“The Marks of Faith”
Romans 12: 9-21, August 21st, 2029
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, contained in the New Testament in Romans, chapter twelve, verses nine through twenty-One.”
9 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
“Having listened with our ears to this ancient writing, let us now open our hearts to consider what it takes to live our faith with integrity!”
“The Marks of Faith”
The “Marks of Faith” have become a theme within our United Church of Christ. This theme can help describe the marks of effective ministry, at every level. I will not endeavor to write about what has already been written, other then to simple say, this passage from Paul’s letter to the struggling new church in Rome, which the Apostle Paul help start, was meant to reaffirm the markings of effective ministry of a people of faith! You and me, we live in a world which is so desperately in need of effective ministry – to heal the brokenness of a people – who have diligently strived to follow the teachings of the God of their ancestors. We might ask ourselves how this has come to be? It is a question we must search out in our hearts personally. Only when we as individuals learn the truth about ourselves shall we be able to begin correcting that which is broken within us. Only then can we begin to be, a part of the solution to the community, the society, and to the nation we live within. Then, as a people, we can once again begin to be part of a world order which has become more and more dependent on its relationships with other societies; just as we individually need to continually build our relationships with one another. We must endeavor to begin doing this if we truly want to become whole and effective members of a faith community. Only then, will we be able to fully embrace our God given abilities and continue to enhance our efforts to serve the needs of people throughout the world.
Even as we worship the one God who reigns over us all, we realize that there are numerous religious groups spread across the globe! No, they are not all Christians. We shall not endeavor to critique the religions of the world, other than to say, each sect believes that they have captured the true understanding of the ‘Prime Deity’ of humankind! We each profess one ultimate truth: there is only one God! On this all legitimate and reasonable concepts of a God centered religious sect – agree. Albeit we all fall prey to the ‘devil’ within which allows us to fall pray, to the self-centeredness of humankind. It is that devilish undisciplined child within which believes, contrary to all religious teachings, that the universe revolves around our selfish personal wants, desires, and yes, our own personal needs. When humankind lets this type of thinking which causes us to be void of any honest concern for others, or to have compassion for the marginalized within and without our realm of the world, we are not following the guidelines of any true teachings of a God; a God that clearly loves humankind, despite our wrinkles and defects of character. Today’s lesson from Paul’s letter gives a struggling religious gathering, the basic rudiments of faith, which godly people can build from. So, let us be clear, without some of the basics of what, me and you, what we have come to know as Christianity, we will be lacking many attributes of basic religious beliefs. Paul simply wants to be sure those following his guidance will be armed with the fundamentals by which a lasting and authentic journey of faith can prosper and grow. Thus, our focus will be to look at the Christian understanding as we look for the marks of authentic discipleship; in our case, we are speaking of being students of Christ.
In the preceding verses of this chapter in which we find today’s reading, Paul gives a little of his teaching on our being but ‘one piece,’ one part of the larger whole. He is of course speaking of the body of Christ. A great many of us are familiar with the teaching. “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 members one of another.” /Romans 12:4-5/ It is a simple lesson taught by every branch of Christianity to be sure; and the fundamentals of this teaching are instilled in the workings of any organized religious group, at some level or another. Non-religious groups, as well, use this simple concept. Look at virtually any successful enterprise and you will see forms of clarity around each, and every, function of the organization. Who does what, when, where and for what purpose? These are points that are agreed upon and usually, in our modern society written down for clarity. No one wants everyone doing the same thing all day or night, accomplishing only one aspect of the organization. Chaos would surely ensue! Unfortunately, this seems to be something that needs to be taught over, and over, again, as chaos is often part of organizations and is very unhealthy for any group or fellowship to allow this to go uncorrected. Consequently, we can assume the church in Rome which Paul was writing to, needed some guidance in this regard!
Paul dives into today’s teaching, addressing his listeners that once they, once we have a logical organizational structure, we shall then need a few basic concepts accepted by all members of the body, the organization, fellowship, and even down to the committees, including even the smallest task groups who become empowered to complete a project or organize a function. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” /Romans: 12:9/ This lesson goes way beyond Paul’s conversation to a small struggling church! These words of wisdom can be applied to the rudiments of any organization or group of folks within a society! Just imagine applying this simple lesson to those we entrust with things which are important to us. Within these organizations we put our trust in them believing they ‘are capable’ of accomplishing those things they are responsible for! Most of us count on our banker to keep our money safe; that is their primary responsibility, otherwise we would need to store all our cash in a safe under our bed or in the bedroom closet. Can you imagine your insurance company, say for your car, forgetting to set up your policy with collision insurance and you do not realize this till after you total that new car! Picture an eye that refuses to see, merely because it was too lazy to open – even when the body needed to have its sight operational! Or imagine a hand that chooses to not lift a finger because it was too tired, or simply not willing to follow the directions of the bodies brain! Trust is an important ingredient to any relationship!
Without trust, things begin to crumble. Yet, isn’t it great, that trust is alive and well in every level of our society today! (pause) Truth be known, we know this is not the case. Let us go back and take a much deeper, a much closer look at what our Apostle tells us. He starts with genuine love, which does not exist if we are looking to take advantage of someone; especially if it is destructive to the other person’s wellbeing! Rather, Paul is telling all those that are open to hearing and accepting his guidance that we ought to hate what is evil. And clearly taking advantage of another is not good and if not good than unkind, distasteful, and just plain horrible! Evil is clearly the opposite of good! Paul stresses harmony in relationships and in our interactions with others. If we become untrustworthy then we shall not be in harmony with the people in our lives and when this happens, we get further and further apart. Unlike ‘social distancing’ (which is important in a pandemic) this is contrary to building a better society. If we continue down this road, pulling away from one another, rather than build a healthier community, an enhanced union, we shall continue to drift further and further away from the rudiments of the marks, the characteristics of faith! This is what the Apostle is talking about! Paul is talking about how we are to bolster our faith, making us better students, better followers of Christ!
If you and I, if we really want a better tomorrow, then we must work on it today! Not tomorrow, as our tomorrows sometimes elude us, and our yesterdays are beyond our grasp. Our lesson today is urging us to pay attention to the basic concepts of our faith; taught through Jesus himself, and his life is a living example of the Marks of Faith. This is where Paul gets his insights! Although the Apostle Paul never personally was taught by Jesus, his conversion on the road to Damascus by the Risen Christ and his subsequent training in the ‘Way’ indoctrinated him in the teachings of Jesus. His extensive evangelical work to ‘we’ gentiles, made him a leading theological leader in the Christian movement. His subsequent writings have been a major influence in the spread of Christianity throughout the world. To this day, Christianity turns to Paul’s letters as churches seek integrity and stability in the changing paradigm of the Christian Church.
Today’s writing gives us a model by which to judge ourselves as we strive to be the true model of the new ‘Way’ of understanding the scriptures, with particular attention to the teachings of Christ as taught by Jesus and passed forward to the Apostle Paul! In the early development of Christianity, the Disciples, the Apostles, spoke of the movement as the ‘Way!’ Just as Martin Luther did not think of his theses, nor his distancing himself from the ‘absolute’ authority of the Pope, during the time period of the ‘reformation’ in the Fourteenth Century,” as the beginning of Protestantism. Rather he still considered himself a part of the Roman Catholic Church! Likewise, it was with the followers of Jesus. They believed Him to be the Christ, the Messiah, therefor they were still of the Jewish Faith. Yet, more Jews did not believe this than did believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Consequently, they spoke of their movement as the ‘Way.’ We too, follow the teachings of the ‘Way,’ giving credit to the Apostle Paul for bringing the stories, the teachings and the living example of Jesus’ life to us, thereby, giving us – the tools of effective ministry! Today, we have spoken of these attributes as the “Marks of Faith!”
Paul closes out his lesson essentially, in verse eighteen of our lesson.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peacefully with all.” /Romans 12:18/ His teachings seek to unify humanity – not divide it. He saw this in the life and ministry of Jesus – as was passed on to him! At his own peril, he endeavored to pass these teachings forward to us, us gentiles (non-Jews). Paul even wrote many of his letters while in prison and was ultimately executed by the Romans. When someone dies at the hands of others… for what they believe, it is worth while to listen to what they had to say! Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” /Romans:12:12/ Let us also persevere in prayer. God knows there is a lot of work left to be done. Let us stay faithful to the writings of Paul, as he diligently seeks to pass on to us: the true meaning of the teachings of Jesus. Even as the Marks on Jesus’ feet and hands, remind us of the commitment He made to show us how to live out our faith; likewise, it is believed, the Apostle Paul, ultimately, was forced to endure the marks of crucifixion at his end also.