Friday, May 30, 2014

A Faith that can Transform Cultural Practices

Romans 12:1  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. 2  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. 3  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. 4  For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7  ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8  the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 9  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20  No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul writes to the Jesus-followers of Rome, who are struggling with the thorny issue of culture. Most of them come from a Jewish background, but as non-Jewish people choose to follow Jesus, the Jewish-originated Christians became become uncomfortable with people who have different cultural practices. Paul points out that all culture is subservient to the call to follow Jesus: “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.”

We who live in South Africa embrace eleven different languages, and at least as many different cultural practices. While there is no denying the value of culture in providing identity and affirming a sense of community, all culture is temporary, and constantly in flux. The one constant is that which is offered by Jesus: an unwavering commitment to overcome evil with good. Paul offers many different examples of how this might be done, ranging from blessing those who persecute you and weeping with the sorrowful, to living peaceably with all people. And the kind of moral characteristics required to achieve this include humility, patience, love, and compassion.  

All of these run counter to our prevailing human nature. Human culture is self-preserving, other-denying, defensive of the resources of the culture and unwilling to share anything with people of other cultures – unless there is benefit in it. For this reason we who follow Jesus aspire to more than cultural-preservation. We long instead for a Christ-transformed world of justice and love.

Challenge: ask the Holy Spirit to transform your cultural habits that are selfish and cruel.

What shall our greeting be:
sign of our unity?
‘Jesus is Lord!’
May we no more defend
barriers he died to end:
give me your hand, my friend –
one church, one Lord.
Frederick Pratt Green  1903-  © Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Seventh  Sunday of Easter
Life Together
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 178.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.


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