Make love your aim

Now that God has shown us unbelievable mercy, what do we do?  Make love our aim in everything.

Full Text: 

Make love your aim

August 31, 2014 – Romans 12:9-21

 

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. (Romans 12:1-2)

 

So, this is what it all comes down to – after everything that God has done for us – after bringing in all the outsiders and drawing us into his story, after giving us his Spirit, after assuring us of his eternal love, all through the death and resurrection of Jesus – and after making sure we know that God has not abandoned Israel – now it’s our turn.  This is our part – to offer our whole selves in sacrificial living and to let God transform us. 

This is our true and proper worship.  It is the most sensible way to serve God.  It may be a small part, but it is a tall order.  How do we do it?  Is there a class we can take or a workshop we can attend or an app we can download? Yes, there are things you can read and teachers you can listen to and people you can hang out with.  But the most important thing is to get out and do it – learn by doing – get in the game – present our bodies as a living sacrifice – offer our whole selves in the cause of love – and to do so (get ready for this!) in the messiness of Christian community, in the messiness of human life.

Which is a big surprise – the Christian faith is not about withdrawing from life.  It’s not an escape from daily living.  It’s not about blissing out on God’s love.   No.  The primary avenue for learning to love is living with other Christians.  For all its faults, that is what the church does. So, Paul says, the way to be transformed is by living in close proximity with other people and seeking to live with them in grace and love.

Paul knows firsthand God’s great kindness.  And he knows the Christians in Rome know it as well.  He tells the Christians at Rome to see themselves, not in comparison to one another, but as recipients of God’s grace, and to acknowledge that this one grace manifests itself in different ways in different people.  Since it is God’s grace that does it, it doesn’t make one person better than another or one person lower than another.   It is simply God’s grace.  And the best thing to do is simply to use the gifts that you have been given.

Paul points this out – not just here but in other places as well – because one of the issues that always comes up in community – even Christian community – is competitiveness and comparison.  God has given everyone different gifts.  The community that functions best is when everyone is able to do what they are gifted in doing, rather than in trying to do something else. 

In terms of particular gifts, God is calling us simply to be who we are.  Thomas Merton wrote, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.  For in being what God means it to be it is obeying him.  It consents, so to speak, to his creative love.”  So, when we are just what God has made us, that allows us to consent to God’s love and to enjoy God’s love.

At the same time, God is calling on each one of us to change, to consent also to the divinely given work of transformation.  While the passive voice used in the phrase, “be transformed,” points to God, we also participate in this work.

How do we do this?  In the second half of Romans 12, Paul provides us with a list.  At the top of the list is love – “Let love be genuine.”  Paul is not asking us always to have loving feelings for others.  In fact, Paul wants us to act in loving ways toward people we can’t stand, people we’re angry at, people who threaten us, even people who mistreat us.  What I believe Paul is asking us to do is, in spite of how we feel toward someone, to act in a loving way toward them.  So, we shouldn’t think of love as a feeling word.  Rather, I would suggest that we take this word as a word of intention.  I would paraphrase this verse: Let love be your aim in all things.  Let love be at the center of what you do, no matter what you are doing, or who you are doing it with.

The best way to let love be genuine is to seek to love people we do not genuinely love.  “Bless those who persecute you,” Paul says.  “Bless and do not curse them.”  The first step in loving someone you find difficult to love is to pray for them.  If you can’t pray for them, pray for yourself in your inability to pray. 

This doesn’t mean we don’t set boundaries on behavior.  It doesn’t mean we don’t keep a safe distance away.  It doesn’t mean we can’t say, “Enough! This needs to stop!”  But, in terms of our own hearts, we bless them.  If we can’t bless them, we pray for them.  And if you bless them, if you pray for them, it goes without saying that you do not seek revenge, that you put that in God’s hands, whether it is their punishment or their salvation.  This is quite countercultural.  Mostly we want revenge.  We want justice done, which means we want that person to get what we got.  But once in a while someone shows us that there is another way.

 

In 1996, at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, a bomb went off in Centennial Park, killing one bystander and injuring over 100 others.  It was not the only bomb that Eric Robert Rudolph set off.  That person wasn’t the only person who died.  And he wasn’t even captured for another five years.  But that is the bombing for which he is most remembered.  He is now serving four consecutive life sentences in federal prison.

At his sentencing, Rudolph apologized to the people injured and to the families of those who died.  I’m sure there were a variety of reactions – all of them understandable.  There were some, however, that weren’t understandable.

One was that of Fallon Stubbs, the 23-year-old daughter of Alice Hawthorne who was killed by the Olympic Park bomb. Ms. Stubbs, who was wounded by shrapnel from this bomb, offered Mr. Rudolph forgiveness. "Because of you," she said, I have become a tolerant person. Not for you, but for me, I forgive you. I look at you. I love you ... and if I cry," she added, "it's not for me. It's not for my mother. It's not for my father. It's [tears] for you."

 

Love alone heals.  Love alone conquers.  Love alone transforms – transforms us by the renewing of our minds, that we may discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – and loving.