I Wanna Be Reaching Out
(Series: Outside My Own Little World)
Romans 12: 1-8
May 26, 2013
Reverend Jan Wiley
Introduction to Romans
Writers are often asked this question: What one book would you most want if you were stranded on a desert island? G. K. Chesterton, a great writer, gave a classic reply: “Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”
If asked the same question about a single book of the Bible, many Christians might choose Romans – Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome for it encompasses so much of what it means to be a Christian. Paul writes about God’s saving righteousness with a universal concern for both Jews and Gentiles. At the end of chapter 11, Paul re-emphasizes our faith comes through grace, by God’s mercy.
We begin today at the beginning of chapter 12. The first line includes a “therefore” meaning that what God now asks of us as people of faith flows from the mercy of God already extended to us. Listen as Paul begins by talking about the individual person’s response to God but soon invites us to share our gifts and work together as one body in Christ.
I wasn’t much of a church-goer as a young child. So I didn’t really know the stories of the Bible at all. In fact, one of my earliest experiences of Christianity came one day in the dentist’s office waiting room. I was probably 8 or 9. I was already an avid reader. There wasn’t much interesting in the waiting room because I had already found the hidden objects in the picture in Highlights magazine – but I saw a kid’s Bible. I remember the cover was blue and had a picture on the front and illustrations on the inside. So I picked up the Bible and it opened to the story, and worse, the picture with a caption that read: ‘Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar.’ Whoa! Not a good image for a little kid. I’m not sure that I read the story to discover that God told Abraham he did not need to use his son as sacrifice. But it has always made that word ‘sacrifice’ an uncomfortable memory. Maybe we all feel a bit uneasy around that word because we know that following God might lead to the most difficult of choices or actions.
That’s why the passage from Romans is startling as it redefines, at least for me, another way in which we offer ourselves. We have all read stories of people who have jumped in a river to save a drowning child only to lose their own lives in the process. We could be faced with such a sacrifice as that. But Paul offers us another image of sacrifice. After lifting up God’s grace he appeals to his ‘brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’ We are called to be ‘living sacrifices’ – not looking necessarily for that one time dramatic gift of ourselves to God, but rather, to look for the complex or simple ways, day in and day out, to offer ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. Paul defines offering ourselves for others as spiritual worship. Because of God’s love and mercy, it is not enough to worship God only in this sanctuary. We are called to worship God through the daily living of our lives. Paul then goes on to remind us to think of our individual gifts, not so that we are bragging, but rather to see how those gifts can be used together with other’s gifts, in service and witness.
Paul says it with language of his time. The songwriter Matthew West in the video we watched a few weeks ago said it this way in the refrain:
What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
that I could be living right now?
Well, I don’t wanna miss what matters.
I wanna be reaching out
showing the greater purpose
so I could be living right now.
Outside my own little world …
We may not always use Matthew West’s words but we have an identity as a congregation that strives to live into those words. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing space to a group. On Friday night I had to give a new key to the Narcotics Anonymous group that meets on campus in Room 19. Anthony received the new key and then immediately thanked us for providing space for their group. He said, “you don’t know how hard it is to find space for our meeting. We appreciate it so much.”
Even something as simple as providing space makes a difference. But last Fall we embarked on linking our Sunday morning worship with service.
We repeated that effort last week as we gathered on Pentecost Sunday for an early camp style worship service outside and then we moved into work teams. It was our way of offering a ‘living sacrifice’ as we gave our morning to work projects around the community. In a moment we will share a brief video including pictures of some of our projects. Six groups stayed on campus but most of their work will benefit the wider community. Campus groups put together:
– blessing bags for the homeless and
– worked in our Food Closet,
– finished lap blankets for seniors,
– hygiene kits for Beach Cities Interfaith Services,
– home-made cards and
– put together casseroles and froze them for those needing assistance.
– UMCOR Health Kits – Oklahoma
Off campus we sent people to:
– pick up trash at Bolsa Chica Wetlands and at the beach,
– painted over graffiti at Slater and the railroad tracks,
– worked on clearing ground and spreading mulch with HB Trees project,
– worked at a women’s transitional home by completing a raised planter bed for a vegetable garden with the assistance of some of the residents and did some interior painting
– assisted at the Oak View Development Center reorganizing teaching materials in a large storage shed and sanding and varnishing the children’s outdoor play furniture
Look at the pictures of what we did, how we shared our gifts with the community.
SHOW VIDEO NOW
When we came back and shared with one another there was great energy around the work that we had done. As Matthew West says in his song, we saw a bigger picture and we lived into the greater purpose to which God calls us. We know we didn’t change the whole world, but we changed a few things in our community for the better.
Here are a few things that got me excited. Many of the people who went to Oakview Child Development Center had never been there. Oakview is the area not far from here with very high density apartment buildings. It is a low economic area but the soccer field is always active with kids and families out at the games. But our members discovered the hidden gem of the Child Development Center – a creative, wonderful kid-centered place. And I got excited when one of our men got invested in the center and he’s going to work with their director Rita on some additional projects. He’s not giving only a Sunday to the center. He’s going back. Because he has gifts to share. And he caught a vision.
And I got excited when Doug Blue, started asking me the names of some folks there, because he coordinates Habitat for Humanity and he saw people with skill that I am pretty sure he is going to recruit.
Got excited when I heard about kids at Women’s Transitional Home who helped with vegetable garden and how Chuck Glenn used his teaching skills to show a little boy how to plant the vegetables. How invested the community will be in that garden.
What got me excited was seeing people connecting not just with the work but with people – the people we were serving and with other church members.
Because Matthew West is right. We wanna be reaching out. And we can do it by ourselves but Paul is right too. We do it so much better when we do it together. When we live into the biblical model of being the Body of Christ.
We don’t have to have all the skills. We just have to use the ones God gave us, grow them a bit if we can, and offer them in God’s name and partner with others. When we move from Population: Me to seeing Outside My Own Little World we realize there are opportunities all around us to discover God’s greater purpose and offer a living sacrifice.
I close not with my words but the words of Paul. The verses that follow directly after what we read today. We read chapter 12: 1-8. Let me conclude with Paul’s further invitation for us in verse 9-13.
He doesn’t ask for much. Just everything. Paul says:
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.
We Wanna Be Reaching Out.
May it be so.