September 7, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Romans 13: 8-10
“Do You Truly Love Others?”
A few years back I heard a story about a congregation, much like this one, going through the process of choosing a new pastor. The search committee had reviewed many candidates and after interviewing one candidate in particular they decided to set up a date to hear him preach in a neutral setting. He preached a good Christian sermon; it was all about God’s love and forgiveness of sins through Christ, and Jesus’ thoughts on the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. They were so impressed they invited him to be their candidate and set up a date for their congregation to hear him and hopefully vote him in as their pastor.
The day came and it was a hectic busy weekend, but the young pastor got up and preached a great sermon; the exact same sermon he had preached to the committee. The congregation voted for him to be their Pastor. There was some conversation about this amongst the search committee, but they said nothing for they were thrilled that their candidate had been voted in.
About six weeks later the new pastor and his family moved to town and it was time for his first service and sermon as their new pastor. He got up to preach and he preached a good Christian sermon; it was all about God’s love and forgiveness of sins through Christ, and Jesus’ thoughts on the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. The exact same sermon he had preached to the search committee and then to the congregation during the selection process. The search committee was approached by the Chairman of the Board and there was a lot of nervous conversation. It was decided that the chairman of the board and the chairman of the search committee would speak to the new pastor about this. They went to him after church and began by saying “that was a mighty fine sermon you preached, but…” The pastor quickly thanked them for their kind words and ushered them out of his office as the pastor left for the day. That week there was a board meeting where this was discussed at length. Compassion overruled their nervous objections and they decided to give him one more chance, taking into consideration his having to move his family across the country, unpacking and such, and thus he probably just didn’t have time to write a new sermon.
On his second Sunday, the pastor got up and again preached all about God’s love and forgiveness of sins through Christ, and Jesus’ thoughts on the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. By the time the service was over the entire church board had the new pastor cornered in his office. “Pastor, exclaimed the Chairman, that is a great sermon with a solid message, but when are you going to preach a new sermon?” “Just as soon as everyone gets this one right,” replied the new pastor!
No, I am not going to preach one of my old reruns this morning. This week I have chosen a lesson (which I chose last month from what is called the Common Lectionary- a document that helps pastors like me choose a new scripture and a new lesson each week,) I have chosen a lesson that is not from the gospels. Actually, I do not believe I have ever chosen this passage to preach on before, at least not in the last nineteen years and ten months that I have been ordained by the United Church of Christ. Yet, as we read through this lesson, from Paul’s letter to the new struggling church in Rome, we hear Paul once again lifting up Jesus’ teaching, thereby pointing out the importance of loving our neighbor’s as ourselves.
Surely, Paul was not using an old sermon, rather he was passionately teaching those that he ministered to. Actually, the Apostle Paul was speaking directly to a new and struggling church in Rome via a letter. In Roman’s chapter one he begins with this greeting in verse 7 “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In chapter two we hear Paul chastising this new group of Christians “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Paul delivers a strong charge to the church in Rome, which is a full thesis a full dissertation, surrounding the laws of society and the laws, the commandments of God.
Paul is telling the Roman church, yes go ahead pay your taxes “Owe no one anything!” He is charging them to live according to their social laws, yet he quickly moves to lift up that commandment which Jesus has so clearly lifted up to us in the gospels “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul uses these words to express this “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Paul continues his argument by stating a few key commandments and then clarifying that they are all summed up in the one sentence that Jesus lifted up when cross examined by the Pharisees and Sadducees that the second greatest of the Commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself!” Paul simply concludes with his summation “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
And yes I have preached, many times, “The Greatest of course is Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and all your strength.” This passage is found in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke. And is followed by Jesus lifting up the second greatest of the Commandments: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” And yes, some of you may need to hear these words again and again, but, I honestly believe that the majority of you sitting here today, the majority of you hearing my words are indeed clear that, as Christians, we are meant, we are charged actually to love our neighbors as ourselves. What I am not certain about is whether you fully grasp what this means, in terms of actions within real life relationships in the Twenty-First Century, in which we live and breathe!
When I lift up a copy of today’s newspaper headlining world news or listen to the top stories in the evening news, or check Yahoo or Google news on my computer, my confidence in humanity gets shaky. A lot of it just makes me sad. Some of makes me cry. And yes some of the news shakes my very soul with fear and trepidation. It makes me take lessons like this one, this one that the Apostle Paul wrote so long ago… very seriously. We, you and I, we have got to take it personal when it comes to following the teachings of Christ. And we need to heed the lessons put forth by early Christian leaders, especially leaders such as the Apostle Paul whom personally did so much to advance the Christian movement. Without him I am uncertain as to who would have passed the stories and teachings of Jesus to us.
Today, I ask us all a simple question “do you truly love others?” Obviously it is important that we do, otherwise: why would Jesus and Paul have spoken of it so often? When I fell in love with my wife Lois, we became friends first, then we fell in love becoming lovers, and then over the years we feel deeply in love. That’s the kind of love I am talking about, that deep, deep, love; love that makes you work hard to put food on the table. A love that makes you cry when the other hurts; love that keeps you awake at night when your partner, or your child has a problem and you want to help them through it. The love that Jesus and Paul spoke of will sometimes force you to make hard choices. Sometimes you will need to say no, because yes will hurt them more then they currently understand. Love means driving to the hospital to hold some ones hand, even if you have to leave something else undone.
I don’t know where the story of the young pastor originated but I don’t think it is literally true. I suspect, some pastor feeling totally frustrated with his or her congregation, or humanity itself, wrote it while trying perhaps to put across a point. I know the feeling. There are some basics that simply must be put in place and become part of one’s make up – if we are to truly become a part of the body of Christ and truly be a practicing Christian. Believing in God’s love needs to be central in our thoughts, our minds and our very actions. Trusting and believing in the forgiveness of sins, our own and others through the grace of God through Christ, frees us from the burdens of condemnation; thereby propelling us into the fullness of life in which we now exist and live. We all love ourselves to a greater or lesser extent and as Christians we must be willing to love others equally as much, and as we do so we will learn to love ourselves even more!
When I first started as your Stated Supply Pastor, I was given responsibility for making the decisions as to who and for whom or what we use the Shepard’s fund. In so doing I have become aware of the needs of others in this community. I also have become aware of your generosity in this regard. We help people pay their electric bills on a one time basis. We help folks with emergency situations too numerous and personal to name out loud. We also use the monies on a regular basis to fund and support and sponsor a child through an organization called Compassion, “relieving children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” For a number of years you have been supporting a child named Andre’ Sebastian with a monthly donation of $38 dollars.
Just last week he wrote us a letter, let me read it to you.
Dear sponsor Riviera United Church of Christ.
I greet you in the name of God. I really like math, I got a 15. We are in the month of our country and we celebrate it by raising the Peruvian flag. We draw our flag on big cardboards and then we paint it and decorate it. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37. I really like this text and I want to share it with you. Which soccer team of the World Cup do you like? The soccer team I like is Argentina because Messi plays there. What food do you like? My favorite is ‘chaufa’ (Chinese style fried rice). I would like you to pray for my mom and all my family. Pray for the baby that my aunt is expecting. I say goodbye with many kisses and many hugs. Goodbye. Andre’ Sebastian
Paul ends his lesson by saying “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Surely your support of the Shepherds fund is out of love; love that does no wrong to a neighbor. This type of sincere love makes a real difference in the society, the world we live it. It is worthy of repeating more than once: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Romans Chapter 13, verses 8-10
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.