Sermon, September 10, 2017

Sermon.09.10.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20

 

The past few Sundays we have been focusing on Paul’s advice to the Roman Church for practical Christian living. Given what God has done through the gospel, Paul encouraged the Roman Church (and us) us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice as an act of worship. As such, we are not to be conformed to this world and its values, but are to be transformed through the renewing of our minds such that we may discern the good and perfect will of God. Our chief task, or expression of faith, in all of this is to love one another. Last week we noted Paul’s emphasis on letting our love for one another be genuine, and we examined what that might look like in Christian community – to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to live in harmony, to not seek vengeance, etc.

This week Paul exhorts us, “Owe no man anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13.8; NRSV). Paul makes it clear that he is referring to the Mosaic Law, for he immediately follows this admonition with the words, “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.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13.9-10; NRSV).

Paul next draws upon the analogy of moving from sleep to wakefulness: “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; the night is far gone, the day is near” (Romans 13.11-12a; NRSV). The dead of night is over, but the sun has not yet risen. It is time for us to become fully awake. Paul reminds us that our salvation, our transformation, is nearer to us than when we first believed – we have been growing in the Spirit. A new day is dawning!

Hence, it is time for us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” it is time for us to “live honorably as in the day,” in the brightness of God’s light; it is time for us to forsake “reveling and drunkenness, … debauchery and licentiousness, … quarreling and jealousy.” As the new day is dawning, it is time for us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13. 12b-14; NRSV).

If we truly understand the implications of love, what is involved in loving God and others, we need no other law than the law of love. As you may recall, Paul dealt with various aspects of living under the law in Romans 7. Paul reminded us that the law is spiritual while we are of the flesh. Paul shared his own inner conflict: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7.15, 20; NRSV). Paul further reasons,

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7.21-25; NRSV).

 

With our spirit, our mind, we can delight in God’s law, in the law of love, and yet find ourselves unable to live accordingly. Thus, we suffer, for we are divided.

As Christians, we often aspire to act differently than we do. We may strive to be more loving and patient with others only to find by the end of the day that our patience has worn thin and we snap at someone. Then we proceed to beat ourselves up for our failure. I encourage you to listen to your self-talk. “You could have done better than that! See, there is no way you can live a Christian life. Admit your failure, and stop expecting more than you can deliver!” At times like this, we need to say with Jesus, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” We need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to remember that our salvation comes through the transforming work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of our own volition, we may not be able to affect this transformation, but with the gift of God’s grace, we can ultimately live into the life of the spirit while leaving more of the life of the flesh behind. As we act in the power of God’s love, we fulfill the law – we build God’s kingdom.    Amen

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