A Benediction.

Proper 17, Year A: Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson.

Our priest would bestow a benediction at end of Sunday worship that was like … a shot of vitamin B12 — strengthening us for the challenge of the week ahead.

It was like an inoculation — keeping us well, guarding our health, guarding our faith. 

It was like the lens of a camera — suddenly bringing everything into focus … of what the Christian life looks like.

And this benediction? It was essentially a distillation of the gospel and a paraphrase of today’s lesson from Romans.

What Paul describes here are the “marks of a true Christian.”[1] He provides a crucial reality check for us in this description of what faith on the ground in community looks like.

At first this passage can sound like a jumble of ideas and actions, but woven together (yes — here comes another metaphor!) creates the fabric of Christian community — a real-world expression of our faith and values — bringing warmth and goodness to our lives and the lives of others.  

What Paul instructs us in today is the distinct way of being Christian — living our faith in real time, in real situations making a positive and life-giving impact.

The good news is that the good news is good news — for everyone. For living these teachings, these imperatives Paul lays out for us, is the process of making real our prayer: thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.[2]

While Paul may refer to himself as a fool for Christ[3], he is no fool. He does not romanticize the challenge, the strains and stresses of following the teachings of Christ on our earthly pilgrimage. By the time Romans is written in c. 58 CE, what we have here is what scholars describe as the “mature mind”[4] of Paul. And Romans very likely the last letter we have that he wrote.

And what has he given us after so many years of ministry? A practical theology: Imperatives to live by, distillations of Christ teachings. That can serve as — sorry another metaphor — like bumper rails on a bowling lane.

Beginning with: Let love be genuine.

Genuine love is “the rule of community life.”[5] God is the source of love, and we are to be so full of that love — by persevering in prayer — that it spills over in all aspects of our lives. Not just to those closest to us, or in our tribe, but a love so Spirit-inspired that it no longer fears the stranger. It is so courageous and counter-cultural it even embraces “the enemy” … and seeks to overcome evil with good.[6]

It is an active love, not passive, actively seeking the opportunity to serve and go beyond one’s individual concerns. This gracious self-giving is what Christ showed us in his life … and is what he describes in today’s gospel: 

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

That Paul offers us this clarion call to Christian living is incredibly helpful when there are so many things to distract us: from our own sadness and frustration that things still aren’t “normal” around here … to voices inciting division, fear, and distrust.

The good news … is that there is good news … which is good news … because it offers us, as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians, “a more excellent way.”[7] That, of course, is Christ’s way of love.

Two Christian friends, one a Republican and one a Democrat, published a book last year entitled I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-filled Political Conversations. I recommend it, for it provides helpful tools for thinking and discussion. 

Including one phrase in particular: take off your jersey. That is, abandon the “team”, winner-take-all mentality that dominates our national conversation. Because not taking off our jerseys has, as these two friends write, “allowed us to let politicians, issues, and controversies stand in for our values, resulting in disconnection from our fellow citizens and from ourselves.”[8]

Because the truth is, as Christians, we don’t wear a red jersey or a blue jersey. No. We’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb and wear a white robe.[9] We are Christians first, and that guides our thoughts, positions, our actions and … our loves. And calls us to a genuine love; a self-giving love.

Today, Paul helps us to see clearly: the good news that is truly good news — for all people. For when we live into our Christian vocation, we are a blessing to each other and to the world. We begin to fulfill our vocation of being “the light of the world.”[10]

So, here is your benediction! Your spiritual vitamin B12 shot. Your inoculation, protecting your health, your faith. Your camera lens to help you see clearly. Your bumper rails on the bowling lane to keep you rolling along the path and out of the gutter. And, your contribution to weaving and repairing the fabric of our community, our society …

Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Amen.


The video version of this sermon can be found here at 21:58.

[1] Harper-Collins Study Bible: Fully Revise and Updated, NRSV, p. 1926. HarperOne, San Francisco, 2006.

[2] Matthew 6:10.

[3] 1 Corinthians 4:10.

[4] Harper-Collins Study Bible: Fully Revise and Updated, NRSV, p. 1910. HarperOne, San Francisco, 2006.

[5] Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 6: Romans, p. 375. Byrne S.J., Brendan. Harrington S.J., Daniel J., Editor. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota, 2007.

[6] Ibid, p. 376.

[7] 1 Corinthians 12:31b.

[8] Holland, Sarah Stewart and Silvers, Beth. I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, p. 49. Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 2019.

[9] Revelation 7:14.

[10] Matthew 5:14.

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