|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 7, 2020 at 3:20 PM|
Owe no one anything, except to love one another. That’s what the apostle Paul says in the book of Romans this morning. This is the whole law summed up. In a world full of laws and obligations, we followers of Jesus have just one responsibility to each other. Just love.
Which seems too simple, doesn’t it? I mean, we have a whole Bible full of stories and laws. We have all those confusing parables Jesus tells. And the only thing we need to know about how to relate to the folks around us is just to love one another? And frankly, it seems like it would make a preacher’s job pretty easy, to just stand up here every week and say, “Love one another.”
But that’s what Paul says- we’re all under the same obligation- from those with the most power and advantages to those with the least. Simply to love one another. This is our only law, the only guide for our living together as siblings in Christ. This is all we need to follow.
(Well, and a few more. In the verses right before this gospel lesson, Paul just got done saying that we still need to obey the rules of our country and our jobs- at least the ones that are just- because there are some things that we simply need to do for good order.)
But, Paul says that in a world where we too often get weighed down by worrying about what we need to do to stay on someone’s good side or what we need to do to pay someone back for their kindness or what we have to do to be well thought of, Paul says, “Don’t exhaust yourself with that stuff. Just love on another. That’s it. That’s all you need to worry about.”
Owe no one anything, except to love one another. It’s simple and freeing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Instead of just staying within the lines and obeying the rules and playing it safe, Paul reminds us that a life of following Jesus means risking love. It means going beyond what we HAVE to do to avoid trouble and instead doing what love requires. It means ignoring what the world tells us we MUST do to get ahead or be well thought of or to stay safe in order to love our neighbor in whatever way the situation calls for.
And when Paul talks about love, he’s not talking about some sentimental feeling. He doesn’t tell us we always have to FEEL love for folks and agree with them and think everyone is just delightful. We’re never going to be that good. Any of us. We just need to do the loving thing to our neighbor, even when we don’t feel like it at all.
And sometimes those actions are pretty obvious. If your neighbor doesn’t have food, you share hat you can. If they’ve tripped over something, you help them up. If they are grieving, you offer a kind word. If they are vulnerable to disease, you wear a mask. These are the simple things- even if aren’t always easy or what we want to do.
But love isn’t always simple. Because being loving doesn’t always mean doing the nice thing. To persons who are addicted, love doesn’t look like giving them what they crave. To those who are abusing others, love doesn’t look like turning a blind eye to it. So love doesn’t always mean doing the thing that avoids trouble. And it doesn’t always mean doing what the other person wants. Loving our neighbor does mean consistently doing the things that bring life, health and hope to the other person.
Over and over again. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when they don’t care.
It means refusing to return violence for violence- in words or actions. It means spending some time with people who are hard to love rather than ignoring them. It means listening to those who are lonely, sharing food with those who are hungry, and being patient with those who drive you nuts. It means speaking well of others, even behind their backs.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another, Paul says. With a love that takes the needs of our neighbors seriously. A love that refuses to stop loving, even if it has to go through trouble. Love with a love that looks like Jesus. And a love that helps us understand the love of Jesus for us every time we manage to live it out.
And our gospel lesson gives us another example of what it means to love our neighbor as a community of folks who follow Jesus. Especially when one of us has hurt our neighbor. Because love doesn’t mean we have to ignore the stuff that harms us and harms others. That’s not love- that’s just avoiding stuff we don’t want to deal with.
So, Jesus says, when someone harms you, you need to tell them. Even if they didn’t mean to do what they did. Even if they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong. When you’ve been hurt, you get to speak that to your neighbor. (But I also want to say that this isn’t telling us that we need to confront people about things if it’s not safe for us to do so. In cases of abuse or violence, we may need to find another way to confront the issue.)
But when we tell our neighbor how they have harmed us, even then the law of love applies. We don’t get to tell our neighbor in order to rub their face in it. Or to humiliate them. Or to make them pay for what they did wrong (although there may in fact be some things your neighbor needs to do to make things right.)
If we are to owe love to our neighbor, then when we point out how our neighbor has harmed us, the goal is always so that we can seek reconciliation and change, not to hurt or humiliate the other. And man that’s hard to do. Especially when we’ve been cheated or lied to or betrayed. It doesn’t come any more easily to pastors, either. Loving our neighbor isn’t exactly our first thought. Or our second or third. Owe no one anything but love, Paul says. Even when they’ve been horrible to you.
And maybe just as challenging, when we have been the ones who have messed up, Jesus reminds us that loving our neighbor looks like listening to them. To do the hard thing of hearing what our sibling in Christ is saying to us about our own actions or the systems we participate in and how they harm others. Especially in places where we are in the majority or have more power, we are called to listen. This is what we owe our neighbor in love. To hear what life looks like from where they are standing and hear how we have made it harder.
And this is never easy. Because I doubt there’s a single person here who likes being told that they messed up. Or who likes hearing that we’ve hurt someone. Because we generally DON’T want to harm our neighbor. We want to do the right things. And when we realize we didn’t- because we were tired, or angry, or careless or because we didn’t know any better, we don’t always react well. Sometimes we assume the other is lying or wrong. Or we say it wasn’t our fault. Or we just stop listening all together.
But, Jesus says, open your ears. Listen to the witness of your neighbor. Hear their hurt. And then listen to me. I love you. You may have messed up or been a part of things that weren’t right, but you’re still my beloved one. And you will continue to be. So trust that love. That love that went through death for you. It’s big enough to hold you.
So now, trust that love enough to be willing to love this neighbor like I love you. Love your neighbor that you hurt as beautifully and powerfully as I love you. And then do what you can to repair what’s broken. Because that’s what love looks like in action.
And in the end, in that great day that Jesus is bringing, there will only be love. All that is broken will be healed, all that is wrong will be set right. So Paul invites us to live into that reality now. To live out the hope of God, to live in the way of Jesus. Not because we will win or get ahead by it. But because it is the way of Jesus. The way that we get to walk with him. The way that leads to life.
As the great Christian advocate for those in poverty, Dorothy Day, said, “Love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, of each of us, but it is the only answer. . . “