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The Life We Create -- Romans 12:1-12 (Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost)




When reading Scripture, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to the “therefores.”


Back in college, I learned an inductive method of Bible study – a method that empowers each of us to look at the text – any Scripture – notice what we see – and to ask questions and to learn and to go from there. Dianna Paulk – the Methodist Sunday School teacher who taught this inductive method – would have us take a printout of the Scripture passage and a set of colored pencils – and sit with the scripture and circle the main words and concepts we were seeing – each in a different color – so we could start to see patterns. We circled any mention of God – Creator, Christ, Spirit – to see what God was up to in the scripture. We’d note socio-economic and historical things that raised questions for us or seemed important – things we wanted to follow up on. And, we’d note the ways the sentences were structured – particularly the connecting words – the “ifs, ands, and buts” and the “therefores.” Because those connecting words mark movement in the text – contrasts between ideas – the connection of thoughts in a series – and often, the big important points in the argument or the big moments in the story.


And among those connecting words, “therefore” is the big one. “Therefore” signals a connection, a transition, a movement into a summation, a main point. “Therefore” takes everything that has come so far – everything that is up to this point – the “there” – and it projects it on out into the future – the “fore” – the “what comes next.”


There. Fore.


This. Therefore. That.


This morning’s Scripture in the 12th chapter in Romans begins with “therefore.” It is a big transition in what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s biggest letter.


Paul’s letter to the church in Rome – Romans – is his magnum opus. We have to imagine – Paul is this scrappy, dynamic apostle who is scrambling around the known Mediterranean world – bringing Good News that keeps him on the move, fired up every day – the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.[1] The even better Good News, for Paul, is that this love is for everyone – male and female, Jew and Gentile, enslaved and free, all gender, all people. So he goes from city to city – creating communities – helping establish churches – and then on to the next – and then he writes letters back to these churches he loves, helping them sort out their problems. Like the letters to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians.


The Letter to the Romans is a bit different; it is a letter to a church Paul hopes to visit. He wants to go to the heart of the Empire – to Rome – to the center of the known world – and bring the Good News there. So he writes to the early believers in Rome – to introduce himself – and he pours out everything he believes.


That’s the first 11 chapters of Romans. Paul writes: What God has been doing across history, God continues to do in Jesus Christ. God loves us with a love that is generated and available through grace – it flows from God’s action first, out into ours. The law we have known is now summed up in that love. And there is nothing that can separate us from that love – not life, not death, not the present, not the past, not height, nor depth, not any power, nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.


And breathlessly, the Apostle Paul gets to what we call chapter 12, and he says, “Therefore...” Therefore – because of all this – because of all the infinite ways that God loves us... therefore ... with all that you have learned: Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Therefore, be transformed. Be re-created. Paul writes: All the words I’ve just said, all that we have seen in Jesus Christ, all the love that we know – let your bodies live this out.


That’s Paul’s big “therefore,” the big transition into the big main point – the point of everything that has come before: The love that God has embodied for us in Jesus Christ – this grace that abounds – it comes to life now in us – in our bodies – in the life we create.


Now Paul uses the word “body” in two senses. God’s grace comes to life in our individual bodies. These bodies are the medium in which we experience and shape the world we live in – we live embodied lives. God creates and empowers us -- each of us – with grace-gifts to serve and transform and re-create the world.


And so Paul says: Live that out. If your gift is teaching, well then teach. If your gift is deacon-ing, well then deacon. If your gift is encouraging, then encourage. If your gift is leading, then lead diligently and thoughtfully. Every gift is needed. Every person is essential. Think of your gifts sensibly – don’t put yourself above others, but also don’t sell yourself and others short. We are one body, each a member of that body – we belong to each other, we need each other – we are fearfully and wonderfully made – to create together a life that loves the world.


And that’s the second sense that Paul uses “body.” Therefore, we are one body. All our bodies – together – in Christ – one body. This love that flows out from grace – transforms us – re-creates us into one body – one community – living, breathing, loving, serving, creating together as Christ’s own body. We’re interconnected, as one writer says, “in one body, as an example of the interdependency of life without hierarchy” – one body, each of us a valued member of that body, and of each other.[2]


And Paul shows us what that looks like in our bodies:

Let love be genuine.

Hate/reject what is evil; cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving God.

Be joyful in hope, 

patient in affliction, 

faithful in prayer.

Share with the God’s people who are in need.

Practice hospitality.


Here is all the love that God shows us in Jesus Christ. Therefore. Therefore, be transformed in your bodies so that as one body we might love and transform the world in the life we create together.


This summer, we’ve been on a journey exploring this theme: “Together We Create.”

· We’ve begun at the beginning, created by God in the image of God to join God in the work of creating.

· With Sarah and Hagar, we’ve wondered at how God creates with us beyond and through our imagining – how our lament – and the pain in the world – break something open and call us to re-create and repair and heal the world’s hurt.

· We’ve heard a call to freedom – to live in freedom for the freedom of others.

· We’ve considered God’s abundance – in the seeds that are sewn, and in the loaves and fishes that we bring to feed a hungry world.

· With Jacob and Joseph, we’ve given thanks for God’s presence and providence, accompanying and sustaining all that God has made.

· And we’ve considered Sabbath – the rhythms of rest and work that sustain our living.

· And we’ve heard – with Shiphrah, Puah, and the women who started the revolution – we’ve heard the call to breathe together and to conspire, to live lives where something is at stake, lives that set the whole world free.

So with all that, with all that we have learned, we find ourselves in the big “therefore” – with all that – with all that we have seen of God’s creating love at work in the world and in us – therefore – what is the life that we will create together? In our time? For the living of these days?

Now, we are thinking about that and already doing that in several different ways. About a month ago, we gave an update on the work of the Moving Forward Together team. We’ve been using a design process to think about how we might design our life through and beyond pandemic – and particularly how we might live out our life of worship, and of service in the world, and of connection. That process began with listening – the community had the chance to participate in a survey and in listening conversations. With what they’ve heard – the needs and the hopes of this community – the Moving Forward Together team has generated a list of over 90 ideas – big and small – for the days to come.


You’ve seen some of those already:

· The way that Natsuko, Vivian, and Daniel found a way last week to combine Natsuko’s organ and Vivian’s vocals in our congregational singing.

· There was last month’s Women’s Retreat – and inspired by that, you’re going to hear more about next month’s Women’s Breakfast.

· We’re thinking about how to re-start Sunday Seminars –

· and every Sunday we go through all the ways you can find to participate in our shared justice work.


Given the trajectory of the pandemic, Session has decided that our central worship will remain here on Zoom through the end of this year. But even as we continue to create new ways of doing that – the Moving Forward Together team has about 5 proposals before it of small projects that would begin to introduce some way for some folks to be in-person, particularly as we are permitted to outside:

· We hope to find a way to celebrate a baptism this fall. I will be with the family – probably in the Memorial Garden with the family – and the baptism will be part of our Zoom worship.

· We’re hoping to find a safe way that a duet or trio of musicians might be able to record some music outside for our Zoom worship.

· And we have a small outside memorial service to plan.


All of that has to be created in a way that is safe – and faithful – and beautiful.

We also have some bigger thinking to do. Something that is just starting to come into focus for me is that one of the most significant things that God has done in our midst these months is to empower us to create what I’m going to call a non-geographic community, a community that starts to transcend the boundaries of distance. I love worshipping every Sunday with folks from across the country and around the world – having folks who have moved away back in the midst of us, new friends who are now a part of this commnity.


As we think of “what is the life we will create together,” how will we continue to make those relationships even more meaningful? As we are able months from now to start somehow being in person – how do we create a blended non-geographic community, so that all are included and valued – so that everyone’s grace gifts are experienced and lived out together. Will we need to re-think entirely our concept of membership in a local church – and re-imagine even more expansively a full array of ways that folks can be a part of this body? How will we live even more expansively into that promise: “Wherever you are on your spiritual journey – wherever you are – there is a place for you here.”


That’s exciting – and something that hasn’t been done like this before.

And, of course, as we envision the life we will create – we join the rest of the world and this nation in engaging the anti-racism work that is ours to do. Dismantling systems that oppress and kill people of color, and building a new community where Black and Brown lives can thrive. Not being conformed to the world we have known for too long – but being part of God’s transforming of this world – in our bodies – for all bodies.


The Apostle Paul’s big “therefore” grounds us in the truth of God’s boundless love for the whole world – and then propels us into the transformed life that God is creating in us even now.


It is a big “therefore” – a global therefore – but also remember that this is a particular word for you and for me – in our bodies. And so I want to invite us into some time just sitting with this text – and seeing what we see, maybe pull out our mental colored pencils and circle what we see.


The Apostle Paul gives us a vision of the life we can create – and I’m going to put that up here on the screen, and invite us into prayer. As we read these invitations, these blessings... I invite you to notice: Which of these seem easier to do? Which seem more difficult? Which of these may be speaking to you, challenging you? What are these blessings calling you to do and to be?

–

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


Let love be genuine.

–

Hate/reject what is evil; cling to what is good.

–

Be devoted to one another in love.

–

Honor one another above yourselves.

–

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving God.

–

Be joyful in hope, 

–

patient in affliction, 

–

faithful in prayer.

–

Share with the God’s people who are in need.

–

Practice hospitality.


Friends, God loves us in Jesus Christ beyond all we could ever hope or imagine. In Jesus Christ, God loves us and saves us and the whole world from everything that does us harm. That love embraces everybody, and there is nothing that can separate us from that love. We are created in God’s image – created to create. Therefore, let love be genuine – may we be transformed – may God’s love for the whole world be embodied in our bodies – one body – in the life we create together to bless the world God loves.


© 2020 Scott Clark

[1] This understanding of the life and biography of the Apostle Paul follows Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Press, 2003). The understanding of Paul’s theology and ethics is influenced by the teaching of Professors Eugene Park and Herman Waetjen. See Eung Chun Park, Either Jew or Gentile (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003); Herman Waetjen, The Letter to the Romans: Salvation as Justice and the Deconstruction of Law (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011). [2] See Waetjen, p. 284

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