Pentecost XIV: Romans 13.1-10; Matthew 18.10-20
Jesus lays out in this morning’s Gospel rules of engagement, and the principles of love and respect that undergird them.
All which are addressed from Paul in the Roman passage. The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Little ones are cared for and safe, any lost are found, disagreements within the church can reach a compromise and conclusion with respect and diginity for all, and God is known to be present when we gather.
According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Jesus, Paul, James, and John all say that when we love our neighbour, we fulfil the entire law.
Love fulfils the entire law.
In Romans, Paul compares love to a debt that we can never fully repay. He links our claim to love God in the evidence that we love our neighbour. Paul writes:
“Owe no-one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
The entire Old Testament law, says Paul, is summed up in this one rule:
"Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Paul repeats this when writing to the Galatians, while James [James 2:8] states
“You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, 'you shall love your neighbour as yourself.' ”
The royal law of love.
And then there's John: “If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars; for those who do not love their brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters.” [1 John 4 :20–21]
We must love.
Loving your neighbour, Jesus said, is the greatest commandment. In his last words to his disciples, Jesus called this a new commandment.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
God's redemption of the world is mediated through the love of his people.
“Love”, said Paul in 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13], “is the greatest gift.”
The greatest gift.
Just as this commandment is repeated throughout the New Testament, it was repeated in the centuries after the first believers. Tertullian, 200 AD writes
“Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign… See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other.”
Our distinctive sign.
Maximos the Confessor, 580 AD stated: "Blessed is the one who can love all people equally, always thinking good of everyone.”
In his commentary on Galatians [Galatians 6:10] the church father Jerome describes how John the evangelist, author of the Gospel and book of Revelation, preached at Ephesus into his nineties. At that age, John was so feeble that he had to be carried into the church at Ephesus on a stretcher. Then, when he could no longer preach a normal sermon, he would lean up on one elbow. The only thing he said was:
“Little children, love one another.”
People would then carry him back out of the church. This continued for weeks, says Jerome. And every week he repeated his one-sentence sermon:
“Little children, love one another.”
Weary of the repetition, the congregation finally asked, “Master, why do you always say this?”
Because, John replied, it is the Lord's command, and if this only is done, it is enough.
Love is enough.
This love, our love Fulfils the entire law. Is the royal law of love. Is commanded - we must love.
The greatest gift. Our distinctive sign. A blessing. It is enough for us to do, and to be.
Much continues to be written about this love of ours with God. Us in love with God.
Poet Wendell Berry wrote, “I only live to the extent that I love.”
In his book of poetry called Leavings (2012), Berry writes:
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
The wind against this candle of love comes as
a fierce force of violence and hate, and
in the breath exhaled with a bitter word,
a swift interruption, and in a bored sigh.
This candle of love is extinguished – often, so easily, so quickly.
May our dear Lord, enable us to carry this love candle in church, at home, and as we step into God’s footprints in the world. Amen.