This is such a rich passage with so many life-giving truths for our age:
– Not thinking of ourselves too highly.
– Remembering that we are one body; one humanity.
– Rejoicing in our diversity.
Driving around Croydon today, I will encounter drivers who believe they are the most important people in the world, with the most urgent tasks to fulfil and a divine right to get ahead of me. I, of course, never fall into this trap of thinking of myself so highly(!?). We all know that driving under the influence is illegal, but how about driving without sober judgement?
We can be fooled into thinking that some of us are lesser than others: migrants described as ‘rats’ in a tunnel, the disabled as ‘invalid’ (and on and on). Once we’ve judged and dehumanised our brothers and sisters, it is an easy step to blaming them, to hating them, to treating them terribly. Before we know where we are, we have rejected God’s love for all. Our ‘one body’ is destroyed by ‘my’ body.
The image of the body with its many parts, is really helpful. The tiny homogeneous boxes of what society considers to be attractive, valuable and successful, are a lie. They suit the advertisers bottom-line, but they reduce us to a grey shadow of our colourful God-given selves.
God creates us as one people with unique gifts that can be used for good or ill.
As we go about our lives today, consider:
How often are we inflated by our reduction of others?
How often are we deflated by society’s raising of others?
1 Not unto us, LORD, not to us,
but do thou glory take
Unto thy name, ev’n for thy truth,
and for thy mercy’s sake.
2 O wherefore should the heathen say,
Where is their God now gone?
3 But our God in the heavens is,
what pleased him he hath done.
4 Their idols silver are and gold,
work of men’s hands they be.
5 Mouths have they, but they do not speak;
and eyes, but do not see;
6 Ears have they, but they do not hear;
noses, but savour not;
7 Hands, feet, but handle not, nor walk;
nor speak they through their throat.
8 Like them their makers are, and all
on them their trust that build.
9 O Isr’el, trust thou in the LORD,
he is their help and shield.
10 O Aaron’s house, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield is he.
11 Ye that fear God, trust in the LORD,
their help and shield he’ll be.
12 The LORD of us hath mindful been,
and he will bless us still:
He will the house of Isr’el bless,
bless Aaron’s house he will.
13 Both small and great, that fear the LORD,
he will them surely bless.
14 The LORD will you, you and your seed,
aye more and more increase.
15 O blessèd are ye of the LORD,
who made the earth and heav’n.
16 The heav’n, ev’n heav’ns, are GOD’s, but he
earth to men’s sons hath giv’n.
17 The dead, nor who to silence go,
GOD’s praise do not record.
18 But henceforth we for ever will
bless GOD. Praise ye the LORD.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland Congregation some of this to the lovely tune Land of Rest here.
Sacrificial living and non-conformist outlook. Both are counter-cultural, costly, demanding, and do not necessarily come easily or naturally to us.
The word “sacrifice” can all too readily be used when, in fact, at best we are referring to “inconvenience” rather than any significant costly gift. Being challenged to present our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” underlines the fact that in every decision and choice we make we are willing to place our commitment to Christ and neighbour before our own comfort or desire. Inevitably we may want to place limits on our generosity and to negotiate deals that leave us with some measure of comfort but those who respond to the call to sacrificial living must be ready – inspired and energised by the One who gave his all – to forget limits and conditions. In the words of Horatius Bonar: Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise, that my whole being may proclaim thy being and thy ways. Praise in the common things of life, its goings out and in; praise in each duty and each deed, however small and mean. (Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889)
Non-conformity – being wise and strong enough to risk standing out from the crowd and against the tide as and when we discern that it is right to do so. We risk making ourselves unpopular. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one example of faithful non-conformity – standing up against the sinister forces of Nazism (and paying the ultimate price for doing so). In his book, Costly Discipleship, he writes, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate … Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [they have].”
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’
‘And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.’
As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.’
Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
‘I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’
But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’