I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 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.
The Honor Challenge
In the mornings, it’s been my practice to start the day with Jay’s stream-lined version of Morning Prayer, which includes prayers, reading and thinking about the scripture passages assigned in a daily lectionary. Sometimes I run across passages that really speak to me. Sometimes I’m befuddled. Sometimes unmoved. Sometimes I run across passages I would have omitted. (Thank goodness no one put me on that committee.)
In recent weeks, we’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, as it celebrates the wideness of God’s mercy, the amazing grace that is far more expansive than any of us religious types like to admit. That letter has been at the heart of renewal in the church over the centuries, precisely because it celebrates the love of God from which we can never be separated.
Its final chapters (12-16) represent what I call the “so-what” factor, implications for living that come as our response to amazing grace. As I read those chapters last week in my early morning fog, one particular line stood out for me. I’ve been thinking about it over the past few days, and I’d like to share it with Monday readers. As Paul speaks to the church, calling them to live out the grace they have received, he issues this challenge: Outdo one another in showing honor. It almost sounds like a competition. Figure out ways to honor each other.
It got me thinking about that old-fashioned word “honor.” It can easily get co-opted, its meaning cheapened in a culture where we talk about honoring a credit card or a coupon. Other traditions often reveal a better handle on the idea. I remember visiting a Native American reservation, and attending a potluck dinner for the community, a long table abundantly spread with great food. After grace was said, I expected the many children in the community to be the first through the line. Much to my surprise, without instruction from anyone, the eldest in the room, some assisted by canes and walkers, went through the line first, an outward and visible sign of a culture that honored its most senior members. Quite a difference from our youth-centered culture which often relegates seniors to the margins. Out of sight, out of mind.
In the liturgy for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, the word “honor” looms large. It shows up in a couple places, but for me, most significantly in the exchange of rings as the soon-to-be married couple say to each other: “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” It’s not a commitment to a set of rules. It’s not a contract. It’s a commitment to another person. It’s a covenant by which the best is sought for the other.
That call to honor is implicit in promises made at baptism, inviting us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Does it really mean all? It calls us to respect the dignity of every human being. Does it really mean every?
I can’t say that I always understand what the Apostle Paul was thinking, but I have a feeling that kind of covenantal relationship is what he hoped for when he challenged the Roman church members to outdo one another in showing honor. It is indeed a counter-cultural approach in a world that asks “What’s in it for me?” or “What have you done for me lately?”
What would your interactions look like this week if you embraced St. Paul’s challenge, if you tried to outdo one another in showing honor? What would it mean in your office? In your home? In your church? What would it mean to honor the people who wait on you at a store or restaurant? The pushy driver trying to cut into your lane? The relative whose political point of view makes you nuts?
Take the challenge. Outdo one another.
Coming attractions: Please note that the entire Episcopal Church will be invited to read Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the season of Epiphany (January and February 2019), as the second round of the Good Book Club, organized by Forward Movement and endorsed by the Presiding Bishop. Fasten your seat belts. Romans renews.