13 April 2021

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Sermon - 31 August 2008
Bible Verses: Romans 12:9-21 & Matthew 18:15-20
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

Let your Love be genuine

Let your love be genuine, says Paul addressing the Christian community. And he gives a list, much of which could have come straight from a Jewish teaching manual of the time. He focuses on genuineness and the priority of love. Its a practical.list. It includes recognising what is not love, what is evil and resisting it , a love does that also does not make us into doormats..
"Love be genuine." the word Paul uses In Greek for genuine, means a love free of hypocrisy. A hypocrite was an actor. In ancient Greek theaters, actors usually wore masks on-stage.. And so hypocrisy eventually became associated with play-acting, with having a false front, with hiding your true feelings behind a mask. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he /she isn't.
If we are pretending to love. We spend our days keeping people from seeing what's really going on in our hearts and sometimes we even fool ourselves.
So Paul begins by telling us we need agape, at the private center of our existence so that if we then show this love out in public, it will be a natural extension of what is lovely inside us and not a hypocritical cover for something unlovely inside us. Love needs to be in control even when we are confronted with people who are genuinely nasty.
We will encounter truly difficult people--individuals who wound us, wrong us, betray us, and so make us want to strike back. It is easy to curse those who oppose us.
But Paul, understands Jesus as saying no to all that. A sincere love has to set the tone even when we want to respond in kind to evildoers. And if you're tempted to think, "Easy for him to say!" keep in mind that Paul was writing this letter to people living in Rome.. Paul was addressing believers who knew what it was to confront evil and to suffer for the faith.
It is easy to curse those who oppose us. Bitterness so easily takes root when we feel our value is threatened when people oppose us. It becomes even more subtle when we know they misunderstand or are being directly malicious. Violence has a way of sucking its victims into cycles of violence and making its own disciples. It can be hard not drifting into retaliation. To bless our enemies is not to condone their actions, but it is never to lose sight of their humanity and dignity as persons
Let love, and not retaliation be the thing that sets believers apart from the rest of the world. Why? Because that's how we embody the gospel of our God in Christ. Isn't this exactly what Jesus did in his life and death.
We don't give back to people measure for measure what they've dished out to us. We don't hit back, we don't define justice as meaning that we ourselves need to make sure the scales of life are balancing out.. Why not, because we have received God's grace. We cannot get the greatest thing in the universe by grace and then turn right around and be graceless to others.,
The ten commandments' limitation of damage of an eye for eye and tooth for tooth is no longer our guide.
Let the revenge go, Paul says, leave it in God's hands People who have been graced with God's agape/love can't turn around and live vengeful lives. That is how our justice system is structured. Prison and sentencing is not the same as revenge, We can get sucked in so easily. Listen carefully to discussions on sentencing of those convicted and discern what is deterrence and what is naked revenge in people's responses. Christians shouldn't touch anything which encourages our innate desire for revenge. It simply doesn't work and damages the one seeking revenge.
But when a neighbour kidnaps and murders a child, when people are terrorised and assulted, we both want and expect justice to be pursued in the sense of catching up with these people so as to ensure they don't do such things again. The state must do this. The difficulty for us as Christians is to observe all that while at the same time not becoming ourselves consumed with bloodthirsty desires for revenge... When hurt comes to us, the question for us is, "Does it end with me now or will this hurt go on and on because I'm going to let them know what this feels like by making them feel the same sting I do."
Bad things happen. That is an unhappy facet to life in this world that seems unlikely to change. Paul warns again against engaging in defensive and aggressive power struggles where we feel we must beat someone down if we are to make our way up. Pay-back may seem like a way of "getting even" but it is not a way of getting justice. Justice has to be more than arithmetic. Without reconciliation or acknowledged difference there can be no balance.
A there is a realism that peace is not always possible at that time.
There is a picture here of genuine love, forming a community which can makes room for people - in their sadness and in their gladness. And Paul is not interesting in a self serving happy communities of people caring about each other. He widens the vision to include making contributions to people beyond our horizon (12:13). The word for making a contribution is a form of the word, koinonia, which means both fellowship and engagement with others out of common concern. Paul has been making great efforts to raise money for the saints in Judea. Paul cannot separate love from money. We need to love with all the resources we have. Otherwise love is not "genuine".
Paul ends the chapter quoting from Proverbs 23:21-22 (12:19-20). some typical wisdom of his time. Unfortunately it sounds more like a nice type of vengeance. It seems to be saying: another way of getting back at people is to burn their consciences with hot coals by doing good to them and making them feel ashamed.
That is self interest in disguise. We go beyond self-interest. You win a victory by overcoming evil with good. We are not in the game of getting one's own back on people but of overcoming evil..
The passage doesn't talk about evil persons in 12:21, but of evil, itself. Being overcome.
Confront lovelessness with love, confront hate with grace. That only makes sense if the love is genuine. Such genuine love never writes people off, not even enemies. It is never sucked into revenge and the spirals of hate and violence. It breaks the cycle. This is more than a wise rule or even an ideal. It is part of living out of the gospel of grace. It is a fruit which the Spirit can reproduce in us if we let go of fear. It is the way of Jesus which we are invited to follow.
[with grateful thanks to various bloggers]

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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