Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 24, 2017)

ROMANS 13:8-10


In the name + of Jesus.

     Imagine a class room of 1st graders.  They love school.  They come home from school each day, raving about how great the day was.  Their parents are delighted to see their children so eager for school.  The teacher is a kind, friendly, and enthusiastic lady.  She loves the children, and they love her.  Everyone is happy.
     But then you find out the reason the children love their teacher is because she brings them cookies every day.  Every paper she grades has a smiley-face sticker on it and an A.  They watch SpongeBob cartoons after lunch.  The children are not learning to read.  They don't know how to add.  Whatever answers they give are deemed close enough.  But the children are happy.  They love getting smiley-face stickers.  And the teacher is happy.  She loves seeing the children so happy.  Parents love it too.  Everyone is happy.
     Then the principal steps in.  He puts a stop to cartoons and cookies.  He insists that the teacher start teaching math correctly.  2 + 2 is not “close enough.”  It is wrong.  The teacher must tell them it is wrong.  He insists the children be taught to read.  It will be hard work for some, but it must be done.  The teacher hates seeing the children upset.  The children miss their smiley stickers.  Some cry.  Parents wonder why their children don't want to go to school anymore.  Before, everyone was happy.  In this new system, it is hard.  Everyone wants to know why the principal is so mean.  They want to know why he hates children.
     That story is hypothetical.  But it illustrates how we have such a faulty, warped view of love.  In the story above, who loves the children?  Is it the people who made life easy and happy?  Or is it the one who made them work?  In our daily lives, we usually argue that the one who loves is the one who gives people what they want to make them happy.  The one who says that some behavior is sinful is called mean.  If you uphold God's commandments, people wonder why you are so full of hate.  People just want to be happy.  They defend whatever makes people happy.  That is regarded as love.
     Love does no wrong to its neighbor.  St. Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)  Almost everyone would agree with St. Paul's encouragement.  Even atheists would.  But what does that mean?  The world's definition of love is so warped that it has lost all meaning.  Consider what people say they love.  “I love that movie.”  “I love pizza.”  “I love naps.”  “I love my wife.”  “I love the smell of campfires.”  Now, if “love is love” as we are told, then all of these are the same.  My feeling for my wife is apparently the same as my feeling about pizza.  This is obviously untrue.
     The common thread in the worldly definition of love is that I love whatever I find pleasing—what looks good, what tatses good, what is funny, and what benefits me. The worldly definition of love is selfish, even blasphmous.  When love is defined by what makes me happy, then I get to jugde what is good and bad.  If it makes me or somoene I know happy, then I reject God's word and make myself the judge of all that is good or bad.  That is blasphemous.  Repent.
     God sets the standard of good and bad, right and wrong in the Ten Commandments.  The Commandments show us what is good.  By doing them, we do good to our neighbor.  St. Paul wrote, “The commandments … , are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor. (Romans 13:9-10)  Once again, most people would agree with St. Paul's words.  And again, sinners warp these words.  We hear, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor,” but when we actually apply it, we change God's truth to say, “As long as wrong is not done to me, I will love my neighbor.”  When your neighbor is doing what God calls evil but it does not harm you, you are able to say, “Oh, there's nothing wrong going on there.”
     You might think that you are showing love to your neighbor by letting him peacefully persist in sin and finally go to hell.  And chances are, he will be happy in doing this.  But what harm comes to your neighbor by letting him believe he needs no Savior!  Love will not let you suggest that you are superior to him, but love will not let you sit by silently while your friends are rebellious or indifferent to God's word.  How can we sit by silently while they dwell under God's wrath?  What greater harm can come to our neighbor than guilt and damnation?  Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love compels us to confess God's word.  They may wonder why you are so mean.  They may even ask you why you hate other people so much.  But love will endure this scorn so that some may be saved.
     Worldly love is selfish.  It loves worldly gain and worldly pleasure, and it viciously and attacks whatever stands in the way of a moment's pleasure.  This is not even close to the love God has for sinners.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor, and so God acted in love toward sinners even though it means he tells us we are sinners.  When Adam and Eve sinned against God and God came to them in the Garden of Eden, they went running for cover.  They wanted nothing to do with God, and they would have been happy if God had left them alone forever.  But God loved them too much to do that.  Sure, Adam and Eve would have been happy, but they also would have gone to hell.  So God came to them and exposed their guilt.  He did not do this because he is mean or because he hated them.  He showed them their sin in order to show them their need for a Savior.  Then he promised to send the Savior who would not ignore their sins, but pay for them.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor.  Love seeks a neighbor's good.  And the Lord seeks our highest good by showing us our need for a Savior and by revealing that Savior to us.
     Jesus Christ has come for sinners.  He has come to suffer what sinners deserve.  Jesus was known as a man of sorrows.  He was grieved that people love their sins, and he was grieved that he would have to suffer on their behalf.  But Jesus gave himself into suffering, into judgment, into torment, into hell, and into death for sinners.  He suffered and died for your selfishness, for defending sins of family, friends, and self, for sitting by silently while your loved ones march gladly to hell.  Jesus was damned for us.  He did not do it because he owed us.  He did it because he loves us.  He acted to spare us from judgment and from hell.  He has delivered us from guilt and sin and from divine wrath.
     You are forgiven because Jesus Christ loves you.  He not only delivered you from hell, but he also delivered you into the Father's kingdom.  The Father does not merely tolerate you; he loves you.  He delights in the knowledge that you are his both in this world and in the kingdom to come.  His love for you means that he continues to seek your good.  For, love does not wrong to a neighbor.  So when you do suffer or are hated, or when God confronts you for your sin and exposes your shame, he does all this because he seeks your eternal well-being.  He continues to show you your need for a Savior, and he continues to proclaim Jesus' salvation to you.
     Love does no wrong to a neighbor.  Having received God's love, we hope to reflect that love to others in words and actions.  We confess God's truth, knowing that it will expose sinners for what they are.  And we confess our Savior, knowing that some will crave the salvation we have.  If they remain in their sins, let them rest under God's judgment, not yours.  You keep on loving them, praying for them, and seeking their eternal good.  For, love does no wrong to a neighbor.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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