At Peace With Everyone
There are no audio or video file uploads at this time
We’re looking at what it means to be at home with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to live in the place of grace? Last week we looked at what this means in terms of family relations. In light of the grace of God that has been extended to us in the person of Christ Jesus; in light of God’s work to reconcile – to bring back – all things to himself; what is a good and fitting and proper response as we live in this light? We talked about being transformed. What a wonderful truth of the faith that is – transformation.
We’re reminded of transformation every time we gather around the family table – the communion table, the Thanksgiving table. Here we share elements of our world that have been transformed don’t we? Flour, water, salt, sugar, and yeast are transformed into a loaf of bread. Grapes are transformed through a process of fermentation into wine. We play a key role in this transformation. And I like this because it reminds us that the transformation that we experience in Christ is not simply for ourselves and our own personal benefit. To follow Christ is to take part in God’s transforming work in and for the world.
Which God loves.
The present form of which is passing away. We look with eager anticipation to the day when all things will be made new. We live in the meantime. How are we to live in this meantime in the place of grace? Last week we looked at how we live with one another. In the later verses of chapter 12 and into chapter 13, Paul writes to the churches of Rome (and by extension to us) about how we are called to live with everyone else. He also writes of how we are to live within the structure of the government, which seems to be some very timely teaching for the days in which we’ve been living. Let’s ask for God’s help as we look at God’s word for us this morning.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” We trace this back to Jesus’ own words and prayer for forgiveness from the cross – “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In much the same way Stephen prayed while he was being killed, “Do not hold this sin against them.” Bless rather than a curse, no matter the persecution under which we’re living or are perceiving. Watching a crowd of people at a school board meeting saying things like “We will find you” or “We know where you live” to public health officials over the wearing of masks seems to be quite the opposite of blessing, no matter where we might find ourselves on the issue – or any issue that might ever be at hand for that matter. Paul is talking about what living in the structure of grace means for what we do and what we say to people who consider us enemies or people who act in opposition to us. Who considers us enemies? Whom do we consider enemies? The Romans to whom Paul was writing knew about state persecution as some Jewish followers of Christ had been exiled some years earlier by the emperor Claudius over a dispute about someone they believed to be the messiah. Some years later they would suffer persecution to the point of being put to death under Emperor Nero. What does this mean for us? Bless them, and not only with prayers but actions. We all share the same need for God’s grace. God’s grace was extended to us while we were God’s enemies. What else could we do? In extending grace we show and prove divine love and care and concern and compassion.
And peace. “Live peaceably with all” is really the hinge of this whole section we’re looking at in chapter 12. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Christ is our peace. Live as people of peace. We come to this table dear friends invited by the Prince of Peace who is our peace. How then should we live? Part of this teaching is for how we relate to everyone, the family of God too. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Enter into the lives of those around us. We will only be able to bless others by entering into one another’s lives and welcoming one another into our lives. Karl Barth put it like this – “He can only bless if he counters his persecution by particularly living with the people in the world, rejoicing with them, weeping with them, being human with them…” Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. We’re not called to be dispassionate observers as followers of Christ, who was anything but a dispassionate observer. To follow Christ is to be in the world but not of the world. It is also to be for the world. I talked last week about the wild idea contained in this chapter about the power of God in us to transform us – to make us new. We find in this section that this transformation is not just for our personal benefit, but that it is the power of God to transform the world. Let us begin with the people to whom we are closest. John Stott put it like this –
“Love enters deeply into [people’s] experiences and their emotions, their laughter, and their tears, and feels solidarity with them, whatever their mood.”
Remain united in Christ with one another. Live in harmony with one another. Be like-minded in the renewing of your minds and in your transformation. “Live in harmony with one another…” As Paul puts it to the people of Philippi – “… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one of mind.” (Phil 2:2) Someone has said that this doesn’t mean that we all think the same things, but that we’re called to a unity of heart and attitude. That it’s not so much “think the same thing as one another” but “think the same thing toward one another.” All of this is describing what it looks like to live a life of worship – a life in which each word and deed celebrates and serves our gracious God. Of course, I love the musical imagery here. Live in harmony with one another. It doesn’t mean that we’re all singing the same thing. We’re all called though to sing the same song.
“… do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly (or give yourselves to humble tasks - whether it’s people we consider lowly or tasks), do not claim to be wiser than you are.”(16) To live in the place of grace means let’s not get haughty. Let’s not think that anyone or any task is beneath us. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (17) May we be people who extend the same grace which we have been given. It is so against the way of our world, isn’t it? You hit me and I’m going to hit you back. You cut me off I’m going to cut you off back. Coming from a shame/honour ancient tribal culture I understand this all too well and there have been times in my life where I’ve shown it all too well. I thank God for His grace. Let us thank God for His grace to us each time we come to this table, though not only then. Maybe particularly then. As followers of Christ, we don’t return like for like – we return unlike for like, rooted and grounded in the one who did not do to us what we deserved in our rebellion and enmity.
We don’t seek vengeance. It is written, vengeance is mine, says the Lord. We may want to read that in an “I don’t need to get you because God will get you way,” though I think it’s important to remember that God’s justice might not line up with what we see as justice. We trust God and God’s goodness nonetheless. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty give them something to drink.” This care needn’t be relegated to grand gestures but is worked out in the daily-ness of our lives and the seemingly mundane things like food and drink in which love and care can be shown. In so doing you will heap burning coals on their heads! I used to read this and go “Yesssss! Bring on the coals!” Of course, coals are a sign in the Bible of sacrifice and repentance. You just never know what might come about as a result of this literal or figurative food and drink. Maybe even a turning toward God – though this is not why we’re called to it. We’re called to it to reflect God’s grace. I want to read something from St. Aristides of Athens written in 124. This is how he described living in the place of grace:
Christians comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies... They love one another, and from widows, they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their numbers is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.
We come to chapter 13 and find out that this all of life worship of God, this all of life every moment service to and celebration of God is wide enough even to include how we relate to those by whom we are governed. We live in a world that is passing away in its present form, as Paul wrote elsewhere, but we live in it and have responsibilities to it, including the state. This passage bears careful reading and consideration. It’s been described like this: “At times, it has been seen as the biblical starting point for constructing a doctrine of church and state; and at times, it has been invoked to legitimate obedience and subservience to oppressive regimes. For if all authority has been appointed by God, and if the governing authorities are God’s servants, then it seems that there is no recourse but to obey such authorities, no matter how dishonest and corrupt they may be.” Some have used this passage to support administrations and policies which are hateful and divisive, or based in greed or fear because “This person is God’s instrument.” Some have said that Paul is being naïve here, believing in the goodness and justice of the Roman Empire, of which he was a citizen. I don’t think Paul was naïve. Paul knew firsthand the injustices that can be committed by the state and agents of the state tasked with wielding the sword. He knew them firsthand.
So what do we do with this? Let us, first of all, remember that it’s part of a section on the renewing of our minds and the transformation of us and indeed the whole world. What might a renewed mind think in a certain situation? What might a transformed heart lead us to do? First of all, God authorizes that we be ruled. God authorizes systems and rulers. God is not an anarchist in other words. Remember Paul’s earlier edict to live peaceably with all, which colours this section too. Do good. We live in the new age and we live in this world. We are citizens of another realm. Jesus still tells Peter to pay his taxes and while he’s at it, pay Jesus’ taxes too. “You’ll find a coin in a fish,” all places,” Jesus tells him! While I was thinking of all these things, Nicole and I drove over to Jane and Wilson for a Vietnamese sandwich. We found this bakery in a plaza beside Downsview Arena where we had our COVID-19 vaccinations. I’ll say too that as a Christian and a Christian leader I believe that’s part of our civic duty. I rarely make such a pronouncement but I’ve heard of far too many Christian leaders putting out the opposite message. I do believe that living peaceably and lovingly with and for all calls for vaccination action. Anyway, last week we drove all the way to Jane and Wilson for these sandwiches, and as I was waiting on them, I saw this on the top of the counter. Funnily enough, it’s mainly about driving. “Canada loves you here. Don’t destroy, help the nation to grow; and your generation will benefit. Don’t drive when you are drunk or high. It is also dangerous to drive when worried or thinking of problems. Don’t use violence to solve problems. Have patience for weak drivers on the road in case they make a mistake NO insult or (fingers). It creates hatred against your culture. Please pay full attention. What goes around comes around. As a good citizen support this charity that brings peace in our community.”
Live peaceably with all. Do good. Does this mean blind obedience? Of course not. What does love call for here? Is always our question. Does it mean violence? Not to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 60’s. Not to Nelson Mandela and the churches that opposed apartheid in South Africa. Does opposition to the government ever look like violence? It did to Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he took part in an assignation attempt against Hitler. Was he right in so doing? In trying to stop a genocide? Should peace always be the way?
Discuss amongst yourselves and let us discuss amongst ourselves because we do this together. The point is that there’s no rule that Paul is laying down here apart from “pay your taxes” which presumably was an issue in Rome. Authority is established by God and that means something for we who are led. It also means something for those who lead – to remember that their authority should not be seen as based on popularity or wealth or experience (or whatever else we might want to base authority on) but that they are called to live peaceably and do good.
All authority is meant to serve the purposes of God.
Which we celebrate here. Sacrifice. Grace. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. A family gathered around a table. May our coming around the table this day lead us into peaceable living, as we are met here by the Prince of Peace. May this be true for all of us. Amen.