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Romans 12:9-21

That’s it. That’s the tweet. I don’t know when that phrase started popping up on twitter, but it seems appropriate for this week’s epistle. The tweet is a way of saying ‘This requires no explanation.” This passage similarly requires little explanation. Of course a preacher getting up and only reading this might be insufficient for most congregations. During the middle of a pandemic which has been filled with misinformation, division, strife, civil right struggle, financial loss, and a presidential election, this seems like an ideal which is difficult to attain. Yet it is exactly what we need to hear.

Today is a good day to remember Krister Stendahl’s advice to preachers:

If your preaching is doing what it should do, then people probably won’t remember                    
what you said, and it doesn’t matter. Your goal should be that the next time they turn to that part of the Bible, it will say a little more to them. The purpose of preaching is to give the text a little more room to shine.[1]

Expounding on this passage may be appropriate for your context, however most might not be able to handle philosophical explorations of good and evil. Instead we would do well to remember why this is the appropriate actions for those who have come to Christ. Paul has spent 11 chapters explaining the good news of the Gospel. His gospel, of which he is not ashamed[2], which says that “Christ is Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.”[3] This is the gospel- Jesus is the resurrected Son of God who has been empowered and currently sits at the right hand of God. He is Lord and he has conquered the grave. The sin which descends to us all from the one man has been expunged by the faithfulness of the one man. And many more will be saved by the one man’s faithfulness than by the one man’s fall.[4]  The God who we thought was full of wrath, is actually the God who is for us,[5] and nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God found in the anointed King Jesus. [6] Romans expounds upon Paul’s core idea that in Christ all creation has been remade. When Paul speaks of a “new creation” in 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul is not merely talking about an individual. As Richard Hays says, “He is proclaiming the apocalyptic message that through the cross God has nullified the Kosmos of sin and death and brought a new Kosmos into being.”[7] With Jesus, the new creation has begun. Those who have committed their lives to following in the way of Jesus, then, ought to live differently. Chapter 12 speaks of the implications for how those who have been transformed by this gospel should live it out. When we read them, we must bear in mind a few cautions.  make sure that we keep them in a proper context as well. For the currently cultural moment we will always be pushing against western individualism. We will need to remind people that this is a charge for the whole church. Hays reminds us “the Spirit-endowed church stands within the present age as a sign of what is to come, already prefiguring the redemption for which it waits.”[8] Furthermore, our individualism may hear these words and treat them as another obligation, another chore. The Spirit filled life which Paul describes here should not be understood as a burden, but rather an opportunity. One way we can see the beauty of the new creation is to read the old creation as the inverse. The old creation works opposite the new. If Paul was admonishing people to live in the old ways he could have written: Let love be inauthentic, love evil and despise good; have imbalanced affection, outdo one another in dishonoring each other. Be apathetic and serve yourself. Complain in despair, be impatient in suffering, be sporadic in prayer. Hoard your own stuff and let the saints suffer, reject hospitality to foreigners. Curse those who persecute you, don’t bless them. Sarcastically mock those who rejoice, belittle the problems of those who weep. Demand your own way even if it rejects harmony. Think more highly of yourself and cancel the people less enlightened than you. When they go low, you go lower, nobility is a fools errand. So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with those who already agree with you. Beloved, always avenge yourselves leaving no room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance is yours, you will repay.” Yes. “if your enemies are hungry, starve them; if they are thirty flaunt water in their face for in doing this you will heap coals ion their head by showing them how wrong they are. Be overcome by evil and overcome good with evil.” Perhaps that is too close to home because for many it is not too far off from how we already live, even those who claim Christ. But this should not be so. Those who belong to the new creation get to be a gift to the world by living out our hope. After all, the task of the church is to live in light of the resurrection. While these words have always been pertinent for the church, as we seek to embody a new normal, as we search for new ways to exist as a church and new ways to bring others into it, we would be wise to listen to Paul’s words here. We should live them out. As Lesslie Newbigin says, “How is it possible for the gospel to be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the Gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”[9] That’s it. That’s the message from God. The Jesus is resurrected and in power, the new creation has come, we get the opportunity to live like it. Therefore:  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  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.”  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.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[10]

[1]  Ellen Davis. Preaching the Luminous Word (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2016) xxiii [2] Romans 1:16 [3] Romans 1:4 [4] See Romans 5:12-21 [5] Romans 8:31 [6] See Romans 8:37-39. This paragraph is my creation, but it is inspired by the works of Douglas Campbell, Matthew Bates, NT Wright, and Scot McKnight. Campbell emphasizes the apocalyptic and participatory natures of the gospel. Bates quickly points out that “The Gospel” is a V shaped movement which traces Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father, his descent all the way to death, and then his ascent from resurrection to ascension. Wright and McKnight encourage a more robust understanding of Jesus’ royalty. McKnight urges the use of King Jesus instead of “Christ” because King carries with it the political tones which Christ no longer does. [7] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (New York: Harper Collins, 1996) 20. [8] Hays, 21. [9] [9] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 227. [10] Romans 12:9-21