Over the past couple of days I have been enriched and challenged at the Surrender:15 Conference in Melbourne as I interacted with a diverse group of Christians passionate about social justice. Such a conference created a variety of spaces to explore a biblical basis for justice in the church and a practical expression of justice in the community. Through prayer, bible studies, worship and workshops we were invited to journey together as the gathered community of God with the theme of justice under the title - Making Things Right!
The bible study I chose to attend captured my attention on the program because it focused on the life of Oscar Romero, one of my heroes of the faith, to give a context to the biblical theme of justice being studied. However, the actual study challenged my expectations, presenting a very different learning style and interactive space that took me way outside of my comfort zone. I resisted the temptation and desire to attend a different study on the second day because Holy Spirit challenged me to remain in this space to allow myself to be stretched through a different learning experience. I'm glad I stayed!
Together, we journed through Romans 12:1-8, which coincidently is also one of my favourite passages of Scripture and has featured many times in my devotional life and preaching ministry.
However, reading this passage through a lens of social justice instead of personal holiness or corporate worship or even spiritual gifts, reframes the context of what it means to live more fully "in view of God's mercy" as a "living sacrifice" in the world.
Below are some reflective thoughts and questions that emerged for me from this study...
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
- What is your understanding of sacrifice?
- Why is it that some people/groups are sacrificed more than others?
- Offering yourself as a living sacrifice changes the dynamics of power relationships.
- Romero was sacrificed while offering the elements of the Eucharist representing the sacrifice of Christ.
- Some people need to sacrifice for the good of others.
- The old sacrificial system required a blood offering - blood is the life of the body, so my 'blood offering' is literally offering my LIFE; that is, the way I live brings life to others.
- Reversal of sacrificial system - something or someone has to LIVE in order for others to experience the fullness of life.
- "In view of God's mercy" - Mercy must be seen for Justice to be expressed.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
- What is the world specifically to you? - cultural, generational expectations and patterns; worldview and theology; exploitation; social structures?
- We are a part of each other's transformation.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
- A part of Romero's transformation was seeing the abuse of his people - what was once seen as acceptable and good to society was no longer.
- This led to religious and social conflict that he could no longer ignore.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
- Injustice is the abuse of power - a higher view of self over others.
- Has the church thought more highly of her position in the community than she ought?
- Are we overly obsessed with protecting our reputation at the expense of sacrifice?
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
- Sober judgement helps us to more effectively engage the gifts that have been given to the body of Christ.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:1-8 NIV)
This study of Romans 12:1-8 may not have been a thorough exegesis of the passage but it was a thoughtful reflective journey through a different set of lenses. The lens of justice made me look more deeply at God's mercy and more inclusively at God's world. It redefined what it means to be a living sacrifice in a world of suffering. It reframed personal transformation in the context of community transformation. It challenged power relationships when one person or institution is elevated over another. It put spiritual gifts in their right place to administer God's mercy and justice. It restored righteousness and justice as an inseparable relationship to "Making Things Right!"
It also transformed me as I was challenged to engage in a space that took me out of my comfort zone and into community with other followers of Jesus on a mutual journey of discovery.