September 16, 2018

Towards a Harmonious Relationship

Passage: Romans 12:1-16

In looking at the words of Paul in Romans 12, we find the apostle encouraging the people to work towards a harmonious relationship with each other and to recognize that each of them comes with different gifts and different abilities. He then encourages them to be aware of these differences and yet at the same time look for, find and take hold of the unity that is created when all the people are sharing and living in harmony. His words in verses 9 – 16 form part of what has been subtitled the Marks of the True Christian.

Finding our place within any community can be a challenge. We move to a new area, we start a new job, we join a new club. We must learn about the people who are already part of the group, how they interact with one another and figure out where we can fit into that group and whether we want to continue working there or participating in the group’s activities.

Sometimes we have the mistaken belief that all work places where similar employment is offered operate with the same rules or procedures as our last employment. We can also have similar thoughts when it comes to groups we want to involve ourselves in or involve members of our families.

I have learned over the years that each community, each workplace, each club or organization has a different culture – even if it shares a common name with other groups in other places. Understanding this can help us to determine whether we can accept the culture of the group or whether we can adapt to the culture. If we can successfully integrate our life with the lives of those presently in the group or workplace, we will no doubt find that our experiences will be pleasant – for the most part. We always need to remember that each of us will have our good days and bad days. Each of us can be unreasonable to deal with and most likely those around us who must suffer have not really had anything to do with it.

And so, each of us find ourselves seeking to find where we can belong socially, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Every change of life be it physical, emotional, intellectual or social will bring us new challenges to face. I trust that you have been relatively successful in negotiating these changes and have found places to belong.

Here in our congregation each of us also seek to find where we belong socially, intellectually, emotionally, physically but also spiritually. Our common heritage is Presbyterian, born out of the turmoil of the 15th and 16th centuries when people had lost faith in the religious leaders and were seeking to know on what they could rely for truth and guidance in their lives. At that time, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament took on new meaning. This was coupled with a concerted effort to translate and distribute the Bible in the common languages of people and so began the process that has led to greater literacy in the world today. People could read the history of the faith they professed and could make informed decisions about what they believed the Bible was really saying. Of course, some of the early translations still left many people puzzling over its meaning but in the 19th and 20th centuries more colloquial translations appeared that allowed more people to grasp the message of the Bible. Seemingly radical translations such as the Good News Bible and Peterson’s The Message are now accepted widely and celebrated for the accuracy of their translation. The process of interpreting the language, idioms and structure of one language to another has been something that has taken a long time to perfect and we still have questions about the meaning of some words found in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

But back to the issue of finding where we belong. For most of you gathered here, this is a community that you would say is your community. This is where you come to worship, it is where you come to learn, it is where you come to be encouraged, it is where you come to interact with others who share your faith in God. The culture of this place is a culture that you have come to accept or possibly adapt to and it is for you a spiritual home. On a recent vacation back west, my wife and I went back to visit the congregation we spent more than 10 years with – not as a minister but as a choir member, caretaker and board member. We saw new faces and familiar faces. We were reminded as we worshipped that this was a community where we had found a home – socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. Some things had changed but for the most part things and people were as we remembered them, and it brought us comfort and peace.

Now we know that communities of people are just that – communities of people. Family units, extended family units, circles of friends, work place acquaintances and groups we join for specific activities all are composed of people. And as such we are all fragile to some degree; we are all subject to moods and to disagreements; we can all find ourselves passing judgment about things and people. That’s the nature of being human.

Paul is keenly aware of the nature of the human being, but he does not want that nature to become the ultimate nature of those who have confessed faith in God as revealed in the one known as Jesus. He wants those who have made that decision to live with one another with a new vision. Part of that vision is to be genuine in our love for one another, to love one another with a mutual affection. The adage: ‘never go to bed without having made your peace with one another’, is perhaps not quite what you have heard but it does express what Paul is trying to impart. When we seek to live in peace, real peace with one another; when we seek to not overestimate our abilities or pretend we are wise when we are not; when we are willing to accept that some people have the gifts to be leaders and respect them for that leadership, we can all help each other to find our place in the community. Then we can rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, and we can live together in harmony.

While many people who call St. Paul’s Presbyterian their community of faith are involved in the wider life of the community both within the bounds of this village and within the bounds of the township and even the county, the wider community has not always been as involved with St. Paul’s. Over the last year that has changed. The seeds of this were sown awhile back and it has been watered and nurtured waiting for the growth to come. People have been invited to see what lies behind those doors that only seem to open on Sundays and for special occasions. Land that has lain fallow has now been used to feed people. Groups seeking a place to meet and carry on programmes that bring value to the wider community and the people have found a welcome. None of us can afford to remain isolated in our own kingdoms. We need to reach out and welcome others. We need to be aware that the community that surrounds us physically is the community in which we live, and it is full of people whom we may not know by name but would recognize as we passed them on the street.

I titled this message towards a harmonious relationship because it speaks not only of the community within these walls that gathers for worship and activities directly related to the church, but it also speaks of the community that has come to share these walls with us gathering to share resources and programmes that bring benefit to people socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually.

May we continue to build on what has begun and ever remember that the success of all of us depends on our willingness to share with one another our gifts, abilities and resources. AMEN