Faith Rolling Up Its Sleeves
Romans 12:9-13
March 13, 2015, Ohio Conference ACA

I. Okay, so there are 452 words in Romans 12 and 64 words in vv. 9-13, but six of us preachers are supposed to speak on only two of them…..?
A.I’m sure glad I get to go first.
B.Now the two words we six preachers were encouraged to speak on out of the 64       words in this text are Practice hospitality.
1.That’s it. Just two words.
2. Practice hospitality.
3.Or at least that’s how I interpreted the directions I was given.
C.Now having been well-trained at AMBS 40 years ago, I immediately thought,   “W hat is the context of these two words?”
D.So I sat down to read Romans 12 as if I was coming to it for the first time, and it struck me how this passage is a collection of imperatives for living the Christian life.
1.I noted that some imperatives deal with Christians’ responsibility to God and that other imperatives deal with Christians’ responsibility to brothers and sisters.
2.Motivated by that insight, I created two columns–“Responsibility to God” and “Responsibility to brothers and sisters”–and used cut and paste to put what Paul was saying into one or the other of these two categories.
3.When I was done, I had identified 13 imperatives dealing with responsibility to God–stuff like Offer your bodies as living sacrifices,/ Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor–and 23imperatives dealing with responsibility to our brothers and sisters–stuff like Be devoted to one another in brotherly love,/ share with God’s people who are in need,/ live at peace with everyone.
4.As I reviewed these two columns, I quickly noticed how I could organize these imperatives into categories.
a.My mind, which thinks in outline format, began buzzing with possibilities.
b.But then one of those beepers–like in your car when you forget to put on your seat belt–began to go off in my head, and I ran into the limitations of the invitation to preach tonight.
(1)–Ten minutes….. Two words…..
(2)–Practice hospitality.
II.So, trying to scale back on all the sermonic possibilities I was seeing, I noted that Practice hospitality comes from a category of imperatives in which Paul calls for Christians to care for other people in a physical sense.
A.Other mandates in this area include:
1.Share with God’s people who are in need.
2.If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
B.This category of Paul’s imperatives is saying that Christians are to be people whose love for each other, and even for enemies, has a physical component to it.
1.It’s not just love that sends out waves of positive feelings toward others.
2.But it’s love that actually physically does something for them.
C.Now it is in this area that much has been made of tensions between Paul and James in regards to faith and works, with Paul saying you need no works to have salvation and James saying there is no salvation without works.
1.But I think that what Paul says here in Romans 12 is basically the same thing that James says in James 2, What good is it if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him or her? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, (I’m sending all sorts of waves of positive feelings in your direction,)” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
2.Rather than being in dispute with each other, Paul and James are singing the same song. They are singing a duet that says Christian faith is not saving faith if it doesn’t have a physical component to it.
a.Feeling emotions of love count for nothing if you are still sitting there in your pew or your Laz-Y-Boy rocker.
b.You’ve got to shift into action.
c.You’ve got to Share with God’s people who are in need. You’ve got to feed your enemy. You’ve got to Practice hospitality.
D.The author of Hebrews chimes right in and harmonizes with Paul and James when he says Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it, which is most likely a reference to Abraham’s hospitality toward the three men who showed up at his tent unannounced in Genesis 18.
E.And John turns the Paul/James/Hebrews trio into a quartet when he says, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue (or by sending waves of good feelings toward people) but with actions and in truth.
F.Paul,/ James,/ Hebrews,/John–they are united in four-part harmony saying, “Don’t let your love be just something you feel.”
1.Let it be something that does something.
2.Share with God’s people who are in need. Feed your enemy. Practice hospitality.
G.I’m recalling feeling inspired by this image on a Saturday evening in late February 1990.
1.West Liberty, Ohio, was being hammered with a severe ice storm and US 68 through town had been closed, with the result that some travelers made it into town but were not allowed to go any further.
2.When one of my congregation members phoned to tell me of these trapped travelers and that the fire department had opened the town hall to feed them, I called and said, “We can free up a bed at our house for anyone who wants to stay the night,” and shortly a fireman led an elderly couple to our driveway.
3.What a joy it was to practice hospitality that night.
a.But you know, it was hospitality that cost us next to nothing.
b.And I think what Paul and James and Hebrews and John have in mind includes a hospitality that goes beyond that.
H.What Paul and James and Hebrews and John have in mind includes a much more costly hospitality.
1. A hospitality that feeds and houses refugees in Turkey and Lebanon.
2. A hospitality that resettles refugees from South East Asia as so many congregations did several decades ago.
3. A hospitality like Brazo en Brazo and Open Arms that reaches out to brothers and sisters from Mexico and Central America.
4. A hospitality that feeds and clothes and provides beds for the homeless.
5. A hospitality that provides families for foster and adoptive children.
III.Christian faith is not just a faith that loves by feeling good toward people.
A. It’s a faith that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work.
B. A faith that prepares a meal/ or dozens of them.
C.A faith that says, sure, we can free up a bed for the night/ or a week/ or a month.
D.Christian faith is a faith that Practice(s) hospitality.