Sermon, September 3, 2017

Sermon.09.03.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28

 

Last Sunday we noted Paul’s exhortation to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12.1; NRSV). We are to do this through, and in response to, the mercy of God; this, Paul says, is our spiritual worship. We are not to be “conformed to this world” but are rather to “be transformed by the renewing” of our minds so that we “may discern what is the will of God — what is good, and acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12.2; NRSV). In response to God’s love for us, we are to embrace God’s love, allow it to fully transform our lives, and live our lives fully in God’s love.

In today’s reading, Paul begins with, “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12.9a; NRSV). Paul then sets forth a rather extensive list of behaviors characteristic of genuine love. Before we examine this list, let’s review the list of behaviors found among the godless which Paul set forth in the first chapter. Notice how these behaviors are grounded in selfishness, how they foment discord, how they are destructive of community:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them (Romans 1.29-32; NRSV).

 

That’s a description of life lived in the absence of love. As one descends more deeply into this life, life becomes brutish, hellish. It leads us to despair. This is not the life for which God created us.

“Let love be genuine.” In John 4.8 (NRSV), we read: Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” How does St. Paul depict the love of God? He wrote: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly . . . But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8; NRSV). Paul has also given us believers the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.39b; NRSV).

In a moment, we will consider the characteristic activities Paul sets forth which reflect a life of genuine love. Note how these actions invite us to live in harmony and community – how they work to create God’s kingdom on earth. As we look at this list, I invite you to engage in an examination of conscience, a bit of assessment on the status of your spiritual life. What speaks to you? Where would God have you grow? Bearing in mind we will soon say the communal prayer of confession, what would God have you confess? I will slowly read these characteristics to allow for meditation and reflection. Feel free to close your eyes if you so desire.

  • 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; NRSV).

Many of us are troubled by current events. We just witnessed Hurricane Harvey inundate areas of Texas with 51.8 inches of rain over four days (August 26-29) yet many still believe climate change is a hoax. Similar flooding from other tropical storm is simultaneously taking place in parts of Asia. At the same time, parts of Africa are suffering from drought and famine.

Due to war and civil strife in Yemen, over 320,000 people are currently suffering from cholera. This is the largest cholera outbreak in modern history, and it is not yet contained. The people are also suffering from malnutrition.

President Trump is currently threatening to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which may lead to the deportation of 800,000 people who entered our country unlawfully as children. This is the only country they have ever known; they have built productive lives.

We live in a political climate conducive to, and supportive of, racism.

These are but a few of the pressing issues which weigh upon us. We Christians have our work cut out for us. Our world needs examples of genuine love. As I read this list, I confess my need to rejoice more in hope if I am to show others that I truly believe in the promises of God; I confess my need to persevere in prayer; I confess my need to extend even more hospitality to strangers; I confess my need to weep more with those who weep. With God’s help, and with each other’s encouragement, we can be transformed into lives which reflect genuine love. We can more fully experience the grace that God extends to us.

We often think God will love and accept us if we do certain things. The good news is – God already loves and accepts us. And as we accept and embrace God’s love, we are transformed.

May we share our burdens, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and encourage one another to live more fully into the family of God.

Amen

 

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