any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
*****Let me ask you, what, for some of us, might be a painful question. How genuine is your commitment to Christ? Is it primarily a Sunday morning exercise or does it encompass your whole life? I’m not asking this to make you feel guilty. My goal is to help us discover the full joy of our commitment to Christ.
Our lesson today from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome gets right at the heart of our Christian faith. Listen closely to his words: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
So, let me ask again: How genuine is your faith? The quality of our commitment to Christ is determined by the quality of our ability to love our neighbor as we love our self.
Back during my vicarage years, we would have an occasional visitor to the church. The visitor was a former channel 8 news anchor and was married to a former Cleveland Browns Kicker, she was a member of the church, but she only attended from time to time. I taught two of her kids during confirmation. Obviously, it caused quite a stir when she did attend. It was hard to ignore her because members would surround her after the service. The church had two services on Sunday morning, and she would normally come to the early service.
In the second service one particular Sunday when she had been in attendance for the early service, I was making the announcements when something happened that has never happened before. A homeless person walked in the back of the church, came down the center aisle with his backpack, ratty jeans, torn T-shirt, unshaven face, and a distinct odor. He walked down to the front, and he sat down.
The contrast struck me. When she entered, she was immediately swarmed. People wanted to be close to her. However, I’m sad to say that nobody jumped up to run and sit next to the homeless man. After two or three awkward minutes during which I was trying to act like nothing was happening, one of our elders got up from his seat and sat by the man and touched him. I was smiling the whole time. I’m sure you would have been as well.
The message that I received in my heart that morning was: which of these two people do you think touched Jesus? If you want to touch Jesus, whom do you touch? Jesus said, whatever you’ve done for the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done also to me.
In other words, at least one elder in that congregation understood what Christian faith is all about. It’s about love, love for those who are lonely, love for those who are hurting, love for all those in need of help and hope.
In 1989, Mother Teresa visited Phoenix, Arizona to open a home for the destitute. During her visit, she was interviewed by the largest radio station in town. In a private conversation, the announcer asked Mother Teresa if there was anything he could do for her. He was expecting a request for a contribution, or media help to raise money for a new home for the poor in Phoenix. Instead, she said, Yes, there is. Find somebody nobody else loves and love them. That was it. That was what occupied the mind and heart of Mother Teresa, find somebody nobody else loves and love them.”
How genuine is your faith by this standard?
Listen again to these important words: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Did you catch that? Love is what it’s all about. It’s the fulfillment of all the commandments. The quality of our commitment to Christ is determined by our ability to love our neighbor as our self.
That’s what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
The quality of our discipleship is determined by how surely our love for others reflects God’s love for us. We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19). All love comes from God.
We stand in awe of God’s power. We see it displayed in the grandeur of the stars in the sky, and the bounty of nature. By the way, do you know how many stars there are in the sky? In October 2016, deep-field images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggested that there are about 200 billion trillion stars in the universe. Doesn’t that blow your mind, 200 billion trillion stars? And the Lord God created them everyone. It is impossible to exaggerate God’s power.
There’s a famous story about the prominent retired professional golfer, Lee Trevino. Trevino was playing in a PGA tournament. Lightning struck a tree very near to where he was standing. Someone asked him what he thought when lightning struck that tree. He replied, I learned that when God wants to play through you had better let him. That’s the truth! No thinking person denies God’s power. I’ll bet some of you probably thought I was going to mention the one iron.
But even greater than God’s power is God’s love. And all of God’s love is poured out on us. God’s love is without equal. God holds nothing back. God’s love is all encompassing, eternal, beyond our comprehension.
- S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves wrote of two kinds of love, Need-love, and Gift-love. Need-love is the most common kind of love. The love of a child for its parent is Need-love. The infant is totally dependent on a parent or other family member for survival. Therefore, he or she learns to love in order to survive. Examples of Need-love are everywhere to be found.
An example of need-love is an ad that appeared in the personals section of a newspaper back in 1957. It read like this, bachelor with 40 acres of excellent land would like to make acquaintance of lady with tractor. Now, there’s a Need-based relationship.
An example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a person to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his or her family, a future in which he or she may never share. That’s Gift-love. God’s Love is entirely Gift-love. The outstanding example of Gift-love is the cross on which Christ died. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .
The Bible tells us that God is love. We love because God first loved us, as we’ve already noted. This goes to say that those who love God know best how to Gift-Love others.
The purest kind of love is that which doesn’t need to be returned. God’s love is that kind of love. There’s nothing that we can do for God. God has need of nothing in this world. He who flung the 200 billion trillion stars in the sky has no need for anything this world can offer. The only way we can gift God is to pass God’s love to our neighbor.
An old man in Africa offered the after-service prayer, Lord, let us never move into stone houses. The preacher had no idea what the prayer meant. Afterward, when he asked of the old man why he had prayed the way he did, the old man said, you know Africa. You have seen our country. People here live in huts, and the huts have no doors. That’s why your family is my family, and my family is your family. But as soon as you move into a stone house, you build a door. On the door you put a lock, and behind your door you begin to accumulate more and more things. Then you must spend the rest of your life protecting all that you have acquired.
There are lessons about love for one’s neighbor that we can learn from people in so-called undeveloped countries. There are lessons we can learn from those who have the least in our own land.
Many years ago, PARADE Magazine carried the story of a nun who ministered to the prisoners at La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico. At that time, the penitentiary had a ceremony for introducing new inmates to the prison environment. This ceremony was called “grito,” the Spanish word for “scream.”
Guards and prison officials line the entrance to the prison cells. As the new inmate walks between these lines, he must repeatedly shout his name, his crime, the length of his prison sentence, and any aliases he has.
Before the grito, Sister Antonia takes each new inmate aside and reassures them with the words, do not be frightened or embarrassed. The Lord was a prisoner, just as you are a prisoner. You have something in common. Remember that when you go through grito.
One former inmate, when recalling this moment, said, “I’m not a religious man. I’d spent two years in another prison before being transferred to La Mesa and had turned off all my feelings, turned off the world. But when she spoke, I felt her as the warmest, most caring person to walk the face of this earth. Her love changed the life of every prisoner she met. Sister Antonia demonstrated the grace-filled Gift-Love of God to these inmates in such a way that it changed their lives.
So, I ask once again, how genuine is your faith? Or should I ask, how genuine is your love for others? The quality of our discipleship is determined by the quality of our love for our neighbor and for God. The quality of our discipleship is determined by how surely our love for others reflects God’s love for us. God is all-powerful and all loving. The only way we can Gift-Love God is to pass God’s love to our neighbor. If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.