My worship notes for our weekly ritual of passing the Peace of Christ with one another reminds me and our liturgist to allow 30 seconds for people to greet one another. It probably should say allow a couple of minutes. We observe this ritual immediately following our confession of sin before God and one another. For a few minutes we seem to forget and forgive one another of any disagreements, smile at each other, offer a blessing to each other and shake hands. In my dash up one aisle and down another, I manage to touch at least a quarter of the congregation.
My title for this Sunday’s service is a pun based on that ritual. The Apostle Paul had perceived a disunity among Christians in Rome over the practice of eating meat. One group refused to eat meat, eating only vegetables, perhaps because it was not butchered according to the rules for keeping Kosher or because that the meat in the market had been sacrificed to idols. The other group perhaps saw that the source of the meat was meaningless under the grace of God made manifest in Christ Jesus. Paul advised them:
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.
— Romans 14:3 (NRSV)
Hence the pun in my sermon title and the title of this post.
But Paul does not argue for accepting one position over the other, but for generously accepting that both positions —eating meat or eating only vegetables— are intended to honor God.
Similarly when we pass the Peace of Christ each Sunday, I do not expect people to shed their differences of opinion about deeply held positions and find some middle ground. Instead I rejoice that for a few minutes we can accept that each of us are doing the best we can to honor God.
Hurricane Irma has encouraged us to worship differently this Sunday. Instead of gathering in one place, please use technology (phone or Skype) to connect with a friend.
Call to Worship Based on Psalm 148
Praise the LORD.
Sing to the LORD a new song in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise God’s name with dancing and make music to the Lord with tambourine and harp.
For the LORD takes delight in the people; God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy.
May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to carry out God’s sentence. This is the glory of all God’s saints.
Praise the LORD.
Hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past”
1 Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:
2 Under the shadow of your throne your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone, and our defense is sure.
3 Before the hills in order stood or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same.
4 A thousand ages in your sight are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
5 Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
6 Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home!
Merciful God, deliver us from hurtful disagreements and irreconcilable differences. Turn us away from the death sin inflicts and lead us into the abundant life that Christ brings.
Forgive us, we pray, and teach us to forgive, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Moment of silent reflection …
Assurance of Pardon
Hear this good news! Who is in a position to condemn us? Only Christ; and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun.
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven and raised to new life. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Amen!
A store owner once asked me: “When will Christ come again? When would this current age would end?”
“To get to your store and when I leave to continue home,” I replied, “I must cross that highway in front of your store. There is a traffic light, but if the brakes on one of those coal trucks should fail as they come down that hill, they are not going to stop regardless of the color of the traffic light. Should I be crossing at that moment, then at least for me, this age would end.”
The store owner laughed at my answer.
Life is surprisingly fragile. That we can get through dozens of days without a scratch makes us unaware of the risks that each day presents. What if the driver of a car should choose to answer a text message or phone call rather than watch you make a turn? What if a manufacturing defect should leave a deadly bacterium in your dinner?
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans disciples interpreted his urgent appeals that Christ would come soon, perhaps within Paul’s life.
And understanding the time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
— Romans 13:11
If you knew that Christ would come soon how might you live your life differently?
Love is NOT a transaction
Paul’s solution is simple:
Owe no one anything,
except to love one another,
for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the law.
— Romans 13:8
The Christian love advocated by Paul is not adoration, as in: “I love ice cream.” Christian love is not does not yield a debt of gratitude. For example if I buy your child’s Girl Scout cookies, you might feel obliged to buy my child’s Cub Scout popcorn. That is not love. That is a business transaction. Christian love is far more difficult. It is closer to ‘charity.’ Christian love allows for connecting with someone you don’t even like, perhaps even a foe. Christian love flows from a transformation “by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (c.f. Romans 12:2).
Love honors God.
Christian love cannot be repaid, only shared, and in sharing love is multiplied.
Christian love honors God.
For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. — Romans 13:8
A missionary from the Philippines taught me their custom of bowing toward each other as a sign of honoring the image of God that each person bears. One congregation adopted this practice as a means of passing the peace when virus germs made shaking hands risky.
If we truly recognize God in one another the Ten Commandments become easy.
Love, don’t merely like
Love does no wrong to another, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
— Romans 13:10
Paul regularly uses the Greek word for love that might also be translated as ‘charity.’ Thus one may ‘love’ one’s neighbor without feeling anything positive toward him or her.
Nikka, a six year old, phrased it this way: “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day,
— Romans 13:12
Light, even lasers, provides no physical protection. Paul called Christ’s followers to love radically; even risking one’s life for an enemy.
Billy, age four, puts it this way: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is safe in their mouth.”
Thus my question for this week: Would an enemy know that you love Christ by how you say his or her name?
We thank you, Christ, for calling us to live honorably with one another and pray for your grace as we try to do all that you require of us. Increase in us, we pray, the capacity to love you and our neighbors without reserve and to love even those who harm us.
We remember before you those who are at odds with one another in families, in neighborhoods or offices, and even in the church. Help us to speak the truth and to listen with understanding when perspectives are far apart. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
We pray for nations in the midst of internal or external struggles and conflict. Teach us, O God, to seek nonviolent ways toward resolution. We pray for love to bring peace into every troubled heart and place.
We remember our neighbors who opened their homes, houses of worship, and hearts to give shelter in wind and rain ravaged communities. We remember First Responders and volunteers who embody your love in a hurting world. Lift all of these heavy burdens with your light and peace, we pray.
We remember before you those who have physical needs today. People who are hungry and thirsty; people who are exhausted by the demands of work or care-giving; people who are sick, or undergoing surgery; and people who live with chronic pain. Bring relief and rest, we pray.
We remember before you not only our cares, but also our joys—a birthday celebrated, an anniversary enjoyed; new beginnings—a baby born, a roof over our heads, a new job, a new relationship. We thank you, O God, for the gift of laughter, for enduring friendships, and for cherished memories.
We give thanks that with you there is always a new beginning, always a hope beyond hope, and always life beyond death.
And now let us pray as Jesus us taught us, saying: Our Father …
“My God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” Psalm 18:2
As the floodwaters in Texas only begin to recede, new devastation has arrived in the Caribbean, with Hurricane Irma closing in on Florida and additional storms developing in the Atlantic.
Members of PDA’s National Response Team are currently in Texas and the Gulf region, assessing damage, providing aid, and offering spiritual and emotional care for those impacted by the devastating winds and floods of Harvey. Even in the midst of that aftermath, PDA is working with its partners to provide relief to those in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and reaching out to networks in its path. This category 5 hurricane carries sustained winds of 180 mph, and is expected to remain a category 4 or 5 storm as it proceeds through the Caribbean, toward the United States. As people in Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida and other areas nearby begin digging out from the storm or bracing for this storm’s impact, PDA is already engaged.
In this season of devastating storms — the likes of which are rarely seen — will you help us expand our witness to the compassionate Christ by standing in the GAP?
Support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s emergency response and long-term recovery work in the areas affected. Gifts can be designated in two ways: Hurricane Harvey (DR000169-Harvey) and Atlantic Regional Hurricanes (DR000194). You can also give with a credit card by visiting presbyterianmission.org/GIVE-Harvey or by phone at 800-872-3283.
Put together Gift of the Heart kits for survivors in the affected areas — hygiene kits and cleanup buckets are especially needed. For more information, go to pda.pcusa.org/page/kits/.
Contact the PDA Call Center to be notified of volunteer opportunities. Call 866-732-6121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn how your congregation can help families who have lost everything in the devastation. Stay informed and like us on Facebook or visit pda.pcusa.org. Be sure to share updates with your congregation.
Please also remember this congregation. Our bills continue to come in even when violent storms might keep you from coming to our door.
View Words and Music
O God, we’ve prayed in wind and rain and now we pray once more
For those who felt the hurricane and heard the waters roar.
We pray for those who watched the storm destroy the life they knew,
Who wait in shelters, tired and worn, and wonder what to do.
We thank you, God, for acts of love not bound by race or creed,
For hands that reach across the flood to all who are in need.
We pray for others far away who’ve seen destruction, too;
We look beyond ourselves, for they are also loved by you.
We pray that leaders of our land will heed creation’s cry,
And bravely care and take a stand for earth and sea and sky.
Where rains flood cities, homes and towns may we go out to be
A witness that your love abounds in each community.
God of our salvation, we know what time it is
— time to wake from sleep and turn from selfishness.
Connect us with your love with neighbors near and far
so we might show hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
through this storm and all the storms of life.
1 – Permission is granted to churches to reprint individual prayers and liturgical texts for worship provided that the following notice is included: Reprinted by permission of Westminster John Knox Press from Feasting on the Word® Worship Companion. Copyright 2014. With adaptations.
The executive officer on my ship would begin his daily meeting with us junior officers by grilling one of us. We never knew who would be on the hot seat or what minor infraction he had perceived. He seemed to be calling out smoke to see what fire he could ignite.
About that time I had been attending a Bible study over breakfast with the chaplain. Each week we would read and discuss a few paragraphs of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I still clearly remember hearing this verse from the 12th chapter:
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.”
— Romans 12:20 (NRSV)
Heaping burning coals upon my executive officer’s head was exactly what I had in mind.
Alas a literally piling burning coals on one’s enemy’s head is not what Paul had intended. The best scholars consider this metaphor as pointing to an Egyptian ritual of carrying a basin of burning charcoal on one’s head as a token of penance or remorse for having harmed someone. As much as we might like to impose repentance, to urge atonement, to prod someone into mending breaches in community, this must come from within. We must strive to be the examples of Christian kindness.
As Paul urges us:
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.
— Romans 12:17-18 (NRSV)
Serendipitously our Mission and Evangelism Committee independently chose to present options for volunteering with local mission agencies on the exact same Sunday when our reading of Romans 12:1-8 would ask us how we might present our bodies as a living sacrifice, using our various gifts so that together we might be the body of Christ by loving our neighbors.
Please bring your friends and family with you on Sunday, August 27th.
Our day begins at 8:30 AM with a pancake breakfast.
At 10 AM speakers from six local ministries will inspire us to love our neighbors.
At 11 AM conversations will continue over ice cream sundaes.
Our annual talent show will conclude the morning’s festivities.
If these six speaker have not inspired you to use your gifts as you might the discern the will of God, then also consider service here at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church on our committees: Christian Education, Congregational Care, Facilities, Fellowship, Finance, Personnel, or Worship.
So be transformed by the renewing of your minds and discern how you might exhibit how the Spirit is good and acceptable and perfect.
Let these six local mission agencies inspire how you will present your bodies as living sacrifices on Sunday, August 27th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor
I like many Americans was brought up with the ideal that you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get. So you had better work hard and do the right thing. Or else!
But what about the Jews? Scripture tells us that Jesus came first to them and they rejected him, even crucified him to attempt to thwart God’s plan of redemption. If God should reject anyone, one might think the Jews would be long gone.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. … for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
— Romans 11:1a, 2a, 29
And this is beautiful news for us! For since God has not rejected those who had attempted to thwart his plan of redemption, but instead God has used this attempt, the crucifixion of Jesus, to perfectly complete that plan. Thus we too can find mercy from our disobedience.
Thus God’s gift of mercy is like a gift irrevocably sitting on everyone’s door step, available to be open. The question for us who have opened the gift, bringing it into our lives, is how we might help other people to recognize and open God’s gift of mercy.
I am amazed by the dedication of actors, actresses, directors, stage crew, and musicians who participate in community theater productions. They must learn their parts, faithfully attend practices, and reliably show up for performances for the entire company depends on each volunteer. Yes, volunteer! Most community theater productions are fully staffed by people who love to be on stage so much that they would labor intensely just to put on a show before a live audience. Tickets cover costs related to renting the hall, using the script, and other fees.
Which leaves me wondering how much people must love Jesus when they talk about why they attend worship, why they make significant contributions to the church, and why they volunteer so many hours?
Unfortunately people who bubble over with joy about what Jesus has done in their lives are few and far between. Instead when I challenge people to invite their friends and family to a special worship service I often receive excuses or silent avoidance.
Paul had the same problem nearly 2,000 years ago and he replied:
“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
— Romans 10:6-9
Apparently even in Paul’s day people worried about what others might say about them. But Paul has an answer for that too: “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ ”
The big controversy in our day seems to be over evangelizing by deeds or by words. Street preachers are perhaps the worst example of the confessing only with one’s mouth. I firmly believe that the best evangelists take time to sit with and listen to people before speaking. On the other hand St Francis of Assisi answered the question about the value of what we do by saying: “Pray at all times; use words if necessary.”
Is there salvation for God’s chosen people? What about our friends and family who have drifted away from the faith?
Since Chapter 8 of Romans ends:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then how come God’s own people at least appear to be “separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus”? What allowed those who were once faithful members of the Church seem to have drifted away?
Later in chapter 9 and in the opening verses of chapter 10 Paul warns against attempting to establish one’s own righteousness, and not fully relying on God. The problem is not being sufficiently religious, but with attempting to be so religious as to establish one’s own righteousness through diligent observance of the law, proper prayers, and fastidious worship.
What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.
— Romans 9:14-16
And this is the best news, that although we might wish God would consult with us on who should receive compassion, or at least give us an insight as to why some people at least appear to be separated from the love of God, ultimately we must recognize God’s sovereignty and appreciate that the Creator of all thing seen and unseen, who placed us on this amazing planet, to be trusted with how God chooses to show mercy.
Only those struggling need reminders of God’s love.
No one has ever made an appointment to visit me because life has treated them awesomely, to talk over a promotion or boast of new grandchild. No they call for an appointment when they have no where else to turn. They call me to visit them when in the hospital, especially the emergency room, when the future looks messy and hopeless.
For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
— Romans 8:36 or Psalm 44:22
All I can do in such circumstances is to remind them of God’s presence in all things, to remind people of how the Holy Spirit has bound us together into a community of faith, supporting one another, of how the Father’s gift of healing has become manifest through science and medicine, of how Christ’s gift of grace allows us to see past our own short comings to the power of having His spirit living within those who trust in. And sometimes that is enough.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39
We like to believe that we we are basically good. We might have our moments when we don’t measure up and have our issues, but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks that he or she deserves the suffering experienced in life. Thus one of the great theological questions is:
If God is good, why is there suffering in the world?
In a few sentences Paul throws this question aside. First, you are not the only person suffering, and second, not even only humanity that suffers.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning
as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. — Romans 8:22
But most importantly, looking at suffering is looking in the wrong direction. We should instead look at the grandeur and glory about to be revealed by God who calls us heirs.
Easter, and each Sunday as a little Easter, should be celebrated with fireworks, brass bands, ticker-tape parades, loud cheering, combined choirs, and a celebratory dinner.
Independence Day merely celebrates our collective rights for self-government, an occasion worthy of celebration in the grandest of style. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves our release from our well deserved punishment under the law.
The Apostle Paul began his letter to the Church in Rome with a long list of sins demonstrating:
There is no one who is righteous,
not even one;
— Romans 3:10b
Paul himself also struggled with sin:
So then with my mind I am a slave to the law of God,
but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
— Romans 7:25b
Then he makes a most amazing statement:
There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus.
— Romans 8:1
Although the law was intended to guide us from sin, it is unable to do so. Yet God, in Christ Jesus does the impossible! This is worthy of celebration in the most grand style, not merely once a year but every Sunday. Ring all the bells! Pull out all of the stops!