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Owe Nothing but Love

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September 6, 2020 The Rev. Mark Pendleton Christ Church, Exeter Owe Nothing but Love 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 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, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:8-14 Today we address the eternal question that the great Christian theologian Tina Turner asked in 1984: What's Love Got to do with it?" Last week in our first dive into this section of Romans, the apostle Paul was inviting us to know and live out real love. Not fake love. Not transactional or temporary love. Not say one thing and do another thing love. Genuine love. We continue today with Paul's further clarifying instruction: owe no one anything, except to love. In the gospel reading we also hear Jesus teaching his followers how to love their way through failures, breaks in trust and bad behavior. Like his teaching on leaving behind the 99 sheep in search for the one that wandered off, Jesus also seems to want to go the extra mile to re-gather God's people. In Matthew (18:15-20) he walks us through conflict: start with one on one honest conversation - if the member listens to you, you have regained that one. V. 15. Regaining that one is as important as the whole. If not, try again, enlarge the circle, and try until you've tried it all. And if we ever doubted that we would be left alone for this hard work of managing conflicts and disagreements, Jesus says in v. 20: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. Words we need to hear again and again. God in Christ is with us this morning, for we have gathered in his name. Continuing to look at Romans, we begin with the obligation to love. All of the commandments get boiled down and distilled to v. 9 "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. When I think about owing someone or something, I think of an exchange or transaction. One thing offered, the other thing given. But then I remember: didn't I just reject transactional love? How can we owe love? We might begin to consider the different versions of the Lord's Prayer, the core prayer of the Christian faith. We pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. That is the traditional language from our Book of Common Prayer. The contemporary version is: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. If you've ever visited a Presbyterian and another Protestant church, you might hear: "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors". We find a word connection between these debts and Paul's owing no one anything except to love. Forgive us our debts. I hear: forgive us what we owe, as we forgive those who owe us. It is a two-way street. What we can get is a new start, a reset and new beginning. It is a good thing, a very good thing, to have debts forgiven. Financial and relational. It is all relational, isn't it? We are tied and connected to God in creation and God has tethered us all - all of humanity - on this line that connects us. 2020 is a year we will all remember as showing us how inter-connected all of humanity truly is. Back to Paul. Paul was walking a fine and narrow path preaching about this new faith throughout the Roman world. He knew who held earthly power and it was not this small Jesus movement that began in and around Jerusalem. The power was in Roman hands. Paul was careful not to stir up more trouble with the authorities as to not blunt his mission to spread the Gospel far and wide. So, when we hear the verses at the beginning of the chapter, we see Paul saying that God can work through human leaders. He asked believers to not resist the authorities. Pay to all what is due them - taxes to whom taxes are due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Romans 13:7. Christians are to be good citizens. How does this teaching hold up in today's world? In all honesty, I can see the constraints Paul was under traveling and preaching this new expression of an ancient faith: one rooted in the life-giving message of the death and Resurrection of Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness. Christians had no power: Rome held all the cards. And Christians were being persecuted in the city at the center of the Empire by the infamous Nero. And yet, for me, the take away is not to keep Christians hovering for God's protection under autocratic and cruel rulers. I can't reconcile a God of love with one who just wants us all to bear the weight of injustice without saying or doing anything. His words can also be understood in a rule that can apply to us all in any context: do no harm. In one of the Biblical commentaries I follow (Interprepation, Paul Achtemeier) this love is explained: "To love someone is actively to promote that person's good. To be commanded to love one's enemy means that one is commanded to work for that person's good, not harm. For Paul's words to make sense, leaders in authority are meant to do as physicians do in their oath: do no harm. Some leaders live much beyond that basic expectation. Many others fail and inflict pain. I've been reading this summer Eric Larson's latest non-fiction best seller The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance. A great read if you are looking for one. The book follows Winston Churchill's first days in office in 1940 before World War Two reached Britain's shores. We are reminded of the greatness of the man as a leader, his oratory skills, his free expression of his own emotions - who would often weep through church services or when visiting bombed out parts of London. Even when communicating grim news about the war - when London was bombed by air night after night killing thousands of civilians, Churchill had an ability to lift people up and encourage them to steady themselves through struggle for the days ahead. It is not hard owing such a leader duty and even honor. And this would be a good Sunday - with echoes of Paul -- to hear again one of Churchill's most memorable lines: "Never have so many owed so much to so few." These words were spoken during a speech in 1940 to lift up the sacrifice of Royal Air Force crews fighting the Battle of Britain, whose daring flights saved the island from German invasion. Who among would not want to acknowledge the sacrifice of those who served, fought and those who died. As we all look back on the early days of March and April and now coming to the end of the summer, it is natural to try not to dwell on those days and move forward. We hope to move from darkness to light always. Yet, "never have so many owed so much to so few" is still true for so many who never took to the air and shot down bombers to protect our cities. They cleaned our hospital rooms, held the hands of the dying, delivered the mail, stocked the shelves, and kept life moving forward - not knowing if they would fall ill. We owe them not to forget those early days and we honor what they did and continue to do. In our Bible study we asked: If it is love that we owe, what do we owe ourselves in this life? What we owe those with whom we share a home or a roof or hallway? What do we owe our larger community in these times of strife and uncertainty? And if we are all tethered together - one humanity on this fragile earth - what do we owe our global community? As we close out the summer, what do you and I owe ourselves? - for we are the self-half of the "love your neighbor as yourself" command. Great question. Life-long responses. I share that journey with you. I would hope that we owe ourselves the truth that our lives, dare I say, matter. They matter to God. Our worries, our joys, our struggles, our quirks and our fears. We all, in our own way, seek to come to terms and know the person who looks back at us in the mirror each morning. Each line on our face. Every scar, imperfection, freckle or mole. Every mistake. Failure. Success. Every lapse of judgement. We owe ourselves an acceptance that others may never offer. We owe ourselves care. Rest. Forgiveness. What we don't owe ourselves is more shame or blame, because trust me, the world can dole that out in bucket loads. What do we owe those with whom we live? Under one roof or sharing a common dining room. How about: a reset each time we see one another. An attempt to assume best intentions and not wait for an ambush around every corner. People are easily rattled right now. We know this. It doesn't take much to set someone off or be triggered ourselves. May we take more time to listen to the other instead of just using those minutes to form our response or make our defense. Perhaps our greatest vulnerability as a society during this time is that we have lost the desire or ability to just talk and listen. Every discussion need not be a battle. Because that is exhausting. What do we owe our larger community? I hope when injustice is too great that we must call on those in power to be better and do more, that whatever we do we do so peacefully. For we heard (Romans 12) "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." I don't think it is a far reach to say that a person should be able to protest, speak out, march, keep vigil, work for change, protect what is held in trust, organize and vote safely. Violence and destruction, towards people and property, can forever erode trust and community. One can see the urgency of the moment and the passion for a just cause and the rage of loss, but love, as we've learned again, means causing no harm. To this earth and the people that live on it, I hope we owe it and all a desire and commitment to steward with more care and concern. In closing, Richard Rohr offer us this clarity: "Love is what you were made for and love is who you are." Do no harm. Love. And may we all put on the armor of light, for we're going to need some added protection in the days and months ahead. 4
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