In the letter to the Romans, Paul, is writing to a group of people he had not yet met. He is not writing to some large cathedral like St. Peters in Rome/ There were no churches, only small groups of Christians meeting in households. They are struggling with how to live their faith in the heart of Roman Imperialism. They were living a pretty modern question. How do you live faith, in a culture where much is in opposition to your values?
Itâ€™s what the United Church and churches around the world are struggling with. How to live as minorities of faith in what more and more Christians are calling modern empire; this time not limited to one nation but rather a complex web, an interrelated system that is increasingly militaristic, and violent, globalized, dominated by money; culturally and environmentally destructive, It feels overwhelming!
To the Roman church Paul says: â€œDo not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God.â€ A really powerful statement. Respond not by fear and protectionism, but by the power of love says Paul- A kind of passive resistance to violence and evil – Disentangle your conformity to destructive cultural values which Paul calls â€œthe worldâ€; refuse to be formed, co-opted or defined by it. Live a different reality rooted and growing in Godâ€™s love. That is a radical statement… And it is hard work.
Paul suggests that no one does this alone, but only as part of loving community. Be a community in loving resistance, Paul tells them, in the way you live, in the way you love, in the way you unlock your spiritual gifts and use them. â€œLove from the centre of who you are, donâ€™t fake itâ€ says Paul. Then he goes on to speak of perseverance through hard times, Maintain a healthy expectancy about life, Rejoice in hope. Help those in need, Embrace those whom the culture have labeled â€œnobodiesâ€, and donâ€™t let evil get the best of you, get the best of evil by doing good.â€
To live like this, Paul says, community is essential. He uses again his powerful metaphor about church being the body of Christ, â€œ For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function so we who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are all members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to usâ€…….
Paul goes on to list the gifts he saw in the Roman church….the gift of prophecy….which is the power to speak out Godâ€™s truth to the world. An aside: If you want to see the gift of prophecy in action, you need look no further than what is going on in Burma where Buddhist monks have courageously led the people in peaceful demonstrations against one of the most brutal regimes in the world. These monks and nuns have spoken with their presence, a powerful message of a call for peace and justice. We witness helplessly the violent response….. evocative of the crucifixion in our Christian language, as the empire rises up against these men and women of peace as it did so long ago.
We exercise the gift of prophecy when we speak out for refugees, like the young people from Chad whom we are befriending. Or when we write letters about Health Care deterioration, and rising child poverty in the face of 14 billion dollar surpluses. The church continues to need the gift of prophecy Paul writes about. It is a spiritual gift.
Paul goes on to speak about the gifts the community needs to keep the body healthy….Gifts of ministry, of teaching, of preaching, of giving in generosity. of leading, of compassionate healing. He pleads for genuine love, for rejoicing in hope, for patience in suffering, perseverance in prayer, for walking with those who are suffering, for reaching out to the forgotten, for living in harmony, for generosity in giving, for hospitality to strangers; for living in peace with one another. If a church can live from this kind of alternate vision; if it can call out these gifts, and orient them together in love, then indeed it is a community of loving resistance, refusing to be conformed by the values of the world, but transformed by the love of God we witness in Jesus Christ.
During his lifetime, Christ reached out with love and compassion and healing. He preached a message that invited people into reconciliation with God. He called people to be part of the kingdom of God. And he saw this kingdom alive in the simplest ways wherever God was breaking into the life of the world; like yeast rising up to leaven the mass of dough; like a seed growing silently in the dark earth; like treasure buried in a field, waiting for the right time to be found; like the gift of the young child who offered his 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread in simple belief that his gift could make a difference.
Jesus comforted and healed the sick, approached the outcast, noticed the unseen. He spoke truth hard to hear for some. He criticized evil, and economic disparity. He criticized those who paid lip service to God but did not act in ways that put their words into action. He challenged those who thought they had God in their back pockets while drawing lines around themselves to exclude unclean outsiders.
He reached out to those whom the culture labeled worthless or even untouchable- prostitutes, lepers, women, the poor, children, tax collectors. He called them children of God and challenged them to use their gifts; gifts they did not know they even had. He reached out to the rich and the powerful inviting them to a new spirit of aliveness. A young ruler was challenged to sell all that he had to give to the poor. Zaccheaus was offered healing through returning the excess of taxes he had extorted from the poor; Pharisees were challenged to see beyond the rigid letter of the law to the spirit of love at its root. The rich were challenged to open their doors to the poor, to offer water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, a coat to those who had nothing. The Jesus way broke down the barriers between rich and poor-between insiders and outsiders; between men and women; between holy and secular.
The community who follow him, whether it is in first century Rome, or 21st Century Pointe Claire, is challenged to live out ministry in tune with this life of Jesus; to embody Christ in communities of healing and reconciliation, to proclaim good news, in a bad news world; to confront injustice, to offer hope. Ministry means we make a difference with our lives. Ministry means recognizing and using the gifts that God has given us, for the building up of the body of Christ, for the building up Godâ€™s love offered through the church to the community and the world. Some of us will be prophets, crying out for justice. Others will be healers, pastoral care givers, a listening ear to honour anotherâ€™s story. Some will be teachers to pass on what we have learned. Others will be organizers, administrators, caring for the structures that allow community to thrive. Some will have the gift of prayer; others the gift of creativity in music, or dance or art. Some will garden, or cook for Meals on Wheels, or read scripture, or make banners.
There is no one in this room who is not called to ministry. There is no one in this room who has not been given spiritual gifts for ministry. There is no one in this room who is not called to discern those gifts, to grow in them, and to use them so that Godâ€™s love can be channeled into the world. What gifts has God given you, that God wants you to use to build up the ministry of Cedar Park? At our Stewardship Fair after church, there will be lots of opportunities offer your gifts to the community. Yâ€™all come.