A Religion Of Action

Today I want to talk about what religion is and what it means to be a religious person. I hope to bring you comfort and peace, and I hope to challenge you and compel you to live out your faith.

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

September 3, 2017

“A Religion Of Action”

Romans 12:9-21

Rev. John R. Larson

Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado


I know what questions were not asked over the last week in Houston, Texas.  For those who went out on their boats looking for people who were in life-threatening situations, or those who flew the helicopters looking for people on top of the roofs of their homes, or who walked in waste deep water or swam to those who were stranded, I know what they didn’t ask:

1. “Who did you vote for in the last election: Donald or Hillary?”

2. “What color are you?”  “What nationality are you?”  “What language do you speak?”

3. “How much money do you make?”

4. “What kind of car do you drive?”

Not once in all of the rescues that were made, or that are still happening, were such questions asked.  But questions like: “Are you ok?”, “How can I help you?”, “What do you need?”, were the ones that were asked.  Promises such as – “We’ll be right there” or, “We’ll be right back” were given and they were kept.  Their actions reflected their heart.

Today I want to talk about what religion is and what it means to be a religious person.  I hope to bring you comfort and peace, and I hope to challenge you and compel you to live out your faith.

Our text for today is the section of twelve verses from Romans 12.  In twelve verses there are 26 different commands – imperatives – stuff that you are to do.  The only person that I know who can give 26 different commands in just a short amount of time is my wife!!  (And she does it very kindly, by the way!!)  Christianity is a religion of action.  God is a God of action.  And if you want to be His person, doing His will, you must be a person of action.  26 commands in 12 verses, and He means every one of them.

Christianity is a religion of action – God’s action.  This chapter begins with the word, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”  (Romans 12:1)  Everything that is done by us is done in light of God’s mercy to us.  The Book of Romans is a book, first, about the actions of God for us.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  (8:31b)  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  (8:1-2)  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (5:1)  Over and over again it speaks about a God who sent His own Son to be the payment for our sins.  Over and over again it speaks about His actions to bring us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  God has never been lazy or waiting to see how things may come out.  He busied Himself to make us His own.  God is a God of action.

We trust in Jesus.  We have faith in Him.  Just before our words about being a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercy we hear, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.”  (Romans 11:33-36)

Now we live our faith.  Faith is active.  Living.  Lively.  Energetic.  This religion, our religion, is a religion of action.  Don’t find yourself dormant!!  A few weeks ago I finagled a free breakfast from Pastor Duane Maas.  Maas was visiting some family here in Denver and he wanted to talk to me about POBLO – a ministry especially designed to Muslims.  I suggested breakfast and I made sure I had crocodile arms when the bill came!!  Maas said that when they try to reach Muslims and bring them to faith, they don’t sit down and begin the conversation about how the Muslim faith is wrong and how the Christian faith is right.  They try to do the following things – they greet them and welcome them.  They don’t avoid them.  They don’t look the other way if they see them coming toward them.  They help them.  They look to see how they can befriend them.  As a relationship grows they tell them how Jesus has changed their life.  They tell them what Jesus means to them.  Do you know what they are doing?  They are loving them.  They are being genuine and real and are proving that a true faith in Jesus is a religion of action.

There are some things about religion that are hard to understand.  How can we understand the Holy Trinity?  How can we understand that in Holy Communion the basic elements of bread and wine bring us the body and blood of Christ, and therefore forgiveness of sins and the full love of God?  How can we understand that when a word of forgiveness of sins is spoken, it is actually the word of God soothing us?  Some things about religion, our religion, are received only by faith.  In this instance, things of the heart are bigger than things of the mind.

But there are some things that, though they are hard to do, they are clear and understandable.  That is what Paul is telling us in Romans 12.  “Love must be sincere”  (NIV) “Let love be genuine.”  (ESV)  “Love {is} without hypocrisy.”  (Middendorf – Concordia Commentary)  You know when your love to others is real and when it is fake.  Sometimes it can be pretend.  We do something for another just to be seen, just to be recognized and applauded.  There is nothing good and right about it.

But real love is authentic and true.  Here is how love looks – “Honor one another above yourselves.  Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Selected verses from Romans 12:9-21)

What is this thing that we confess?  What is this faith that we say we are blessed with?  It is a religion of doing, a religion of action.  James 2 – “Show me your faith without deeds, I will show you my faith by what I do.”  (Verse 18b)

7 years ago I went to Austin, Minnesota and attended a week long class on preaching.  Austin is the world famous town where the Spam Museum is located.  Dr. David Schmitt told us this story, “Consider the pastor who went to the hospital to visit a parishioner.  She was in the last stages of cancer, heavily medicated, unresponsive, but he went to weep with those who weep.  When he rounded the corner he was surprised by what he saw.  Her daughter was there at the foot of the bed.  She had taken the sheets and thrown them back and was putting lotion on her mother’s body, starting at the feet.  This was some expensive lotion.  More than the daughter could afford.  As he walked into the room, the room smelled beautiful.  The daughter gave him a mischievous smile and made him promise not to tell her children.  Her kids had given her this lotion on Mother’s Day.  “Because you never do anything for yourself,” they said.  And here she was, putting that lotion on her mother’s feet.  Her mother was unresponsive.  She wouldn’t know the difference.  But the pastor did.”  And you do, right?  You’ve seen  that.  You’ve done that.  Someone has done that to you.

That is love.  That is the love of Christ shown through us.  Love must be sincere, real, genuine.  It can’t be fake.  It can’t be done for show.  It has to be pure.  That is what Christianity looks like.  That is what a Christian looks like.

I wonder about the exhaustion of those helping in Texas, and beyond are experiencing.  And yet they keep on working and doing and serving and loving.  Recently I watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge.  It is based on a true story of Desmond Doss, a 26 year old Christian in WWII who wouldn’t carry a gun or a knife and would not kill.  But he wanted to serve his country as a medic.  During an attack on Guam, on Hacksaw Ridge, he carried countless injured soldiers to safety, lowering them off a cliff with ropes, and when one was safe, he ran to get another.  He was exhausted, dehydrated and dirty.  But he was in love with his fellow soldiers and his country and the gift of life.  His religion was a religion of action.

Our religion is the same.  Our God acts.  He saves.  He rescues.  He transforms.  The very confession that Jesus Christ is Savior tells us clearly that God is acting and doing.  And such a gift is not just received, it is given.  The Bible says, “We love because He first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)  That is why we do what we do – He has loved us – we love others.

Our religion is not for the passive.  It demands much from us.  It expects much from us.  Look around – what does God want you to do?  How can you be a person who receives God’s deep love in your heart and gives it freely to others?

Our religion?  A religion of action.  His, first.  Ours, too.  Amen!!


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