September 10, 2017

14th Sunday after Pentecost Year A

 

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

This love does not originate with us.  It begins with God.

God created the cosmos and formed humans in God’s own image in order to share this love.

It was love that brought heaven to earth in the incarnation of Jesus; it was love that led Jesus to stand up to the religious authorities of his day and accept those who had been cast aside; it was love that led Jesus to accept the cross as a continuation of this love; and it was love that enabled his disciples to experience the risen Christ three days after his violent death.

This divine love came to reside among Jesus’ first disciples through the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. And it continues to dwell in human hearts and manifests itself in a myriad of sacrificial acts. “Owe no one anything except love...”

It is love that pursues us and wants us to be part of God’s very own life for God is love.  It makes me think of the story of the prodigal son who on his return home is greeted by a father who throws honor, pride and dignity aside to run and greet the home coming – now is a time for celebration and for feasting!  It reminds me of God’s commitment to pursue us and come after us wherever we go, even becoming one of us.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another! If only we could come to understand how much we are loved? How much God wants us to understand the kind of value we have as a person?

The old saying is that actions speak louder than words and when we consider the seemingly simple yet outrageously profound idea that God is love and connect it with the idea that we experience love as an action then in order to understand love maybe the place to begin to look is God.

Of course, the primary source of our faith is a person: Jesus.  As people of faith we have come to believe that Jesus shows us who God is.  Jesus is God pursuing us in love.  God comes into the world and in Jesus own life of serving others even in his death and in Jesus rising again you and I and all creation encounter the depth of love that God has for each of us.

This kind of love is all but impossible for us to emulate and model without God’s help, but the invitation from Paul to the early Christian community to enter into that love and participate in it is best understood through becoming vulnerable. By sharing our struggle to love we are opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s help.

Of course we know we fail to do this, we fail to love one another as we ought.  We say unkind words, we put ourselves first, we judge others and we know that God understands that this is exactly who we are and yet God continues to reach out to us in love.

From Matthew’s gospel we heard a story that might sound a bit odd as Jesus talks about forgiveness and the church.  Given that the church did not exist when Jesus was alive, we can only understand this passage from the perspective that Matthew tells the story to help his community make sense of it.

What we hear is something of a formula for dealing with the breakdown of relationships in a community.  It could be easy to misinterpret this to be some sort of regulations for reconciliation but in this teaching Jesus acknowledges a couple of things that are important for us to remember.

One is that as human beings he was expecting that we would continue to struggle to love one another as we ought even after he had invited us into God’s love. Followers of Jesus are not perfect.

And that even if reconciliation was not found we are to treat those who find it difficult to make up or admit that they have done something wrong as people not to be shunned but to be sought out in love.

Jesus says treat them like the tax collector and sinner.  A traditional Jewish audience may have heard this to mean that we should exclude and reject them from the community but Jesus behavior flies in the face of this.  His behavior which reflects God’s love is to eat with tax collector and sinner – to continue to seek them out. He includes a tax collector among his disciples!

An inability to find reconciliation is not an excuse for rejection but a challenge to learn more deeply that God is love and that grace abounds.

Certainly these are not easy things to do but the invitation to owe no one anything but love is the invitation to follow Jesus into a life of self-giving love.

Jesus words indicate we are limited in our ability to follow and love one another as God invites us to – it is why we always say a prayer of confession in our Eucharist. We recognize that at our best we are still in need of God’s love.

Our sharing at the Eucharistic table is a reminder of the love God has for us no matter who we are, no matter how we think we might have failed God and our fellow human beings. No matter our brokenness, this table proclaims God’s love for us, each and every one of us and God’s desire for us to experience that love in the very tangible way we do when we eat the bread and drink the wine of God’s very life.  This is the depth of God’s love for you and me and the whole of humanity.

In the end Paul’s invitation to owe others nothing but love is not us repaying God but is rather our way of participating in showing others something of that amazing love which we have encountered for ourselves.

Amen.