Let Love Be Genuine

Aug 30, 2020

Sermon 8-30-2020
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Romans 12:9-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Today’s Epistle reading was unplanned. Let me explain what I mean: Romans 12:9-21 IS the assigned reading for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, which is today. So, its use on this day has a LONG history of planning behind it. The unplanned part is that it is being read on the Sunday of a Special Congregational Meeting to consider a Welcome Statement that, if adopted, will place Faith Lutheran Church on the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) roster.
     I am confident in saying that when the meeting was planned for today, no one doing so – including me – realized that the day’s Epistle lesson was this particular one from Romans 12. Instead, the Council chose August 30 because people are settling into the routine of the school year, and more might be at home. At the same time, we are not quite into the hecticness of Fall. Also, this is a good time of year to renew and celebrate our commitment to being a “welcome place.”
     The long and the short of it is that August 30 was not selected as the special congregational meeting day because Romans 12 is the assigned lesson. Yet, here we are reviewing “the marks of a true Christian,” which is this section’s title, while at the same time considering a Welcome Statement that speaks to loving God and loving one another.
     The Apostle Paul begins today’s passage with these words: “Let love be genuine…”, and then in the rest of the chapter describes what such love is like. He refers to sharing love in one’s own Christian community and to showing hospitality to the broader Christian community as well as to strangers. He then speaks of blessing one’s enemies and having peaceable interactions with everyone. (1)
     It is important to note that this passage is about what life in Christ looks like in community; Paul is addressing a group, not individuals. And, it is even more important to recall that the Spirit empowers this life of genuine love. It is not a one-time achievement, but a virtue that Christians continually seek.
     Commentator Israel Kamudzandu put it this way: “We may also say that love is an art, as one can learn, grow and be taught to love. However, in many Christian circles, love is a lost art needed to be relearned. The art of love among the body of Christ has always been needed. It is much needed in the 21st century in order to cherish diversity as the breeding ground of love. We might pay attention to what we learn about the essence of love from those considered “outsiders.” The church may then see the stranger and the outside world as laboratories to exercise love. Today’s churches … must relearn the art of love. If they do not, the church will slide into a world of irrelevancy.” (2)
     That’s why the Welcome Statement is so important; it will guide us to love more intentionally, even though doing so will at times challenge us. Now…let’s take a quick walk through Romans 12:9-21; I’ll reword or expand Paul’s description of genuine love.
     It’s love that is sincere, non-hypocritical, even unconditional since it imitates God’s love, which is unconditional; it rejects that which is contrary to God’s will and ways, which can be summed up with one word, GRACE. Those who love genuinely cling to grace as a way of life.
     Brothers and sisters in Christ are devoted to each other, imitating the healthiest, the best of family relationships. They are focused on honoring others more than self; genuine love falls over itself to give others the credit due.
     Those who love in this way are fervent in Spirit. The Greek word pictures a pot boiling over – that which cannot be contained is the desire to serve, and to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints and extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12: 12-13)
     And now, we come to the even more challenging expectations; the circle of loving expands to include enemies. If someone harasses you, Paul writes, bless them; that is, ask for divine favor for them rather than condemnation. If someone harms you, do not try to get even; take the higher road. Put the situation in God’s hands rather than acting as if you know better than God. If someone you dislike is in need, is hungry or thirsty, make sure they are fed, and their thirst is quenched.
     But, what is this about heaping burning coals on their heads? Most scholars say that is a metaphor for the fact that when we respond to evil with good, it stirs up shame in the person, which may lead to change.
     To love is to support one another in joy and sorrow, to maintain peace and seek reconciliation, to be humble, and to be accepting of all people. Finally, genuine love overcomes evil with good.
     I believe that’s what our Welcome Statement does – it states our desire to overcome the evils of exclusion, judgment, fear with acceptance, support, and welcome. We at FLC have been striving to do so before now, of course, but now our welcome could be more intentional.
     We have discussed it and studied scripture, we’ve heard from one another, and prayed about it. Now we have the opportunity to step out in faith and join the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) roster so that those looking for a church home will know that our “welcome intentionally includes all people, regardless of age, races, economic status, intellectual or physical abilities, sexual orientations and expressions, along with their families and friends, to join with us as we worship God, grow faith and offer hope.”
     May our congregation be a laboratory to exercise love, so that we do not slide into a world of irrelevancy. Or, as the Apostle Paul advises us, “Let love be genuine.” AMEN
(1) Commentary on Romans 12:9-21 by Mary Hinkle Shore, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) Commentary on Romans 12:9-21 by Israel Kamudzandu, www.workingpreacher.org