September 3, Romans 12:9-21
This section of Romans focuses on a key set of values which, it is proposed, should form the centre of Christian action: love (12:9, 10), hospitality (12:13), living in harmony (12:16), living peaceably (12:18), and acting for the good of others (12:21).
A very similar set of values was expressed in the Uniting Church’s 1977 “Statement to the Nation.” This document declared that “a Christian responsibility to society has always been regarded as fundamental to the mission of the Church.”
What do you think about this claim? Is this value at the centre of Christian faith?
The Statement identifies specific areas where we can show our concern for others: eradicating poverty and racism, opposing all forms of discrimination, challenging the values of acquisitiveness and greed, and urging the wise use of energy. There have been challenges to the way the church addresses these. But the Statement calls us to hold steadfastly to these ideals, and to emphasise these “universal values must find expression in national policies”.
How challenging is it, for you, to consider that these ideals ought to be expressed in the policies of our nation?
September 10, Romans 13:8-14
This week’s excerpt from Romans simply declares that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:10). What had been given to the people of Israel, through the commandments of the law, is now to be seen, focussed and concentrated in the call to follow Jesus. Love is to be the way that the faithful followers of Jesus are to be known.
In recent weeks, we have been exploring key Uniting Church documents. The Basis of Union declares that Jesus is “a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love” (para 3), linking the idea of love with the need for a specific demonstration of that love. The 1977 “Statement to the Nation” refers to “the spirit of self-giving love” shown by Jesus, and relates this to a range of political actions that Christians could affirm.
Each of these documents links love with ways of being and acting which demonstrate concrete, specific instances of that love in society.
What concerted and specific actions could you undertake, to demonstrate the love of God in your neighbourhood? In your faith community?
September 17, Romans 14:1-12
How do we relate across our differences? This passage from Romans invites us to consider that challenge. Paul refers directly to those who are “weak in faith” (14:1). The context infers also a group of those who are “strong in faith”. It is clear there is conflict between the groups.
Paul advises “the strong” to be mindful of the way “the weak” see things, and to be careful not to act in ways that they consider offensive. (1 Corinthians 8-10 provide more details about the dynamics in such a situation)
The key factor in the way the two groups relate has to do with the idea of a “Space for Grace”. This is an idea adopted by the UCA Assembly in 2015. We are invited to create a space to encourage careful, sensitive, respectful discussion, bringing together people with strongly different views and perspectives.
Paul directly addresses the strong, but his words apply to each group. He indicates they are to refrain from passing judgement (14:3-4), to continue to hold their own views with integrity (14:6), and to recognise they are each accountable to God (14:12).
How might these instructions apply to conflict in your life?
September 24, Philippians 1:21-30
This week, we leave Romans and move to a shorter letter by Paul, written to the believers in Philippi. Here, Paul articulates a fundamental necessity of the Christian life: “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul understands that integrity is at the heart of Christian life. What we do and how we act needs to be utterly consistent with what we believe and declare to be important.
The Uniting Church has recognised the importance of integrity in public life. In 2009, after extensive consultation, the church adopted a Revised Preamble to its Constitution. This addresses the relationship between the First People’s of Australia (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and the Second Peoples, specifically those who came to the new “colony” from 1788 onwards.
The Revised Preamble clearly recognises that the First Peoples suffered paternalism, racism, injustice and dispossession. They became “strangers in their own land”. The church was complicit in these actions. The document admits that “relationships were broken and the very integrity of the Gospel … was diminished” (clauses 5-6).
As Christians, we are called to live our faith in the public view, with integrity across all parts of our lives. Our life must be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, as Paul declares.
What changes might you make to ensure that your life best reflects the gospel? What changes might be proposed in your faith community?
The Lectionary Reflections were prepared by Rev. Dr John Squires.