Our Debt? Love One Another

“Our Debt? Love One Another”

Rom 13-8 love one another, script

Romans 13:8-11 (13:8) – September 24, 2017

I am very pleased to announce that a big anniversary is coming up at the end of October. It is not just a big anniversary, it is a huge anniversary. October 31, 1517. This year, on All Hallow’s Eve, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the chapel door at Wittenberg University, in Germany.

Many people do not even know anything about this event. Some people really could not care less. However, I care very much. I was baptized and confirmed a Lutheran and spent two years studying Luther’s Small Catechism in confirmation preparation. I was a history and theology nerd throughout high school, learning as much as I could about the Reformation of the 1500’s, and Martin Luther in particular. I was not your typical teenager.

Today, I want to finish up our short series on the book of Romans, our Epistle readings from the Revised Common Lectionary that we have focused on for the past weeks. The Apostle Paul was also one of Martin Luther’s favorite biblical authors.

The Apostle Paul gets a bad rap from some people. True, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He came from impeccable bloodlines, from the tribe of Benjamin, trained at the secular college in the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, and mentored by the renowned rabbi Gamaliel. He was puffed up about his ancestry and about his superior schooling.

Can you imagine the high-and-mighty Pharisee Saul-that-was, suddenly transformed into lowly Paul, a follower of the Messiah Jesus? Losing all that prestige, losing his position on the Sanhedrin, and also his position as an up-and-coming leader of the religious Jews. After all that, after such a come-down, Paul is not only following Jesus, but he is using his substantial rhetorical skills at persuading anyone who comes by that they ought to follow Jesus, too! That’s the situation right here, in the letter to the Roman church. We are in the middle of the practical section of the letter, where Paul gives advice and commands for his readers to listen to, and heed.

When it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures and the commands listed there, we recall the Big Ten, the Commandments given by God on Mount Sinai to Moses. The Ten Commandments were the ultimate in the commands given to the people of Israel. Even though there were more than six hundred various laws in the Law Code of Moses as written down by various biblical scholars and religious lawyers in centuries following, the Big Ten commands led the list.

Here, in our reading today, Paul lists four of these commandments, the chief commands that refer to our relationships with each other. Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, and do not covet. As a former Pharisee, I suspect Paul had learned them when very young. Repeating them was something the devout followers of the Law of Moses did on a regular basis.

Paul could have given us a repetition of the Commandments and left it at that.

But, no. Paul wanted to go beyond just a rote repetition of the Law of Moses, of the Commandments—even the Ten Commandments that the Lord God gave on Mount Sinai. What he says in this reading today is nothing short of amazing, especially coming from a former Pharisee. Listen again to verse 8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Full stop. Period.

And, again in verse 10, just in case anyone was not clear about what Paul was saying: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Going back to our discussion about the Reformation of the 1500’s, one of the great confessions of the Protestant Church is the Heidelberg Catechism, completed in 1562. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the first question at the beginning: “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” The response: “That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head.”

This Catechism was written in uncertain times, when religious wars were causing upheaval over large parts of Europe. Yet, the writers of this document have the sure certainty that Jesus Christ is, indeed, our faithful Savior, protecting us from ultimate, eternal separation from God our Heavenly Father.

Look more closely at this Catechism, which talks of human redemption, God the Father, Son and Spirit, the sacraments, prayer, and the Ten Commandments.

The section on the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” went right to my heart. Question 111 says: “What does God require of you in this commandment?” The response: “That I work for the good of my neighbor wherever I can and may, deal with him/her as I would have others deal with me, and do my work well so that I may be able to help the poor in their need.” What was it that Paul just said in Romans 13:10? ““Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Okay, love one another. But, what does that look like? How do we go about loving each other? The Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm preached on this reading from Romans, several years ago. He said, “loving your neighbor means, “if your neighbor is hungry, feed him.” It means “if your neighbor is thirsty, give her something to drink.” If there are people who are sick or hurting or suffering or alone in the world, visit them. It’s not rocket science! But it’s not easy.” [1]

The problem is, with us fallible people who sin from time to time, we forget. We fall back into old patterns, familiar but not-so-good habits. It’s all very well for Paul and the other Apostles to tell us, “love one another.” Martin Luther would be the first to tell us of his struggles with this very thing! How do we go against the grain and “love one another?” I mean, love all others? No matter who they are? I think we just heard from Dr. Brehm.

As Dr. Brehm tells us, our sinful, fallible selves are “always in the mode of “what’s in it for me?” But that’s not the kind of love the Bible teaches us. The kind of love that Jesus modeled for us and that the Apostles taught us to practice is a kind of love that simply gives to another person—without any wish to get anything in return.” [2]

The Apostle Paul gives us a big challenge today, and also a big blessing. God wants us to love one another! The Lord is so pleased when we try to love each other. As we try to love more and more, we draw closer and closer to God, and to each other. No matter who they are.

I know—from experience!—how difficult this can be. Some of us are stubborn. Some of us are afraid. Loving one another can be a really, really hard challenge. I want all of us to help each other. We can all think of one or two people we encounter on a regular basis who are difficult for us to love. I invite you all to write their names on a piece of paper. We will collect the names and the ushers will bring them forward for us all to pray over. We can ask God’s forgiveness for not loving them, and ask Jesus for His help to love one another as He loved us.

The last question in the Heidelberg Catechism is, “What is the meaning of the little word ‘Amen?’” The answer: “Amen means: this shall truly and certainly be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard by God than I am persuaded in my heart that I desire such things from Him.” We can all say, “Alleluia, amen” to that earnest, heartfelt prayer to God.

[1] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2011/09/charity-never-fails-rom.html

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/4/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2]  Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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New Life Reality

“New Life Reality”

Acts 2-42 teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers

Acts 2:42-47 – June 7, 2015

Have you ever looked through a photo album, or a scrap book? Showing memorable photos, distinctive times to remember. Hitting the high points of a person’s life, or of a family’s experiences. Or, if not the most wonderful times, at least the most significant times.

That’s what we are going to be looking at, in this summer sermon series. We are going to focus on the book of Acts, and see what vignettes Dr. Luke has for us, in this photo album of the Early Church. We’re starting with the Day of Pentecost, and its immediate aftermath. Right after Peter’s sermon, and the great big revival meeting there in the city of Jerusalem.

When last we left our intrepid heroes—I mean, the disciples—their revival meeting had a tremendous response! The report given here at the end of Acts 2 is that three thousand people came to belief in Jesus as their Messiah, who died on the cross, buried, and risen from the dead. Just as prophesied by the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now what? Sure, this extremely large group of people had their “come to Jesus” moment. The Holy Spirit blew through all of their lives. I do not at all wish to diminish this glorious experience. Dr. Luke records this marvelous “Kodak moment” in each of these individuals’ separate lives. Yes, God reached down, and touched each one.

But, in all seriousness, I repeat—now what? Where do they go from here? The group of believers in the Messiah Yeshua—or, Jesus Christ—went from a couple of dozen to 3000 people. All in one morning!

Wait just a moment: imagine a huge group of people, milling about. Think of a large location, like a high school auditorium, or a large gymnasium, or a festival at the lakefront. Now, imagine yourself plunked down in the middle of that huge crowd. We have a huge group of people who just came to a saving belief in Jesus as their Messiah. Now what? Is there any larger purpose? Any master plan?

Acts doesn’t tell us exactly who came up with this plan, but our passage today does tell us what they did. It’s a systematic listing. Four simple, straight-forward steps.

Verse 42 tells us the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” Four simple steps are the spiritual glue that binds this miscellaneous group—diverse believers from all over creation—together as one cohesive whole.

First, the central activity: they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” I suspect many of these 3000 people, these new believers, had only heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Some had never heard Jesus’ teachings directly, never mind about seeing His miracles! Why was this aspect so important? Because if these new believers started traipsing after their own ideas, they might go off into flights of fancy. The wild blue yonder. They needed to be grounded in solid teaching, directly from the men and women who learned from Jesus for three years. His disciples, and followers. Then they would know for sure what Jesus did—or did—not teach!

Has anyone here ever watched a plastic television preacher? Or listened to a sketchy evangelist on the radio or on a podcast? How about someone who was preaching the “health, wealth and happiness gospel?” Jesus wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! Look at Job, after the Lord gave him everything back! Look at King David and King Solomon! Fabulously wealthy! All of them had favor with God, and you can, too! Just send the evangelist lots of money, and then you’ll be blessed! Just make sure you walk the straight and narrow, otherwise the Lord will smite you with sickness and poverty! Are you sick? Are your loved ones poor? Then, you’re not sending the preacher enough money! And, you don’t have enough faith!

Hold it! What I just said? False. Not true, at all.

Not the health, wealth and happiness gospel, not sending some huckster preacher or evangelist money in order to get health and prosperity. This is skillful twisting of Scripture passages, and is NOT GOOD AT ALL. This is exactly why it was so important that these new believers had ready access to the apostles, and paid such close attention to the disciples’ teaching. To prevent this kind of false teaching from getting started. It was true in the first century, and is just as true today, too!

Second on the Acts 2 list, fellowship. That means hanging out together! Eating meals together, visiting each others’ homes, going places together. This is closely followed by number three, breaking bread together. In other words, eating together! How many here just hang out together, occasionally? Visit, and be friends together?

Our friends from Love Sharing Congregation, do exactly that! If you come here early on a Sunday morning, before most people from St. Luke’s Church come into the building, you’ll find Love Sharing Congregation meeting together for early worship, and fellowship. They meet together, eat together, and hang out together. Then, again, every Sunday after 12 noon. They meet for worship service, and then eat a meal together. Be together, some more.

What a wonderful way to live out the activities the book of Acts recommends.

Fourth on the list we have “the prayers” mentioned. Not just general, private times of prayer, although the life of Jesus certainly models this for us, if anyone examines His life closely. “The prayers” probably refers to set times of prayer at the Temple. Gathering together regularly for prayer and worship was and is considered to be an important way to join together with others, horizontally, as well as joining with God, vertically.

These four things are activities that this group of brand new believers were involved in, from the get-go, from the very start. And, guess what? Their group continued to grow, and grow some more! Let’s take a special look at verses 46 and 47: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! And, people noticed. They wanted to find out more.

I wonder whether the new believers might have been onto something?

On an online bulletin board, I read earlier this week about a church in Minnesota. This post was written a few years ago. I can’t tell you what the pastor’s name was, since he or she did not leave it. However, the pastor wrote about this awesome example of togetherness: communal living, spending time together, eating together, and hanging out together.

“The most profound example of communal living I see in our world is the work being done in homeless shelters. We often take our Sr. and Jr. High kids to a shelter and bring an evening meal for the shelter’s staff and residents. Individually, we cannot feed them because of the great need but, when we work together and plan together, we have more than enough to provide a good meal for the 70 or 80 residents of the shelter.

“In our church, it has become a badge of honor to insure that we can provided the best food for these folk and we now go to the shelter once a month. The point we make with our church members is that the residents of the shelter deserve our best, so we strive to provide it. Our youth like the work because it is a direct way to put their budding theology to work.”

You all see? Life together. Fellowship. Being friends. Eating and drinking together. Worshipping and praying together. Did I mention being comfortable together? This is “doing church,” at its best. Of course, we are all humans, and disagreements occur. Disappointments happen. But, this passage shows us a snapshot of what our life as a church can be!

Something to shoot for. Something to hope for. Something all of us can strive for. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if people in Morton Grove—Niles—Glenview—Park Ridge—Des Plaines—noticed what was going on here at St. Luke’s Church? The new church in Acts 2 reported “having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! People noticed. They wanted to find out more.

Let’s celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit! We have that same power here. Nothing is impossible for the Spirit of God. This is a wonderful reminder of what church is all about.

Can I hear an “amen?” Alleluia, amen!

summer sermon series

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)