Sermon – September 7, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
Please be seated.
I don’t know about you, but I have thought a lot about love over the years. When I was 13, a church youth newspaper printed my thoughts about love. It was a contest of sorts and I remember receiving a check in the mail for a few dollars. My favorite popular song at that time was, “Love Can Make You Happy.”
Our popular culture gives us plenty of messages about love, but it’s mostly about romantic love and even distorted love.
In our lessons today, we hear a lot about love…about the love of God. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, emphasizes our sole obligation to each other – to love one another. The Greek word used is Agape. According to one commentary, Agape is actively doing what God prefers. This is not about how we feel, it is about how we behave…. This is NOT about how we feel, it is about how we BEHAVE.
We are reflections of God’s love for us. God showed us Agape, in that God came to live among us. God, through his son, Jesus Christ, died the most horrible death at our hands. Yet, instead of revenge, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. God continued to show love and interest in us, despite our unworthiness and despite our rejection. Agape is acting in ways that promote another’s good…that promote another’s welfare.
Open your Book of Common Prayer to page 305. Let’s read the second paragraph on that page:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
That’s what Agape is. That’s what Paul says is our Christian obligation.
But make no mistake, this is not romantic love. This is not conditional love – you do this for me and I’ll do that for you. This is clear-eyed love. This is love freely given, even when we reject it.
For example, look at our Exodus passage. Now, most of us don’t live on farms anymore, so it might be hard to hear the details regarding the slaughter and eating of the lamb. But even before the Israelites are freed from their oppressors, God is telling them to remember God’s love in action in freeing them from their oppressors.
Throughout this beginning part of Exodus, we continually hear God telling Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be freed. “Let my people go,” is the cry. Now God, I believe, loves Pharaoh AND God is realistic about Pharaoh. God gives Pharaoh so many chances to take the love actions. Yet, God says in Exodus 7:14, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.” God gives Pharaoh chance after chance to be loving to the Israelites…to not oppress them. Yet with each time Pharaoh rejects God’s demand, Pharaoh and the Egyptians face tougher and tougher consequences.
God’s love of Pharaoh isn’t like the sweet love we so often see reflected in our culture. This is clear-eyed love. And just like Pharaoh, we get the chance to be guided by God…to be guided by the way God wants us to live — love in action. And just like God, we are smart and shrewd, wise and discerning about the reality of ourselves and of our fellow human beings.
We can work for the good of the people involved with ISIS and we are wise to the facts about the violence and evil they perpetuate. I’m not sure I can exactly articulate how to work for their good, but it is the way we Christians are called to live. Working for the good – active loving of the other AND knowing they are hard hearted and must face the consequences of that hard heartedness.
This agape love is challenging and hard, because our emotions pull us. Also, our either/or thinking. I must either love ISIS or hate ISIS. But as Christians, we live in a both/and world.
Look at the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me,” says the father’s youngest son. Now, you know the father knew what was going to happen, but the father does as the youngest son asks. The father doesn’t try to stop the son. The father doesn’t lecture to the son. And the father does not rescue the son, either. The father lets the son leave, lets the son squander his inheritance – all that the father had to give to him. The son must face the consequences of his actions and his choices. The son ends up feeding pigs. We read, “He would have gladly filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:16)
Finally, the youngest son decides that living as a hired hand working for his father would be preferable to the life he is living. We read, “He came to himself….” He decides to go to his father, to own up to what he has done. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” (Luke 15:18-19)
And we are totally unprepared for his father’s response. “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) God gives us guidance and direction and ultimately lets us choose the way we will go. And God knows that we humans make unwise choices and reject God. God knows this about us. God lets us “make our own beds and lie in them” as the saying goes. Yet, when we want to return…when we come to ourselves…God runs to meet us and embraces us.
That’s the love Paul is speaking about…the love that God wants us to show each other. The clear-eyed, firmly set in reality kind of love, that works for our own good, despite our own bad behavior. That works for the good of others, despite their own bad behavior.
And so today in our Gospel, we are given specific instructions about acting in love when another church member sins against us. We are to go to that person and talk to them directly. If the person cannot hear us, then we take two to three others with us and talk directly. If the person still cannot hear us, then we take the issue to the church community. If the person still does not listen, there are consequences. The person cannot be part of the community any longer. Many chances and opportunities are given to the person. And the person has choices to make, with consequences. Tough, clear-eyed love.
So, each week, we gather as God’s community. To the best of our ability, we confess our sins to God. We pass the peace and greet each other. We come to the table and eat the meal of love given to us by Jesus our Savior.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another….” (Romans 13:8)