Spirit-Led Living (August 22 – 28)

Sunday, August 28, 2011
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Focus Theme
Spirit-Led Living

Weekly Prayer
In the flaming bush you promised deliverance to your people, O God, and in the cross of Jesus you embraced our suffering and pain. In times of misery, show us the transforming power of your love that we may know the hope of your glory. Amen.

Weekly Reading
Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

All Readings for the Week
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Focus Questions

1. In whom do you need to “discover beauty,” even though you may not want to?

2. How well do you think we Christians live up to Paul’s teachings in this text?

3. How would our public life be affected if Christians truly followed these teachings more often?

4. How is the Spirit leading you to “overcome evil with good” in your own life?

5. How do you define love, in marriage, and in the life of the community?

by Kate Huey

Paul’s soaring theology of grace sparked criticism that he didn’t have an ethical dimension to his teaching, but his Letter to the Romans responds masterfully to this question with a “therefore” that describes the proper response to God’s grace, and what it looks like to be transformed by God. Written to the young church at Rome, the letter is full of advice, as Paul gives guidance in the early days of the church to a young community (a little like a newly-married couple; this can be a wonderful wedding text) that is already experiencing some problems, some conflict and challenges, as they learn to live together, rooted in love, not a warm, fuzzy, soft-focus love, but a clear, “community,” interdependent kind of love.

Last week’s reading from Romans 12:1-8 spoke of the need to live a life transformed by the power of the gospel, and this week’s reading describes such a life. One short exhortation after another describes the content of Paul’s “better way” (I Corinthians 12), all of it in the spirit of Jewish wisdom and Jesus teaching. Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message gives a remarkably accessible path to the challenge Paul lays out: “Love from the center of who you are” and “discover beauty in everyone.” Perhaps those two lines are at the heart of the list of instructions, because loving from the center of who we are, and finding beauty in every single one of God’s children, would surely lead us to be generous and hospitable, forgiving and peaceful, humble and kind. Again, Paul’s “better way” contrasts with the world (“the empire”) that surrounds him and his readers, most dramatically there in Rome.

The ways of the world

Today, we are surrounded by a world that puts its faith more in striking back than in discovering beauty in every single one of God’s children. In Rome long ago, and in the world today, the sweet irony of loving our enemy, of giving our hungry enemy food instead of bombing them, of giving our thirsty enemy a drink instead of striking them down, might confuse and confound them, and perhaps even participate in their transformation as well. We are, alas, too conformed to the ways of this world rather than to the ways of the gospel, it seems, and unwilling to short-circuit evil with good. We find ourselves fueling the evil rather than doing the entirely unexpected thing of responding with love. It is the effect of sin marring the essential goodness of our creation in the image of God.

This good creation by God is the reason we should consider our “natural tendencies” to be good and beautiful. Our truest nature (the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln said) lies buried beneath the distortions of sin and self-centeredness, of fear and failure to trust. And yet we are transformed by God, and the actions we choose have a hand in shaping us not in the form and image of a broken world, but in the shape of God’s own dream for us, good and lovely, gracious and giving and kind. Perhaps there have been moments that you can think of when you, or others in your life, in your church, have loved from the center of who they are, times when you have iscovered beauty in everyone.

Newlyweds, or long-married?

When has the Still-speaking God spoken to your congregation and to the United Church of Christ, calling us to follow a “better way,” in spite of what the world around us would say? Your church may be more like a newly married couple (a young church), or a long-married one (established long-ago). How, then, does this text from so long ago speak to the life of your congregation? How well, in what ways, does your church “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “extend hospitality to strangers”? Notice that it says “strangers,” not “familiar friends and family.” Members of churches often say, “We’re a friendly church,” warmly welcoming one another, friends and family, while failing to notice the new visitor in their midst, who quietly walks by, unnoticed. How well do we welcome those we do not know?

For Further Reflection

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 20th century
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

Walt Whitman, 19th century
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people…go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families….

William Pickens, in a speech to a meeting of Congregationalists, Oak Park, Illinois, November 2, 1932
Living together is an art.

Oscar Arias Sanchez, 20th century
The children of the world do not need more missiles.   

G.K. Chesterton, 20th century
The Christian faith has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Revised Common Lectionary is © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.