"Therefore .. worship": worship is spiritual is bodily is sacrifice. Paul, master of polysyndetic coordination, feels no need to add water to this extra-strength-concentration memory verse. Everything everything, and all "by the mercies of God". After eleven chapters of pulling back the slingshot's elastic, Paul switches from the theologically descriptive to the imperative, in a what-the-how-to. What: "Worship" // How-to: "Sacrifice" ~ this is how we apply, embody, interpret, understand, export Paul's preceding thesis on the Jewish roots and Gentile fruits etc. v2 The nonconformist doing of this worship/sacrifice in a manner which is 'good&acceptible&perfect' is a skillful task. Doing the 'not-conforming' is a 'being-transformed', which comes by knowing ie. 'renewal of mind' which comes by doing via 'testing' (Gk dokimazō ~ "finding out the worth of something by putting it to use or testing it in actual practice") inorder to know. The Christian life is a project of interrelated right-doing and right-knowing. The knowledge of God is a tacit knowledge, an embodied knowledge, a depthed domain of conceptual and preconceptual progressively grasped understanding. And so today, we worship by sacrifice which is a testing inorder to know inorder to do ~ all on the basis that we already are.
Rm12v3-4 The humility exhorted here reads this morning reads not only as against pride, but also against self-contempt. Self-contempt is a kind of pride, perhaps. You can only act on the information you have. So: Be modest in your thinking. Judge yourself according to the faith that you have.
Rm12v5-6 At all scales of being a body corporate (she&me, work, 41, to the CofE and much wider networks) diversity is difficult, less because of antagonistic division ~ if only we might be so plain spoken ~ but rather more because of dull homogenisation. Self-selecting self-similarity willing to congregate around a dis-Othered one-size-fits-all, a race-to-the-bottom of the lowest-common-denominator lukewarm less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts community of sameness, forming a bloated megachurch rendered in the image of one leader, styled by his preoccupations and tribal creed, shaped by her gifts and the measure of her faith. The PJs could be such a bloated megachurch, 41 could be such a monotonous narrowing, unadventurous in our diversity, unaccountable in muzzled faith and anaemic in the Venn diagram intersect of gifts we license. And v6 prophecy is so often the first to go, and the tacitly cessationist congregation kettles a stale male pale distillate, the residue of a stagnant pool as the awkward holy fool is evaporated early, the death of the artist is the canary in the church coalmine. Imperatively you must use the gift of prophecy.
You ~ qua you as a body corporate at all scales must use the giftings of prophecy.
Must ~ not as a legalism, but for dear life.
Use ~ employ it for a purpose to a cause to an end to move mountains, to strengthen church, to speak truth to power.
Prophecy ~ attuned to the unseen, the not-yet, and by so listening and so speaking, draw heaven into all of life, lyrically poetically playfully politically.
Rm12v7-8 Reading from Peter Leithart's Traces of the Trinity this morning, which includes a meditation entwined with Paul's picture of the church as the one body of Christ: we indwell and are indwelt by one another in our use of these gifts, as Christ indwells us and is indwelt by us, as the persons of the Trinity indwell and are indwelt by one another. As we teach serve share etc, we polyphonically participate in worship: "The Spirit who indwells inspires [worship], an expression of God's dwelling in us, us dwelling in God, & of believers indwelling one another. In the eternal praise of the new creation, we will become one mighty sound, like the mighty waters, like the voice of God himself. The Spirit breaks us open so we can host others within us; the Spirit expands us so that we can house multitudes; the Spirit drives us ahead so that we gladly, redemptively, take up residence where the Son dwelled, in the slums of human hearts." This is Christmas, that the Son indwelt the world as the world indwells the Son. May we see every small action in the context of this chiasm, the reality of mutual indwelling.
Rm12v9-10 Fakers gonna fake. But you, you love with an unaffected love, a love unconfected, unalloyed, unreserved and completely unsentimental. You love without compensation, without simulation, and without hypocrisy. You love with a total love, thorough, final, comprehensive. A love that counts the cost, a love that casts out fear, a pro-active love that loves despite my unloveliness, a superabundant love in which there are no shades or degrees.
But I, I love with a veneered love, partial and pretensed, a people-pleaser's lying love. Opaque, cynical, and exploitative. My love is an extractive industry, a corrupt barter, a codependent blackmail. I love you as a means to an end, I love you for something in return, for the brief buzz of bodily sensation in my zombie cybernauseous existence. I am a love machine, well oiled and invulnerable, I love with a painless love, I am a fair-weather lover, an I♥NY lover, I appreciate a subset of your parts at no cost to myself. I love you in a complex role-playing make-believe, a choreography of learnt responses in the erotic collision of a narcissist into a stationary object. I love with a cloying sentimental love, selfish in extreme. In my veins, synthetic and saccharine crystals of tawdry aspartame curdles with the putrid glitter and oil of ingenuous affection, choking the arteries of my organs for goodness truth and beauty.
Oh Phil, let love be genuine. Allow it. Fear not.
Rm12v11-12 Be fervent. I tend to think of fervour as extreme emotion, to be contrasted with weak emotion. But what if we thought of fervour as extreme depth? Not arbitrary capricious passion for its own sake, as a way of reactively pouring scorn on indecisive lukewarm mediocrity, but rather, constant depth, constant pursuit of meaning. How I long to be so faithful. v12 goes on to say more about what this fervour-depth is like: joyful, hopeful, which is the antithesis of mere survival, mere people-pleasing, but also patient, constant, the antithesis of caprice or manipulation. The life of prayer is the life of depth. The life of constant prayer is the life of constant depth.
Rm12v13-14 Hospitality is a good universally acknowledged. But it needed commending and it needs commending. Why? 1. It gets neglected because it involves risk. 2. It can be brought to ever greater excellence but who can be bothered?
Christianity is a peerless and extreme how and why for hospitality.
~ Why? Because our universe is one in which an hospitable God welcomes ill-deserving strangers into his domain at cost to himself. This fundamental truth and the display of its poetry is its own imperative and it is the license to so seek our joy in exuberantly prioritising hospitality, hedonistically we give home away because it is more blessed to give.
~ How? Our daily experience is a God who supplies for this project, over against the scarcity mindset of individualist renderings of home and national borders, over against security fears. George Muller and countless others have scaled their hospitable provision according to the God they follow, the God who is able to feed five thousand, the homeless God who is yet able to host dinner in an upper room.
Rm12v15-16 Thinking about pathological ways that we might rejoice or weep with others, as Black Mirror's S3-E1, a social media dystopia where we simply live to 'like' each others' projected highs & lows, or the immaturity of codependency or oversensitive emotional contagion. But it's easy to use such examples, or to mutter about Jesus having good boundaries, as a way of deflecting the command and the opportunity of this verse. We are to be 'with' one another, 'alongside' rather than merged with. We are to weep with them, to carry their burdens, but to know that the other remains distinct. We weep and laugh with them, not because we are them. But we are to weep and rejoice with them. Our movement towards to other is always to be one of recognition, empathy, love. Love is so great a thing that it can be many things. Not all rejoicing-with has to look the same. There are seasons and intimacies which determine what it looks like to rejoice-with and mourn-with this particular person...and it must be particular otherwise it is not 'with'...but the movement is always to be one of love, which is minimally to not treat others' joys and pains as in some way in competition with one's own, nor to outlaw anyone from the outset as excluded from your empathy. 'Love them anyway' says a note on my parents' fridge. T reminded me of the sacrificial nature of the love we receive in abundance from God. So love, as you were first beloved.
Rm12v17-18 'Do what is honourable in the sight of all' The commentaries seem to agree, the 'honourableness' is not moderated by 'the sight of all', ie. it is not a maxim to do actions which are viewed as honourable by some subjective consensus. The emphasis is rather doing that which is concretely honourable and doing it in plain sight.
Do good in public. Do public good.
There is a time for the private abstinance of discretely ethical consumption, the ninja gifting, slights of left-hand to right-hand giving with the door closed and the curtains drawn. But it is not enough. The world needs to see, the city needs to know, Christians need to proactively and creatively devise excellent things, honourable mechanisms, conspicuous displays, accessible metaphors, corporate expressions, public enactments of the ingenious common good on the stage of the urban theatre.
Rm12v19-20 Revenge. The addiction to revenge is a plummet that gathers momentum towards greater evil, both for self and other, this is why v21 exhorts us not to be overcome by evil. For revenge always prefers one's own broken over one's own healing, so long as the other is hurt too. I choose, for example, to stay inside my own pain, and hope that he sees it, and feels guilty - that is my revenge on him, but it comes at the cost of my own inability to be healed. Melanie Klein argued that envy was the one emotion which hates the good, but I think vengefulness is similar. Revenge tries to pull the other back into a circle of self and suffering, rather than asking God's spirit to place one's own feet in a spacious place. It is utterly self-defeating, inverted, self-perpetuating. All this even before the truth that a vengeful act on my part is apt to lock me into a vengeful response on his, ad infinitum. May grace deliver me from my vengeful heart.
Rm12v21 Life is played to-the-pain and anything other than ultra-non-violent vengeance is impatient and anxious and ineffective. We will outlast, outgive, outrisk, outabsorb all slings and arrows of evil.
Where is evil located?
~ All evil, within and without, my own evil self-contempt, my own will-to-power, my own trespassed-against-us, my own thought-word-and-deed, my own negligence-weakness-and-own-deliberate-fault, my own comission and omission. All evil is overcome by my pursuit of the good.
Does Paul address you individually or yous corporately?
~ We overcome evil individually, I overcome my selfishness by displacing it with generosity, bitterness with grace, barbs with bants, theft with gift, lies with a bigger truer truth.
~ We overcome evil corporately, as a house, as a church, as a nation through the aggressive and proactive and exuberant and organised pursuit of the good at a sacrificial cost to ourselves. We overcome organised-crime, systemic-social-injustice, the housing crisis, climate change, terrorism, but this pursuit of good at this scale hinges on a sufficiently strong we-experience to collectively-intend the good. If only we could practice this in some sort of large shared house.