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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
The Body of Christ

Romans 12:4-8
I Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 4:4, 16

We are coming to the conclusion of our sermons on the book of Romans, and we are also coming to the conclusion of our summer weather here in Seattle. The chill is in the air; the autumn leaves are red, orange and yellow; the clouds have returned; and the children are going back to school.  So we all know that summer is nearly over and we are also aware that this series of sermons on the book of Romans is about over.

Why do I love the book of Romans so much? For me, why is the book of Romans “the best of the best?”

First, because in the book of Romans, we encounter all the great truths of the Christian faith. We hear about Christ, fully God and fully man, whose death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin because the debt from our sin is so great that we could never pay the price. Christ paid the debt for our sins by his death on the cross. That is what the book of Romans is all about.

Secondly, we hear the truth about the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. When we get to chapter eight in Romans, the floodgates were opened and the Spirit comes rushing into our lives.  The Spirit changes us; the Spirit those qualities in us that we don’t like very well. The Spirit convinces us that we are children of God, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Third, we hear the truth about grace, that all of God’s benefits to us are freely given and that our names were written in the book of life, even before the world began. Like birth itself, the rain and the sunshine, God’s grace is a pure gift to us, giving to us freely.

Fourth, we hear the truth that we are called to have faith in Christ, trust God’s goodness, like Father Abraham trusted the promises of God. So also, we are to trust the great promises of God for eternal life, eternal life, and divine forgiveness.

So, I like the book of Romans because I hear the great truths of the Christian faith.

Another reason why I like Romans is because there are so many great Bible verses found in the book. I learned these Bible verses long ago. Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; we are justified or put right with God by grace as a gift through faith in the Son of God who died for our sins.” Romans 5:3, “For we rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 7:15, ”That which I do not want to do is precisely what I do, and that what I want to do, I don’t do. What a wretched person I am.” Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:38, “For I am persuaded of this that neither life or death., angels or principalities, not things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth nor anything in this whole creation can separate us from the love of God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 12:9, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself for this is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” So you see, there are many great passages from the Bible in the book of Romans and these passages are like pure gold and wanting to be memorized and put inside of our heads and hearts so that these words live within us. 

Why do I like the book of Romans? Because this is a Lutheran church and Lutheran churches and Lutheran pastors love the book of Romans because Romans is imbued with grace, faith and Christ. The name of this congregation is Grace Lutheran Church, but it could have been named Grace Pauline Lutheran Church. Lutherans are filled with Pauline theology.

I mean we could eliminate the word “Lutheran” from our name and we could become Grace Community Church. A neighboring Lutheran church has already done that. Their name is St. Luke’s Community Church, thus seeming to masquerade that they are distinctly Lutheran. Or we could name our church Grace Baptist church and have altar calls with people making their decision for Christ at the close with the service, with our best soloists singing like Cliff Barrows. Or we could be named Grace Pentecost Church and we could have an altar call at the close of the service, so that those coming forward could be led to a small room and taught to speak in tongues, as is done at Casey Treat’s church down the street. Or we could name this church Grace Methodist church and we could have hearts warmed with an inner spiritual glow like at a campfire or like at the beginning of the Methodist church. Or we could be named Grace Roman Catholic church, and we could look to the pope and our roman hierarchy for spiritual direction. But the name of this congregation is Grace LUTHERAN church, and we are distinctly immersed in and with Pauline theology about grace, faith, Christ.

Why do I like the book of Romans? Because Paul focuses on doctrine rather than history. In the Apostle Paul, we hear of no history of the life of Christ: no parables, no miracles, no nativity stories, no Good Friday stories, no resurrection stories. Instead, we hear about the Gospel, the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us from the dead someday. We hear the good news about the forgiveness of God through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Why this is important to me personally is because many Christians, including myself, get drawn into conflicts about the history of Jesus: about the Virgin Birth, whether or not Jesus walked on water, how Jesus fed the five thousand with a few morsels of food. In the letters of Paul, you cannot get tripped up on historical details and historical interpretations of Jesus’ life. Instead, a Christian focuses on the truth: that Jesus is the gospel, the good news, that God raised Jesus from the dead and grants eternal life to all who believe in him. With the Apostle Paul, we seem to avoid many of the conflicts as to whether this is literal history or symbolic history.

So those are some of the reasons that I personally appreciate the Apostle Paul and the book of Romans.

Now, in the next section of the sermon, we again focus on the ethics and morality found in the Apostle Paul’s doctrines. I have suggested to you that the big outline of Romans is chapters 1-11 are doctrines; chapters 12-15 are ethical deeds; and chapter 16 is a personal appendix. This basic outline in the book of Romans is found in his other letters as well.

First doctrine, then deeds. First, beliefs and then behaviors. First grace, then goodness. First Christ and then character. First reasons, then the results. And the behaviors are always rooted in the beliefs. Goodness grows from grace. Character grows from Christ. The fruit on the tree comes from the trunk and branches. You  can’t produce good fruit unless the fruit grows from the tree of Christ.

In chapters 12-15, we hear three big ideas of Paul. First, we are to give our selves as a living offering to God and this is holiness and spiritual worship. To give oneself as an offering. That was the sermon last week. All the great people of the world have discovered that secret: to give one’s self away in love. My mother was a great lady and she did not finish second grade in her education, left no monetary inheritance to pass on to her children, and ended up her life living in a low income apartment. But she was one of the finest people I ever met because she had discovered that universal secret of success in life is to give one’s self away in loving relationships.

The second big idea about ideals and ethics in chapters 12-15 is the simple statement: love your neighbor as you love yourself. That will be the theme of next week’s sermon.

The third big idea in chapters 12-15 is that the church, the people of God, is the body of Christ in the world. That is the theme for today’s sermon. From Romans 12:15, “You are the body of Christ.” From I Corinthians 12:27, “You are the body of Christ.” Also, Ephesians 1:22, “You are the church which is the body of Christ.”

So we ask the question: what does it mean to be the body of Christ in the world today?

First, you are the flesh of Christ, in the world. You personally are Christ’s body in the world. You are the eyes of Christ and you see the work of God all around you. You are the ears of Christ and you hear the sounds of Christ all around you. You are the mouth of Christ and you speak the words of Christ’s compassion to those around you. You are the heart of Christ, and you share the emotions of Christ with all that you meet. You personally are the hand of Christ, and you stretch out your hand which is Christ’s hand to help others. You are the legs of Christ and those lets carry you to those in need. You are the feet of Christ, and you help others to walk in Christ’s ways. Yes, you are literally and symbolically the body of Christ, the flesh of Christ in your world.

Martin Luther said that we are little Christs. That people see in our lives a little piece of Christ.

The song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” When we give love, we are giving Christ.

In the New Testament, we do not hear about the idea of love; rather, we meet the personification of love in the person of Jesus. In the New Testament, we are not introduced to a Platonic idea and ideal of love; rather, we are introduced to Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God’s love in the flesh. More than an idea of love, God wanted us to know Jesus Christ who was love in the flesh. God celebrates love in the flesh, in the flesh of Jesus and in your flesh and mine. We are not ideas of love; we are love in human form, in a body.

It is interesting to me that the reason people remain part of a Christian congregation is because of the quality of love that they experience in human relationships. People often join a church because of a fine youth program, fine choir, fine preaching, fine leadership; but people never remain in a congregation for these reasons. Rather, people remain in a church because they have found loving friendships and loving relationships. People have found not just ideas of love and ideals of love, but genuine love in human form.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ today? First, we are the love of God personified in our human actions and gestures.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ today? Secondly, the church is a living organism. Human bodies are living organisms. See my nose? It is alive. My nose is a living organism. See this finger. It too is alive; it is a living organism. See this ear, this hand, this elbows. All of these are alive. There is life in all of these parts of my body.

I am told that there are millions of billions of little cells that are all alive, making up my body. I am also told that these millions of billions of cells change every seven years; that after seven years, I am composed of totally new cells that look and appear the same. I am told that when you look through a microscope, you can see the movement of millions of particles that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

So also with the body of Christ. The church is a living organism, composed of billions of different parts, composed of billions of individual Christians, composed of millions of Christian congregations, in all nations of the earth, in all tribes and ethnic languages around the globe, creating a mosaic that is beyond human imagination. Just as a human being cannot imagine the thousands of miles of blood vessels located under our skin, so a human mind cannot fathom the millions and billions of stands that make up the church, the body of Christ.

So any one who suggests that the church is a building or an edifice or made of brick and mortar just do not get it. Brick and mortar is dead, inert, not living. But people are living, and the church of Christ is the diverse people of God from all time and all cultures and all ethnic groups. Christ is alive in all these people.

Which leads us to the next point. We the church of Christ are an enormously complex organism. The earth itself is enormously complex and intricate beyond our wildest human imagination. The oceans are enormously complex and intricate beyond our wildest imagination. The universe is enormously complex and intricate beyond our wildest imagination. And so is the body of Christ.

Each cell is so complex. Each congregation is so complex. Each congregation in each culture in each century is so utterly complex.

So many different people, each having unique and distinct gifts and individuality. For example, yesterday, I was meeting with the Altar Guild. Teresa Peterson is one of the leaders of the Altar Guild, works as a youth advisor, co-ordinated and cooked meals for two hundred people for five days at Bible camp and is one of the church bus drivers, driving a bus with no power steering. One person. Multiply Teresa by a billion and your mind cannot comprehend it. As the Altar Guild was gathered up here in the altar area of the sanctuary, we looked back pews and saw the Paulson’s cleaning the pews. Do you know what a mess the pews are in, especially in the balcony after the 11:00 AM service?

Then came in Roger Chester who opens the church up every Sunday morning before anyone else is here. Then there was Sandy Bollinger who make the coffee early every Sunday morning. And these people are found by the billions all around the globe, in thousands of different cultures and subcultures.

The church is the body of Christ in the world today. We are the flesh of God’s love in human form; we are a living organism and a complex organism. And we work harmoniously together, all these different parts working together. Yes, we have our differences and are unique and distinct; and we are to work together harmoniously and in the spirit of Christ’s peace.

Why do I love the church, the body of Christ? Through the church, I was given the best gifts of life. That is, I was given Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the personification of God, pure grace in human form, and the Spirit of Christ lives in my heart. From the church, I received my family, my mother and father, and brother and sisters, and then my friends of early childhood, my wife, my children, my current friends, purpose for life and great values. Of course, I love the church. It is through the church that I have been given all the best of life.

In my sixty years here on earth, I have belonged to seven congregations. Our Savior’s Lutheran in Jackson where I received my childhood faith and the finest friends I could have. Then it was off to college and the student congregation at St. Olaf College where I was given a clear purpose for life, a great wife, a great friends. Then it was Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where, as a youth director, I sensed a call into ministry, to be a pastor. I also learned about the critical importance of friendship between the youth in order to help them remain in the church. Then it was Central Lutheran Church in the inner city of Minneapolis and our current day care is patterned off of their inner city ministries. Then it was the church in a mental hospital in Hastings, Minnesota where I was a chaplain and where I found true faith in Christ in the lives of these deeply disturbed mental patients. Then onto Eugene, Oregon, and Central Lutheran Church, and I witnessed close hand the power of a Word and Sacrament ministry, and I knew that I was not going to train to be a professional parish counselor but a trained preacher and teacher. And for the last thirty years, I have been here at Grace. I feel that I have grown up under your care and guidance.

In other words, my life, from beginning to end, has been totally immersed in the church, the body of Christ, the source of Christ, the source of grace, the source of love, the source of friendships, the source of everything that I hold dear and sacred. Amen.

CHILDREN’S SERMON. Have the older children teach the younger children the limerick about “this is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors, and here’s all the people.”

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