Today was somewhat of a typical day for me. I did a bunch of office work this morning, answering emails, going through mail, organizing paperwork and I also watched a number of tutorials on the Bible software I use for working on my sermons. Later in the day I spent a good chunk of time exegeting Romans 12:14-17 a beautiful Pauline passage in my opinion:
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. – St. Paul
I love how this describes the call of the church to truly be a peaceful/contrasting/inspiring community of Christ followers (and for that matter so does the whole of Chapter 12). These are things we are called to. We might not always live up to them, but they are the goal of the Christian life. All attempts to domesticate these words undercut the empathetic heart of our faith. One of the things I’ve been sitting with all week in this passage is that the “noble” also means morally good, and beautiful. My initial thought is how do we live as not just a contrast community, but one that is beautiful (as in inspiring, creative, and reflects the reality of God’s kingdom).We have plenty of hatred in our world, plenty of people who have little interest in seeing the good in others, or the “‘One’ in the other” as Barth said. Wouldn’t it be much easier just to follow the path of the many, rather than the few? What is the work involved in actually living out what St. Paul writes here? How do we get there when we don’t even all agree we really should do as Paul writes? What does it look like for us to be inspired in a way that we are truly changed?
There are examples in history that I find personally inspiring, but I want to see this in the present. I long to help cultivate this kind of community, to be a part of the picture Paul is painting here. (And who doesn’t?) I think one of my challenges as a Quaker preacher is to not assume that I have the answers on how this looks and all I have to do is relay that information. Instead, I am trying to learn how to prepare each week in a way that starts from the assumption that the Spirit of Christ is already present in this community, and already providing the answers to this question and many more. What I need to do is help to tease this out, listen and put new language to it, help others see that it is already there, or find ways to actually put into practice the work required to be this kind of community. It all feels like a lot of work, and these are the questions that run through my head every week as I sit down to prepare a sermon.
So I guess I will follow Paul’s advice here and “take thought for what is noble/beautiful in the sight of all.” I don’t know what it is, but I am thinking on it.