#BeUMC Week 2: The People of God Who Do Good
By Derek Weber
Missional, Committed, Connected, Generous
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. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:9-21 NRSV
Sometimes, it is hard to deny the simplicity of the gospel. Do good. What could be more direct? You could argue that this is one of those “Nike” messages: “Just do it!” But be ready for the follow-up question: “Do what?” Sometimes the good that we are to do seems obvious; at other times, we have to think and plan and wonder what we can do that is good but that also doesn’t cause harm elsewhere. It gets a bit tricky. We have to pay attention.
However, it is important that this week doesn’t become a burden on the congregation. Yes, there is always more good we could do, and we need reminders that we are called to be at work in the world. But we are hoping that the thrust of this worship moment can be one of celebration of the good we have been doing all along. That’s why we chose the word missional for this week’s worship. Missional can refer both to the focus of making disciples that drives all the ministries of the church and the various acts of service in which the church is engaged on a week-by-week basis. This might be a time for a mission inventory. Gather a list of active mission efforts the church is involved with. Ask around; there may be Sunday school groups or covenant groups that have undertaken a mission that they haven’t told anyone about. What mission efforts do the preschool parents engage in without complaint? Of course, you should not forget whole-church missions such as working at the food bank or collections of various kinds. Ask the United Methodist Women how many mission efforts they can name that their various circles and members have undertaken. Check with the youth group or the older adults. Who are the mission-minded individuals who are always rolling up their sleeves in the community? Some of them may be engaged because of their position or office; many others are involved because they care about their town.
But what do you do with the list? What do you do for the missionaries to your neighborhood? You thank them, bless them, encourage them, and offer to support them. Why not have a consecration service, but instead of commissioning a group to go on a once-a-year mission trip, commission those active individuals to keep doing what they are already doing, but now with the blessing and sending of the church? For that matter, what if you commissioned the whole congregation? Have everyone kneel or bow before the Table of the Lord and receive a sending blessing to go and do good in the world—in their world. It might be a powerful reminder that we are called to use our influence, connection, and impact not just on special occasions but every day.
Many churches pray the Covenant Prayer (United Methodist Hymnal 670, “Go Forth for God”) at the beginning of the year as a way of reminding themselves that they are to do good wherever and whenever they can. Maybe this would be a good time to bring they prayer out again as a way of reminding ourselves that we are committed and are living out that commitment daily.
It is important to emphasize that our influence is stronger when we work together. The gospel stands in opposition to the individualizing thrust of our society. We are a people who are connected. The very definition of our denomination is a connectional church. Therefore, to be true to our heritage and beliefs, our experience of God through The United Methodist Church is communal. The “we” needs to be the driving force more than the “me.” As you celebrate the mission efforts of your church, always include an invitation to join in and join with. The “more the merrier” might be one motivation, but it is more profound than that. It is the admission that, for most of us and most of the time, we experience God through others rather than simply on our own.
Disciple-making, then is not only a one-on-one experience but a corporate, shared experience of growth and a deepening of understanding and acceptance. We find it easier to focus on inclusion when we remember that we have been included and that we would be less than we are if there were not the whole body of Christ around us.
One aspect of mission work that shouldn’t be overlooked is the giving that we do each week. The offering time isn’t simply a commercial break, but an opportunity to worship God through generous hearts and hands. Even if you have gone to online or retiring offering patterns since the pandemic, be sure and take a moment to lift up giving as an act of worship and a way of doing good. Not all of what we give goes out of the building; we all acknowledge that. But if our building is one of the tools that we use to do mission work and to do good in our community, then the maintenance of the facility and the staffing of the ministries of the church is doing good. Let’s give thanks for generous souls to help maintain all that we do in the building and in the community at large.
(NOTE: Please start your sermon preparation by reading the planning notes first. The design outline and intent of the series are found there and are essential for the sermon as well. The campaign words and messaging themes are outlined there and are useful for sermon preparation.)
Here again, “Do Good” can be oversimplified. It is not always as easy as it seems. The good often eludes us, challenges us, requires much from us that we might not be prepared to give. Yet, there it is, embarrassing in its simplicity. “Do good.” End of sermon? Well, maybe. That might be memorable, don’t you think? As the gathered throng shuffles into silence, waiting for a word from the Lord, from the one they came to hear. And the preacher strides to the pulpit or the center of the chancel, or into the aisle to be among the people, or gazes intently into the camera livestreaming into homes all over the community if not the world. And into that silence, the voice comes: “Do good.” This is followed by an intense stare and then a quick return to a seat. You better believe people would be talking about that sermon for a long time.
But talking about and incorporating the sermon into their lives aren’t necessarily the same things. So, there is more work to be done. At the very least, reread the text from Romans. This sounds like a half-time speech in the locker room of the team that is behind. Paul is rallying the troops, stirring up the zeal, getting folks ready to get on out there and do good! But there is really more going on here than a pep talk for everyone to go and do with they would have done anyway. What Paul is describing in these verses, and what the General Rule itself is implying, is that doing good isn’t how most folks live in this world. It isn’t even how we live most of the time, if we’re honest with ourselves. The society we have created runs by a different set of rules.
“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog too!!” Okay, quick, name that quote. Of course, we all recognize the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Try this one: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). A little buzzkill there, don’t you think? We were all cackling in our heads, rubbing our hands, and laughing the sinister laugh with the Wicked Witch. We might even have been plotting a little bit, might even have selected our designated “my pretty” to go and get.
We seemed to be wired that way, or at least have been shaped that way by the culture in which we live. We want people to pay. We want to get even. We want people to suffer the way we have suffered. Right? Well, no we don’t. But it seems to be a mindset that grabs us every now and then. As we watch the tit-for-tat political campaigning, we get caught up in it. Our candidate has to be strong, has to attack, or else we will wonder if that candidate can hold the office. The mud must be slung; the knives must come out; or we will wonder about our candidate’s spine. We will wonder about power. We will wonder.
What we need to wonder is whether there is another way to live—another way to be. And of course, there is. Paul describes it in this text. Paul lists the ways we are called to live in the world today; the ways we are called to live if we want to be known as followers of Jesus the Christ. We need to be guided, not by the ways of the world, but by the example of Christ. And even though we are familiar with these words, the attitudes and the lifestyles presented here would still be shocking in our world today.
After making a general statement or setting the bar as high as he could, Paul then gets specific. The general statement, which is also specific in a way, is “let love be genuine.” That is pretty amazing when you think about it. “Don’t fake it,” he says. Don’t go halfheartedly into this loving thing. Make it real, make it sincere, put your whole self into it. Love genuinely. Got it?
“Now,” says Paul, “Let’s get specific: hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good.” He divides our responsibilities into inside and outside, and this is an inside kind of statement. One of the problems we have being Christians in the world today is a tendency to do inside work outside and to do outside work on the inside. We need to explain what that means.
Paul is establishing rules of behavior for the community of faith. This is how we are trying to be; this is who we are trying to be. He describes life within the community in dynamic, powerful kinds of ways. We are connected; we are accountable; we are invested in one another’s lives. This difficult work of hating evil and holding fast to good is an inside job. This isn’t a call to go and change the world; this is a call to clean our own house. We are called to not let the harm the world allows creep in around the edges of our thinking. We are called to root it out, to stand against it, to call one another to a higher standard. We are to be in the business of transforming lives.
Now, Paul is quick to point out, the methodology for this change is always love. Our tools are respect and honor and patience and prayer—not judgment and punishment and vengeance. But, again, we put our whole selves into this process. We pour ourselves out for the community, for those within the community who are struggling to learn how to live and to love as Christ calls us to love. And we never give up. Here is where that counting thing needs to be remembered. You know, “How many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” “More than you can count,” says Jesus. Paul says it like this: “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord” (verse 11),
As an aside, that last phrase could be read another way. Translation from the original Greek is a difficult process, partly because they didn’t use punctuation or spacing when they wrote (paper was a precious resource). They also used abbreviations on occasion. The word in question is “krs” — which is here interpreted to be “kurios” or Lord, but might have been “kairos” or time. Paul might have been saying, “Don’t wait; seize the opportunities that arise, serve the time.” Either way, serve the Lord or seize the opportunities would fit in this context, so why not take it to mean both! Get to work serving the Lord as we work in the lives of those within the community who need our attention.
But lest we think our work is all inwardly focused, according to Paul, he quickly moves us out. First of all, we are called to pay attention to the threshold. In fact, it might be argued that the real work of the church doesn’t take place inside, or even outside, but on the threshold. The life of the church is found in how the guest is welcomed and included. The spirit of the church is felt by the strangers who find themselves in need or simply in proximity to the church and are caught up in the generous hospitality that draws them in.
Now, having opened the door, Paul runs out with enthusiasm and opportunity, dragging us along in his wake. From verse fourteen on, we are now living in the world around us. Notice there is no crusading spirit for living in the world. There is only service and love and honor and respect. The same tools we took up on the inside, we use t with even more tenderness. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep; associate with the lowly; and then we begin to avoid the whole vengeance thing.
What is behind this idea from Paul is that we are going to get hurt. That’s the part we struggle with. I’d be willing to do a whole lot more mission stuff if it didn’t cost me so much. Right? I’d be more willing to share faith, to trust my neighbor, to sacrifice for those who need it if I didn’t get taken advantage of; if I didn’t get the rug pulled out from under me; if I knew everything was going to work out to my advantage, or at least to cause me minimal damage. But that has never been the promise. Safety was never high on Jesus’ list of concerns. Why else would Paul be telling us how to respond if he was assuring us that things never went wrong?
No one said this stuff was going to be easy. Only that it is worth it. Living in harmony, even with those who don’t want to live in harmony with us, is worth the effort it takes. Loving is worth the effort and the rejection we receive. Hope is worth the effort, even when despair seems so much more logical. All of which is to say: doing good is worth it for its own sake.
This brings us at last to those coals: You have to wonder whether it would have been better if Paul hadn’t said that bit about the burning coals. It seems to lead to more malicious glee than it ought. “Killing them with kindness” is still killing them. But maybe what he was really saying was that the cold pleasure we take in getting revenge is nothing compared to the warm joy of serving or healing or helping. So, go ahead, heap some coals. It’ll do us all some good!
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing UMH 57
- The Rule of Life W&S 3117
- And Are We Yet Alive UMH 553
- Cantemos al Señor UMH 149
- What does the Lord Require of You TFWS 2174
- Bring Forth the Kingdom TFWS 2190
- Roll Down, Justice: Sacred Songs and Social Justice by Mark Miller
Week 2: The People of God Who Do Good
Missional, Committed, Connected, Generous
- Cuando el Pobre (When the Poor Ones) UMH 454
- Lord You Give the Great Commission UMH 584
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling UMH 384
- Jesu, Jesu UMH 432
- The Gift of Love UMH 408
NOTE: Bold hymn titles indicate written by John or Charles Wesley.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.
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