We have reading from the letter to the Romans for the past few weeks. We ended with readings from Romans chapter 12 last week and today we continue in Romans chapter 13, beginning with verse 8: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13: 8) I think this passage has been used as a proof text that we should never get into financial debt or buy anything on credit. Perhaps that is a true statement but it is not the context of this passage. The context is that the only thing we should owe one another is love. As 1 Peter rightly comments: “Love takes care of practically everything”. (1 Peter 4:8)
The law is summed up as Jesus says, and this is the law of Christian ethics: “We should love our neighbors as ourselves, and if you do that and do your neighbor no wrong, then that is the fulfillment of the law.” So if a neighbor wrongs us and we thank that our neighbor owes us, because we have done something for them, and they now should do something for us. If that’s our approach to this passage then we are completely missing the main point. We talked about this passage last week, and the church members should go out of their way ministering and taking care of others, doing our best to outdo one another in showing love. That’s the focus here. It is not about what other people owe us and what we owe others. Paul says in the previous passage to go out of your way to outdo others in showing them how much you care for them and are willing to be put-out on their behalf.
Don’t live in selfishness, because if you are just partying-hardy, and thinking about your own satisfaction, needs and wants, it is not a good testimony to you and others about your testimony and faith. Scripture says “they will know us by our love”, but selfishness is a root of evil. There is a psalm that testifies to this saying something like this: “Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.” (Psalm 7:14) Let the lifestyle that you live every day match you’re Sundays and the special times that you set aside in your life for spiritual practice.
May the rest of your week match the time when you feel most spiritual and transparent. I know it is not easy to do. In our confirmation series for our young candidates our first lesson plan is this: “What does it mean to be a Christian, and what does being a Christian means to us? What does this Way of Jesus mean?” It’s one thing to learn Bible stories and Christian traditions, but it is another thing to put the teachings of Jesus into action.” And, that is what Paul is talking about here. The salvation process is kind of like waking from a deep sleep. “The night is far gone. The day is near. Lay aside those works of darkness.” (Romans 13:12)
It’s natural to think: “Well this is my spiritual life and this is my world that I live in the rest of the time, not just on Sunday and when I get in the spiritual mood and these two worlds do not meet”. But, what Paul is saying is that these two worlds should merge into each other, and two worlds’s become one transparent place where the line becomes united, the two world realities become one spiritual reality. God is involved in the small and natural things; in the routines of our lives, places we find the joy of living one day at a time. That’s called walking in the light; putting on the armor of light and living honorably and transparent; letting our light shine in the night, the times that we feel are hidden from spiritual reality, and the times of the light of day when we know we should let our lights shine in transparency.
God is involved in the everyday things we consider small and not so important in our lives, things we consider trivial. It is in the routine and every day events in our lives that God desires to break in and reveal spiritual vitality the ordinary things, making the ordinary world the spiritual world and the spiritual world the ordinary world.
Does that mean we should be “goody-two shoes?” I think the goody-two shoe interpretation is kind of like saying that you are better than others. I believe that that is the intent of Paul’s message in Romans. “Don’t think that you are better, more important, more spiritual and just a better type of person than someone else.” It is not wise to compare yourself with others. If you are going to compare yourself with anybody, compare yourself with Jesus. He actually ate and drank with people that were considered unclean, not considered spiritual or righteous enough to be in the company of the religious folk. Jesus hung around with people that many of the religious folk did not have much use for.
When I was a teenager my older brother and I would make extra money by working at some of the local orchards in our area. We grew up in the Palisades of Colorado, a fruit valley at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. One of the things we did in the early springtime was clean the irrigation ditches that circulated water into the orchards. Cleaning the ditches entailed shoveling out the weeds, debris, rocks and excess dirt so the water could flow freely and irrigate the orchards. May you and I make time to clean away those obstacles, weeds, stones and debris, those things that rob us of our relationship with God, those things that restrict the flow of Living Water in our lives, and in the lives of those we care for.
The key is not to condemn others. It is to restore their relationship with Christ, to put their life back into proper perspective. The truth never changes. God loves us just the way we are. Not for what we have been or were in the past; not for who and how we feel we are right now, and not for what we will be or do in the future. God loves us just the way we are. It is His desire to bring us into that place where we can receive that love, that transforming presence in our lives and not to be bound by things that separate us from the love of Christ. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty, the freedom of Christ, and do not be bound up again with the things that separate you from your freedom in Christ”. (Galatians 5:1)
“Owe no-one anything except to love one another. For love is the fulfillment of the law.” If we love one another we are going to care about others. If someone else has a problem, then I want to help. I like this proverb: “If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it— how shortsighted to refuse correction!” (Proverbs 12:15, Message) And this verse in psalms is kind of cool too! “May the Just One set me straight, and may the Kind One correct me.” (Psalm 141:5, Message)
Brothers and sisters we are all in this spiritual journey together. It’s not like the old Pat Boone song that says: “Me and Jesus we have our own thing going. Me and Jesus we got it all worked out.” We are in this together. It does not mean that we don’t have a personal relationship with God, because we all do, but collectively as a church, and as individual members, we should care for one another.
“Love is like a smiling fried egg served sunny-side –up, a happy face, inviting you to enjoy a new day that the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year A 13th Sunday after Pentecost
September 7, 2014
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, CA