How shall we live?
The following sermon was preached by May May Latt, Ph.D. student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 1, 2005.
Romans 12: 9-21
We've been hearing the text from Romans in this first week of the new academic year, and many messages related to this text. Today we're going to consider the same text with another topic: "How shall we live?"
When I heard that I would have to prepare the message on this topic, I asked myself first; "How do I live?" I don't even know how I live; how I am going to give you on message how we shall live? After the message, you might get an answer for that question, and you may not agree with my answer. Or you may not get any answer at all. No matter what, today we will consider together this topic, "How shall we live?"
Today we are called to be here. Whether we like it here or not, we are here to prepare ourselves for the ordained ministry, or for the diaconal ministry, or for our academic training or to work for God's ministry. Hyde Park and LSTC are very diverse, economically diverse, culturally diverse; a very diverse community. We will see American students, staff and faculty from all parts of America, International students, staffs and faculty from all parts of the world, our Presbyterian brothers and sisters are around, and Catholic brothers and sisters are here; and our Muslim brothers and sisters are around us. What a beautiful place! Whether we like the diverse community or not, we are called to be here. So, how shall we live?
In today's scripture, the apostle Paul is pointing out two main facts that we should practice for our daily life.
First, he writes, "Love one another with mutual affection" in verse 10. This is the rule of the community life. Today Paul is demanding us to love each other as our brothers and sisters in the community. I am sure that it is a very difficult thing for all of us to practice "Love." If it were so easy, then Paul wouldn't even address this subject in Rome.
Love is not an easy thing to practice. Whenever we say "love," the action or the practice for love always comes after that. In John's gospel, we all know that Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" Peter says, "Yes! I love you," then Jesus says, "Feed my sheep." Love is not completed by just saying words; love is completed when we show the action for that.
We are now in this diverse community. Sometimes, we will see that some people don't want to talk to us and some people make fun of us because we are from a different part of the United States, are a different color, have a different theological/philosophical/sociological background, had a different upbringing, come from a different culture; and we have different accents. Some people just ignore us; that we are here and belong to this community. Some people don't even acknowledge that we International students understand English well enough to communicate with them. Some people will treat us differently and without any respect. How shall we live?
Today, Paul is demanding us not only to love each other, but also to practice love with respect. Therefore, he says "outdo one another in showing honor" in verse 10. If we really practice this "genuine Love," then we will have respect for each other and we will appreciate being here in this diverse community (Hyde Park and LSTC).
Second, Paul mentions "live in harmony with one another" in verse 16. It sounds so difficult for me to do, but it is very possible. Let us look at our five fingers on our hands. They are not even-cut, not in the same shape; but if these five fingers are together, they can do many things; they can hold a reasonable amount of heavy things; they can type 10-, 20-, 30-page papers easily. When we read Romans chapter 12 as a whole, before Paul mentions to live in harmony with one another, he says, we all are members in Christ - one body. In verse 4, "for as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." We all are differently very independent, but we differently independent people still need to rely on each other and live in harmony with one another.
Rationally, there are many disciplines to live in the diverse community; but we will focus on only two disciplines today. One is, "Be independent, but do not be ego-centric." When we become an independent person, we will see the community and live in the community with a very critical view. We see the missing parts of the community; then, we ourselves fill in these blanks. Being egocentric makes us lose our social life and community life. My time, my idea, myself, whatever relates only to me are the most important; and nothing and no one is important for me at all. Then, we are in the community, but we become so lonely. That's why if we want to live in harmony with one another, the first rational discipline is "Be independent, but do not be ego-centric."
The second rational discipline is, "Be critical, but do not be so negative." In whichever community we live, when we say community, community always has good and bad things, beautiful and ugly things, and positive and negative things. Now, we are ready to learn from our professors, from scholars and from this diverse community in this new academic year, so we have to be critical, which doesn't mean that we have to be totally negative. We have to appreciate the positive things from wherever we learn, and we have to negotiate with whatever we disagree; and we have to raise our voice to protest the negative aspects. So that we can "live in harmony with one another."
Let me go back to the scripture and look for an answer for the question, which we ask today: "How shall we live?" In other words, how do we practice to love one another with mutual affection and live in harmony with one another? I've found one answer, which you might not disagree, or which is not your answer at all; but it is so far, for me, the only one and unique answer, which is in Matthew 7: 12: "So whatever you wish that people would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." Amen.