Proper 17 · Romans 12:9–21 · September 3, 2017
Editor’s note: the following homiletical help is taken from David Schmitt’s sermon series “God’s Greater Story: A Sermon Series on Romans 6–14,” which is available for download here.
By David Schmitt
Our text from Romans today is challenging. Paul writes to encourage God’s people but his words are overwhelming to us. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another . . . be fervent in spirit . . . rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” and that’s only a small portion of the first three verses. His list goes on and on.
Listening to his words it’s easy to feel exhausted. To feel unworthy. To wonder if the Holy Spirit could ever form within us all of these desires of God. Paul’s list is overwhelming and leaves us wondering, “Where do we start? What should we pay attention to? What is a Christian to do with all of these words?”
Let’s say you were to take one exhortation a day and really work on that one. So, for Monday, you take “Let love be genuine” and all day, you try to demonstrate genuine love. Passing by someone in the hall at work, you say, “how are you doing?” only this time you stop to listen and then you respond to what’s going on in her life.
Today, love is more than words of a casual greeting. It involves action and interaction, genuinely experienced and genuinely expressed. Tuesday you move to the next exhortation and work on “Abhor what is evil.” If you were to do this for every one of these exhortations, it would take you almost a month to get through the list. And that would be spending only one day on each one and assuming that you could actually do these things. Paul’s list of exhortations is overwhelming to the Christian.
Yet maybe Paul was trying to overwhelm God’s people—not with commands about what they had to be doing, but with a glimpse, just a glimpse of the kingdom of God, coming alive in their midst.
In our text, Paul is not setting out a twelve-step program to “build the better spiritual you” but rather revealing the varied ways in which God is at work in the world. Paul invites us to consider that vision so that today, in our small corner of this vast world, we too can participate in this ever-living kingdom of God.