February 2, 2020
As some of you know, I am obsessed with the Campus Quilts Company, which makes T shirts into quilts. I am so thankful because many of you, along with ladies from other churches, knitted and crocheted blankets for my babies, and I didn’t want to give them away, although my baby days are sadly over. I mailed the blankets to this company, and they made them into a beautiful quilt which now warms Charlie at night.
Why was this so important to me? I suppose it’s because during this sacred time in our family’s life, we felt so personally cared for and loved by the church community. I learned over time that in Starr’s past, the ladies sewed a quilt for every bride married from the church. And to this day we still distribute prayer shawls to members of our church. This is what the church should be: a community that wraps one another in love.
And this is what Paul describes as he is closing his letter to the Romans. At first glance, this passage might not seem to be very helpful; just a bunch of hard-to-pronounce names. But look closer and see that what Paul is doing here is meant to be a pattern for the church to follow. Our Christian faith is relational; I think that’s one way we are distinct from some other traditions. We even believe that God himself is relational, as one God in three persons, entwined in a holy dance with creation since the beginning of time. And what Paul’s describing here is a communion, a community, a chorus of faith, and it is so very important to him that he pass on his affection to that community which he loves.
His love for the church is borne of shared experience. Look at some of the shared experiences he points to here:
Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul (v 3)
Andronicus and Junia went to prison with him (v 7)
Rufus’s mother has been like a mother to Paul (v 13)
As I keep saying to you, you get out of church what you put in. There are people in the church I’ve served in difficult conditions with and gone through very hard times with, and that makes them like family to me. As Proverbs says, there are friends that are closer than brothers, and that’s the way I feel about many of you. But it’s only by having these experiences that you come to love people so deeply.
“People are hard to hate close up.” ~ Brene Brown
If you’re having a problem with someone in the church, or even if you just feel like there’s no relationship, are you serving? We’ve got a coffee house and a congregational meeting coming up and we need all the help we can get.
Parenting books today tell you that an important part of discipline is actually to catch your kids being—good. Children improve their behavior with positive reinforcement just as much or more than through negative reinforcement. That said—what are we doing as a church? Are we reinforcing one another positively? That’s the example Paul gives us in his letter. Look at all the praise he heaps on the people of God for being good:
Phoebe has been a great benefactor (v 2)
Epenetus was the first convert in Asia (v 5)
Mary worked very hard for you (v 6)
Apelles’s faith has stood the test (v 10)
Tryphena and Tryphosa who have worked hard in the Lord (v 12)
Persis has worked very hard in the Lord (v 13)
How often do we tell one another “well done” versus complaining about what we don’t like in the church? Encouraging one another is part of our calling in Christ. Catch someone doing good today.
Our passage ends with Paul telling the believers to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” The passing of the peace is kind of controversial in churches because of what we now know about illness. Many people just feel uncomfortable touching someone.
As I’ve learned more about abuse situations that happen in the church and outside it, I have learned not to be judgmental of someone because they don’t want physical touch. I’ve learned that it’s no longer a holy kiss or a holy hug or a holy handshake if the person doesn’t want to receive it. Churches are being educated that we have to be very careful in the way in which we offer a hug. It must always be an offer and not an assumption that a person wants to be hugged. We must remember that you can touch someone’s heart without ever touching their hand.
Friendships within the church take on a holy dimension that cannot be found in our other friendships. CS Lewis surmises that if we believe in God, and we are working together, that means that our friendship is not by chance. He writes, “You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.” That means, brothers and sisters, that when we care for one another, pray for one another, even just shoot the breeze on a Tuesday afternoon, there’s a deeper and a greater reason for it.
We are the body of Christ
Today we share communion; we share in the body and blood of Christ. But remember that the root word of communion is the same as community. What we are doing when we unite with our brothers and sisters in Christ is holy in the same way as this table is holy; for when we unite one with another, we do not just receive the body of Christ, we become it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.