“Proclaim Love” – Rev. Tony Romaine – September 6th, 2020
Some of you already know this story because I am sure I have shared it in small groups before; but it is a good one, so bear with me. When I was little, I grew up in an area of Winona, MN that was close to train tracks and the river and industrial areas with trucks and everything. Well, my mother used to tell me that I was not to play on the train tracks or near the factories and all that dangerous stuff. Inevitably, one day I came home from doing the exact opposite and playing where I was not supposed to and she told me, “I know you were playing on the train tracks and you are in big trouble!” I was astonished because I was all alone and no one saw me or could have called and let her know. So, naturally I asked, “How did you know?!” And she told me something that would forever change my ability to contradict my mother for years to come, as she said “Jesus told me!” And while I did not comprehend what this truly meant until I was much older, it was in that moment I realized I would never be able to get away with anything ever again, for Jesus was there watching over me!
So what does this have to do with proclaiming love, or with our Gospel passage about reproving a fellow worshipper? Well, in this Gospel passage that is seemingly a lesson on conflict management, we hear the ways in which we are called to confront and be present with others and how Jesus is there watching over us in those moments. We know this because God tells us in Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” We know this because Jesus tells us in Matthew, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” And we know this because we are reminded by Paul that “any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” God does not want us to forever remain wicked, lost, broken, and quarreling. God longs for us to come together, to confront wickedness, to reconcile if at all possible, to forgive, and to do all of this through the love of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the lesson we can extrapolate for our community and our world is that we must proclaim love and conflict within our congregation and community in order to make sure that no one is outside of the holy law of God, that no one is disparaged or going counter to the community, and that whatever we bind on earth or loose on earth will be the same in heaven. Which means that the ultimate goal of this confrontation is not to make sure I am right and you are wrong, it is not to shun or shame, it is to correct, reprove, and repent, as we heal and forgive and become stronger through working through our conflicts, not burying them and letting them fester and rot.
Moreover, the way we go about this though is where we find our purpose for proclaiming love. Because, the purpose for confrontation is not to win an argument or to make sure everyone knows who is, or is not, smarter; rather, the tool we are called to use to confront one another is love. Not wickedness which leads us down paths of jealousy, greed, or earthly desires. But God’s love which we experience through reconciliation and forgiveness. Which is why we get the concept of wherever two or three gather in Jesus’ name, Jesus is there; and when we gather in Jesus’ name, when we gather and call ourselves Christians, we must do so in love.
This is so very important for us to understand in our broken world today. That when we gather and call ourselves Christians, when we use the adjective of our Lord’s name, we must do so as if Jesus is present. How differently would we treat our neighbors if we knew Jesus was standing right there? How differently would we talk to one another and hold one another if we knew Jesus was right there with us? How much wonderful could our world be if when we were in the middle of confrontation whether we are calling someone else out or we ourselves are being called out if we knew Jesus was right there with us?
The truth is our world would be a completely different place because of the eternal love of God that would be constantly on our mind. We would not want to disappoint Jesus standing there and be reproved by our Savior for not loving enough would we! We would not want to use words that we know are foul and offensive because our Savior is right there with us! We would purposefully seek to listen and understand one another for we know that is what Jesus calls us to and He is right there! We would love one another so much more for we know that our Savior is Love Incarnate and he is right there!
So why are we so wicked Israel? Why must we die? We have every piece of information we need to proclaim love. We have all the lessons of Jesus we need to go out and treat one another with respect, as if Jesus were right there with us. We even get the lessons and instructions of how to approach someone who has wronged us and work toward forgiveness. And yet, we are still wicked and stray from proclaiming love to one another, to holding one another in love.
We focus on the law and how the law says we must treat one another and we forget that the fulfillment of the law is love. We focus on what sexuality someone is, what nationality someone is, what color someone is, what gender someone is, what religion someone is, what “you name it” someone is; and we lift up commandments as examples of laws they are breaking. Or worse yet, we create laws to make them stumble and fall.
And all along, we are the wicked ones preventing love from being proclaimed. We are the ones who need to be brought up on charges of not loving enough. We are the ones who need to be reminded of how much we are loved and that love is not just for us. We need to be reminded that Jesus is right there longing for us to proclaim love.
Nothing, no law, no rule, no nothing at all is more important than this. No “yes, but what about this…” No, “well Jesus meant this…” No, “well historically this means this…” Nothing is more important than loving our neighbor as ourselves. Not because the law is not important and should not be followed. Rather, through loving our neighbors, through proclaiming love to one another, through loving someone so much as to confront wickedness with love; the law is fulfilled, God’s law of love is fulfilled.
And when all seems lost and the world seems bleak, and we do not know how we should do this or what we should do; or if we even have the power and ability to do any proclaiming of love, we get this great verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans,
“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Hear those words in your heart: the armor of light, the love of Jesus, the proclamation to the world that wickedness and hate and evil and violence and darkness is not what will conquer us; but light and forgiveness and mercy and love.
I shared that memory of my mother using Jesus as my protector and guardian (and apparent tattle-teller!) at the beginning of today because the truth is that Jesus is not only with us whenever two or three are gathered, but is with us all the time and every where we go. God is always with us and that is why we can put on the armor of light. It does not have to be our strength, our spirit, our armor; it is God’s Holy Spirit in and through us proclaiming love, it is the love of Jesus Christ poured out for us that pours through us. And when we turn away from wickedness, when we turn toward our God, that light shines on us and we see anew like a fresh morning sun. So, let us fulfill all of God’s laws. Let us turn from darkness, let us confront the wickedness within and without, and let us bind one another in the proclamation of God’s love, of the grace of Jesus Christ, and in the light of the Holy Spirit; as we gather forever in the presence of Jesus, let us be fulfilled in proclaiming love. For Jesus is with us, always and forever, Amen!