Advent 2 Dec 1, 2013 Romans 13:3-14 Fr. Ray Kasch
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Sometimes when you pray, God responds by dropping the answer in your lap and it is so clear that you would have to be blind to miss it. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago.
I was praying for our parish and asking God to give me some direction for this New Year but I was coming up with nothing. Then someone posted a video on Facebook, which I usually ignore, but in this case I was drawn to it. The video was by a pastor who had built, by American standards of numbers and nickels, a very successful church. I think that he had something like 4,000 members. But rather than coasting, he and his staff had the integrity to ask, in spite of the outward appearance of success, if they were doing the right thing. Was this what Christ wanted the Church to be?
To answer that question they searched the New Testament to see if they could determine what were the true hallmarks of the Church. As I watched the video I knew that his findings were the answer to my prayer for direction. He said that they were able to highlight four signs of the Church in Scripture and they are 1. A radical love for one another. 2. A passion to share the good news with others. 3. (And this really caught my attention because he is a nondenominational guy) the importance for those early Christians to gather regularly around the Body and Blood of Christ. 4. A focus on training up leaders for the multiplication of the Church.
Love, Evangelism, Sacraments and Discipleship. If these were the hallmarks of any parish, it would be one very healthy parish no matter how many folks you had on the roles. It’s not just about numbers. As I told one pastor years ago, if it’s just about numbers then the Church should host public executions because you can always get a good crowd at a hanging.
So here is the plan. Fr. Chris, Fr. BE and I are going to use these four Sundays in Advent to unpack these four hallmarks of the Church. It is our sincere hope and prayer that we will incarnate all four of these hallmarks right here at St. Patrick’s. I ask for you to pray for that as well.
Today therefore I want us to think about love. Although I did not plan it this way, that topic shows up in our lessons for today. To tell you the truth, it is not a topic that I find easy to speak about for a couple of reasons. First when I was in seminary we had Morning Prayer every morning accompanied by a sermon from one of the Seniors. We were their guinea pigs as they learned to preach. And would you like to take a wild guess at the typical topic no matter what the lessons were about? You’ve got it. I heard so many sermons about love that I thought if I never heard another one that it would be too soon. What’s more is that most of what I heard was more feelings and sentimentality rather than a biblical understanding of love and it frankly made me fear for the future of the Church.
But this is also a tough topic because it is one where I so consistently fall short. Thus that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite to try to teach on it today. My comfort is that I read in the Old Testament God that spoke through a donkey. I figure if He did it once, He can do it again and I would prefer that we stick with the word “donkey” if you please.
As I searched the Scriptures I was convinced that the pastor was absolutely correct to say that radical love is a hallmark of the Church. In fact Jesus links the hallmark of love with the hallmark of evangelism in John 13:35 when He says that the whole world will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. And that happened. It was not just a nice idea in the New Testament Church. A philosopher named Aristides on 125AD wrote this about the Church. “They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hast distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs. . . . And if there is among them a man that is needy and poor, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”
When asked what is the greatest Commandment, what did Jesus say? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That’s it. How do I fulfill the commandments? By loving God and loving my neighbor. There is nothing I can do that is more important than that. Jesus of course has more to say about love but I also found it interesting how the Apostles continued that theme. I counted 130 verses about love throughout the Epistles. A classic piece is found in 1 John and he does a fine job of summing up what we are to believe about love. Look with me at 1 John 4 beginning at verse 7.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
There is actually a lot going on in these verses but let me point out a couple of things. First, contrary to what the world thinks, love is not just an emotion. Have you ever known someone who is in love with the idea of being in love? If you have than you have witnessed how pitiful that condition is. They end up using people and going through relationship after relationship in pursuit of a feeling, not realizing that to pursue a feeling is like trying to capture your shadow. It is a pointless exercise. Love is more than a feeling and while love includes what we do and it is even more than doing good. Love is to be our very nature. Look again at verse 7. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Because God is love, and because we have not only been created in His image but also have been born again as His children, then love is who we are.
That may sound unattainable but not if we realize the source of our love. Verse 10 says “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So it is not up to us, in response to the Great Commandment, to somehow manufacture enough love to love our neighbor. Genuine love comes as a response to having first been loved by God, knowing that are sins have been washed away and by abiding in Him and He in us. Simply put, love is a fruit of grace. Let me say that again. Love is the fruit of grace.
It is the same principle with forgiveness. When someone has deeply and seriously wounded me, I find it difficult if not impossible to manufacture enough forgiveness to truly forgive as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. But if I first contemplate on how much I have been forgiven, then it puts the other person’s debt in true perspective and I can readily let it go. My millions in debt do not come close to his few bucks. And so when we grasp the depth of God’s love for us then loving others becomes a natural course.
A second observation about love from this passage in 1st John is that love is generosity. Verse 9. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” Could God have been any more generous to us than to send not only His Son but His ONLY Son?
There is a wonderful word that is used a number of times in the New Testament that points to God’s generosity towards us. The Greek word is ἐπερίσσευσεν (eperisseusen) and it is translated “lavished” or “multiplied.” Ephesians One. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” From 1 John 3 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” From 2 Peter 1:2 “May grace and peace be lavished (multiplied) on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!” From Jude “May mercy, peace, and love be lavished (multiplied) on you!”
Can you hear it? God does not give us His love in measured teaspoon fulls. He opens up a fire hose. And that is the pattern that He sets for the Church. To me it is an astonishing idea but Jesus said that He loves us with the same love that the Father loves Him (Jn 15:9). How much does Jesus love you? As much as the Father loves Jesus. Then He tells us to love one another in the same way (Jn 15:12). If you could get your mind around that truth it would change your life.
You heard the sacrificial generosity of the Church in the quote earlier from the philosopher. They even fasted so that they could care for others. In the Book of Acts we see Christians in one region taking up offerings for the Church in other regions who were facing difficult times. In this we see that love is so much more than emotion, it is action. “For God so loved the world that He GAVE….” The world is not going to know that we are His disciples if we love one another the way that they love one another. They are going to know that we are His disciples when we love one another as He loves us and that involves the word lavish.
A quick third observation from this passage in 1st John. Love is, and comes from, union with God. Having and sharing the love of God does not come just because we see it modeled for us, not even in Jesus Christ. If you read the Gospels Jesus was continually modeling before the disciples what they should be doing but most of the time the knuckleheads missed His point. Why? Because they needed more than information, they needed transformation….and so do we. 5 times in this short section the word “abide” is used. Jesus used it also. In John 15 He said, “As the Father has love me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” He uses this language right after teaching us that He is the Vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. So it is union with God that is love and it is union with God and that enables us to walk in love.
When Jesus had gathered His disciples into that upper room, He washed their feet and instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He established with them a New Covenant. But rather than having 10 Commandments written on Stone Tablets, He gave them One Commandment that was to be written on their hearts. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (Jn13:34,35). May He write this law in our hearts as well. Amen.