The past two weeks we have been on a journey with Jesus and his disciples that asks who Jesus is and what are the implications of that answer. We began with Jesus asking the key question "Who do you say I am?' Peter gave the strong answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Then Jesus explained that meant that with all his authority and power he was taking the path of sacrificial servant hood, ultimately to die at the hands of the religious, community, and political leadership of Judea and Galilee. After that Jesus told his disciples that following him meant a life of following his servant path.
Beginning last week Paul began in Chapter 12 a lengthy teaching mainly concerned about how we approach and live as followers of Jesus Christ. In verses 1 and 2 he wrote, "I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect." In the remainder of the chapter he addressed how each of us has gifts for the good of the Christian community. He also contrasted good and evil behaviors telling: "Hate evil, and hold on to what is good."
Paul presents more than a mouthful as he puts flesh on living as Jesus calls us to live. He may seem a few bricks shy of a load in a world that has been teaching us, perhaps especially the last thirty to forty years, that what is just is what benefits my group. In our country we look at the doer and then decide if what they have done is right or wrong. If the person agrees with me then their behavior is minimized, rationalized, or defended. If the person disagrees with me the similar behavior is reprehensible or evil, and it definitely requires significant punishment. We have seen that play out publicly with people from national figures to Facebook friends. It even plays out in national Christian organizations and local congregations.
Yet, what Paul begins the summarizing paragraphs in chapter 13 is of this chapter is a far more attractive picture, This is a sentence for those inspirational quote posters that either show a peaceful scene like sheep drinking by pond in a meadow or a humorous one like the kitten hanging from a metal bar. 'Owe no one anything, except to love one another:" Paul goes on to flesh that out in a most concrete and powerful way. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Jesus gave us a very broad definition of who are neighbor is.
Yes, you and I will mess up. Our vision is limited. Linda and I have been watching Outlander about a nurse right after WWII who finds herself in the Scottish Highlands of the early 1740's.
She is a caring person with strong opinions. Early in one episode from her vantage she sees a Highland Clan war chief as squeezing more money from his brother's tenants to line his pockets. She tells his traveling treasurer she is aware of what they are doing to enrich themselves at the expense of poor peasants. He admires her cleverness. Later, hearing one of the few Gaelic phrases she understands that referred to 'the young Stuart' she realizes it is not extortion but acting for the peasant hopes of raising an army to return the Scottish Stuarts to an independent throne in Scotland. Well meaning but had it wrong and unjustly judged some people.
Even given that limitation, living valuing and loving the other, and in return being so valued and loved is a superior alternative. We would have more people like a Mrs. Delaney in San Francisco, who only hires multiple felons and substance abuse rehabilitation failures to work the five family businesses, rewarding responsibility and having a low tolerance for criminal activity. Part of her process is exposing them to aspects of life like symphonies and plays they have never engaged. We would see advocacy groups take the approach of antiabortionist who replaced blocking and secret bombings of buildings with setting up table and presenting information over provided refreshments. I think of the Roman Catholic Mothers in Northern Ireland who banded together to say enough of this violence. Basically they transformed a generation of young men to tell the IRA and Orangemen to Buzz Off.
Every Sunday we prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." These words which clear the deck so we can love our neighbor bears fruit when taken seriously. Lewis Smedes author of the much utilized Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, later wrote a book My God and I where he shared what he had learned from readers of the earlier book:
Through the years since it was published, many readers have written to tell me that,
in one way or another, Forgive and Forget saved their lives. Reading these letters
has given me a new understanding of the healing power of God. God heals our guilt
by forgiving it. We heal other people's guilt by forgiving them. And in the process,
we get healed from the bitter poison in our memory of what they did to us. We can
be healed by doing the forgiving.
In Chapter 15 Paul concludes his teaching sections with these words that speak to living to be in the servant role Jesus taught. In 15:5 "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.