Dear Grads, Love Paul

While writing this sermon, I knew that I wanted to focus on the topic of the importance of community within the church. I wanted to be able to reflect on my 18 years here in a way that showed the importance of leaning on one another to grow as followers of the Way. Then I began to look for scripture that fit perfectly into the image that I had in my head. Unfortunately, actually no… Fortunately, we serve a God that very rarely leads us on a path that fits perfectly within our imagination. In looking for scripture, I found a verse in Romans 12, and then continued within the chapter. Then read the entire chapter, then read it again. It seemed to be a sermon in itself…. And then I deleted any progress I had made in my writing and began again with Romans 12 as a focus. So allow me to read it to you.

1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

3Because of the privilege and authority. God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

6In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

9Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;

I will pay them back,”

says the Lord.

20Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.

If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap

burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

 

With a stretch of imagination, or maybe not a huge stretch, it is almost as if Paul wrote this chapter directly to high school graduates of this day. Think about it:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world

God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.

Don’t think you are better than you really are.

Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.

Or even the advice of: And don’t think you know it all!

This chapter is a how-to on living a life as a true Christian, so that others may see it in the way that you act while living as a member of this world. Moving away from our families and into a group of peers has its challenges, and it is not a rarity to see a young person who was once on fire for Christ fall away from him during this transition. One mistake Christians make that causes us to fail in the goal in living in a Christ-like way is because we fall away from community. This isn’t an issue that only us young-uns deal with. Throughout our lives we will constantly be fighting to stay on track with God. It is not hard to fall away.  The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.

Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ. It moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.” The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.

It’s a process that is revealed in the “each other” language of the New Testament: Love one another, forgive each other, regard each other more highly than yourselves. Teach and correct each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and bear each other’s burdens. Be friends with one another, kind, compassionate, and generous in hospitality. Serve one another and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those who live in the Western world have a hard time imagining the New Testament culture in which it was normal to live with parents, relatives, servants, and other workers. We are accustomed to living in nuclear families—father, mother, and children. Yet, the ancient world didn’t even have a way to express what we call the “nuclear family.” We only find the word oikos, which means household, house, or extended family. God used the oikos to extend the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. The early believers modeled transformed lives and distinct values that were often countercultural. Yet, in these crowded, urban environments, people were able to see Christianity up close. They heard and saw the testimonies of those transformed by the gospel, and they desired to experience Christ for themselves. Husbands loved wives, servants were treated with dignity, married partners submitted to one another, and love reigned supreme. Friends and neighbors were drawn to this new transformed community. It was simpler to stay living in a mindset of worship and reverence for God when surrounded by others who love Jesus.

One of the most vibrant illustrations within my life of the concept of Oikos has to be my family’s yearly trip to Lakeside, the mecca of United Methodism within Ohio. My aunt Jenn is a pastor in Cincinnati, and since I can remember, each year the entirety of the Hindes make the trip with her to annual conference and live under one roof for a week. Not only do we live together, eat together and play together, it is a week in which we all grow closer in emotional intimacy, taking own walls and speaking on hardships that we would not normally share if at home. This creates an environment of support that lasts so much longer than the week.

Not only does lakeside bring the family closer, it creates a bond within our community as well. Friends stop by our porch during lunch time to grab a sandwich or chips along with a conversation and game of scrabble.

One of my fondest memories at Lakeside happened at Pastor Scott Ocke’s cottage.

You see… If you do not know me, one important thing to know is that I am an absolute animal lover. So when I was informed that a pack of baby foxes had taken up residence in a sewer near Pastor Scott’s cottage, I was delighted. So delighted in fact, that I decided to visit them during his usual cookout during Conference week. And I brought hotdogs for them. The only problem with this is that hotdogs and fingers look very much alike.

This church has been a family to me. I have story after story that I could tell about the insane amount of time I have spent in this church growing up. Sitting up in the sound booth with my grandpa until the 11 o’clock service, because 11 o’clock meant that my grandma would finally give in and take my sister and I to Mcdonalds for being well behaved at the first two services.

I can tell you the best hide and seek spots in each room of the church, the prettiest view from the roof (not that I know how to get up there or anything), I’ve been taught how to color coordinate the altar to the flowers and candles used within the sanctuary, who to call when there is water where water should not be.

One of the greatest ways to stay connected to God, to begin to live a life fully in Him, even through life’s transitions, is by staying connected to healthy communities of other believers.

 

Romans 12 hits on this, as well as other ways to live a life for God. Let’s go through some of it.

 

Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

Sanctification

We can worship God by being different? What’s that all about?

A believer’s character, conduct, and conversation should be reflections of Jesus, who lives within. On our own, we might place too much emphasis on behavior and get caught up in following rules and rituals that look Christian without truly reflecting Christ. But God has given each believer His Holy Spirit as a teacher and guide. The Spirit works to transform our minds and hearts so that we are markedly different from our peers. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we speak and act in accordance with our true identity: God’s sons and daughters.

 

Being set apart also means not belonging to the world. To be in it, not of it. This can bring isolation away from others. This is why we need community. When the world asks us to act in a way that isn’t in a spirit of worship, we can fall back unto our community of fellow believers.

2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Good and pleasing and perfect. Can you describe yourself as good and pleasing and perfect? I can try and describe my dog as good and pleasing and perfect. But then I remember his annoying habit of barking as loud as he can whenever I’m late for curfew and have to sneak in the back door. Not quite pleasing. Coffee might be perfectly good and pleasing and perfect, but then I remember what it tastes like without half the mug being cream. Chipotle is good and pleasing, and would be perfect if it was cheaper.

 

But can a person be good and pleasing and perfect?

I don’t think any of us can.

But that is what God is calling us to. He’s not calling us to be, only to.

Let me say that again.

By staying away from the sins that the world tells us are desirable and fun, we are able to enter unto the path that God is calling us towards which will always be more fulfilling than any life could be. There are so many things society tells us to be. Society has imprinted upon our soul, has twisted our values for better or for worse, has skewed our image of what is good.. To have flaws is to be human. To work towards Christ is to be holy. He is the measuring point. Using anything else will cause a soul to attempt to belong in a way that is only unnatural. Attempting to fit a square block through a round hole.

Good and Pleasing and Perfect. To my peers, don’t worry about fitting in to what is expected of a college student. Worry about God.

 

4Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

 

Recently I have become a part of an amazing group of friends. These friendships started out of nothing but my mere curiosity. I heard a small bit about a group of young people all living together in a not-so-great part of Toledo in a ministry house, sharing their lives together and ministering to the people around them. That’s something you don’t hear about every day. They invited me to a bible study one night and I got to truly see what verses 4 and 5 of this chapter are talking about.

Each of these guys are unique and bring their own set of skills to the table that bring light and life to their mission. They have a big 4-car garage that they have turned into a skate bowl for like skate-boarding. Sundays they have “skate church” for local youth in the bowl that was started by one of the guys, other nights they slide instruments and sound equipment into the bottom of the bowl for worship, and other nights you can find them across the street in a community garden they have newly created. Its amazing, something I’ve never experienced before, and oh my gosh I wish this way of life wasn’t as “different” as it is.

 

Here, my grandma is the queen of hospitality. She is also the bane of visitors. You might think you’re keeping your head down, visiting this church for the first time… but I promise you, she’s already recognized you as a friend and will be zealously welcoming you after this service. She’ll make you feel at home, care about you, and then do her best to find a place here where you will be filled and will be able to fill others.

The queen of hospitality has a special knack at figuring out exactly where someone can fit in the body of this church. Its fun to sit back and watch her at work. If the church is a body, she’s the tongue telling everybody where to be. Sit back and watch it sometime, you’ll see exactly what Paul was talking about.

 

Let’s jump to the next piece of advice Paul wanted to give to the class of 2017, as well as every believer.

9Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically

John Wesley summed it up in this way: Whatsoever ye do, do it with your might. In every business, diligently and fervently serving the Lord – Doing all to God, not to man.

As Christians, we are called to work hard for the Lord. To do everything as though we are doing it for Him. If God asked you to do a personal favor, I’m guessing you wouldn’t do it half-heartedly, there wouldn’t be any “lazy” in your name. As a proclaimed Christian, everything we do is in the name of the Lord.

Working at a coffee shop, there are certain people you enjoy being scheduled with and people you aren’t too happy with. This has little to do with personality, and all to do with work ethic.

There is very little you can do in life to make up for a bad work ethic.

Love others, and show that love by working for them as you would for God.

 

17Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.

If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap

burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

 

Fun fact about me, I was voted most savage of the class of 2017. What is savage you ask? I was known for being quite ruthless when it came to revenge once someone hurt me. There was definitely a time in my high school career when I allowed evil to conquer me rather than me conquering evil by doing good.

If someone does something nasty to you, they should have to own up to it, right?

I had to learn to lean on God, trust Him and have faith.. that revenge was not necessary.

 

When I am asked to explain what faith is, its hard for me to say anything more that ‘it is to believe.” But that definition is so incomplete. I believe that the Earth is round, but that doesn’t mean I have devoted my life to it as I have Christ. I do not do good works in the name of gravity or global temperature changes. I have enjoyed Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans 12, and in that, his definition of faith when it comes to Romans 12:17-21.

He says:

Faith is not that human illusion and dream that some people think it is. When they hear and talk a lot about faith and yet see that no moral improvement and no good works result from it, they fall into error and say, “Faith is not enough. You must do works if you want to be virtuous and get to heaven.” The result is that, when they hear the Gospel, they stumble and make for themselves with their own powers a concept in their hearts which says, “I believe.” This concept they hold to be true faith. But since it is a human fabrication and thought and not an experience of the heart, it accomplishes nothing, and there follows no improvement.
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God . It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.

Faith. Community. Sancitity.

To my graduates, but also to my not-graduates: Love each other, love God, and purposely and intentionally pursue a relationship with Him through life’s transitions. Romans 12 is just one passage in the New Testament that can be used as a guide to life. The roads the early disciples do look different than the roads we walk today, but the word of God is the living word of God. It holds true and passes the test of time. We have to actually read it and study it to get anything out of the Word. We must want to live in a way that glorifies God. Sometimes its not easy, and its easy to become distracted with all that glitters. But it has been promised to us that there is no joy greater than what is found in Christ.

 

Authenticity

Authenticity. Synonyms that pop into my head: true, real, genuine. I believe living an authentic life means knowing yourself, your values, and living in a way of honor. Authenticity is living life in accordance with one’s soul. It is a way to experience a life full of joy, passion, and wonderment. Authenticity is finding joy in yourself. It is running in the rain to your car, skin impervious to the cold because your thoughts running wild with passion for the event just left.

There are moments in my life in which I can only explain as electric. They are moments in which I am in a place that I could see myself forever staying. These places have a certain magic to them, a magic that stills my driven mind and leaves only a “yes, this is it” in the place of what is usually thousands of incomprehensible ideas happening every second of the day. These moments I am often nothing more than a face in a crowd. I often wonder, are those around me experiencing the same as I? The conclusion I have come to is that the magic of the moment is confined to my very being. I hope others experience these moments of authenticity as I do. That there are places in their life in which they can be nothing but the image impressed onto their soul.

This is what I define as authenticity. A soul where it belongs. A spark set afire. A flame in a place it is welcome. It is a wonder of why all people do not follow this path in life. As I have found it, once discovered, it is distressing having to return to any other type of half-life. Is it that most have not discovered what I have, or is it that the cruelty of a society set against one’s soul is too much to handle? As it is, those who must ask for society’s forgiveness to live according to the soul have yet to truly discover authenticity.