiter. “Happy birthday to me,” the man wrote on the check, “pay it forward!” Sure, the man called it a birthday present to himself, but it was also a gesture of generosity and sacrifice offered on behalf of another.
A similar thing happened on a flight a few years ago. I read a story about a woman who offered her first class seat to a soldier who was headed home from Iraq on a two-week leave. Pretty soon, all the folks booked in first class had switched out their seats with soldiers booked in coach. Here were these people making a gesture of sacrifice for the soldiers who everyday in Iraq put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens. Sacrifice frees us from the bonds of selfishness. It improves the lives of others. It unites us with others in a unique bond of shared experience. Sacrifice, though often difficult, lifts our spirits and the spirits of others, and it unveils signs of hope in the world.
But sacrifice also changes us. If we make sacrifice our way of life rather than selfishness, then we are living contrary to the ways of the world. And that’s the second key to living at peace with all. Paul says, “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 acceptable and perfect.” We know beyond any shadow of a doubt what God wants for this world. It’s laid out in scripture over and over again. God’s will for this world is good news, healing, release of the captives, justice, peace, mercy, and love. Because of what Christ has already accomplished on the cross, we are able to live according to God’s will, even as the world rages in chaos around us. But in order for that to happen, we have to live apart from the world, which means our minds must be transformed. We have to stop thinking like the world and instead think like God in Christ Jesus.
And thinking like Christ means that we don’t think of ourselves more highly than others. If there’s any one main key to peace in this world, I think this is it. Power and pride make us delusional, and we get these crazy ideas that somehow we are better than other people, and then we start attacking people that we see as less than us. But Paul says here that we are all members of the same family, parts of the same body, with unique gifts that are valuable in their own way. Scott Pelley called it our shared humanity in his commentary we saw earlier. I like to think of it as the imago Dei, the image of God that is part of every one of us simply by virtue of our status as people created by God. If I remember the image of God in the person who wronged me, how much easier is it to forgive them? If I remember the image of God in my enemy, how much harder is it to pull the trigger against them? If I remember the image of God in my neighbor, how can I think of myself as anymore important than that person? Simply put, I can’t. “Triggers are easily pulled when there is nothing clear in the sights,” Scott Pelley said. When we can see clearly the value, giftedness, and imago Dei, in every person then we cannot help but to live in peace with all.
But living at peace with others takes more than just recognizing and celebrating the good in others. It also means acting with generous good will toward everyone, even strangers. When Jesus hung on the cross, he sacrificed his life for all people. The twelve disciples who had followed him around for three years and knew all there was to know about him, the rulers who had condemned him as a criminal, all the people who had come before, and all the people who would follow….for all time. Christ didn’t have a personal relationship with you and me when he was crucified; we would have been like strangers to him then, but he died for us anyway. If Christ did that much for us, how much can we do for others? If we can send food to hungry children, how many little girls will that save from the sex trade, sold off by their families in order to feed the other children? If we can open our arms in hospitality to children who are fleeing violence in their home countries, how much more quickly will the cycle of violence end? When we sacrifice our own self-interests and offer generous hospitality to those in need, those we know and even those we don’t, we take another step toward living at peace with all.
But even more than just hospitality, living at peace with all also means acting in love at all times. “Let your love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Did you hear that? “Outdo one another in showing honor.” When do we ever do that?!? We try and outdo each other with our grades, or our salaries, or our physical prowess, or our spirituality. We want to be better than everyone else, don’t we? We don’t want to submit ourselves to others as we seek to honor what is good in them. Perhaps that’s what Paul follows this exhortation with reminders to “serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, [and] persevere in prayer.” The simple truth of the matter is; if we don’t put God first in our lives and stay constantly in communion with him through prayer, then we can’t do any of these things. It is in our relationship with God that we are reminded of who we are, and especially who we are in relationship to God and one another. When our eyes are opened to that reality, then we cannot help but to love and honor others.
Lots of other things fall into place, too, when we show love to others. That’s what this whole last paragraph of chapter twelve is about. If we love one another, then we cannot be proud, and we cannot help but to serve the lowly and downtrodden. If we love another person, then we cannot bear to hurt them, even if they have hurt us. If we love other people, we cannot avenge ourselves, and we can trust that God will take care of the evil that needs to be taken care of. Do you see where this is going? If we love other people, then we can feed even our enemies. And when we offer love and kindness to those who perpetuate evil in the world, what happens? Evil stops, doesn’t it? This cycle of violence responding to violence responding to violence—the cycle fills our news hour every evening—well, that cycle just ends! If we overcome evil with good, then good wins the day, and peace reigns!
Everyday we have a choice. We can be the people who sit with our proverbial “fingers on the triggers;” ready to shoot off at anyone who isn’t as good as us, or who disagrees with us, or who harms us in some way. Or, we can be a people who live transformed lives, not conformed to the ways of this world. We can sacrifice our own self-centeredness and instead celebrate the blessed, gifted, image of God in others. We can overcome evil with good. We can share hospitality and love to neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike. How we choose to live makes all the difference. It’s the difference between war and peace. It’s the difference between life and death. It’s the difference between stories about 298 souls being shot out of the sky, or stories of 298 souls being claimed by Christ.
When you turn on the news tomorrow night or next week, or a year from now, which story do you want to hear?
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
May it be so. Amen.