July 14, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
Summer Topic #2: “On Having a Holy Summer”
Today we enter into topic #2 of 5 of our hot summer series! And this week we tackle the topic of holiness via the book of Romans.
Whenever I hear the word “holiness” one of the first things that comes to my mind is a contemporary praise song that abounded in my churchland landscape in the mid 90’s….I was a guitar-playing youth pastor in southern California and all us youth pastors were trying to play guitar and play cool Christian worship songs because at that time, we realized that the only way to bring young people to a robust Christian faith was to sing praise songs that sounded like contemporary music (though it seemed at that point in time that Christian contemporary praise songs all sounded very, shall I say, Garth Brooks-esque?).
And so one of the songs of the day was dubbed “Holiness”…
Holiness, holiness, is what I long for,
Holiness, holiness, is what I need,
Holiness, holiness, is what you want from me…
And so we would sing this song at the top of our lungs…in youth group settings, or in Christian worship conference (it was the height of the Vineyard movement in southern California) and yet in the back of my mind I would always wonder… we sing of this holiness that we long for…this holiness that we “need”… and then we live pretty unholy lives once the worship set is done… what’s up with that? Why doesn’t singing passionately about holiness actually make us holy??
And…is holiness really what I long for?
Is holiness really what I need?
When you and I wake up each morning as “everyday Christians”… is holiness the first thing on our minds? Staring at the breakfast menu in McDonald’s drive thru… “I’ll take a Mcgriddle meal with a large apple juice and supersize me on an order of HOLINESS please?”
Perhaps this is where today’s hot summer topic came from? A longing to hear more about holiness? And I’m all for holiness…as I suspect you are too… but what does it take to be holy? Does singing about it, make it happen in our lives? I think there’s more to it than that…and today we use Paul’s letter to the Romans to paint a picture of “everyday Christian holiness” that we might put on display in our lives in these long, dog-days of summer.
Now, holiness did not become an exhortation to the church a mere 2000 years ago. Since the beginning of the GodStory, God has always been “setting apart” a people to put on display God’s heart for the world.
We heard this in the first testament reading…God telling the people that the way others would know of God’s holiness, is to be a holy people themselves…
So now, we as the NPoG…continue the call to be holy. And one of the key differences between God’s people pre-Jesus and God’s people post-Jesus is…
And so it’s pretty important that as we keep in mind Paul’s exhortation to holiness in Romans 12, we don’t forget who empowers this “way” of life for us as the people of God.
The danger of a letter like Romans or any of the New Testament books of the Bible is that it can easily and quickly become a rule-book for living nice lives. Yes, there’s an ethics for the people of God, but these ethics in the post-Jesus-raised-from-the-tomb-era is that these ethics don’t get conjured up from within just because we are middle-class, north americans good citizens. In the post-jesus-resurrection era our ability to be holy people is a calling, but it is a calling born out of grace and gratitude.
So, let’s look at the exhortation to be holy in Romans 12.
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.
Present your “bodies”…the whole of your lives…as HOLY.
Now how do we know that this call to be holy is a Jesus-thing VS a “conjure this up in our own strength” kind of thing?
Context! Look at the whole letter! The letter to the Romans is not a letter telling these Gentile Christians to try harder…it’s a letter that says in the first 11 chapters that God has been working a plan of restoration for thousands of years…and in Jesus, this restoration plan reached its fullest measure…we are probably familiar with some of these famous verses in the first 11 chapters…
– Romans 3:23…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
– Romans 5:8…God demonstrates his own love for us…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
– And now we are freed from the past…into a “present” dominated by the Spirit…Romans 8:1-2…Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
It’s this kind of “letter-building”, telling of God’s gracious, restorative work, that then gives Paul the foundation to tell the Roman Christians of how this life will be lived…both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the community of faith.
And that’s why Paul says: “Be holy” in chapter 12. This is not some pie-in-the-sky monastic, individualistic holiness. This is a holiness that is to befit the people of God, who are enthused and animated by the Spirit of God and a living, resurrected, Jesus.
Now, before we talk about the Journey Inward/Journey Outward of holiness, let me pause to say something about being “enthused and animated” by the Spirit.
And we’ll use Rom. 12:2 as a reflection point: “Be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds.”
How are we to be transformed from the inside out? I think one of the best part to go to in Romans, pre-chapter 12, is to go back to Romans 8 where Paul emphasizes a life “animated” by the Spirit.
See Rom. 8: 10-11
“…If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the SPIRIT gives life because of righteousness. And if the SPIRIT of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his SPIRIT who lives in you.”
WE can’t live Rom. 12 w/o embracing the reality of Rom. 8!
We are transformed through the power and presence of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead! Isn’t that good news?? Isn’t that hopeful news? We are not left to our finite strength to live this “way”… “he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to OUR mortal bodies.” Yahoo! Rejoice!
How do we access this power? Spiritual practices! That’s why we often talk about these practices here at FBC…ie: the practice of prayer; of solitude; of spiritual listening; the slow and reflective reading of scripture…
And thus it’s only in the light of this reality that we ought to talk about holy living…
a holiness rooted in the empowering presence of God.
HOLY LIVING – Journey Inward – Romans 12:3-13 [see bulletin insert]
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
If Holiness is what we long for….If holiness is what we need…If holiness is what God wants from us…
Then this is the snapshot of what Holiness looks like when it’s lived out in the midst of Christian community. Again…it’s not about following a rulebook is it?
It’s a calling, it’s a long obedience in the same direction…it’s NOT easy…we are not perfect at this kind of life together, but God is not asking for our perfection, God is asking for us to be a people who are empowered by the Spirit (the same that raises people from the dead!) to raise us up and enthuse us & animate us to be a HOLY people…
Sidethought: Isn’t it interesting that in portions of the Bible like this, we don’t really have to do lots of greek word studies…it’s pretty laid out for us is it not??
As with many things in the life of Christian community, this kind of “life together” is not meant just for us…it’s meant to change the world…change our neighbourhoods…in our vision statement it’s the outward movement of “seeking the peace and well-being [shalom] of the city…
HOLY LIVING – Journey Outward – Romans 12:14-21
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This “outward journey” section has a couple of snags in it…the first part is pretty clear, but then all this vengeance & burning coals talk near the end can be a little startling hmm?
I want to pause with vv. 19-20 for just a moment… “leaving room for the wrath of God” does not mean… “oooh, I can’t wait till you rot and wail in a place of eternal conscious punishment!!” I like to put it in the words of preacher Will Willimon… “In the end, God will get what God wants.” Thus, we can leave God’s judgement and justice in God’s hands…and not take it into our own hands. These should be words of relief for us should they not!!??
And v. 20 shows us how to “set up” someone to get what God wants…if you’re going to entrust your enemies into God’s hands, do it with radical kindness/generosity.
Feed your enemies.
Quench your enemy’s thirst.
In doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads…this is “burning coals” in the best sense of the meaning…in ancient religious practices, the sign of a repentant heart was to carry a tray of burning coals upon one’s head…as one Bible commentator put it “gracious deeds burn away the hate within…such gracious treatment is intended to get [our] enemy to turn from enmity to friendship”
And finally, in v. 21…Paul echoes v. 2…
“Do not be overcome by evil” goes hand in hand with
“Do not be conformed to this world”…
Be transformed (v. 2)
And overcome evil with good (v. 21).
– – – – –
Is the Holy life an easy life? Nope.
Is it a good life? Is it a life that you will want to devote the rest of your life’s energies into?
That’s ultimately your choice…God’s got big enough shoulders to handle your response…
The good news is that you’re not alone. This is a “we” movement.
The good news is also that the power is not left to us in our own strength.
The Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, is the same power moving in you and I today…baffling but true news!
Holy Summer School Homework [assignment] ?
Pick one word/phrase for the journey in, pick one for the journey out…
See the Message, Romans 8:29-30
[It’s God at work in us, through us, for us!]
29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name.
After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself.
And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.
May God continue to bless us, inspire us, enthuse us…on our journeys of “glorious completion.”