“Owe Nothing But Love” Sermon by the Rev. Jay Lawlor Sep. 10, 2017 (Video)

 

Excerpt:

In addressing the Church in Rome, Paul wrote: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8) Paul reminds them of Jesus’ second part of the Summary of the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)


Full Text:

Owe Nothing But Love” – A Sermon

by The Rev. Jay Lawlor

14th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 18 Year A: September 10, 2017

Holy Family Episcopal Church – Fishers, IN

 

Lectionary: Exodus 12:1-14 | Psalm 149 | Romans 13:8-14 | Matthew 18:15-20

 

There is a wonderful little book by the late Henri Nouwen titled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. In that book Nouwen wrote:

We cannot bring good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the Gospel together, in community.” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus)

Nouwen’s reflection goes to the heart of our New Testament readings this morning. Both Jesus, in the Matthew’s gospel, and Paul, in his letter to the Church in Rome, are speaking of Christian leadership. And not only ordained leadership. Not even primarily ordained leadership.

Jesus and Paul are speaking of discipleship. From where do we gain our authority as disciples? And how are we to carry out our mission, with its various ministries?

I think Jesus understood this would be the questions facing his disciples after the first Easter. It is why he gave the authority to bind and loose to his disciples. He made it about the authority of community gathering in his name.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)

The consensus among biblical scholars is that the authority to bind and to loose has to do with the boundaries of the Jesus community. Jesus understood the human impulse which can, if we are not careful, allow our own agendas, prejudices, or desire for control to get in the way of the Gospel. When that happens, we become distracted from bearing witness to the Light of Christ and are serving something else . . . sometimes with divisive and destructive ends. So Jesus’ granting of authority to bind and to loose comes with an understanding.

The key phrase from Jesus being “gathered in my name.” Church history is littered with examples of two or three meeting where the conversations have very little, if anything, to do with gathering in Jesus’ name. Jesus wants his disciples to understand that authority to bind and loose is granted only when the motives are true to fulfilling our calling as God’s people in proclaiming the Good News.

Jesus is saying there is great responsibility in discipleship, and we must take care to speak and act according to God’s will – according to Jesus’ teachings and example. In claiming Jesus as the Messiah – the Christ, we enter a community in which what we say and what we do carries responsibility beyond ourselves. So community is key.

Remember the Henri Nouwen quote from a few moments ago:

We cannot bring good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the Gospel together, in community.” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus)

If we are to proclaim the Gospel together, in community, if our words and actions in such proclamation have authority, then we are to pray, discern, and deliberate together, in community, God’s purposes – not our own. Christian leadership, Christian discipleship is not about us. It is about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

The main structure of Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus are instructive. First we must be rooted in prayer – for this is how we commune with God. Next, we must recognize that it is not a popularity contest. Nouwen stresses we must move from ‘Popularity to Ministry.’ This means we should know God loves us and that in fulfilling our mission we must each carry out the ministries we are given out of that love in community and service to others.

Finally, it is not about leading from ourselves but, rather, being led by God. It is not about our power or maintaining control. It is about being led by God to serve in humility. To do this we need to recognize we always have more to learn: we should be steeped in prayer, study, and discussion as community to discern the will of God in order to best serve all.

Since 1997 I have been a member of the Fellowship of Saint John – a group of over 1,000 people around the world who are in special relationship with The Society of Saint John the Evangelist – the oldest monastic order for men in the Anglican Communion. In SSJE’s Rule of Life they write this in their chapter on The Witness of Life in Community:

All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met. Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill which cannot be hid; […] (from “The Witness of Life in Community” The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist)

If our call as disciples is to be the light of the world, then we can only bind those things which bear witness to Christ and loose those things which are not of God. For what we speak and how we act tells the wider community, and the world, what we believe and what we value. As the Church it determines our vision and whether or not we live into our mission.

In addressing the Church in Rome, Paul wrote: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8) Paul reminds them of Jesus’ second part of the Summary of the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.(Romans 13:10)

Paul is reorienting the cultural norms of Roman society for members of the Church in Rome. To ‘owe nothing except to love’ eliminates the need to live by the structures inherent in the Roman cultural ethic of social status, power, money and debt so pervasive in Roman society – and ours. Love is the only measure of value to God. Showing love within the Jesus group AND loving our neighbors.

For the Church in Rome it could be liberating. It can be liberating for us as well. Followers of Jesus are called to live a better way, free from the cultural norms which assign status, power, and wealth as a measure of worth. Paul was inviting and urging Christians to know the heart of Jesus and live from that knowledge.

In another passage from In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote:

The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go. The desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, “You are loved. There is no reason to be afraid. In love God created your inmost self and knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus)

Knowing the heart of Jesus changes everything. And the heart of Jesus is love. It is our guiding principle as followers of Jesus. It is established as the norm for Christian community. To accept that we owe nothing but love means we accept that we are dependent on God and God’s grace. To accept we owe nothing but love transforms our view of community and the world.

It changes us and moves us more toward mission. It allows us to get out of our own way, to get over and move beyond ourselves. Because it isn’t about “me” and it isn’t about “you” – it is about us as the community gathered in Jesus’ name. And our purpose, as the words from the hymn “We All Are One In Mission” reminds us is: to touch the lives of others by God’s surprising grace, so people of all nations may feel God’s warm embrace. (Wonder Love and Praise, #778 v. 2)

God has called this holy village together to witness to something the world desperately needs. When gathering in Jesus’ name we know Jesus is with us. And there is but one simple test by which we can accurately measure what is done in Jesus’ name – here Paul’s advice is solid: Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Amen.