House Rules: Love

Romans: House Rules  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  22:29
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In the house of God, we first and foremost seek to love God and love each other with a profound yielding, mutual, supportive posture. This is challenging in a world of self-sufficiency and independence. And therefore, Christian love becomes all the more radical, subversive, and refreshing -- a balm that soothes the deep wounds of sinful division and evil.

The New Revised Standard Version Marks of the True Christian

Marks of the True Christian

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And so we hear from God’s word this greeting of great love. In the love of Christ, welcome.
On this last Sunday of August, it feels like we are at a pivot point in the year. The air is changing. Signs of the end of summer are all around.
And for our church, we see that there is light at the end of a the long tunnel of our distance from each other. The project of refreshing our church sanctuary is nearly finished. The team coordinating the reopening of the building have set us up with the necessary guidelines to get things moving again around the church facility. And we see promising signs of the coronavirus beginning to let up, at least in some parts of the region, that offer us some possibility that we might begin to gather in small groups again very soon. The winds of hope are blowing.
As I’m sure you remember, last week we ended a 3-part series on Rest, collaborating with our fellow Presbyterian churches in Bellingham to reflect upon what it means to take that God-blessed intermission, the rests of sabbath, sabbatical, and jubilee. Now, with our hearts full and hopefully with each of us beginning to rejuvenate as we have reflected on our own patterns of rest, we look ahead.
This Fall, we’re going to turn our attention back to the Gospel of Matthew and work through a series of Jesus’ parables. Paired with these texts in the lectionary cycle, we will also hear the voice of the prophets. Parables & Prophets both tell the truth in slant, giving us a fresh perspective and challenge on the ways of God’s work in the world and our part in being peacemakers, justice-bringers, advocates for restoration. These provocative truth-telling texts will push us to see God’s way of love juxtaposed against the ways of death and destruction that our broken world perpetuates.
But before we do that, we’re going to finish our study of Romans. The Journey Home into Christ, which we have been on this Summer, ends by coming Home in a whole new way. And, when you come home, you need to set some new House Rules — how will we be together when we come home in Christ.
The House Rules, as I see them in the end of Romans, guide us into a new way of life together, a new way that we will need to embrace practically as we start coming back home together as a church in the months ahead. Here are the rules: Love, Grace, and Humility.
House Rules
In college, I lived with a group of 4 other guys in a house on North Garden Street in Bellingham. Being the enlightened, educated young men we were, each year we sat down together at the start of the year and made agreements about what our “house rules” would be. Who would be responsible for what? Dishes? Finances? Who would we let come over? Were there quiet hours? You know, smart college guy stuff.
Setting house rules means you have an understanding for the parameters of life together. They can’t be rigid, because that would alienate or frustrate. But we needed some simple house rules as college guys, agreements on what we would share and how we would support each other.
As well, the Church needs some house rules. We, St. James Presbyterian, need house rules. We have them, thankfully. We have ways of life together that guide us, principles we say we abide by.
These next couple of weeks, I want to refresh and challenge us to abide by these simple (and challenging rules).
The first, as we hear in this morning’s reading from Romans, is to Love.
To Love
The greatest commandment — love one other as Christ loves us.
We know this is the greatest commandment from Jesus — love God and love your neighbors. It sounds so simple — sure, I love you all, I love God, my heart is directed in good, supportive ways to your flourishing and health and the glory of God. Done and done, right?
Well, anyone who has been in love or tried to love another person or love God knows that it is not simple. It is a profound effort, that takes our whole selves. And it is so very good.
To Yield
Let’s look at our text and see what these marks of Christian love look like. Remember that all of these teachings from Paul to the Romans come in the context of resistance to the ways of the Roman Empire, the imperial worship of Caesar and the protection of honor for oneself to thrive in the empire.
But, instead of self-seeking, Paul tells the church of Rome this: “Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
To love, truly, is to yield. To be self aware enough to know what our needs and desire are and then, find it in ourselves to set those aside for the good of the other. To yield is to make space for our neighbor, our roommate, our partner, to have their needs heard and cared for. Not at the expense of ours, but because we are in loving relationship with that other person, we yield to them because we know and trust they yield to us — it is mutual. I’m FOR you and you’re FOR me.
To Support
This loving way of yielding then finds its outgrowth in the way of support. A community built upon the principles of love, with the House Rule of Love in its heart, this kind of community is able to welcome the stranger and support the needs of those working for God’s kingdom in their midst.
Love produces abundance. When I know I am loved and can love the other, the need to hoard and protect dissolves — I work out of the abundance of God’s love that flows between you and me and I realize — there is more than enough to go around — so I can share it, with those who come through my door, with the strangers seeking refuge, with the poor and the outcast.
To Resist Evil
In contrast, the way of sin and evil in the world breeds on fear and scarcity. A community which lacks love seeks retribution and tries to even the score of wrongs done.
Paul teaches the Roman church — “Do not repay evil for evil...” and this means resisting the easy reciprocity of evil. It is easy to payback sin for sin. It is easy to hit back, to fight back, to yield to anger and malice.
For our world, we need another way. We see how the painful divisions of reciprocal violence are ripping us apart. Certainly, there is something good about resisting evil, even to the point of action and protest. But when it turns to violence, we have left the way of love and entered into a vicious cycle.
Love resists evil. Love repays wrongdoing and evil with love, a love that breaks the hardened hearts of the evildoer. And through this, love invites us deeper into relationship and support of the ones who have done us wrong, for the hope that their restoration may come about in the process.
To Stand With and For One Another
For us to be community with the House Rule of Love at our center is for us to stand with and for one another. To stand with and for the stranger and the outcast. To stand with and for the evil doer — not in support of their evil, but in solidarity with the broken heart they bear and seeking the restoration of the image of God in them that is so very marred by the pain of anger and malice that the world has encouraged to build up in them.
The protests and violence around our country this week are heartbreaking. And they are so complex in how to unravel them and make things new and restored again. Not complex in the sense of what is right or wrong, so much. White Supremacy and Racism are sinful and should be resisted and dismantled in response. But the complexity lies in how this can be done. It lies in how to break down the barriers of pain and disillusionment that have led to the hatred manifest on our streets and in our politicians. Our hearts break for the lives lost in these protests, the lives lost that provoke the protests. And we seek way of restoration that enters into peaceable dialog and learning with the ones we call our enemies, in great hope that the love of Christ might enter in and transform the hateful heart. As Paul teaches us, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In our house, we know that we do not all agree with each other. And we have sin in us, ways that are harmful and broken. And we will resist that evil. But we will resist it by seeking peace with the one who does us wrong. Seeking peace doesn’t mean letting evil slide. Seeking peace doesn’t mean backing down to the oppressor. Seeking peace means loving the oppressor anyway and helping them see our humanity, their humanity, and our shared belonging as image bearers of Christ.
To Offer Hope to a Weary World.
Which leads us to the final words of our passage today: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Evil will seek to overcome us. Our House will be assailed by forces of hatred and division, as we see our nation and world being attacked even now. And as people who claim the House Rule of Love, we have a choice: will we let evil win or will we find the way of love through the evil, undoing the evil.
This is the hope that the weary world needs right now. If you look around, it is pretty easy to get cynical at how bleak things are. It is easy to get downhearted.
But the world needs the witness of the people of God to show that there is a different way.
The church can often be characterized as a peculiar group of people. We are a bit odd, aren’t we? Why? Because we model ourselves around this concept of radical hospitality and hopeful belonging that we believe are at the core of living in the way of God’s love. We believe that the ways of evil don’t have to prevail.
The way we live together, the way we show love in our gathering, our practices, our service — this CAN provide hope to a weary world. It can show that another way is possible.
As we begin to inch back to our life together in person, I want to challenge us to renew our commitment to this house rule of Love. Practically, it starts with each of us turning to each other and yielding, supporting, standing for each other. Even when that someone is difficult. Even when we don’t feel like it. When we start (and restart) this pattern of how we interact, we begin to see that the harmful ways of division and sinful patterns of retribution are not the only way.
My prayer today is that our church would be a place that agrees upon the house rule of love. For each other, for Christ, for the life of the world.
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