In the mornings, I get ready for the day by spending time with scripture readings suggested by the Book of Common Prayer. Over the course of a two year cycle, the lectionary leads me to read most of the Bible, the parts I get and those I don’t, the parts I like and those I don’t,
We’re presently making our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans, the longest of his letters, one that contains passages that cry out for editor and/or explicator. To my mind the letter can be divided into two parts.
The first 11 chapters represent Paul’s best attempt at describing the grace of God, a free gift from the Holy One that is meant for all. And Paul does seem to mean all. The second part of the letter (chapters 12-16) represents what I call the so-what factor, the implications of amazing grace, what it looks like when people live their lives believing that grace is true. (Frankly, most of us have a hard time believing grace is true. Our lives are spent trying to prove our worth, trying to prove ourselves better than someone else).
Chapter 12 begins with the word “Therefore” Whenever we run across that word in Paul’s letters, we have to ask what the “therefore” is there for. It is there to say that the way we live our lives is a reflection of the grace that Paul has described in the beginning of the letter. These passages cause me to ask: Have I really grasped grace? Does my life show it? Paul describes in these last chapters what that life looks like. When I read portions from the 12th chapter last Friday morning, here is the phrase that jumped out at me:
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Paul is telling the Roman audience (and us) how to live in community. They are to honor each other. It almost sounds like a competition. See how much honoring you can do. And when you’re done with that, do some more.
So what do you make of that word, honor? I’ve written about it before. It calls for reclamation, as often we reduce its holy meaning to talk about honoring a credit card or coupons. It can mean a virtue to which we aspire, like bravery or courtesy. But here it suggests action.
The word honor, a bit old-fashioned perhaps, appears in the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. At the exchange of rings, the couple says: With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you. It gives an indication of what the word honor means. It’s relational, not contractual. It says that I seek the best for you, for the other person, in a world that says “me first” or asks “What’s in it for me?” I often tell couples that if they remember nothing else from their wedding liturgy (which sometimes seems like a speed bump on the way to reception and honeymoon), they should hold on to the word honor. Make it a screen saver. Put it on the bathroom mirror. Post it near the door when you leave in the morning. Better yet, post it on the outside of the door, when you’re coming home after a long day.
What does it mean to seek the best for the other? Jesus, the one who came to serve, not to be served, seemed to have a pretty good handle on it. It can come down to the most practical things. Listening before speaking. Forgiving before accusing. Assuming the best in another person, not the worst. Lowering defenses, raising hopes for the other. Blessing, not cursing. Looking at life from the other person’s point of view. Hearing the other person’s story. Imagining what that story feels like.
Carry the word honor with you today, as a response to the grace God has shown you and me. God has honored each one of us. How might we pass that on?
Romans 12:1-13I 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. 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.
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