Romans 12:1-8

Sermon Title: Romans 12:1-8
Date: 27/08/2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Reading: Romans 12:1-8

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Well, in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” referring to himself.  He then follows up this question with “But who do you say that I am?”  Our Gospel reading today points to the significance of identity.  Identity. How we see ourselves, in the context of our world and our society, is crucial to our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.  And we’ve seen this point played out over recent weeks in our very own Parliament with various member’s identity coming into dispute.  Are they Australians? New Zealanders? British? I’m not sure just how healthy these various individuals are feeling at the moment, let alone the whole body or party in question.  And I expect that we will all be watching with varying degrees of interest how this issue of national identity plays out over the coming weeks and months.

This concept of identity and how important it is, both individually and collectively, is the key theme running through our New Testament reading in Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 12.  It’s a fabulous reading and so relevant today, in both the concepts it presents and the language that it uses.  In these 8 verses, we also have two direct lifts into our own liturgy.  In verse 1 Paul coins the phrase “living sacrifice” when he appeals to “brothers and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”.  And further down in the reading, we find Paul saying at verse 5, “we, who are many, are one body” which is also said at the breaking of the bread during the Eucharistic prayer.  So today, I want to look more closely at identity, Christian identity, as Paul sees it in this reading.  Particularly, the three ways that he looks at our identity: as children of God, as members of a Christian community and as gifted individuals.

Well, Paul’s letter to the Romans was written during his later ministry after two decades of missionary work.  It reflects the mature reasoning of his practical and resolute faith.  Verses 1-8 of chapter 12 present us with the opening to the 2nd part of the letter.  Having laid ground and developed his rationale in the first 11 chapters, Paul delivers his punchlines in these last 5 chapters and his opening lines are:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  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 good and acceptable and perfect.

What an opening!  Paul is saying that our identity as the children of our amazing creator God means that we worship God with everything that we have. We are an embodied people. We interact with this created world with our bodies. Here at St Pauls, in our worship, we raise our voices in song, we listen to the Word with our ears, and we hold out our hands to each other at the greeting of the peace and to receive the Eucharist.  As children of God, the embodiment of our worship is holy and acceptable to God and in this process we are transformed.  As children of God, our minds are renewed and with that spiritual connection to God, we can discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Our identity as children of God is secure if we live out our worship of God into our every day, embodied lives.

But what does this mean? Well, Paul says do not be conformed to this world and I have to agree with him.  When I look at our modern western world with its intolerance of diversity, dominating materialistic and consumeristic values, and increasing gap between the haves and the have nots, I wonder how does this align with the values taught by Jesus?  Well it doesn’t! Living as children of God means that we embrace a different set of values. A set of values that includes hospitality, generosity, acceptance of difference and loving kindness to all.  Acting out these values in our everyday lives, taking on this identity in Christ, becomes our worship of our awesome God. It transforms us.

In verses 4-5, Paul then goes on to talk about our identity in community as the body of Christ.

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.

Paul continues writing using the same language and this time presents the word body as a metaphor for Christian community.  I love that Paul recognizes the inherent diversity of our gifts. He actually has an expanded version of these verses in 1 Corinthians 12 where he talks about these differences, talking about the eyes and ears, the hands and the feet.  But his message is the same. As a community, we need each other and we are stronger because of our diversity.

Here at St Paul’s, we define ourselves collectively through our vision as a “caring community of Christ, worshipping God, engaging the community and building connections between people of all ages and cultures”.  Our mission is to “radiate the compassion and love of God not only in our faces but also by our actions in worship, teaching, music and outreach”.  Wow, how is that for a statement of community identity?  It sounds to me like a direct reflection of our reading from Paul today.

And lastly, Paul goes on to talk about the gifts given to us through the grace of God. In verses 6-8, he speaks of our individual identity as described by our gifts and their functions.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

What are your gifts?  Have you thought about this lately and how you could use them for the benefit those around you?  I’m liking the idea of being compassionate and cheerful but suspect I might be more of an exhorter! And in truth, I expect that we all have varying measures of these gifts and that makes for a beautiful diversity and mixture in our community.

So what is Paul’s challenge to us today? Well, his vision for Christian community was that each and every member of the body exercise their gifts in such a way as benefited the whole community.  He calls us to discern with “sober judgement” how best to use our gifts.  Perhaps it’s a good time to consider what our gifts are, both as individuals and as community.  Perhaps it’s time to think about how we enact and live out our vision and mission and how as a community we build those connections and interact and engage with the broader community around us.  Let’s nurture our gifts ad blessings to the glory of God for the spiritual health of ourselves and our communitites.

Let us pray:

Loving and Gracious God, we give you thanks that you have created us all with different gifts and blessings. We pray that as we worship you with our whole bodies and minds, that you will renew us and transform us.  We pray that as we journey through the next days and weeks, that we will better understand our identity, as individuals, as community, and as members of the body of Christ.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.