May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your Sight, our Lord and Saviour, Amen
The New Testament passage that we have for today is one of the most beautiful, one of the most poetic of all St. Paul’s writings; it is a passage on Love.
Now, this speaks to me especially this time of year because I have been involved in a lot of weddings – in fact, from August 20th (my first Saturday back from vacation) until October 1st there is one or two weddings every Saturday
The most chosen scripture for weddings, is of course 1 Corinthians 13…
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud (1 Corinthians 13:4)…
Certainly a beautiful passage on God’s love – but our passage from Romans 12 is easily the next most read New Testament passage for weddings
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, is to a people and place that he had up until this point not visited
To the capital city of the most powerful empire of it’s time
So St. Paul made this letter a good one, some say his masterpiece
It has been said that our passage for today is unlike the rest of the letter, where it is a layer upon layer of well outlined argument
That St. Paul takes a break, from that to provide a series of individual exhortations
(like a charm bracelet) held together by particular theme
And that theme is – Love
Now, even though I myself, in wedding sermons, have presented this idea – I have done so in the context of a wedding sermon
I actually believe that St. Paul is not taking a break from his well thought-out, well-argued theological points – but in fact is reaching a glorious climax
And the climax is on a full understanding of God’s Love
For a moment, though, let’s keep with the charm bracelet metaphor, when thinking about St. Paul’s teaching
It is a wonderful image to illustrate why this reading is used at weddings
Like St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 12, each charm is a symbolic representation of something much more
To explain the ups and down, the challenges and joys of love
In this passage from St. Paul, We hear strong words, passionate words
Words that challenge us and call us to the fullness of life
And the most challenging of all these words… is the word: Love
Now, in the original Greek, where we have one word: Love – there are three words
And the word found here is agape, and this word ‘agape’ was a little used word of the time
You see the first Christians sought to FIND language to express their new experience of God’s grace
A “fresh minting” of a previously little-used word
The word takes on a uniquely new and Christian sense to it
A French writer and historian once wrote, "We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity -- romantic love and gunpowder."
While many people might be tempted to agree that gunpowder has been an invention which has caused many problems for humanity,
It is the other item which you might find surprising to be on the list of the worst inventions of humanity, particularly on the very short, two item list
But romantic love as passed down from the Middle Ages has a powerfully damaging understanding
This is the Valentine’s Day love – the love of romance novels or of bad Hollywood movies
This is the misunderstanding that love masks all the grey of life – the hurts and pains and struggles of the real every day life
All the challenges of life are not there because love white-washes it all
I have witnessed this understanding of romantic love to be the cause that ended relationships
Whereby when times got a little bumpy – when the relationship went beyond seeing the world in ‘rose coloured glasses’ – when a couple started to disagree
One person ends the relationship because… Love is suppose to cover all that
If it is ‘real love’… then problems wouldn’t arise…
Love is never having to say you’re sorry…
It is to that notion of ‘romantic love’ – that I would say makes it one of the worst inventions of humanity
When I meet with couples in marriage preparation – as much as we are celebrating the love that they will be formally acknowledging – we also talk about some of the realities of a life-long together in love – we even talk about things like – rules of fair fighting
Today our passage from Romans 12:9 begins with "Let love be genuine," – and by this he is calling the Roman Church of nearly 2000 years ago, and us today, to the fullness of love
And then he spends the rest of the chapter describing sincere, non-hypocritical love in various spheres of the Christian life.
Our example for how to love is Jesus.
Paul's words to bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse in verse 14 sound a lot like what Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Or what He says in Luke 6:28, Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
So St. Paul is suggesting that to love genuinely is to love as Jesus loved.
Luther was once asked what do you think of when you think of Jesus – to which Luther responded “I think of a man hanging off a tree”
When we consider God with that lens – God all powerful – God all knowing – then consider it through the eyes of Jesus dieing on the cross for us
Then we think of Paul’s lessons on Love and the fullness of life that calls us to consider it through the lens of a Love so deep… a Love so broad … a Love so personal…that God came as one of us and died a humiliating brutal death… on a tree… for each and every on of us ….
Maybe you've heard the expression before "I have my scruples and I'm going to stand on them."
We rely on that phrase when we're getting ready to stand against someone.
"Hey, I've got my scruples!" Most of us assume "scruples" here to mean "principles."
To be scrupulous, we reason, is to be concerned with what is honest and right.
"I am going to do what is honest and right and nothing less."
But a scruple is really a sharp stone. You can look it up in the dictionary.
The phrase "to stand on your scruples" comes from the idea of being bothered by the nuisance of a small sharp stone in your shoe.
That small stone in your shoe may feel problematic, but you stand there anyway.
You stand there faithfully. "Standing on your scruples" means to stand firm.
It implies--because of that little stone--that we are going to stand with sensitivity or with tender feet.
Jesus teaches a kind of walk through life that involves tender feet and sensitivity...
Not just a stubborn tromp, believing that we are always right.
Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew sometime--all three chapters
Matthew 5, 6 & 7 you'll see Jesus' tendency to encourage tender-footed walking.
The apostle Paul lays out a whole set of scruples in our reading from the 12th chapter of Romans
Little sharp stones in the shoes of Christian people that encourage us to walk with lots of sensitivity. Consider those scruples in all of their beauty:
There are upwards of 30 imperatives in this reading.
Or rather, exhortations, that speak to any community patterning its life after the crucified and risen Christ
And often when you are told to do something, it can appear to be like taking medicine
But here the glory and beauty of God’s love shines through
This lesson begins with some rules for Christian behavior.
In many ways this list is a sort of "Ten Commandments for Christians."
The list begins with "Let love be genuine."
As people who live their lives by genuine divine love, we know that this divine love is not merely a matter of things to be avoided.
Rather, genuine divine love is something that reaches out to help and support and manifest God's love to the people we meet.
As George Bernard Shaw once stated it: "The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity."
Genuine divine love is never indifferent.
The second in this list of Christian Commandments continues this theme:
"Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good."
Far from being indifferent, this is an active approach to living.
More than mere lip service, Paul uses very strong words.
The word translated as hate appears only here in the New Testament.
It is a very strong word.
The remaining items in the list continue to clarify the way that Christians are to live, particularly together.
"Outdo one another in showing honor"
Sounds a little foreign to most people, but it seems that Paul is using a fancy way to remind Christians of the importance of humility.
4th "Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit."
Christianity is, or should be, a passionate adventure.
When Paul wrote, being a Christian was likely to cause a series of problems for believers, possibly even ending in death, as it did for Paul himself.
Only those passionate about their belief need bother to participate.
5th "Serve the Lord."
This speaks to the first and great Commandment – which Jesus reclaimed and restated in Mark 12:29-30 - “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
"Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering."
Yesterday was the funeral service for Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP and leader of the opposition
After the state funeral which was broadcasted on CBC Radio and TV, interviewers were asking people to try to sum up “Jack” as he was affectionately known by countless thousands, in one or a few words
And overwhelmingly the response was “Hope”
While not all his political views were shared by all – He was a deeply impressive man – and I think that was because he exuded Hope
Maybe the most powerful ideal
8th "Persevere in prayer."
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, "I am not going to pray for you. There are certain things a man has to do for himself. He has to blow his own nose, make his own love, and say his own prayers."
Paul certainly shared this perspective when he urged his listeners to persevere in prayer.
9th "Contribute to the needs of the saints."
Contributions to support and underwrite the projects of the church that provide for people and their needs are critically important. Often, in this world, it is only the church that provides for the poorest around the globe. It is our obligation to provide the contributions required to support those ministries meeting the needs of the saints.
Finally the 10th - "Extend hospitality to strangers."
After the ten commandments for Christians – St. Paul provides some instruction in maybe the most difficult aspects of God’s love – and that is towards those that we might consider our enemies
It is difficult, but when you submit to this teaching, you can be release from the evil that creates enemies
The next time you see someone in a tough bind who acts as if love is just a warm, fuzzy glow don't believe your eyes.
Especially when it comes to breaking the vicious cycle, where evil often seems to beget more evil, consider just how hard it is to love an enemy…
Then consider Jesus
How He died for all, including those that were persecuting Him – who we might call His enemies
So that they might have life eternal
Then you are starting to understand love beyond the sappy Hollywood romance movie
Then you are starting to understand God’s love for us
…It's incredibly difficult work,
But Paul offers up the reminder that our Lord is looking for accomplices who are interested in breaking this cycle of hatred that so easily infects even the best among us.
Here's the really interesting kicker.
If everything about you and me and our lives belongs to Christ, which is Paul's deepest understanding of the Christian life,
Then not only is revenge not our right or our possession to keep...
But even the wrongs we suffer do not belong to us.
We are not to hold onto these hurts and wrongs as a basis for bitterness.
No, they are not ours to keep. They belong to Christ.
That's what Paul suggests, so turn them over!
To love someone is not simply to cater to specific likes and dislikes of that person.
It is rather to act toward them in ways that help them experience more of God's goodness.
In conclusion I would like you to consider our passage today as the goal for us
The goal for our community of Farringdon Church as we are striving to follow Jesus
As our goal – let’s turn the beautiful writing into something more
Let’s make it a statement of belief – let’s imagine it as a creedal statement
I will say the words – but imagine the words personally
Imagine that we are saying them together
We believe in love that is genuine; we hate what is evil, and we hold fast to what is good;
We will strive to love one another with mutual affection; outdoing one another in showing honour
We will not lag in zeal, we will be ardent in spirit… we will serve the Lord.
We Rejoice in hope, we believe in patience in suffering, we will persevere in prayer…
We will contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
We will bless those who persecute us; we will bless and not curse them.
We will rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
We will live in harmony with one another; not being haughty, but associate with the lowly; we will not claim to be wiser than we are…
We believe in not repaying anyone evil for evil, but will take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
As it depends on us, we will live peaceably with all.
As Christ’s Beloved, we will never avenge ourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God
If our enemies are hungry, we will feed them; if they are thirsty, we will give them something to drink
We will not be overcome by evil, but we will overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:9-21 - paraphrased)