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Sermon for 3 September 2017


Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-end

It was my birthday while we were away, and there were two kinds of presents that I particularly appreciated. 

I really like it when I’m given food - I like the kind of high end stuff that you get on your birthday - classy cheese, a nice selection of local beers, pasta that’s a funny colour and shape and comes in a fancy bag. And I like basic stuff too - a box of granola was one of my best presents this year.

The other present that I really like are recipe books. I like the big, beautiful hard back ones which are as good to read as they are to use, full of tantalising pictures that convince me that just by having them on the shelf I’ve become a great cook. And I like to pick out the recipes that I fancy cooking and then over the next weeks and months, to try them out and to make them my own.

Sometimes the bible reading gives us the gift of food - something nourishing that we can enjoy there and then and which leaves us satisfied and content. A great parable or story. A beautiful image of God or Jesus. A simple message which we can take on board and which will be fuel for the days to come. 

Sometimes though it gives us a recipe book - words and images and ideas which we are going to need to take away and to spend time with, to get stuck into, to make our own. Stories and passages which, if we don’t try them out, will never provide the full nourishment and richness that they promise.

Today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans is definitely a recipe book, and I want to spend a bit of time with it now. There is so much in it, and it needs to be unpacked if it’s potential, if the recipes it contains, are to become real in our lives.

And it’s worth saying, as we prepare to welcome Edith into God’s family, it’s a pretty good recipe book for a life lived under God’s grace. Will and Emma, if you want a set of instructions for what it looks like to live as disciples of Jesus, and what your role in teaching Edith might look like, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 to 21 is a pretty good summary.  

And I want to pick out one verse in particular that I think the Holy Spirit might be using to speak to us today. Not just a message about life in general, but very specific guidance and instruction to us, in this church community, at this time. 

It’s verse 10 - in the version we just heard it reads: ‘love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honouring each other.’ or in the translation you have in front of you, ‘love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.’ 

Paul’s letter up this point has been pretty dense theological stuff - all about God’s action in history, and about the place of Israel in God’s plans, and now he is getting practical. He is writing to a church that is figuring out what it means to be church - this is early on as the first followers of Jesus travel around the Mediterranean, sharing the news of Jesus life, death and resurrection, so they are the pioneers of this new thing they are calling ‘church’. And Paul tells them to love each other and to take delight in honouring one another.

150 years after Paul wrote his letter, a famous theologian called Irenaeus said ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’. God longs to see us flourish - to be full alive. 

And Jesus said that he came to bring life, and life in all its fullness. Not a bit of life, or an ok life, but life in all it’s fullness.

And that’s our task here in this church - to love and honour one another, so that we can all flourish and be fully alive. That’s what we are asked to do, as followers of Jesus in this place. 

We’re a mixed bunch. Some of us have been around a long time, some have joined the community recently. Some of us have been following Jesus for years and years, some are taking first steps on that journey. Some of us love to worship with our hands in the air and to feel the Holy Spirit moving in power, some of us find silence, stillness and mystery the place of encounter with the Living God. Some of us are doing great with life, some of us are really struggling. Some of us are doing great with God. Some of us can’t find Him at all.

That’s who we are.

And Jesus came to bring life in all its fullness to all of us - not just to some. To all of us.

And we, you and me, we are the ones who are make that happen.  How? By loving one another and by honouring each other.

Honour is an interesting word and not one we use much these days. But to honour someone is to have a high respect for them - to hold them in high regard. To think that they are important and that they matter. To know that their wellbeing is your concern. It means to see their gifts and strengths and to try to draw them out. To honour someone means speaking well of them, and not gossiping or saying unkind things. 

At a wedding, the couple promise to love, comfort, honour and protect each other. I ask couples to talk to each other about what those words mean. One couple said they talked about the word ‘honour’ and as a result had agreed that they would never say anything critical about the other to another person - you know the way that couples can sometimes get into the habit of moaning about their partner to friends - to honour each other meant never doing that. I thought that was wonderful. 

What would it mean for you to honour those you are sitting amongst today? The people you know and like, the people you don’t know and the people that you don’t like that much? How can you honour them so that they might flourish and be fully alive?

Here are some things I thought of - and you will have your own thoughts.

  • We could look out for the gifts and skills that we see in each other and comment on them, encouraging each other to use those gifts
  • We could say something kind and honouring about someone to someone else. Positive gossip, you might call it
  • We can lift someone before God and commend them to the Him, telling God what we see about this person that is worthy and holy and good and asking God to bless them. 

And in his letter to the Corinthians, when St Paul is unpacking his metaphor of the church being like a body, he makes the point that it is the weaker parts of the body that deserve the greatest honour. So of course, as we love and honour one another, we need to pay special attention to anyone who is having a hard time, and to give them particular care and honour. 

One thing it must mean, is that we have to know each other. And I want to encourage everyone to take that seriously. We can’t all be best buddies, there are too many of us for that, but we do need to keep making that effort to get to know each other better. One really good way to do that is to join a Small Group - and if you’re not already in one, I really encourage you to consider it. It’s where you can get to know other people from church really well. But it’s also important here on Sundays when we gather together. So one challenge I have for you today is to keep on looking out for people you don’t know, and being brave and saying hi to them. I know how awkward it can be, especially if you’ve seen each other lots of times and have never said hello - but why not give it a go. In doing so you are beginning to honour them.

One thing that St Paul makes clear over and over again in his letters is that this thing called ‘church’ is something new and different. It’s not just a social club or an organisation. It’s not a business or a society. Church is a body, a living, breathing, loving body, rooted in Jesus Christ and flourishing to his glory. And one mark of ‘church’ is that our concern is for the mutual flourishing of every person. That’s our call. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honouring each other.

I said this passage is like a recipe book. And the thing about recipe books is that they’re meant to be used. However lovely the pictures and the words, the point is to open them up and to get creating. Often what comes out of the oven doesn’t look quite as perfect as the picture, but the point is to get cooking. 

Let’s be that kind of church - the kind that tries this stuff out. The kind of church which takes the ingredients of faith; Scripture, prayer, worship, that stirs it all with the Holy Spirit and hands it over to Jesus for him to do his work, and sees what emerges. 

Let’s not just be a social club or a business or an organisation. Let’s be church. Let’s love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honouring each other. 


 Going deeper

  1. Read Romans 12:9-21 slowly. Pause and then read it again. What word, phrase or sentence stands out for you?
  2. What makes church different from other organisations or communities? What qualities of relationship does Paul suggest should mark out the church? What one thing could you to live like that more fully in the next week?
  3. What does it mean for you to honour people in your small group? How about in the wider congregation? What practical thing could you do this week to honour someone?
  4. What other parts of the passage would you like to 'try out' in the weeks to come? How, practically, would you do that?
Posted: 04-09-2017 at 11:23
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