Sermon Title “Extending Ourselves” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! The text which Karen just read for us is a continuation from last week’s reading, so I want to go back and highlight what I talked about last Sunday. Actually, I need to go a bit further back, to the sermon I could have preached two weeks ago, had I been in the pulpit. Bear with me.
If you have your Bible with you and want to turn to Romans, that might help with this overview. The book of Romans was an actual letter, written by the Apostle Paul to new Christians in Rome. The first eleven chapters are understandings and implications of the work of God, and the work of God through Jesus Christ. The section headings in our Bibles would not have been in the original letter, but even just leafing past them can give you a clue about the content: The Righteous Judgement of God, The Jews and the Law, God’s Promise Through Faith, Dying and Rising with Christ. These sections underscore Paul’s training as a Pharisee, his understanding of Jewish law, and his systematic presentation of a new understanding of the law in Christ Jesus. Romans chapter 12 is a hinge in this material. It is the place where Paul pivots from talking about what Christianity means for us and begins to talk about how Christians should act toward one another. This hinge happens through a word in chapter 12 verse 1. That word is “therefore.” Therefore links the explanation in chapters 1-11 with the application which follows in chapter 12-15. Here’s what Christianity means, therefore this is what it looks like.
Chapter 12 can be divided into smaller groupings: verses 1 and 2 talk about how we are given to God. Verse 1 says present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This language comes directly from the Jewish sacrificial system in which animals are offered to God. That sacrifice is presented to God — which means it no longer belongs to the person who brought it, it belongs to God. We are called to be living sacrifices: living our lives as a gift to God. That’s the Reader’s Digest version of the sermon I might have preached two weeks ago.
Last week we considered the text from Romans 12:3-8. This talks about the gifts we share with one another, and how we need that variety of gifts to function as the body of Christ. Those of you who were here last week might remember the slip of paper you were given which said, “Thank you for sharing your gift of . . .” and my invitation to fill that out and give it to someone at Creekside or put it in their mailbox. I was delighted to see that all the extra papers we had printed for last Sunday were taken by the end of the Sunday School hour. Either many of you filled one out, or a few of you took a bunch of them. Either way, it warmed my heart to see your affirmation of each other’s gifts. Recognizing and celebrating each other’s gifts is one of the ways that we take care of the body of Christ.
But we’re not done. The final section — the longest section — of Romans 12 gives direction about how we are to treat other people, including people who are presumably outside of our faith community — people in the broader community, or, as I like to characterize them, our neighbors. I didn’t have Karen read the entire passage, but there is some great stuff here, and it is revealing that this section is titled Marks of a True Christian even though it is a description of how we should treat our neighbors, not what we believe. As I mentioned earlier, chapter 1-11 are about what we believe, but Paul seems to be saying that how we behave is important, too. In fact, it is how we behave — not what we believe — that our neighbors will see about us. This should not be a surprising concept, especially if you’ve been around the Church of the Brethren for any period of time.
Some of Paul’s commands — hate what is evil, love one another, outdo one another in showing honor — seem to be aimed toward how we relate to others in the body of Christ. But he clearly makes a turn in verse 13, which says Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers. I could go on, as Paul does in verses 14-21, but I want to linger here a bit, because I believe it is relevant to who we are, and who we aspire to be as a congregation.
Jesus does some teaching, rooted in Old Testament Jewish law, about how we should treat our neighbors. In Luke 10:25, a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, What is written in the law? And the lawyer answers “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And being a lawyer, the questioner can’t let it rest there, but asks, “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells the parable of a man beaten along the road and the Samaritan who helps him.
Creekside’s Church Board has been having conversation about how to attract more young families to our church, and how to provide consistent programming for children. I know a lot of you have voiced concern about this. Often this takes the form of “I wish this were different” an not “How could I help to make this different.” But if this is a goal of our congregation, here’s what I think will have to happen: we will have to extend hospitality to strangers. People we don’t know yet are strangers. Strangers in our community are neighbors. The Bible — either Jesus’ teaching or this passage from Paul’s letter — doesn’t make a distinction between strangers and neighbors. We are invited — we are expected — to extend hospitality, and extending hospitality means extending ourselves.
Extending ourselves might be as simple as literally extending a hand in welcome or greeting: glad to meet you; thank you for coming to worship at Creekside this morning. It might mean figuratively extending our hands in blessing or prayer: may God be with you, or laying your hand on someone’s shoulder following anointing, as you’ll be invited to do shortly. But extending ourselves in hospitality has to go beyond our literal, physical reach. Extending ourselves means blessing those who curse us, living in harmony with one another, not claiming to be wiser than we are, not taking revenge, feeding our enemies. Extending ourselves is not a short-term church program to get more people into our building and or into our Christian Education program: extending ourselves is a mark of the true Christian. It’s another way of living. It is what Paul is talking about in Romans 12. Extending ourselves for the good of other people. How we do this can take a variety of forms: that is where the variety of gifts comes in. Our Fellowship Team making food for members and friends — an act of hospitality. Me making food for other people — an act of desperation. This is not to give you an excuse to not do anything; it’s an invitation for you to discover or amplify your gifts. So here’s what I’d like you to do this morning — or in the coming weeks. There are more of those “Thanks for sharing your gift . . .” cards on the ushers table in the small wooden box. Consider members of this congregation who extend themselves for others. Maybe they do that through Creekside — like members of our Outreach Team, or folks who work in the Seed to Feed garden. Maybe there are people who serve through their work, or through other organizations such as the Lion’s Club or Kiwanis Club. I’m sure you can think of things that I don’t know about. Or maybe you could write a brief note to someone who embodies hospitality and care at Creekside: greeters or deacons. Maybe these are some of the same people. Write a note of thanks and encouragement. This is how we make a difference for ourselves and for our neighbors, by extending ourselves for the sake of others.