Chapel at Covenant Living of Florida
30 August 2020
I’ve got a video clip I'd like you to see.
That was Michael Ball singing "Love Changes Everything," which is the first song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Aspects of Love. I chose it because the title so wonderfully summarizes what the Apostle Paul is saying in Romans 12:9-21.
Romans 12 is the lesser known of the love chapters in the Bible. But it does a great job of spelling out a kind of love that changes everything -- love that moves beyond sentimentalism -- a kind of love that is rooted in our common relationship with Jesus. For this is the kind of love that Jesus lives and that he draws us into as his followers. It’s not our love that changes everything. It is his love living in us that turns the world upside down.
And this is what it looks like. Here is the Authorized Boydston Paraphrase. And I invite you to follow along on page 3 in the bulletin.
Make sure that the love you show is not in any way fake or hypocritical. Abhor what is evil as you cling to what is good. 10 Practice deep sacrificial love among yourselves -- the genuine kind of love you might expect to see in a healthy family. Instead of competing with one another over who is more important, excel at respecting one another.
11 And when it comes to serving the Lord don’t throttle your spiritual enthusiasm! Pour yourself into the service of Christ. 12 As you anticipate what he is bringing about, be glad. And when you encounter trouble, hold steady and stay the course. Keep on praying. 13 Give yourself to caring for God’s needy people. Welcome strangers into your home -- and your life. 14 As Jesus said in his famous sermon in Matthew 5, pour blessings on the very people who harass you. You heard right -- instead of bad-mouthing the bad guys, overpower them with words of blessing. 15 Be empathetic -- rejoicing with those who are doing well, and crying with those who are overwhelmed by their circumstances. 16 Treat everyone as an equal. Don’t even harbor secret thoughts of superiority. Instead, freely associate with people who have no status. And don’t over-estimate the value of your understanding -- as though you’re smarter than the rest. 17 Skip pay-back time. Even if people are totally evil don’t respond by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Rather, become the poster children for honor by showing respect even for those who are unworthy of it.
18 If you’ve got peace in you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Again, dear friends, don’t insist on getting even. Let God handle whatever revenge he deems appropriate. As the Lord says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Revenge is mine and only mine. I’ll give people what they’re due.” 20 Instead of pursuing revenge yourself, do the radical thing outlined in Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. Your generosity will eventually disturb him so much that he’ll either become a friend, or turn and run as a dog with his tail between his legs.” 21 In other words, don’t allow evil to clobber you but use good to clobber evil.
A lot in here to unpack -- all very radical and all quite contrary to the patterns of the world system mentioned in 12:1-2. This is not your sentimental feel-good approach that is so often confused with love by the rest of the world.
The passage itself is a bit shotgun in style. As Chaplain Corrie mentioned in her sermon last week, the Apostle Paul was dealing with divisions in the church -- divisions which he recognized as evil.
So here in vss 9-21 Paul is blasting out a shotgun spray of small love pellets which will ultimately take down the evils of division -- racism, prejudice -- that we're tearing apart the church. And that shotgun spray seems pretty wide. But I’ve attempted to summarize it all in this way.
GENUINE CHRIST-ROOTED LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT TREATS PEOPLE WAY BETTER THAN THEY DESERVE. EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT TREATS PEOPLE WAY BETTER THAN THEY DESERVE.
That is, it changes things by lifting people up instead of tearing or dragging them down -- which is what division does.
And basically this involves five actions -- and these are listed on the Sermon Guide:
#1 SERVING CHRIST FULL-THROTTLE
Vs 11 -- And when it comes to serving the Lord don’t throttle your spiritual enthusiasm! Pour yourself into the service of Christ.
And the love we give to others is an expression of whole-hearted service to Christ. Loving God and loving others is totally integrated. You can’t really do one without the other.
Jesus says in Mark 12:29-31 --
"The most important command is this:
'Listen, people of Israel!
The Lord our God is the only Lord.
Love the Lord your God with
all your heart,
all your soul,
all your mind,
and all your strength.'
The second command is this:
'Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'
There are no commands more important than these." ~ Mark 12:29-31 (NCV)
And it really helps if you’re looking at others -- even the most broken others -- and seeing Christ at work there.
He loves the hardest criminal.
He loves the most lost drug addict.
He loves the most confused neighbor.
He even loves the presidential candidate that you loathe.
His love is cutting away at the spiritual cancer in their lives and our task as followers of Christ is to join him in extending unreserved full-throttle love.
Colossians 3:17 -- And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (NLT)
And as his representative you have his power -- so don’t hold back. Pour yourself into loving others -- even those you consider least deserving. That’s who we are and what we do -- full-throttle.
#2. The second act of love Paul mentions is STAYING STEADY DURING TROUBLING TIMES
This may sound unrelated but hear me out. In Eastern thinking there is a concept called karma. Basically it is seen as a law of the universe which says that if you do bad, bad will come back at you -- but if you do good, good will return to you.
However, the world does not always operate according to the rules of karma. There are way too many exceptions. Even when you are doing the right and loving thing you may still have to deal with trouble.
And I’d suggest that perhaps the love of Christ shines the brightest when we’re facing down trouble.
Vs 12 As you anticipate what he is bringing about, be glad. And when you encounter trouble, hold steady and stay the course. Keep on praying.
Make up your mind even before you encounter trouble that you’re not going to let the problems throw you off -- or turn you into a snarky, nasty, unloving person.
Just keep on talking through it with God. That’s prayer.
Venting, asking, listening, and relaxing in the awareness that he listens and is at work -- usually in the background outside the line of your sight. So hold steady. Maintain communication.
And really I’m preaching to myself right now. There is so much uncertainty in my life -- in the world right now. I’m constantly in danger of withdrawing into the comfort of my own mind -- and becoming jaded and calloused toward the outside-- the people around me.
I don’t know, maybe you’re experiencing some of that right now -- and you’re perhaps putting off loving others in the name of Christ until things settle down -- get back to normal. But here is the secret -- Loving others in the name of Christ is the way to settle things down. It’s the way through the dark times. THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE!
Don’t let the pandemic issues swallow you. There are people around you who need to experience the steady love of Christ through you. And while circumstances may be less than ideal -- turbulent -- those circumstances are the context into which you’ve been called. Don’t gripe about or fixate on what you can’t do, but look for the simple and loving things you can do -- and fix on them.
The phone call you make to someone now means a whole lot more than the phone calls you made last year. The warm greeting to the person in the hallway is received with more joy than ever before -- even though you can’t see it because of those masks we’ve all grown so fond of.
Love changes everything.
You may not have power over the pandemic or the response of others to it but you have the power to rock the world of those near you by staying steady and calmly loving the people within your reach. Love does that. It will get us through dark times.
So hold steady, keep loving, and keep praying. This is what God is saying to you this morning.
Then the third action that the apostle Paul lists is: #3 CARING FOR THE NEEDY
Vs 13 -- Give yourself to caring for God’s needy people. Welcome strangers into your home -- and your life.
Christ-driven love always involves caring for those who are in need. ALWAYS! You see, when you express care to the needy, you have no expectation of return on your investment. The needy are not in a position to pay you back.
They are in need. And as such they drive home how God deals with us. For we are all needy people who cannot help themselves and cannot pay God back. The gift of salvation is just too great. And we are too broken. So it is all about grace. It’s all about God’s unearned and undeserved generosity.
We continually return to this point in our relationship with God and in how we relate to others.
Before he died, I worked with a homeless guy named Don for several years. Don had schizophrenia and dementia, too. Over the years because of his mental illnesses he had burned all his bridges.
He was gruff and unresponsive to the gospel on most days. I could see why his family and everyone else had given up on him. But for some still-unknown reason God dropped Don into my lap. Maybe because I don't get too rattled by guys like him. God wired me to be laidback.
Don made life miserable for everyone and there was really no hope of a return of investment with him -- although he did once give me a check for 2 million dollars -- which I still have in a file in my office. Did I mention that Don had delusions of grandeur and believed himself to be a billionaire philanthropist?
Most people were unaware of what I was doing with him. But our church figured it out and some jumped in to help at times. We took him shopping. Intervened with the police -- when they showed up. Sometimes they brought him to our house in the middle of the night.
It took awhile. But eventually we got him off the street and helped him manage his finances.
And some people began to get it. Caring for people like Don is an act of Christ-like love -- worship.
Our small church didn’t have big programs or a big budget. But I'm sure that Jesus considered it to be a very successful church because we cared for the needy -- for people like Don -- and that is Christian love -- part of the definition of Christian success.
The fact is that the need is great. Don’t get swallowed by the magnitude of it all. Again, instead of focusing on what you can’t do, start by doing what you can do. Then see how the Lord provides.
Dare I mention the Benevolent Care Fund we have here at Covenant Living of Florida? The chapel fund offerings benefit the Benevolent Care Fund and nine other ministries.
The gala, which we’re doing virtually this year because of the pandemic... By supporting the gala campaign you are providing for people in need -- your neighbors -- through the Benevolent Care Fund. That’s a very practical way to care.
Yes, caring gets a little crazy at times. But it’s more energizing than any of the flashy and sexy stuff that gets all the attention.
#4 The fourth love action involves EMBRACING A HUMBLE AND REALISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF SELF.
People who have an inflated self-understanding really don’t get the love thing because they have to make every event or incident about themselves. But Christ Jesus, the most important man to ever live, gave it all up in order to serve the world by sacrificing his life so he could restore order to the creation.
Vs 10 -- Practice deep sacrificial love among yourselves -- the genuine kind of love you might expect to see in a healthy family. Instead of competing with one another over who is more important, excel at respecting one another.
And vs 16 -- Treat everyone as an equal. Don’t even harbor secret thoughts of superiority. Instead, freely associate with people who have no status. And don’t over-estimate the value of your understanding -- as though you’re smarter than the rest.
I probably don’t need to add anything else on this point -- other than to say that we need to read this over and over again within our current context where systemic and individual acts of racism tend to capture the headlines on more days than not.
The fifth action is COMMITMENT TO ALTERNATIVE PAY-BACK.
Vs 14 -- As Jesus said in his famous sermon in Matthew 5, pour blessings on the very people who harass you. You heard right -- instead of bad-mouthing the bad guys, overpower them with words of blessing.
Vss 17-21 -- Skip pay-back time. Even if people are totally evil don’t respond by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Rather, become the poster children for honor by showing respect even for those who are unworthy of it.
If you’ve got peace in you, live at peace with everyone. Again, dear friends, don’t insist on getting even. Let God handle whatever revenge he deems appropriate. As the Lord says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Revenge is mine and only mine. I’ll give people what they’re due.” Instead of pursuing revenge yourself, do the radical thing outlined in Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. Your generosity will eventually disturb him so much that he’ll either become a friend, or turn and run as a dog with his tail between his legs.” In other words, don’t allow evil to clobber you but use good to clobber evil.
This alternative approach works best if it becomes a pattern rather than a one shot response to a particular evil. In other words, in order to take on the big EVILS we have to train for it through ongoing small daily acts of non-retaliation -- in our words, our driving habits, our approach to shopping. Even eliminating our passive-agressiveness from our lives.
There are actually two parts to this approach -- which Jesus models for us his followers. First of all we refuse to respond to attacks with an attack. That is, we don’t get sucked into retaliation. Then to take it a step further, we actually overwhelm our enemies with kindness. And it’s this kindness that shows that our response is one of strength rather than weakness.
We lived in Texas for six years so I have some first hand knowledge of Texas politics. Over the years Texas politicians have railed endlessly about their Mexican neighbors to the south. They demonize them and blame them for everything that ever goes wrong in Texas.
On August 25th of 2017 -- three years ago -- Hurricane Harvey hit Houston as a devastating Cat 4 storm. Well, within hours after Houston was clobbered there were grand caravans of relief supplies from Mexico enroute to the flooded areas of Houston.
And to all those Houstonians the Mexican kindness was a game changer.
Is there someone who has been a burr under your saddle? How might you clobber their evil with good? Maybe through lots of small consistent acts. Think on that one awhile -- but not so long as to let the opportunity slip away.
And keep the key thought alive and running in the background of your life -- GENUINE CHRIST-ROOTED LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT TREATS PEOPLE WAY BETTER THAN THEY DESERVE.
Yes, it’s about grace.
Dave Ramsey is an international talk show host who specializes in financial planning and helping people get out of debt. He runs Financial Peace University. He’s fun to listen to and I love how Dave responds when people ask him how he is doing. He always says -- “better than I deserve…”
That is sound gospel. God treats us better than we deserve. The reason that we can treat others in this radically loving way is that even though we are undeserving, we have encountered the love of Christ ourselves.
His love changes everything in us. And his grace is changing us. We can’t muster this kind of stuff on our own. This is all Christ’s doing as he has taken up residency in our midst -- in our lives. We just get to go along for the ride -- or not -- if we fail to embrace him, his way of doing things, and his agenda.
And as you think about it you realize he has already started doing all of these things. When we trust him we simply join in with what he is doing. He is the one going full-throttle during difficult times. He is the one caring for the needy. He is the one who had an exceptionally realistic view of himself and yet still took the humble approach. He is the one who refuses to pay-back evil with evil.
In the book of Romans Paul is talking about the embedded presence of Christ in our lives -- that which comes about when we trust in him -- what he has done -- what he is doing -- what he is going to do -- his agenda.
The reason that we can treat people way better than they deserve is that Christ is treating us way better than we deserve.
And believe it or not, that is the good news!