One of Another
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.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Even though we call this passage for today Chapter 12 verses 1-8, its always worth remembering that chapter and verse numbers are not original to the text, but were added in centuries later to help readers organize scripture.
But whoever was in charge of dividing up the letter to the Romans, they had a pretty easy job of deciding the break between what are now chapters 11 and 12.
The first eleven chapters can stand alone as Paul’s theological treaty. They are his statement of faith where he discusses his understanding of Jesus Christ, his relationship to Jewish law, the gift of grace, the reality of sin. He wraps it up neatly with a blessing and even ending it with an “Amen.”
Seems like a good place to end a chapter.
And then things change.
After readers and listeners have soaked up Paul’s theological ordering of the world, he starts to get a little less philosophical and a lot more practical.
In chapter 12 and throughout the rest of the letter, Paul begins to speak of how followers of Christ should live in the world, not only what they should believe about it.
For Paul, the deep, abiding belief that Christ offers new life should compel us to offer our whole selves— our minds, our hearts, our bodies as a living sacrifice in service to God.
It’s a transformation Paul himself went through. Paul who was first named Saul spent much of his life persecuting people who followed Christ, that is until God gave him a transformative experience, Saul became Paul, and dedicated his life to build up the communities he once disparaged.
It changed everything for him, affected his whole life, and so he encourages the Roman Church to live just as wholeheartedly. To allow God’s unending grace and love affect how they navigate their lives.
Within the first few verses of chapter 12, Paul asks for a big change.
But change, even if it is a good one, is often scary and lonely to experience.
Last summer was a summer of change for me. Last year, I had just graduated from seminary, said goodbye to my life in Texas, sold most of my furniture, and moved back in with my parents. And with all that became unemployed with no clue that it would be months before I heard about a congregation in Auburn looking for a campus minister.
But to mark this transition, to celebrate the achievement of graduating, I did something I had been wanting to do for a long time. I took a trip by myself to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike and religious pilgrimage people have been taking since the Middle Ages. I had wanted to take this trip since I first heard about the trail, and so with no concrete plans for my future, I bought new hiking boots, a bright red backpack and spent the first half of the summer training my body and my mind to backpack over one hundred miles in two weeks. I was so excited for this moment of celebration, a capstone experience that symbolically marked the changes happening in my life.
But I wasn’t feeling so celebratory the very first morning, when I could barely keep my breakfast down and became violently ill in the middle of nowhere Spain, all by myself.
I’ll spare you the details— but let’s just say this was not how I had hoped my trip would begin. I was alone, sick, and unsure of how I was going to make it through the day— let alone the two weeks I had planned.
All the feelings I had once had— that I was a capable of doing something new and challenging— whether it was this trip and perhaps more broadly, the thought of finding a job— all those feelings vanished, and I just wished I was back home among the familiar.
Change is hard.
As I watched the college students come to campus these past few weeks, and for many of them the first time, I am reminded of that feeling, not the physical nausea, but the emotional one. I remember my own first day of college where I wondered if I had made a mistake by stepping out into the world. I wasn’t entirely sure I had made a good change.
This is not a feeling that is exclusive to graduations or starting school— it accompanies us— or at least, it accompanies me— with every big change we make, with every start of something new. With the end of things we loved.
Change, even the good type, is hard.
And Paul asks the Roman church for a big change.
He asks the Romans to live like they are in God’s world, not this one. To be intentional about discerning the will of God and open to the ways in which God might guide them. To live, he will later write, with genuine love and harmony, where they will feed their enemies and respond to persecution with welcome and kindness.
It’s the sort of life where even if what Paul describes is not a life altering change, everyone could still use a reminder, because to be living sacrifice is no easy task.
Which is perhaps why, in the same passage in which Paul describes the ways Christ can impact our actions, Paul reminds us, you don’t have to do it alone.
Even as we discern for ourselves what specifically our living sacrifice will be, what our gifts are and how we can use them, the Roman church and you and me, we are not alone. We are the body of Christ, members one of another.
And as the body of Christ filled with unique individuals, we can lean on one another when needed.
When we mourn and are in need of comfort, the compassionate are there to offer a listening ear.
When the community feels directionless, the leaders are there to provide a little bit of vision.
When a prophetic word is needed, the prophets are there to speak truth.
When someone is unsure of what their gifts are, others are there to hold a mirror to the parts they can’t see.
When one struggles to stand, the entire body of Christ holds them up.
Thankfully, I recovered quickly from my sickness that first day in Spain, and the rest of the trip was exactly what I had hoped it would be: challenging but rewarding, a great way to mark the end of something I loved and the start of something new.
But none of that was possible without other people. Other hikers, strangers, many of whom I never learned their names, who helped me and held me up.
There was the pharmacist who patiently listened to my terrible Spanish and gave me the medicine I needed.
There were hikers who, hearing I was having a rough day, offered me advice and encouraged me to take it easy. And there were others who smiled at me, who became my friends on the trail, who, even if they did not know it, helped me stand and put one foot in front of the other.
Despite planning a trip I took alone, I was humbled by the community that surrounded and supported me.
In this letter to the Roman Church, Paul moves from belief to action, and in the transition between the two, here in our text for today, the text we call chapter 12, he knows none of this— none of the work and life of the church— can happen alone.
We are members, one of another. Bound to each other as the body of Christ.
And despite whatever unique gifts you may have, and I am certain each of you has many, whatever individual ways your faith in God compels you to act in this world, whatever you consider your “living sacrifice” to be, none of this happens alone.
We are members, one of another.
Community has never felt more important these days, now that it takes additional effort to be with other people. Much has changed and continues to change both in our personal and collective lives. It can be a lot of handle on our own. But our communities, both FPC and other communities you call home, are so necessary for our souls.
Because who would we be without that community?
Ministers with no one to minister to?
Generous people with no way to share?
Teachers with no students?
Compassionate people who don’t comfort others?
That’s not who we are and that’s not who Christ calls us to be, and so we continue to be a community, even one that relies on phone calls and finicky technology.
A community that sees each other through the changes that come with life: the good, the bad, unexpected.
A community that encourages each other in our gifts and supports one another when we feel like we fall short.
It is the sort of community that reminds each and everyone of us: You are not in this alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.