“Genuine Love in Our Church Family” (Romans 12:9-21)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 2020

“Genuine Love in Our Church Family” (Romans 12:9-21)

Our church is called to be a loving family. I know this is so, because that’s who God says we are. God has made us a loving family. He calls us to live and act as his loving family. And he enables us to do so. This is why I as your pastor can call on you to be who you are in Christ: brothers and sisters who love one another with a genuine love that shows itself in actions.

That is kind of a summary of today’s Epistle reading, from Romans 12. Listen to some of the things that St. Paul says to the church in Rome: “Let love be genuine.” “Love one another with brotherly affection.” “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” And so on. This is how the apostle Paul wanted, and expected, the Christians in Rome to think and to act and to live with one another. And these same exhortations and instructions apply to us, too. And so our theme this morning: “Genuine Love in Our Church Family.”

The church in Rome back then was no different from our church here today. We have the same Lord. We have the same gospel. We have the same sacraments. We have the same Spirit living within us. We are no different from those first-century Christians. We twenty-first-century Christians have the same gifts from God. As the apostle Paul could appeal to those Christians in Rome, so your pastor can appeal to you, knowing that God will enable you to live as his people and be a loving church family.

This is quite refreshing and much needed. Our church is called and enabled to be a refreshing oasis from the coldness and impersonality of the world. Look at what’s going on in the world around us these days. Hatred and conflict of all sorts. Rioting in the streets. Rage and distrust. Fear and isolation because of the virus. People afraid of catching disease. People unhappy over the measures and mandates they have to deal with. Tensions mounting as we head toward elections in November.

So here in the church is where people battered and bruised by the world can come and find care and compassion. Here is where the lonely can find a family. The Bible says, in Psalms, that God sets the lonely in families. Jesus says, in the gospels, that those who give up brothers or sisters or mother or father to come and follow him will receive—now, in this life–a hundred times as many brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. And that’s because you’re coming into the church, the worldwide family that God has established. This is where we love one another and care for one another in very practical terms. The church stands as a shelter, a haven, that stands out in the world by being a community of love put into action.

So, this Epistle reading from Romans 12 applies to us. It has to do with our everyday lives and our everyday life together as church. Since God calls us to be this kind of a loving family, and he enables to be so, I can say that I expect us to live like this.

And at the same time, I also expect us to fail. Why? Because we are sinners. To be sure, we are new persons in Christ, and we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. But even as Christians, we are still sinners. We mess up. We don’t always do what we’re supposed to do. We have this internal conflict going on inside us, all our life long, between the new man, alive in the Spirit, and the old Adam, who thinks only of himself. It’s a struggle. It’s a battle. Can you feel it? You know, when you realize that you aren’t always the loving church member you ought to be. Hey, you’re not even the loving family member you ought to be, either! We mess up in our natural families. And we mess up in our church family, too. We’re not as loving and forgiving toward one another as we ought to be. God have mercy on me, a sinner!

Well, the good news is, he does have mercy on you. God loves and forgives you because of his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is your brother who came down from heaven, who took on our flesh, and who lived the life of love we so often fail at. What mercy and compassion and love Jesus showed! Healing the sick and the oppressed. Forgiving sinners troubled in their conscience. Lifting up the downtrodden. Comforting the brokenhearted. If you want to see what genuine love looks like, look at Jesus. And especially look at him going to the cross for you. There is love at its greatest, at its most profound. A love so great that the heavenly Father spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all. Christ willingly gave himself into death on the cross for your forgiveness and your salvation. This sacrificial love of Christ is not only our example, it is our source of love. God’s love for us in Christ is a never-failing wellspring of love that wells up inside us and flows out to others.

God planted this source, this wellspring of love, inside you when he baptized you. There you became God’s child and took on his character. God’s children share in the family traits of love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness. In your baptism, God gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit, who calls you every day to put to death the old man of selfishness and sin and to put on instead the new man of love and service. This is what it means to be clothed with Christ, for this is how Christ is, and you are his Christians.

What’s more, today once again you are being nourished in the new life of love and forgiveness, as you partake of the Lord’s Supper. “As in this feast of love you bless us now,” we sing in a Communion hymn. And at the conclusion of the Supper, we pray that God would strengthen us through the same, in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. God intends for us to be a loving family, and so he equips us and enables us to be just that.

Now what does this look like, to be a loving church family? It’s more than just talk. It’s more than just pious-sounding words. Love shows itself in action. When someone is hurting, we do what we can to meet that need. Love is very practical. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” it says in 1 John.

What are some ways we can show love in our church family? Well, first of all, it’s important to get to know your church family, your fellow members of this congregation. We need to spend time together to get to know one another. Church is not just 60 minutes a week on a Sunday–you’re in, you’re out, and you never get to know anybody. Our life together as church is more than that. How can you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep if you don’t know their joys and their sorrows? The church is a family, not a bunch of strangers. So be here for church every Sunday, as you are able, and consider taking advantage of the opportunities we have to spend more time together, for example, in our Bible classes on Sunday and Tuesday.

Then when we get to know one another better, we can better find ways we can put our love into action. Concrete expressions of care and concern. Practical Christian love, when somebody in our church family needs help. You’ll find ways. God will put people in your path. We are the body of Christ. Everybody can have a part to play. Use your imagination. Take the initiative. Offer your service. This is a team effort.

There will be situations that come up. And our people will come through. Maybe there’s a lonely person in need of friendship. Maybe there’s a family that could use some help with childcare or housework. Maybe there’s an elderly person who could use a ride or somebody to run an errand and just somebody to come and visit. The situations may differ in the details, and we each have different gifts that may be more suited to this or that situation. But we all share in the same Spirit, we all have the same Lord and Savior, and we all belong to the same great big Christian church family that extends across all boundaries and through all centuries.

Love one another as new people in Christ and as members of the same church family. What I’m telling you today is who you already are and what you already know. For you are baptized brothers and sisters, gifted with the same Holy Spirit, reflecting the character of your Father in heaven, and following your Savior Jesus in faith.

Our church is called and enabled to be a loving family. Therefore, “love one another with brotherly affection.” In one sense, this message is very simple. But it also can be very difficult to do, to put into action. Indeed, it is impossible to do this on our own. Our sinful flesh gets in the way. It wars against this. And we mess up, we sin. This is why we always need God’s forgiveness. And God gives us that forgiveness, for Christ’s sake, here in the church–in Holy Absolution, in the preaching of the gospel, in the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. And when we stumble, when we fail, we need God to pick us up and get us going again. We need God’s help. And he gives us the help we need. God will help you to be the loving person you are in Christ. He promises to do so. This is why our church–this congregation, and you as members thereof–is and will be a loving, caring family.

I don’t go in too much for hokey plaques and greeting cards and such. But I remember a little card I saw a long time ago that I think sums up what we heard in the Epistle reading today from Romans 12. It goes like this: “God made us a family. We need one another. We love one another. We forgive one another. We work together. We play together. We worship together. Together we use God’s word. Together we grow in Christ. Together we love all men. Together we serve our God. Together we hope for heaven. These are our hopes and ideals. Help us to attain them, O God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 11:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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