Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Romans 13:8-10: Love for One Another
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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.
What does it mean to live in the world when you know that Resurrection is real? That is part of what Paul addresses in his letters to churches. As we progress into the Easter season, that is still a question to which we must attend. How do we live in the world in a way that is shaped by our belief that Resurrection is real? Paul, in this letter to the church in Rome, argues that being Christian means grounding ourselves and our actions in love.
In an introduction to this letter that he wrote for the New Interpreter’s Bible. Neil Elliott notes that Paul hadn’t actually yet met the Christians to whom he was writing. The work that we now call the book of Romans was not a letter to encourage people he had known and worshiped with. This is a letter to Christians whom he did not know but whom he hoped to convince to support his ministry. It seems like he really wanted to “present his case,” so to speak. This letter ends up being what is likely the most complete articulation of his understanding of his mission and of what it means to follow Christ out of all of his letters that have survived to the current day. When Paul was trying to get some people, who didn’t know him to support his mission, he decided to tell them, very clearly, what he believed. And, what he believed was “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
I preached on Romans a little while ago and noted that there might have been some tension in the congregation that Paul was addressing. Elliott, in his commentary, noted that Jewish people, including those who would understand them as followers of Jesus, had only recently been allowed to return to the city. There seems to be some conflict between those who were ethnically Jewish and those who were Gentile, even though they all followed Jesus. Because there lingered an anti-Judaism within the Roman elite and among Roman citizens, Paul wanted to make sure that that kind of ethnic and religious prejudice was not a part of their Christian community. Few things would be less loving than harassing an ethnic minority that the government had chosen to target. Unfortunately, Christians continue, to this day, to forget this lesson of Romans.
I always think it’s interesting to read how Paul reads other biblical texts. He was a Pharisee and knew Jewish scripture and religious law like the back of his hand. Once he had his conversion experience and began to follow Jesus, he began to read those scriptures and practices through the lens of his new faith in Christ. Our reading for today includes some of his commentary on that scripture and practice as a way to affirm the on-going influence of Jewish religious law on early Christian churches. He assumes this church, even with a large Gentile population, knows parts of Jewish traditions, particularly things that were central to Jesus’ own teaching. And love was both the foundation of Jewish law and Jesus’ mission.
Paul, like Jesus himself, sees love as foundational to what we know as the Ten Commandments: “Any other commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And, when you are trying to develop a life shaped by how you follow Christ, these scriptures, grounded in love, can help you learn how to shape your life with Christ. Following this ethic of love will give your life a God-contour. In his poetic commentary on this text, Dr. Israel Kamudzandu says “love is the grand ground on which everything grows and flourishes.” He goes on to say, “While hate and oppression dehumanize others, love, if well done and exercised, will give birth to a new world order, one in which healthy love can be nursed, grow, and flourish.” If we return to the question at the beginning of the sermon, how do you live like the resurrection is real? You love, as Jesus loved.
It can be very easy to say “love your neighbor,” though people seem to struggle with what love actually means. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people justify saying some pretty heinous homophobic things by arguing that it would not be loving for them to be kind to someone who’s gender or relationship they don’t think is appropriate. They might compare it to yelling at someone to stop them from, say, touching a hot stove. I will tell you right now: homophobia is not loving, no matter what kind of intent is behind it. And, yet, people will say they are doing it out of love. This love thing is complicated, isn’t it?
Jesus gives some pretty clear instruction about what is loving. He told a story once about a man who, despite risks to his safety and a disruption in his routine, helps a stranger who has been beaten. He also spoke of God judging the nations by how much they demonstrated love by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, by welcoming the stranger, by offering clothes and medical care to those who need it, by tending to those imprisoned. He also told a couple stories about lost people and lost sheep being sought after and welcomed when they returned home. If you want to know how to love, those seem like some places to start.
In his commentary on this text, Dr. Kamudzandu says, “The church is indeed a place where persons can be organized, socialized, and mobilized to effectively love others.” This is one of my favorite descriptions of church that I’ve seen recently. I love the idea of church as a place where we practice love inside the walls so that we may practice love beyond these walls. This is why we gather and pray and sing together... to remind each other of God’s love and to share that love with the world. It is where we can talk with one another about what loving action actually is and offer amends and forgiveness when we fail to love. Love can be our lifestyle... that’s how Dr. Kamudzandu describes it: Love as a lifestyle. I pray that you can feel God’s love today and that you may see a way to practice that love in the world beyond these doors. If Resurrection is anything, it is love. May that love arise anew in you today and every day.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney, "Third Sunday of Easter," Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2022)
Israel Kamudzandu: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-23/commentary-on-romans-138-14
Neil Elliott, "Romans," The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press,
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.