Paul’s Letter to the Second through Fifth Grade

Praying HandsOver Thanksgiving Break I went to Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up, to see my parents, my sister and her family, as well as my aunts, uncles, cousins and their children. An interesting thing happened when I went home last week. You see it had been several years since my wife, daughter and I had been in Richmond for Thanksgiving, and while I was there I remembered many Thanksgivings passed. Sometimes it is hard for grown-ups to remember, I mean really remember, being your age. Perhaps it was all the smells of great food that sparked such strong remembering for me last week. What I remembered most powerfully were images of the kitchen—my grandfather Totten carving the turkey; my grandmother Peters pulling the cover off the amazing Jell-O salad she made; my aunts and my mother arranging dishes and platters of food on the kitchen table. I remember being only just barely tall enough to see over the edge of the table to the stacks of beautiful fine china plates and silverware set there. Can you all imagine me not being able to see over the edge of a table? All the grown-ups pitched in—my father and uncle poured wine for the grown-ups. My cousins and I were allowed the quite rare treat of drinking coca-colas. Sometimes we helped too—carrying the pepper shakers and the salt cellars out to the dining room or making sure the napkins were folded and placed neatly under the forks.

There was a lot of talk and a lot of laughter. Sometimes there were disagreements, but they always passed by the end of the evening replaced by the knowledge that we were a family. While we remain to this day a family with many strong opinions, not every one of them shared by everyone else, our connection was and remains stronger than what might pull us apart. If someone is sick, we share in the pain somehow. If someone has had something good happen, we all celebrate.

This brings us to the scripture reading today from Chapter Twelve of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. I believe it is just as much a message to us as it was to the Romans almost two thousand years ago. (Imagine getting a letter from someone who put it in the mail two thousand years ago!) Paul’s letter has landed in our mailbox just in time. Listen to it again:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.

What Paul is asking of us is that we treat all of humankind the same way a close family treats each other. This is where it gets hard—super hard. If he was asking this of us with just our close family, that might be hard enough, but he is asking this of us with everyone. Everyone.

In short he is asking us, all of us, to love one another; he is asking us to value others more than we value ourselves; he is asking us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”; he is asking us to share with others who are in need—this is something you all already do through things like Coins for Carson; he is also asking us to celebrate with those who have reason celebrate and to share sadness with those who are sad. These are each challenging things to ask. It is not, however, Paul’s job to make things easy for us. In the last line of the letter we heard this morning, he sums it all up by saying, “Live in harmony with one another.”

Here is where our theme for the month—humility—becomes important. Where are the fifth graders? How would you define humility? [A volunteer from the audience gave a really nice definition]

To live in harmony with others requires us, I believe, to be humble. When we are humble, we recognize that we are not better than others, and we see that we are among the family of humankind and the Children of God. Through humility we see that we can’t do it all by ourselves and that we need others.

A writer named C.S. Lewis offers us helpful ideas about humility, saying that: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Lewis in only fourteen words—“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”—teaches us that humility is a vital character strength. Being humble allows us to see that we are created by God to be part of God’s family just as connected as my relatives at my family’s Thanksgiving Dinner. To be truly thankful, we must be humble. We must be willing to do our part, to help others, to feel the pain or the joy of others, to live in harmony.

As we head toward another holiday season—the Christmas Season—let’s try to keep Paul’s letter in mind.

J. Ross Peters is head of school at St. George’s Independent School, Germantown, Tennessee. This piece first appeared in his blog Ross All Over the Map. Our thanks for his permission to “reprint” it here.