Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

August 31, 2014 by Ken Dale

In a pastoral visit with a church member a week or so ago a poem called The Weaver came to my mind. I could only remember the first line. So I looked it up and it reads:

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me;

I may not choose the colors, He knows what they should be;

For He can view the pattern upon the upper side

While I can see it only on this, the under side.

Sometimes He weaveth sorrow, which seems strange to me;

But I will trust his judgment, and work as faithfully;

Tis He who fills the shuttle, He knows just what is best,

So I shall weave in earnest and leave with Him the rest.

Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why ?

The dark threads are as needful in the weaver?s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

I might take issue with some of this poem, but for today I share it as it likens the journey of life and faith to a weaving. One of the things I love about the poem is that both God and the person are understood as weaving. God has a part – and we have a part in it as well. In the life of faith ? our weaving might be likened to those threads called warp and woof. The warp are those long threads that go out ? in faith, those threads could be likened to the threads that run between God and ourselves ? and those threads are individual and communal. The woof threads would be the ones that run before us running left and right capturing our relationships with each other. In our reading from Paul?s letter to the Romans this morning the nature of those woof threads is described ? and it is loaded ? a minimal count of 23 imperatives for Christian living. It refers to how we are to live with one another both as individuals and as a community of faith.

What we have before us are the core values for Christian life ? the basis of that tapestry. However we picture it, we can see how in these words Paul is calling the person of faith and the community of faith to a life rooted in a different standard than that of the world and culture in which we live. I know the goal of most business is to make money. But it really struck me this past week when I went in and requested dropping my cable TV and land-line telephone, but keeping my internet. When I signed up 4 years ago it was $89 a month for all three but now it was up to $180. Their first response was to reduce the rate. That did not change my reason for being there. I couldn?t help but feel I had been overcharged for a few of those 4 years. I did keep my internet service but couldn?t help but ask if I was getting their best rate. She grinned and said ?No, but you will be now as I am reducing it to the best price.? I couldn?t help but think what a terrible way to do business ? but they were intentional about making as much money off me as they could. What Paul has before us this morning is what we as people of Christian faith should be intentional about. And to say the least ? it?s challenging.

It is a safe bet that most faith-filled people would not struggle much with the logical and practical words exhorting us to hate evil, and to persevere in prayer, to live in harmony with one another, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Perhaps with a few occasional exceptions we seek that each and every Sunday morning with joys and concerns and fellowship coffee after church. We could even find it happening during the week between Sundays when we run into each other here and there. Loving one another with mutual affection might be a bit of a challenge at times ? but it?s doable. We can even contribute to the needs of the saints and be hospitable to new comers and even strangers. It?s interesting ? at first we might be thinking of money for contributions ? but I read that the verb ?contribute? in this passage is koinoneo which is usually translated commune or be in fellowship ? so actually Paul is putting a strong emphasis on the community aspect of faith and calling us to live together as family ? again, there are many types of families and that could be challenging at times ? but that is what we are to strive for together.

But how does it feel when that hospitality gets stretched ? and we not only extend hospitality to the strangers but we bless, feed, and refuse to take vengeance on our enemies. And that?s not just within the setting of the church ? but in all of our relationships including those outside that ?church family.? In our culture we are competitive in many areas and try to outdo one another in many instances and areas of life. So imagine a community competing with one another to honor one another. We are called in this passage to hold fast to that which is good I have long been fascinated by the power of the negative. Human nature, it seems so easy to hold fast with something to be unhappy about and in doing so lose sight of all that is good. It brings to mind a recent daily devotional by Lillian Daniel about how you can block out the sun by holding one finger up. Of course it?s an illusion but well worth thinking about??? Paul teaches us to not repay anyone evil for evil, but to take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Paul reminds us that vengeance belongs to God.

I read a really challenging reflection on this that called us to remember that everything about us and our lives belongs to Christ, which is Paul’s deepest understanding of the Christian life. Paul says vengeance belongs to God ? that?s all through the Bible. So then not only is revenge not our right or our possession to keep … but even the wrongs we suffer do not belong to us. We are not to hold onto these hurts and wrongs as a basis for bitterness. They are not ours to keep. They belong to Christ. So Paul suggests, turn them over to God! Not an easy thing to do but Paul has an incredible confidence in the power of love. What else would propel him to speak so compellingly in favor of blessing those who persecute? Barbara Brown Taylor comments in this way on evil inflicted upon us, “The only way to conquer evil is to absorb it. Take it into yourself and disarm it. Neutralize its acids. Serve as a charcoal filter for its smog. Suck it up, put a straitjacket on it and turn it over to God, so that when you breathe out again the air is pure.” (from ?Trusting God to Settle Scores? by Rev. Dr. Peter Marty)

And I cannot help but wonder who gets changed when such action occurs? Warp and woof -how important these core values are, this different standard that Paul presents to us in the context Christian faith. Our bottom line in faith is to be an instrument of God?s love, of God?s peace, in this world. As Paul captures it in verse 18, ?If it is possible, so far as it depend on you, live peaceably with all.? May our love be genuine, may we too overcome evil with the goodness of God?s love.