For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 10:12-13 NRSV
As we come to the end of the week that began on the First Sunday in Lent, Year C, March 6, 2022, we recall that the Church read from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 10:8b-13, see also Galatians 3:28).
At our best we continue to live the wisdom of Paul, making no distinction that separates us who “call on the name of the Lord” rather we promote union in “one great fellowship of love.” In Christ there is no East or West we celebrate this kinship:
Hymn 529 in (The Episcopal) Hymnal 1982
In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.
Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as his child
is surely kin to me.
In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.
Text: John Oxenham, 1852-1941 (alt.)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. … When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:1-2, 13 NRSV
On the First Sunday in Lent, Year C, March 6, 2022, the Church read the account of the Temptation of Jesus according to Luke (Luke 4:1-13). Lord who throughout these forty days is a hymn for the season of Lent and, really, for every season of our lives as we walk with Jesus.
Index Page of “words” offered by the SSJE Brothers
“Advent Birmingham is a diverse group of musicians who lead worship services in song on Sundays at Cathedral Church of The Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. They also write and record modern hymns of their own and set ancient Christian hymns and songs to modern settings.” (YouTube description) Here is their modern offering of this Lenten hymn:
I encourage you to read more about the “Queen of Ukraine” in Harris’ article. As she notes, “It is quite common for Christians, and even people of other faiths, to ask Mary to intercede on their behalf during hardship.” Let us pray.
When Jesus and his disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them “Who do they say the Son of man is?” Discussions and teachings followed “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Matt. 17:1-3)
In Transfiguration, Christ is in a white robe with outstretched arms and, as appropriate, is the central figure . In addition, Fra Angelico has placed him on a pedestal-like rock above everyone, and by design he is larger than the other figures. Christ is surrounded by a mandorla (a body halo) and his head is surrounded by a traditional cruciform halo.
In this painting, Moses and Elijah are each presented in bust form, not as full figures; Moses, on the left with light emanating from his forehead represents the law and Elijah on the right represents the prophets. [In some paintings of the Transfiguration, Moses is holding the Ten Commandments and a scroll is placed in the hands of Elijah.]
Below Moses, on the left, is the Virgin Mary with her hands crossed over her chest and to the right, below Elijah, is Saint Dominic. [In 1435 the Monastery of San Marcos was turned over to the Dominican order.] He is standing with hands together in a position of prayer. Dominic’s mother reported that she saw a star on his chest when he was born and sometimes (as here within his halo) he can be identified by a star placed above his head. Of course, Mary and Dominic were not present at the Transfiguration, but it is not unusual for artists to use creative license to include non-participating figures on the sidelines as observers of an important event. In the foreground are Peter, James, and John. They have just heard God’s voice say: “This is my son. Hear him” and “…they fell on their faces and were filled with awe.” (Matt. 17:5-6)
In 1407, Guido di Pietro joined the Dominican order in Fiesole, Italy (near Florence) and at his vows took the name Giovanni. Thus he became known as Friar Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John of Fiesole). Artist and historian, Giorgio Vasari, referred to him as Brother John the angelic one and today he is known simply as Fra Angelico. His life as an artist was devoted to the Church and at the monastery of San Marcos in Florence; he painted the walls of the cells (prayer and meditation rooms) with scenes from the life of Christ. Fra Angelico’s Transfiguration is in cell number six.
In Europe, during the early part of the fifteenth century, medieval art was still a presence, but the City of Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance. Fra Angelico was fully aware of the trend toward humanism that was influencing the art of his time. The changes that were taking place are reflected in his paintings.
The actual site of the Transfiguration is not known; accounts in the Gospels do not name a specific mountain. Mt. Tabor is the traditional site but Jesus and the disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi prior to the Transfiguration and the closest and highest mountain there is Mount Hermon. It is the highest mountain in Israel and this may have been the mountain noted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Joseph was born at a time when his father, Jacob, was old and he became the favorite son. This favoritism caused resentment among his brothers. Negative feelings resulted also from a dream Joseph had that was interpreted to mean someday his brothers would bow down to him. Joseph was seventeen years old when he went to his brothers as they were tending sheep. When his brothers saw him coming they plotted to kill him but then instead, sold him as a slave to a passing merchant who was going to Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream which revealed there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, grain was stored during the time of abundance and Egypt was well prepared. When famine was experienced in Canaan, Joseph’s father sent his brothers to Egypt to purchase food. Unbeknownst to them, Joseph in the ensuing years had become a high Egyptian official and he was the one they would have to meet.
Francois Gerard’s painting, Joseph Recognized by Brothers, depicts the moment Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. The brothers are shown displaying a range of emotions; some are kneeling and in body language seem to be exhibiting guilt and remorse for what they did. In contrast to this, two of the brothers and Joseph are reaching out to each other in joy. The brothers at the far right are staying back and holding each other. Perhaps they are fearful of what Joseph might do. The young boy reaching and looking up at Joseph is likely a nephew who came with his father. Joseph places his hand gently on the child’s shoulder.
In 1663, France initiated the Prix de Rome which gave artists (and later, musicians and architects) an opportunity to study in Italy. The purpose of this award was to put promising artists in contact with Roman culture and the masters of the Italian Renaissance. One outcome of this was a trend toward classicism in French art.
In the late 1700s after years of turmoil, the French Revolution overthrew King Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte took charge ultimately as 1st Consul. Classicism in art suited Napoleon perfectly and he appointed Jacques Louis David, an avid classicist, to be the head of the French Academy of art. David’s art promoted what Napoleon favored; discipline, honor, sacrifice strength of character, and devotion of one’s efforts to the state.
Though classicism was sanctioned by the state, the concept of romanticism was always present in art and Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) generated great interest in Egyptology. It set off fashion fads in both France and England and piqued the interest of painters as well. Francois Gerard’s Joseph Recognized by Brothers was painted during the time of Napoleon’s Egyptian military venture.
Gerard studied under David and elements of classicism in the painting of Joseph and his brothers are apparent in their robes. Gerard’s nod to this scene’s Egyptian location is brought in by Joseph’s headdress and the sphinxes on the arms of Joseph’s chair and the background building. Were it not for these details and its title, this painting might be taken for an illustration of a Greek tragedy.
Winning the Prize of Rome was coveted, difficult, and highly competitive. Gerard’s teacher Jacques Louis David was rejected three times and considered suicide before receiving the award on his fourth attempt. [In later years Eduard Degas and Maurice Ravel were rejected.] Gerard, too, was rejected but because of his mother’s death, he was unable to complete a painting to submit to the jury the following year. After that, he fell into poverty but recovered to gain success and acclaim through portraiture. Napoleon commissioned paintings from him and then after he fell from power, Gerard became the court painter of Louis XVIII.
Annually on February 11th we remember Fanny Crosby. Read on.
Fanny Crosby was the most prolific writer of hymn texts and gospel songs in the American evangelical tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She wrote more than eight thousand sacred texts in addition to other poetry.
Frances Jane Crosby was born in Putnam County, New York, on March 24, 1820. Although not born blind, she lost her sight as an infant as a result of complications from a childhood illness. At the age of fifteen, she entered the New York Institute for the Blind where she would later teach for a number of years. In 1858, she married Alexander van Alstyne, a musician in New York who was also blind. Crosby was a lifelong Methodist.
Crosby’s texts were so popular that nearly every well-known composer of gospel music of the period came to her for words to accompany their melodies. In most hymn writing, the words come first and then a composer sets them to music, but for Crosby the words came so quickly and naturally that composers would often take her their tunes and she would immediately begin to shape words that fit the music.
Perhaps the best example of this process led to the creation of Crosby’s most well known hymn Blessed Assurance. On a visit to the home of a friend, the composer Phoebe Knapp, a newly composed tune was played for Crosby. After listening to the tune several times, the text began to take shape, and in a very short time one of the world’s most popular gospel hymns was born. The American gospel song is a unique genre of sacred music that combines words expressive of the personal faith and witness with tunes that are simple and easily learned. Fanny Crosby’s contribution to this genre is unequaled. Dozens of her hymns continue to find a place in the hymnals of Protestant evangelicalism around the world.
Fanny Crosby died on February 12, 1915, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she is buried.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 19A in the RCL
September 13, 2020 | Pentecost +15
Collect for Proper 19
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.~BCP 233
Genesis 50:15-21 NRSV
In our Hebrew scripture lesson Joseph’s brothers fear his wrath upon learning of the death of their father Jacob.
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
Romans 14:1-12 NRSV
In this reading Paul calls upon the Roman disciples to live with tolerance for one another’s scruples, recognizing that everything can be done to honor the Lord with whom each Christian has a relationship.
1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Matthew 18:21-35 NRSV
In the gospel lesson Jesus bids his disciples to offer a forgiveness which is, for all practical purposes, unlimited, and he tells a parable about a man who, although forgiven much, still himself had no mercy.
Note on Matthew 18:24 The servant owes roughly 150,000 years’ worth of wages—an absurdly insurmountable debt intended to shock Jesus’ listeners and pale in comparison to the much smaller amount demanded by the servant in v. 28. The Greek text’s reference to 10,000 talents represents the largest number used in ancient calculations and the highest monetary unit at that time (one talent was equivalent to 15 years’ worth of wages).
Source: John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 18:24.
Talent: a unit of silver equal to 6,000 Greek drachmae or Roman denarii. One talent was roughly equal to what a typical worker could make over a sixteen-year period. … In [Matthew 18:23–35], Jesus uses creative exaggeration to stress the incalculable difference between divine and human mercy. A servant owes his king (God) 10,000 talents (millions of dollars), a debt that is forgiven; but then the first servant does not forgive a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii.
Denarius: a silver Roman coin that would have been the usual day’s wage for a typical laborer (plural, denarii). This is the most mentioned unit of currency in the NT. Jesus used a denarius as an object lesson for his teaching that one should give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor (Matt. 22:19); his disciples complained that 200 denarii would not buy enough bread for a hungry multitude (Mark 6:37).
Source: John W. Betlyon and Mark Allan Powell, “Money,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 651.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Psalm 103:8-13 BCP 733
The Psalm Response is a hymn of blessing in thanksgiving for healing forgiveness and for all the Lord’s acts of compassion and justice.
8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, * slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, * nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, * nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, * so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, * so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, * so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
“Forgive our sins as we forgive” Hymn 674 in Hymnal 1982
On Sunday, September 13th we’ll use the hymn “Forgive our sins as we forgive” after we’ve heard the reading from Romans and before we hear the Gospel passage. What follows is an essay by C. Michael Hawn, distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church is a dependable online resource for study. I recommend the site. ~Fr. Dan
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Accepting and giving forgiveness may be one of the most important aspects of living. I believe that the Assurance of Pardon is one of the most significant parts of Christian worship: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” These words may offer healing and hope for many in worship, even beyond anything else said or sung. Forgiveness is not only a personal way of living, but also an attribute of societies. How many times do we observe centuries of hate and hurt that, because of the inability to forgive, continue to fester and cause suffering, death, and destruction?
Portions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) have been cited in many hymns. For example, the militant missionary hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations” (United Methodist Hymnal, 569) echoes “Thy kingdom come on earth” in the refrain: “And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth.” Presbyterian hymnologist Louis Benson concludes his Communion hymn “For the Bread which You Have Broken” (United Methodist Hymnal, 614, 615) with the first petition, “let your kingdom come, O Lord.” Forgiveness has received less attention, however.
With “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” by Rosamond Herklots (1905-1987), we receive a full treatment of Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (KJV) Luke 11:4 states: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” “Trespasses” first appeared in William Tyndale’s translation in 1526 and was retained for use in the first Book of Common Prayer in English in 1549. The English Language Liturgical Consultation (1988), a group of ecumenical liturgists in the English-speaking world, proposed “and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” A companion Scripture is Colossians 3:13, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (ESV).
The Companion to Hymns and Psalms (1988), the companion to the 1983 Methodist hymnal used in England, provides the origins of this hymn:
This hymn was written in June 1966 and printed soon afterward in the parish magazine of St. Mary’s Church, Bromley, Kent. The idea of the hymn had occurred to Miss Herklots when she was digging out weeds in her nephew’s garden; she reasoned that their deep roots, obstructing the growth of the flowers near them, resembled the bitterness and resentment that can become entrenched and hinder the Christian’s growth in grace.
Herklots’ language is potent in describing the blessings we miss when our “heart . . . broods on wrongs and will not let old bitterness depart” (stanza two) In stanza three, she contrasts the “trivial debts [that] are owed to us” with “our great debt to [Christ]!”
The final stanza is a prayer of petition “cleanse . . . our souls” and “bid resentment cease.” Forgiveness leads to establishing “bonds of love” so that “our lives will spread [Christ’s] peace.”
Rosamund Eleanor Herklots was born in Masuri, India, in 1905 to missionary parents. She was educated at Leeds Girls’ High School and the University of Leeds in England. Working as a teacher and secretary, she began writing hymns in the early 1940s. She submitted hymns for the “Hymns for Britain” competition, two of which were selected to be sung on television. Her total corpus of hymns numbered more than seventy. Herklots died in Greenwich, London, in 1987.
British hymnologist J. R. Watson noted changes in the original text: “At some point after 1978, when an unauthorized inclusive language version was published in the USA, the author modified the third and fourth verses: ‘How small the debts men owe to us’ became ‘What trivial debts are owed to us,’ while ‘Then, reconciled to God and man’ was altered to ‘Then, bound to all in bonds of love.’” This is the version that appears in The United Methodist Hymnal.
I was in South Africa in 1998 during the presidency of Nelson Mandela. Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu presented President Mandela with the bound volumes containing the results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was sitting among a group of black and white Methodist ministers watching this historic occasion on television as Tutu referenced one of the many important revelations that took place during the process that the Commission hoped would lead to healing and hope for South Africa. At one point, Tutu recalled a black woman who asked him, “Who murdered my husband?” Tutu responded, “We do not know.” She was insistent, however, and continued, “I must know who killed my husband.” Again, the patient Tutu responded, “I’m sorry, but we may never know who killed your husband.” Still her question persisted. Finally, Tutu asked, “My dear lady, why must you know who killed your husband?” She responded simply and quietly, “So I can forgive him.”
There are many variations of this hymn on YouTube here are two:
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 18A in the RCL
September 6, 2020 | Pentecost +14
Collect for Proper 18
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.~BCP 233
Ezekiel 33:7-11 NRSV
In our first lesson the prophet Ezekiel is like a watchman: it is his responsibility to warn the wicked, but it is the individual’s responsibility to stop sinning.
7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Romans 13:8-14 NRSV
In this reading Paul summarizes the heart of the law and urges a way of life in full awareness of the nearness of salvation
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Matthew 18:15-20 NRSV
Our gospel presents teaching about how to deal with sin and grievances within the Christian community.
15 Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Psalm 119:33-40 BCP 616
Our Psalm Response asks for the Lord’s guidance and promises to keep God’s commandments always.
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, * and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; * I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, * for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees * and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; * give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, * which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, * because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; * in your righteousness preserve my life.
Commentary on Romans 13:8-14. A homiletical perspective.
By David Bartlett, Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia
There is a great half truth that drives much of our theology and much of our preaching. The semi-truth is that gospel is one thing and law is something else entirely. Sometimes that is fair enough. Sometimes law drives us, harasses us, punishes us, and terrifies us. Grace accepts us, blesses us, redeems us, and encourages us. However, sometimes a more nuanced reading of Scripture suggests that law itself can be gospel, good news. Sometimes the biblical writer who affirms that most clearly is, of all people, the apostle Paul.
Here are three ways in which the law provides good news in this passage from Romans 13. First, these verses, like all the material in Romans 12–14, spell out the significance of the good news that Paul declares in Romans 1–11. The good news is that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory but that all are justified by grace (Rom. 3). The good news is that our faith will be reckoned to us as righteousness, just as Abraham’s was (Rom. 4). The good news is that in Christ humankind takes on a new identity and a new hope; Adam’s story is reversed, to the glory of God (Rom. 5). The good news is that, rightly understood, the law can be an invitation to daily faithfulness. Because of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Jesus Christ, we live with the possibility of genuine transformation.
There is a great line in Jean Anouilh’s play Becket where Henry II, entirely befuddled by Thomas à Becket’s new faith and by his new vocabulary, says to his friend: “Absurdly. That word isn’t like you!” Becket replies, “Perhaps; I am no longer like myself.”1
Romans 13:8–14 assures us that we no longer need be entirely like ourselves. It shows us a picture of the new persons we have become: loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. (A quick aside: a lot of contemporary therapeutic theory suggests that we need to love ourselves more, and no doubt there is something to that. Paul, being Paul, did not have much trouble with self-esteem; for him, the transformation was to be enabled to be as caring, enthusiastic, and proactive for other people as he quite easily was for himself.)
Second, in ways that we might not have imagined, Romans 13:8–14 shifts the burden of the law into a yoke that, if not exactly easy, is at least imaginable—almost within range. One reason law could be a burden in the first century, as in the twenty-first, is that law can multiply into laws—almost endlessly. On the days when we are even slightly scrupulous we can spend all day counting the ways our behavior might go wrong. In secular law something as relatively short as the U.S. Constitution gets interpreted and reinterpreted with reams of laws and reams of decisions on the meanings of the law.
Paul reverses the process: the multiplicity is transformed to unity. The law is condensed from its extended permutations to something quite solid, palpable, and near. See that neighbor? Love that person as you love yourself. Act out to the other the best intentions you would wish for yourself.
For further exploration
1 Corinthians 12:31–13:8
12:31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends
From our Baptismal Covenant (BCP 305): Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? We will, with God’s help.
From our confession of sin (BCP 360) Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
This is one of the few places where Paul seems to echo the tradition that comes from Jesus himself, when Jesus gives the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31).
For further exploration
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. Mark 12:28-34 NRSV
Remember that the Great Commandment is a twofold commandment—not really one, but not really two separable commandments either. One could suggest that Romans 1–11 spells out the first part of the commandment: “How do we love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength?” Clue: have faith in Jesus. Romans 12–14 shows the various ways in which we live out the second part: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
The summary is itself good news.
Finally, note how thoroughly the admonition to follow the law is shaped by Paul’s hope about what God is doing in history, about the last days. We live faithfully and lovingly in the present because God has promised faithfulness and love to us—beginning now, but consummated in the age to come.
This is hard stuff to preach because for most of us—whatever our other theological convictions—the hardships and blessings of the day seem sufficient to themselves. Yet Paul sounds again a great theme of the Christian tradition: the day of Christ has begun; the light is dawning. The law we now obey is the law that is appropriate to the new day in which we are about to live, to the new land we are about to inhabit.
When you preach these last verses, notice how the metaphors pile up: light/dark; day/night; drunkenness/sobriety. This would be a good Sunday to let metaphor carry some of the sermon. This text is not proposition but poetry—one picture of redemption after another, a collage foreshadowing the salvation that is to come, that impinges upon us even now.
“Dress appropriately,” says Paul, “for the great day coming”. “Put on the armor of God,” or in different words, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Quite likely the Roman Christians remember their baptisms, coming up from the baptismal waters wrapped in a white robe as a sign of their membership in a new commonwealth, a new family. Jesus Christ, in this passage, becomes God’s armor: his obedience enables our obedience. His mercy not only forgives our trespasses; it fortifies us against temptation.
Paul ends the passage a bit anticlimactically. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,” he writes (v. 14). By “flesh” you will remember he does not simply mean the usual suspects: gluttony, drunkenness, and selfish sexuality. “Flesh” for Paul represents all the devices and desires by which we try to fortify ourselves—not with Jesus, but against Jesus and against our neighbor. “Make no provision for the flesh” means “By God’s grace turn from your self-absorption.” It paraphrases and sums up the whole law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 39-43.
1 Jean Anouilh, Becket, trans. Lucienne Hill (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 102.
Source:Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Proper 17A. Find this resource On Amazon.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 17A in the RCL
August 30, 2020 | Pentecost +13
Collect for Proper 17
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 233
Jeremiah 15:15-21 NRSV
In this first reading Jeremiah complains to the Lord about the pain and difficulties of his mission. He then receives God’s answer.
15 O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult. 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
Romans 12:9-21 NRSV
In this lesson Paul exhorts the disciples in Rome to live lives full of Christian dedication and virtue, overcoming evil with good.
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.
Matthew 16:21-28 NRSV
In the gospel reading Jesus teaches Peter and the other disciples that the way of his ministry and theirs is the way of the cross.
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?:
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Psalm 26:1-8 BCP 616
The Psalm Response is a plea for justice by one who serves the Lord well.
1 Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity; * I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; * examine my heart and my mind.
3 For your love is before my eyes; * I have walked faithfully with you.
4 I have not sat with the worthless, * nor do I consort with the deceitful.
5 I have hated the company of evildoers; * I will not sit down with the wicked.
6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, * that I may go in procession round your altar,
7 Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving * and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell * and the place where your glory abides.
Christology. The theological study of the person and deeds of Jesus.
Ecclesiology. The branch of theology that is concerned with the nature, constitution, and functions of a church.
Soteriology. The branch of theology dealing with the nature and means of salvation.
Eschatology. The branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.
Ethics. A set of principles of right conduct.
Commentary on Romans 12:9-21. A homiletical perspective.
By David Bartlett, Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia
The first rule of preaching on a text from Paul is to decide what part of the text should serve as the sermon’s focus. Paul may have been able to pack Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, and ethics into one paragraph—but woe to the preacher who tries to pack all of that into one sermon.
Romans 12 is especially full. Paul has spent eleven chapters assuring the Romans that God’s justifying grace is extended to Jews and Gentiles alike. Now with Romans 12:1 begins the great “Therefore.” Here are the implications of God’s grace for the way in which we live our lives, as individuals and as communities of faith.
The injunctions simply pour forth. In the text for this Sunday a minimalist count discovers twenty-three separate imperatives. Even the most enthusiastic advocate of lectio continua would probably not dare spend twenty-three Sundays discussing the implications of Paul’s imprecations.
Here are some suggestions for focusing the sermon.
First, notice that all these injunctions are presented in the service of right worship. Romans 12:1 is the topic sentence for the chapters that follow. “Therefore … present your bodies as a living sacrifice … which is your spiritual [or “reasonable”] worship.” Our verses provide concrete applications of the call to right worship. In a time when we love the term “spirituality,” we note that for Paul right worship is both “reasonable” and “bodily.” Right worship is intellectually reflective and practically active. One way to preach the text would be to look at a few of Paul’s instructions and see the way in which they encourage ethical perspicacity and compassionate energy. “Hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (v. 9). Much as we might wish that the distinctions between evil and good were immediately and intuitively clear, we know that this is a call to us as individuals and as church communities to think together about the complicated ways in which good and evil are at work among us.
Then a few verses later Paul gives a closely related example of how we worship bodily, actively: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.… if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (vv. 17, 20). This is a tough injunction when we are dealing with enemies close at hand—that annoying person in the neighborhood, that recalcitrant elder at church. It is even harder to help the congregation think about how we embody love for the enemy when our whole political system seems to depend on identifying those whom we should fear and even those whom we should hate. What on earth would it mean to feed the Taliban or give Al-Qaeda something to drink? When can Christians think of public policy not just as prudential self-protection but as an expression of what we owe God—right worship?
Second, it would be possible to present Paul’s commands as a way of fleshing out Christ’s call in the Gospel text for today. In contrast to the purveyors of the “gospel” who tell us that God is in the business of handing out material rewards for our faithfulness, in Matthew Jesus reminds us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). There is an honorable tradition of asceticism as Christian discipline: giving up the self in poverty and chastity. There is also an honorable tradition of giving up the self and taking on the cross in the concrete actions of the everyday world.
Paul’s instructions give us guidance for that kind of daily self-sacrifice: “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are” (v. 16). This is a model for a cross-shaped life and also for a cross-shaped church. In our churches there is a temptation to let the social structures of the larger world shape the social structures of the community. Notice how the welcome of new members in the service or in the church bulletin dwells in greater length on our delight in having the pillars of the community than on our delight in welcoming those who are barely making it. In your sermon, help your congregation think about the ways in which your church elections and church social events encourage or discourage that kind of harmony. Church fundraising dinners at the country club send a signal; the excited whispering when the president of the university shows up for worship sends a signal too.
A third option for a sermon would be to reflect on the complicated injunctions about the enemy in Romans 12:19–21. In part, Paul’s instructions are theocentric and eschatological. The reason we do not show our wrath is that wrath is God’s business. The reason we do not work vengeance now is that vengeance will come in its own good time. This kind of deeply theological advice can sound not very nice in a world and a church often loudly in favor of niceness. Yet Paul’s claim helps deliver us from the dilemma of saying that we are not to be vengeful because nothing really matters; after all, all of us mess up from time to time, so why pick on that particularly egregious offender? Our willingness to avoid vengeance is partly our trust that God is God, and if justice is due, justice will be done. God will overcome.
On the other hand, and practically in the same breath, Paul talks about our own overcoming of evil with good. Surely this was part of the deeply faithful strategies of Mohandas Gandhi and of the American civil rights movement. Positive nonresistance is not acquiescence; it is struggle on terms that we do not let the opposition define. We will overcome.
Of course, we are still left puzzling over how it might be that being kind to our enemies “heaps burning coals on their heads” (v. 20). Perhaps the congregation will not notice when we leave the exposition of that verse out of the sermon. If they ask why we avoid that tricky text, we can quote the other verse that best explains our strategy: “Do not claim to be wiser than you are” (v. 16).
Source: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Proper 17A. Find this resource On Amazon.
Readings and supplemental resources for Proper 16A in the RCL
August 23, 2020 | Pentecost +12
Collect for Proper 16
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.~BCP 232
Isaiah 51:1-6 NRSV
Through the Prophet God bids his people to listen for his voice, pursue righteousness, and seek him.
1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3 For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. 4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
Romans 12:1-8 NRSV
In this lesson Paul urges the Christians in Rome to devote themselves to God’s service and to recognize that with different functions they are all members of one body. Instead of dead animals, they are to offer themselves as living sacrifices. Their way of life is to be quite different from worldly standards. So will they know the will of God. All are to live in humility, realizing that they have their various gifts through God’s grace.
1 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. 2 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. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Matthew 16:13-20 NRSV
In our gospel Peter realizes that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus then sees Peter as the rock foundation for his church and gives to him the keys of the kingdom. The passage helps us to recognize that during Jesus’ lifetime and afterward there was speculation about his role. Some saw the Son of Man as a kind of reembodiment of John the Baptist or another prophet. Simon is renamed Peter (which means rock), for on him and because of this revelation the church will be built, although Jesus’ messiahship must be kept secret for the present. To Peter are given the keys to open or shut the gates of the kingdom and so to make judgment.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Psalm 138 BCP 793
A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord on high, who has saved God’s servant and cares for the lowly.
1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; * before the gods I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name, * because of your love and faithfulness;
3 For you have glorified your Name * and your word above all things.
4 When I called, you answered me; * you increased my strength within me.
5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, * when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, * that great is the glory of the Lord.
7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; * he perceives the haughty from afar.
8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; * you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.
9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; * O Lord, your love endures for ever;
William was coming to the end of his first year as chairman of the company when I met him at a lunch.
‘How’s it been going?’ I asked.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it’s been wonderful in several ways. The company is doing well and I’m proud to be part of it.’
‘Why only several ways?’ I asked, picking up the implied hesitation in the way he had answered.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ve only just realized what my problem has been. Everybody in the company has a clear idea of how they want the chairman to act, what sort of meetings they think they need, and so on. I’ve done my best to make my number with everyone. I’ve gone out of my way to learn the procedures they have in place. But I’ve figured out now that I’ve gone too far. I’ve let their expectations dictate the shape of my work, of how I spend my time. I now need to turn that inside out. I have my own ideas of what we should be doing, and from now on I’m going to set the pace.’
Now, of course, a wise executive will want to listen carefully to those who know more about the company than he or she does. To this extent the picture doesn’t quite fit what Paul is saying. But it does in the all-important point: his appeal now is that we should refuse to let ‘the present age’ squeeze us into its mould, dictate to us how we should think and indeed what we should think, and tell us how we can and can’t behave. Instead, we are to be transformed; our minds need to be renewed. We have to set the pace ourselves, and work out what sort of people we should be. The basis for this is not what the surrounding culture expects of us, but what God in his mercy has done for us.
One of the key phrases here is ‘the present age’ (verse 2). In Galatians 1:4 Paul calls this ‘the present evil age’. Like many first-century Jews, he believed that world history was divided into ‘the present age’, characterized by rebellion against God and the corruption and death which result, and ‘the age to come’, in which God would give new life to the world and humankind, bringing justice, joy and peace once and for all. Part of the point of Paul’s gospel is his belief that this ‘age to come’ had already begun in Jesus, and supremely in his death and resurrection.
Christians are therefore in the position, not (to be sure) of a new executive learning the job, but of someone who needs to stop letting the world around dictate its own terms and conditions, and who instead must figure out how to think, speak and act as is appropriate not for the present age but for the new age which is already breaking in. Christians are called to be counter-cultural—not in all respects, as though every single aspect of human society and culture were automatically and completely bad, but at least in being prepared to think through each aspect of life. We must be ready to challenge those parts where the present age shouts, or perhaps whispers seductively, that it would be easier and better to do things that way, while the age to come, already begun in Jesus, insists that belonging to the new creation means that we must live this way instead.
The key to it all is the transforming of the mind. Many Christians in today’s world never come to terms with this. They hope they will be able to live up to something like Christian standards while still thinking the way the rest of the world thinks. It can’t be done. Paul’s analysis of human rebellion against God in 1:18–32 included a fair amount of wrong thinking. Having the mind renewed by the persuasion of the spirit is the vital start of that true human living which is God’s loving will for all his children.
This, after all, is a way of growing up to maturity. People sometimes suggest that living a Christian life means a kind of immaturity, since you are guided not by thinking things through for yourself but by rules and regulations derived from elsewhere. That isn’t Paul’s vision of Christian living. Of course there are plenty of firm boundaries. He will have more to say about them presently. But at the centre of genuine Christianity is a mind awake, alert, not content to take a few guidelines off the peg but determined to understand why human life is meant to be lived in one way rather than another. In fact, it is the way of life of ‘the present age’ which often involves the real human immaturity, as people simply look at the surrounding culture, with all its shallow and silly patterns of behaviour, and copy it unthinkingly.
For Paul, the mind and the body are closely interconnected, and must work as a coherent team. Having one’s mind renewed and offering God one’s body (verse 1) are all part of the same complete event. Here Paul uses a vivid, indeed shocking, idea: one’s whole self (that’s what Paul means by ‘body’) must be laid on the altar like a sacrifice in the Temple. The big difference is that, whereas the sacrifice is there to be killed, the Christian’s self-offering is actually all about coming alive with the new life that bursts out in unexpected ways once the evil deeds of the self are put to death. (To get the full picture, we need to see the several ways in which this passage stands on the shoulders of others like 6:1–14 and 8:12–17.) Christian living never begins with a set of rules, though it contains them as it goes forwards. It begins in the glad self-offering of one’s whole self to the God whose mercy has come all the way to meet us in our rebellion, sin and death. Within that, it involves the renewal of the mind so that we are enabled both to think straight, instead of the twisted thinking that the world would force upon us, and to act accordingly.
One of the first things that Christians need to get their minds around—and one of the things that will have an immediate impact on the way we live—is the call to live as different members of a single family. Paul has already warned the Roman Christians against thinking too highly of themselves (11:25). Being loved unconditionally by the creator God makes you quite special enough without imagining that your family membership or civic background can make you any more so! Now he warns them again that they are to regard themselves, not as the ‘premier-league’ Christians while people in other places or from other backgrounds are in a kind of second rank, but as simply various limbs and organs of the one body which also possesses many others.
This is one of two famous passages (the other one being 1 Corinthians 12) in which Paul uses this image of the body with its limbs and organs in order to stress that the church is a unity made up of quite different members. ‘One body in the Messiah’; that is the way he puts it here, in verse 5. The Messiah is the truly human being, as well as being ‘God over all’ (9:5); those who are ‘in him’, members of his ‘body’, form God’s renewed humanity. In other words, the picture of ‘body and members’ isn’t simply an illustration at random. It is designed to speak of the new human life which the church is to live and model before the world.
This is one of those points where we begin to detect something of Paul’s wider purpose for the church, which will become more and more apparent as the next chapters go on. People sometimes suppose that the ‘theological’ part of Romans is finished with chapter 11, and that what we have from here on is simply ‘practical’ teaching. Paul is seldom as unsubtle as that. (In any case, there has been a lot of ‘practical’ or ‘ethical’ teaching already in the letter, as we have seen in chapters 6 and 8.) Rather, the appeal for church unity, which will be spelled out in more detail in chapters 14 and 15, grows directly out of everything Paul has been saying throughout the letter about the coming together of Jew and Gentile in the Messiah.
That unity is not simply based on a general belief that everyone matters. It is based, as we saw in chapter 3 and 4 (and in Galatians 2, 3 and 4), on the fact that Christians all have the same faith. God has given each Christian the same faith in Jesus as the risen Messiah and Lord. However different people may be, in temperament, background, calling and ability, all Christians share this faith, and it is the ground of their unity and co-operation.
This is a lesson the church of our own day needs to learn afresh. The world around us loves to force us into disunity. We must once more be transformed by having our minds renewed, not least through the self-offering of worship. That way, as we learn the lessons of unity, we may perhaps discover how to put them into effect.
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 67-72
1 Nicholas Thomas Wright (born 1 December 1948), known as N. T. Wright or Tom Wright, is an English New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian and Anglican bishop. He was the Bishop of Durham from 2003 to 2010. He then became Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland until 2019, when he became a senior research fellow at Oxford University. –Wikipedia entry N.T. Wright