A Christian Community
Grace United Methodist Church
June 13, 2010
Romans 12: 9-18
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.* 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Are there any of you out there who grew up on Lincoln Logs? Though I loved Lincoln Logs, I somehow managed to make it through my childhood without ever having a set of my own. I always played with my cousin’s or my friend’s Lincoln Logs. I had Legos of my own, but I really like the Lincoln Logs more because if you wanted to build a building, it really looked like a building instead of the multicolored plastic box that results from Legos. Those original Lincoln Log sets came with instructions about how to build Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Abraham Lincoln’s childhood cabin, but you could also use your imagination to build other structures. It was easy to do because those logs just fit right together, and before you knew it, you had a building. The thing about Lincoln Logs (or any other building for that matter) is that the building doesn’t stand if there’s not something to support it, and the roof is not a roof if there is not a building underneath it. It’s the same way with any Christian community, with the church. Paul’s words to the Romans essentially provide us with the basic building blocks to become a true and complete Christian community.
Before we look at the building blocks that Paul has set before us in this morning’s Scripture reading, we need to be reminded of our foundation. No Christian community is even possible without the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, made the Christian community a reality, and it is on this foundation that we are built. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been united by a common bond of salvation; we are a community saved by grace through faith. And from the life and ministry of Jesus, we draw our own life and ministry; our purpose is revealed. Christ is our sure foundation, and remembering this, we can begin to build our life together using the blueprint that Paul lays out in Romans.
You see, what Paul puts before us today are the core essentials to an authentic Christian community; as important as Christ the foundation himself! So what are the building blocks? To be peaceful, not vengeful; humble and compassionate. Our words should be filled with blessings, not curses. We should be hospitable, prayerful, patient, hopeful, passionate, and above all full of love. Love is the key. Love is what makes all those other traits Paul mentions possible. Love is like those notches in every Lincoln Log that make it possible to put two logs together. Only when we have genuine love is it possible for us to be truly passionate, compassionate, hospitable, and all those other things.
But what is genuine love? What does it look like? In order to fully understand the kind of love which Paul has in mind here as he calls the Romans to “let [their] love be genuine,” we need to have a grasp on two different Greek words which describe “love.” The first of these Greek words is philadelphia. As you may know from the motto of the city of Philadelphia, this word refers to brotherly love; the love that blood relatives have toward one another…at least ideally. We as the church are to love one another with brotherly and sisterly love in such a way that reflects the love we have with God the Father. We are to care for one another just as if we are blood relatives. If we have this kind of love for one another, this philadelphia, then it will be apparent through our actions, which is what the Greek word agape refers to. Agape is much more than any feelings of love; it is the love that I show you by my actions, even if I don’t feel it! Quite simply, love is more about what people do than about how we feel. We often think of agape as unconditional love, which couldn’t be truer. If we act with compassion and love towards others, even when we may not feel love for them; that is unconditional love, agape. When we love one another in such a way that it is reflected through our actions, then we are loving genuinely, we begin to share our lives together, and we are drawn together as an authentic Christian community. That’s the really amazing thing about the Christian life; over and over again we discover that when we behave toward someone as though we really did love them, then, to our surprise, love, care, and concern for the person’s welfare quickly springs up!
In 2006, I led a youth mission team on a Katrina Relief trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi. We had two teams working on projects throughout the week we were there. One team spent the week traveling to various homes in the Pascagoula area helping people by cleaning up their yards and moving furniture. The other team spent the week hanging drywall in an elderly woman’s home. We hung that drywall, then we mudded, and taped, and sanded, and mudded, and taped, and sanded for days and days and days. But throughout that time, the team interacted regularly with the woman who had lived in that house until Katrina hit. That first day we worked in Pascagoula, we didn’t know Miss Barbara from any person we might have crossed paths with on the street, but by the end of the week, it was a different story. We spent the week mudding, taping, and sanding in Miss Barbara’s house. She, in turn, bought the youth popsicles or ice cream each day. And we would always take time to sit down and talk to one another. The youth were acting with love and compassion toward this woman who had been displaced from her home by Katrina, and she in turn was acting in love toward us. And the result was that by the end of the week, we really did love each other. So strong was that love, in fact, that there are some youth from that mission team who still interact regularly with Miss Barbara, even though it’s been four years since we worked in her house. What we shared was genuine love, acted out as if Miss Barbara was our very own family, and the result was the formation of authentic Christian community.
Are you personally willing to help someone in need? Because that’s what it means to love genuinely and to be the church. We go out of our way to act in love to meet the needs of another person. The day will come when we all will need that from someone else. Will we already have been living that before we have need? You see, the thing about being the church is that it is not a guarantee that we will be delivered from any misfortune; rather, it is the promise that in the midst of misfortune we will be sustained and perhaps even strengthened.
Did you ever pause to think about what it is that leads people to proclaim that Jesus really is the Son of God, and to follow him as Lord of their lives? Now, for some, it might have to do with really great sermons or uplifting worship music, but for many it’s something quite different that makes Jesus “real” in their lives. And that’s when the church shows agape and philadelphia. Most people come to faith because they see a case for Christ lived out in our lives; lived out through humility, patience, compassion, hope, passion, peace, and above all, love. Are we living our lives in such a way that it will lead others to faith in Christ? If we’re not, or if we are struggling with how exactly to live in such a way, Paul has lined it out for us here today. Paul’s words to the Romans are the building blocks by which we might join together as an authentic Christian community which shines the light of Christ into the world and lead others to proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Richard Wurmbrand, who spent fourteen years suffering in a Communist prison, reminds all believers with less than ideal circumstances that, “if the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart love Him, you can resist all tortures.” He says, “God will not judge us according to how much we endured, but how much we could love.” The love of God demonstrated in the lives of his people is incredibly powerful. Wurmbrand gives an example from his prison days:
“A Christian was sentenced to death. Before being executed, he was allowed to see his wife. His last words to his wife were, ‘You must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don’t know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don’t have bitterness in your heart because they kill your beloved one. We will meet in heaven.’ These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. And in turn, this officer shared the story with me, in prison, where he had been put for becoming a Christian.”
It’s really amazing what a huge difference even the smallest gestures can make. Just the mention of love for one’s enemies changed the heart of the soldier. Imagine what an impact the very act of genuine love might have in the lives of people. We could change the world. So let’s be that kind of church. Let’s be a church that wants to change the world. Let’s be that kind of church that welcomes everybody and doesn’t make them feel big or small, but just makes them feel a part. Let’s be that kind of church that is a community that shares life together through love for one another and even for those beyond this community. Let’s love as Christ has first loved us!
We are going to join together now in prayer. As I pray, I invite you in silence or under your breath to repeat each line of the prayer so that it becomes your prayer. Let us pray:
Lord, help me to love.
Help me to give of myself to serve the needs of others;
to put their needs before my own.
Help me forgive those who have wronged me and show them grace.
May we be a church that seeks to change the world,
to welcome all of your children,
and to love people well. In Jesus’ name.
 Michael G. Moriarty, The Perfect 10: The Blessings of Following God’s Commandments in a Post Modern World, 141-142.