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Genuine Love in Time of Crisis

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August 30, 2020 The Rev. Mark Pendleton Christ Church, Exeter Genuine Love in Time of Crisis Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 For those of us who are keen list makers - who write down what we need to do during a day - or have a practice of cutting out interesting articles to save for later - the words from today's Epistle are too good not to highlight this morning. In this letter, written some 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul is at his most persuasive about the power of God to touch all of our lives and shape us and direct us into new ways of being and believing. That is essentially and hopefully why you and I tune into Zoom worship, or in "normal" times go to a physical sacred space or spend time in quiet and prayer or take a crack at reading the Bible on our own - even if we don't know where or how to begin. You and I are sojourners. We are seekers. Paul, hyper-charged with zeal after his conversion from Christian hater to Christ follower and believer, is laying out an argument of how, if we have faith, God can transform our hearts and the entire creation. We are changed not by trying to follow the letter of laws and commandments, but the spirit and grace behind them. This was a bold letter - a systematic way to understand and live out the gospel. Many Christians have been born and formed by the words contained in these 16 chapters. Augustine, before he was a saint, found in Romans the source of his faith in Christ. In the year 1513 the monk Martin Luther became born again in reading Romans by discovering was only through grace and mercy that we have faith - not by any action or work that we can do to negotiate what God only gives freely. Nearly 300 years ago the father of Methodism John Wesley found his faith alive again through the actions described in this letter: He said that "I felt my heart strangely warmed." Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic, said Paul's letter to the Romans is "the most profound work in existence." By the time we arrive at Chapter 12, the reader has heard the argument about why to believe in God in Jesus Christ. Paul takes us from Adam through Abraham through Moses to Jesus with a message that is for all and everyone. That is one of the reasons the Christian faith took hold and grew so quickly in a part of the world where there were many shrines and gods. It was and is a faith to extends beyond race, status, family and tribe. All and everyone. Once one accepts this good news, the question forward becomes: how to live as a Christian. We move from right belief to right action. One can believe in the Creeds and read and quote the Bible, and faith always needs to put into practice. We all probably have our own notions of how a Christian should act and behave. We should always leave room for our own fragility, mistakes and weaknesses, but the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, and the core command repeated by Jesus for us to love God and our neighbors gives us a pretty good roadmap of how to live. And if we ever stray or forget, well, Paul creates a handy list that we can copy down or print out and tape on our refrigerators next to those cherished photos and classroom art projects. We find Chapter 12. Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. These verses should be clear. God knows, and Paul knew, that we live in a finite world. Our response is to trust in God and believe with infinite hope. We have nothing to ground our faith if not infinite hope. In Romans 12:2 Paul writes that we are not to be conformed by this world but transformed - changed -- so that we might discern the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. Do not be conformed but be transformed. We are constantly challenged to not always accept the way things are in the world. When our plates get full and the mood around us is grim, it is natural to want to throw up our hands and say there is little to nothing I can do. Why hope for something different or more when nothing ever seems to change? Why care, why forgive again, why reach out, why turn the other cheek, why show someone respect if little respect is given in return? Why trust someone yet again if you know you'll be disappointed? People are angry - the thinking goes -- then we should meet their anger. We see this when people rage and fume online, and the common reaction it to rage in response. An "eye for eye" still gets played out when we conform to this world. And it leads nowhere good. Our path is transformation and change and new life. Paul writes: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (v. 21) Once we accept what God wants to give, we can offer the world, others and ourselves a life that is more whole, more just, more peaceful and closer to what God dreams for all of us. Sometimes I think Paul would like our roadside garden stands here in New Hampshire during the summer months. They are full of things that have come from the earth - fresh tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers - and we are left to measure, count and then deposit the proper amount of money into that rusty old money box. We can even make change. No one is looking, but we know what we are to do. You and I are being invited to know and live out real love. Not fake love. Not transactional or temporary love. Not say one thing and do another thing love. In his great sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13, read at most weddings because the words are eternally so right, we hear again that love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. As a period to the sentence: v. 8 Love never ends. This description of love has consequences for how we live. The cross, as we know, is the universal symbol of the Christian faith. The two beams of a cross, one vertical and one horizontal, are visual tools to remind us of how our love of God (up and down) must connect at the center and move across to the edges in our love for another. Jesus and Paul did not live in a perfect utopia: they knew what violence, corruption, division, oppression and hatred looked like. We hear in today's gospel how Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Matthew 16:21-28. Genuine love is always tested in moments of intense conflict, fear, and anger. There is a tension between light and darkness. v. 9 Hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. Hate, name, resist, reject and call out evil - the garden variety kind and the holocaust history-bending kind. Many of us might describe 2020 as living through the movie Groundhog Day, that 1993 gem starring Bill Murray, who plays a television weatherman. The character Phil seems destined to relive February 2nd over and over again. I hear this in people's voices when I ask them how they are doing. Before it was usually "good" or "busy", not the likely response is, "well, pretty much the same." In the streets of country there is a darkness in events that continue to get played out again and again, and any Christian trying to live out Romans 12 cannot look away or ignore. A summer that began when we learned the name George Floyd is winding down as we learn of Jacob Blake. Groundhog Day. An African American male shot by police. Investigations begin. And then vigils and marches and protests. When we talk about what is going on, in the context of the Gospel, is that venturing too far into politics? Are we stirring up the pot too much? Or not enough? Do we trying to connect with what Paul was teaching: weep with those who weep. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Believers in Jesus have much at stake in what we are watching - often at a distance - get lived out again and again. Rinse and repeat. Centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination and violence has embedded systemic racism that is being named and called out. We are to hate what is evil. I was taken by the L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers this past week in his remarks at the shooting of Jacob Blake. I listened to Doc Rivers calm and animating rage. "We're the ones getting killed. We're the ones getting shot. We're the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We've been hung. We've been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear." And then then searing truth is spoken. Rivers continues: "It's amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back." The Gospel Paul proclaimed in Romans, about the liberating and saving message available to all and everyone, should make it harder for any one of us during times of conflict and controversy to return to our corners of tribe and family without anything to say or do. When love is genuine it gets lived out in our homes and in the streets of our communities for all and everyone. We hear: (Romans 12:18) - If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Extend hospitality to strangers. I invite you to use these verses as prayer. They teach and remind us of how Christians can live. 3
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