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The Cost of Discipleship: Your Life August 28, 2011

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Romans 12:9-21

 Proper 17

August 28, 2011

Focus: God loves us so much that He treats us better than we deserve.

Function: That the hearers love others as God first loved them.

Structure: Scriptural

 

The Cost of Discipleship: Your Life

            What does it mean to be a Christian?  That’s a very heavy question, but it’s exactly what Jesus and Paul were talking about. “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”  The cost of being a Christian, of following Christ, is your life.

That’s precisely what Paul was getting at when he wrote to the Christians inRome.  We saw this last weekend.  Paul told them to “offer [their] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”  There it is again: the cost of discipleship is our life.  He went on to explain to them what he meant.  As Christians, we should not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind to follow God’s will.  We don’t live like society around us; our life looks a little different.

Paul continued by laying out what that life looks like. God gives gifts to His people.  In this case, those gifts are the various talents that you and I have.  If your gift is teaching, teach; if it’s contributing, do so generously.  We all have various gifts and talents.  Just as my gifts are different than Vicar Mark’s, so are your gifts different from one another.  Paul tells us here that God wants us to use them to help others.

It is quite possible that you got a little gloomy when you saw that list of gifts.  Perhaps you thought to yourself, “I don’t have any of these gifts to use.  Where does that leave me in the church?”  Well for starters, you do have gifts.  Paul’s list simply didn’t cover everything, it wasn’t meant to be comprehensive.  They just didn’t have the technology to write as much as we can fit in books and computer documents today.  You, too, can use the gifts and talents God has given you to help others and spread His love.

But it’s also important to note that just because the pericope, the reading, stopped there last weekend, Paul didn’t.  He kept right on moving.  And he shifted into something that deals with everyone of us.  Age is irrelevant.  Social standing doesn’t matter.  We all have the capability of doing what Paul said next.  It’s the mark of a Christian.  It’s love.

And we’re not talking about just any ol’ love.  We’re not talking about romance or how great the movie was you saw last weekend.  It’s also not how we tend to choose friends because their toys are bigger and better than ours.  And that applies to us as adults as much as it does to all the kids.  We’re talking about a love that’s bigger than us.  This love is the “Agape” love of God.  Agape is a Greek word that refers specifically to the unconditional love that God has for you and me as His children.

If you’ve raised a child, you’ve experienced this love before.  It’s the love that a parent has for their little newborn child.  In our society, babies seem to be “worth” less and less.  They’re helpless; they’re totally dependent on you to take care of them.  They aren’t capable of giving anything back.  But to a parent, that child is priceless.  They’re a bundle of joy.  That’s the Agape love the Father has for us.  It is a sincere, genuine love.

In the next few verses, Paul rattles off another list for us to ponder.  It’s a list that teaches us more about what it means to be a living sacrifice and what it means to show genuine love.  Each of these could make for a sermon by itself, but I don’t think you want to listen to the new guy talk that much, so we’ll just summarize it a little bit.

We stay away from evil things and cling to things that are godly.  We devote ourselves to our relationships with one another, because a church just isn’t a church without being a community built around our relationships with each other.  We respect and honor others, putting them before ourselves.

Paul warns us not to become lazy in our lives.  Why not? Because our time here is short.  We are to serve God enthusiastically, not apathetically.  That enthusiasm boils over from the love that God has given us.  I want add a word to the text here.  “Be joyful in the hope.”  It’s okay, that little word actually is in the Greek.  But it stresses a point, what hope do we have?  It’s not our hope that there’ll be good weather tomorrow, or that our favorite sports teams manage to win a game or two this year.  It’s the hope we have in God’s love for us.

Be patient even when the going gets tough.  Pray regularly in your life.  Help people who are in need.  Open up your home when someone is need of a place to stay.  Share in other peoples’ joys and their sorrows.  Celebrate birthdays with friends.  Mourn the losses as well.  Do what you can to be at peace with everyone around you.  Be nice to people who the world might cast aside.  Don’t get too big of an ego, because there’s always someone who knows more than you do.

It’s a pretty significant list of traits and it certainly gives us all something to work on.  But while all of this describes love and how we should live as Christians, this attitude, this Agape love, reaches its peak when we encounter our enemies.

Take a break for a moment and think about your enemies.  Imagine a bully, past or present, an overbearing boss who treats you like a corporate slave, or that neighbor who keeps “borrowing” without asking.  As you think of them, I’m sure you can also think of what you would like to do to them.  It’s easy to start scheming, dreaming up some great revenge.  But as Christians, I must tell you to stop.  Paul has a different message for us.  Paul tells us not to seek revenge.  Instead, bless those who persecute you.  Don’t curse, bless.  Leave justice and revenge to God, the One who created everything to begin with.

And Paul doesn’t stop there.  He quotes Proverbs 25:21-22.  Just as Jesus tells us to love our enemies as ourselves, Paul tells us that not only should we live at peace with them, but also feed them if they’re hungry, and give them something to drink when they get thirsty.  When you do this, when you go out of your way to love them instead of striking back, you are doing something far deeper than they can even fathom.

Paul says that by doing so, we are heaping burning coals on their heads.  This is an odd reference, but it is important to note that Paul didn’t finish quoting that Proverb.  The original verse finished with “and the LORD will reward you.”  That was the way of the Old Testament people ofIsrael.  They were to drive their enemies out of the land, and have nothing to do with them and their false gods.  God rewarded them when they were faithful.

But now, there’s a difference.  There’s a change because of Christ.  The gospel message is first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.  The message of Jesus’ life and salvation is for every man to hear.  So as strange as the burning coals sound, it comes out like this:  by sharing Christ’s love with them, you are witnessing to them the power of the gospel.  If they reject it, the burning coals are the fires of Hell.  But if that food and drink that they need, the very message of salvation, gets through, then you have won a brother or sister in God’s family.

That is something that sets us apart as Christians.  No other major religion speaks of loving your enemies.  In fact, most of them promote revenge.  Genuine love is the mark of our faith.

A woman wrote a letter to a Christian magazine to share her family’s experience with “agape” love.  Her son was being punched by another boy at school whenever the teacher turned her back to them.  Having recently studied this passage from Romans in their family devotions, they decided the best thing to do was to follow God’s Word and “feed” this enemy.  So the next time the boy punched him, he simply responded by handing him a bag of jelly beans.

The “enemy” was dumbfounded.  By showing love where it wasn’t deserved, this young boy formed a lifelong friendship.  He overcame “evil” with “good” and converted an enemy into a friend.

And if you want the ultimate example of loving one’s enemy, you don’t have to look very hard.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  That’s right, I’m talking about our life story.  God created man, each and every one of us, to love and be in a relationship with Him.  But we all know that our relationship with God suffered.  We sinned.  We broke off our relationship with God so we could do whatever we wanted.  Indeed, we had made ourselves enemies of God.

So it’s a good thing that the One who tells us to love our enemies does just that Himself.  If God hadn’t loved His enemies, we would all have to face the fiery reality of Satan’s home.  It’s an act of God’s mercy that we don’t get what we deserve.  And it’s an act of God’s grace that we do get what we don’t deserve.  The Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to take our place.  He offered a peace offering when He sent His Son into enemy territory.  And as enemies of God, we ridiculed Jesus and sent Him to His death.  But yet again, God gave His enemies, us, what we didn’t deserve.  When Christ died on the cross, God didn’t obliterate mankind.  Just the opposite, He was heaping on burning coals on those who didn’t repent.  But for those who believe in His Son, God has offered the gift of everlasting life.

So it’s following Christ that makes us Christians.  And thus we’ve come full-circle this morning, right back to Jesus’ speech in the gospel lesson.  We don’t just live this life for our own pleasure and benefit.  That’s not why we’re here.  We have a greater purpose in God’s kingdom.  We are here to spread His love to all those who don’t know it.  And we know what that love is: it’s the message of His mercy and grace through His Son Jesus Christ.  As Christians, we sacrifice the pleasures and treasures of this world to find everlasting life.  When we take up our cross, the very cross of Christ, we share God’s love with everyone around us, that they too might receive the undeserved gift of everlasting life.  Go, feed your enemies.  Amen.

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