Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | March 3, 2010

Sermon on Romans 13:9-14

This is the third sermon in St. Mark’s midweek Lenten series, “From the Catechism to the Cross.”  It focuses on the 2nd Table of the Law — commandments 4-10.

You Will Love Your Neighbor

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last week, when we heard Jesus instruct us concerning the greatest commandment in the law – loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind – did you notice that He also slipped in a second bit of information, free for nothing?  He said, “Loving God with all your heart is where you start, but, the second commandment in the law is just like the first.”  And it is another one we understand only too well:  Love your neighbor as yourself. And just like the first commandment, this one was expressed in terms of reality.  Jesus didn’t say, “Do this, please.”  He said, “Just as you will love God, you will love your neighbor as yourself.”

So key is this command to our understanding of the Christian life, that not only does God say it once in Leviticus, tucked away in chapter 19 among various and sundry laws and rules and regulations, but the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, and James to include it, cite it, refer to it, or comment on it.  This is repetition for emphasis.  You will love God, and some of that love will be shown by loving your neighbor.

Hence, the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments.  These commandments describe our relationship to our neighbors.  They are the “what does this mean” of Love your neighbor as yourself. As Luther was fond of saying, we have enough here in these commandments to occupy us our entire lives.  We don’t need to invent new and better ways to love God and neighbor, as Roman Catholicism has done with monasteries and cloisters and their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (which, by the way, they still teach brings you into a closer relationship with Jesus – so, if you’re not a monk or a nun, or haven’t taken one of those vows, you probably have a little more time to spend in purgatory then they do).

Today, Paul attacks things from the other direction.  He takes each individual commandment – do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet – and says that they are summed up by this one law:  Love your neighbor as yourself. And then he helps us further understand.  He says, Love does no harm to its neighbor.

Understand what Paul made clear to the Corinthians.  Love is not primarily a feeling.  Love is an action.  Love is something done and shown.  It’s done and shown to God.  It’s done and shown to the neighbor.  And if it’s not, then you have no faith.  You are no Christian.  James says it quite clearly:  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James understood Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  You haven’t just broken these commandments when you actually disobey someone in authority, when you actually murder someone, when you actually sleep with someone who isn’t your spouse, when you actually take something not yours, when you actually lie in court, or when you actually begin to plot and scheme to do so.  It’s done when you let that bird of temptation nest in your hair.  Every thought, word, and deed that leads up to any crime against God and neighbor already breaks this law.  Because love does no harm to its neighbor.  You are deluded if you think your sins hurt no one else but you.  Even if it only caused someone who loves you worry and distress, you’ve sinned against them.  But usually it’s far greater.  You hurt reputations.  You damage property.  You ruin relationships.  And God is clear, I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

It’s time to wake up, then.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Did you notice that Paul’s encouragement to live according to the law of love, obeying these seven commandments of God relating to our neighbor, began with a reminder about salvation?  Paul isn’t the only one who defined love.  John did also, in his first letter.  He wrote:  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. This is real love:  giving up, joyfully, gladly, willingly, to serve others.  This isn’t grudging repayment of a debt, like a prison chain-gang.  This is looking to shower love upon others.  This is the love of God for us.  This is that undeserved love we call grace.  That God loved His neighbors, us, so much that He sent His Son to demonstrate this perfect love for us and win for us a pardon from eternal punishment.

But, as John and Paul (and Jesus too, by the by) have already said, we’ve been loved so that we can love.  This is why Jesus and Paul both say, “You will love your neighbor.”  The incredible change wrought by the Holy Spirit when He brought you to faith is that, so far as you are regenerate, you act without constraint and with a willing spirit to do what no threat of the Law could ever force you to do.  What Paul says today, you concur with wholeheartedly.  You are thankful that he and the other writers of Scripture have helped you understand how you can love your neighbor, so that you will love your neighbor.

But you know equally well that your love for your neighbor is sometimes grudgingly dragged from you, or comes not at all.  This side of heaven you will never be holy and perfect.  But you have this testimony concerning who you are:  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life….For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin….Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. Baptized into Christ, clothed with Christ, this is the reality of who you are today.  You belong to Christ, who loves you, so that you will love your neighbor.  Amen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: