Love Does No Wrong
A sermon based on Romans 13:8-14
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 7, 2014
by Rev. Scott Elliott
One day a lawyer was riding down the road in a limousine when he saw two men on the side of the road eating grass. Bewildered by the sight, he just had to stop. As his driver pulled over, the lawyer called out the window, “Hey, why are you guys eating grass?” “We’re very poor,” one of them said, “and we have nothing to eat. So we’re eating grass on the side of the road to stay alive.” The lawyer was aghast. “That’s terrible!” he said. “You jump in this limousine, and I’ll take you to my house to eat.” “That’s great sir,” the man replied, “but I have a wife and three children. I can’t leave them behind.” “Bring them along. And bring your friend, too!” The man was amazed and grateful, but the second man said, “I have a family too, sir, and I have four children.” “Bring them all,” the lawyer said. “We’ll fit them in the limo.” The men were amazed, and they rushed off to get their families. “You won’t believe it,” they told their wives. “We found a kind lawyer!” They returned and all crammed into the large limousine. The men were profuse with praise. “I can’t believe you’re doing this for us!” they said. “It’s no problem,” the lawyer replied. “You are going to love my house. We’ve been on vacation, the grass is over a foot tall there!” 1
It is safe to assume all of us in this room understand that taking neighbors in need in a limo to mow our grass by eating it is not what it means to love your neighbor in need or more to the point of today’s Lectionary text from Romans, to do no harm to a neighbor. I’d argue that is the heart of the humor in the story. Yes it is nonsensical, but what makes it especially nonsensical is that the lawyer’s conduct not only fails to tend to the neighbor’s need for food and adds to their harm, but tends to his own need all the while acting like he is doing a good thing. It’s outrageous and a pseudo act of kindness for someone blessed with abundance to take starving people from roadside-grass-eating to a rich-estate-grass-eating. It’s not helpful. It’s harmful.
Leave it to me to ruin a perfectly good lawyer joke with a detailed analysis of it’s disturbing darker side!
We hear all this stuff in the media that is supposed to be about Christianity that is itself really rather disturbing: We all have to believe this or that or go to hell; The Bible is inerrant; God’s goodly created homosexuals are an evil; We’ve got to despise all other faiths; The rich are rich because they’ve earned God’s blessings and the poor are poor because they’ve haven’t earned it or worse have earned God’s curse. None of these things are teachings of Jesus.’ None. Of. Them.
Darlene and I were talking a few weeks ago about what I have decided to call pseudo-Christianity. Pseudo means fake, not genuine, pretended or put on. Christianity according to my Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms means “the religion founded on the life, teachings and actions of Jesus Christ.” 2. Pseudo-Christianity by definition is that which is not genuinely founded on the life, teachings or actions of Jesus Christ.
There’s a whole industry out there claiming to be Christian and Gospel oriented that sure doesn’t seem founded on any sort of Jesus Christ stuff. They tack the label Christianity onto their desired way of being and prejudices, they weave it into what they want to do and see and then use religion to ignore or hurt or pummel people different from them.
Frankly, and I know it sounds harsh, but such stuff is not genuine Christianity, it’s not essential to faith in God, it’s not a part of Jesus’ Way. It’s not in the Gospels. An example of this is the last thing on the list I named, that the rich are rich because they’ve earned God’s blessings and the poor are poor because they’ve haven’t earned it or worse have earned God’s curse.
There is a very popular religious following these days called “The Prosperity Gospel” that pushes this non-Jesus idea, this not-in-the-real-Gospels stuff about getting monetary wealth for self through Jesus. You can see it being touted on TV by evangelists like Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers and Joel and Victoria Osteen these days, but Oral Roberts and Jim Bakker were pitching it back in the day too. The movement claims it has a basis in Christianity, in Jesus’ Way but if you look in the gospels, in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, you’ll not find it there.
It is a religious movement based on self need and a creed of greed that puts on the back burner the real Gospels’ teachings to tend to everyone’s need. It removes from “Love your neighbor as yourself” the “your neighbor as” part. It becomes just love yourself. Yet in both the Old Testament and New Testament the commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The prosperity gospel changes that and it figuratively changes Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer that we petition God to “give US our daily bread” to be a teaching that we instead petition God to “give me MY daily bread.” It’s about self. Victoria Osteen recently preached it like this “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.”
The prosperity gospel erases the real Gospel’s faithful concern for all, rewriting it as a concern only for me and mine. It becomes about doing it for yourself.
Marcus Borg discusses this religious movement in his newest Book Convictions. He notes that prosperity gospel
claims that being a Christian leads to a prosperous life here on earth. A blatant form is inscribed over the door of a mega-church with more than twenty-thousand members: “The Word of God is the Way to Wealth.” 3 Borg at p 11
“The Word of God is the Way to Wealth?” Seriously? By any objective analysis seeking a religious way toward monetary prosperity– wealth– “founded on the life, teachings and actions of Jesus Christ” is pseudo-Christianity. Folks can believe it all they like, but it is not Gospel based. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t come anywhere near mentioning it, nor does Paul for that matter.
Jesus did not live, teach or act on a way or toward a way to material riches. Accordingly the way of the prosperity gospel to the extent it claims to be Christian in the theological-dictionary-sort-of-way-is, fakery. It’s pseudo Christianity. Jesus did not say the greatest commandment is love God and the second is like it, love material wealth as yourself. The truth is The Word of God is not the way to individual earthly wealth. What it is, is the heavenly way to peace on earth through love for everyone.
It is not that being rich is wrong, please hear me clearly, that is not what I am saying, what I am saying is that the Prosperity Gospel is not the Way of Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus in order to get material riches completely misses the point of following Jesus. And part and parcel of that is this, while being rich is not wrong, substituting the actual messages of Jesus and the point of the Gospels for a religious based personal hunt for wealth as we enter a purportedly Christ-based church door is sinful, especially when we rank it above loving our neighbors! Indeed it is an evil because it is an intentional movement away from where God clearly calls us. It is purposefully missing the mark God aims us at.
Sin means missing the mark. The mark, as Jesus summed it up, is love of God and self and neighbor. Most of us get the love God and the love self thing, what we don’t get is love neighbor, and so Jesus tells us to do that because it is the sum of God’s laws.
Paul agrees. As Paul put it this morning’s lesson:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom 13:8-9 NRS)
And then– as we heard– Paul writes this “ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom 13:10 NRS). The phrase “No wrong” means what you think, it has no wriggle room for claiming you didn’t harm them they were already eating grass so we just ignored them or just moved them to our lawn. Or more realistically, “I was just discriminating against them and calling them names because they are poor, criminals, illegals, homosexuals, or non-Christians and I was told or read or I heard that it is okay.” It is not okay. The word translated as “wrong” in Paul’s text from Romans is “kakos” it means of a bad nature or acts that are ‘troublesome, injurious, pernicious, destructive, baneful.” 2. We are to do NONE of that, according the Bible . . . NONE OF THAT.
Love as we have discussed a lot here means desiring the well being of others. We can fuss and parse the words of Paul and Jesus all we like, but literally love your neighbor and do no harm to your neighbor are pretty straight forward commands. There is no wriggle room.
We cannot follow Jesus’ teachings by making the word “love” or “wrong” mean what we want them to mean. Jesus and Paul meant that we are to desire the well being of everyone and not participate in any way in harm to any neighbor.
The bottom line is, it is pseudo-Christianity and disingenuous at best to sum the gospel up, to claim the Word of God, is something other than loving everyone, like loving wealth or self more.
Jesus Christ is not the way to material wealth. Jesus Christ is the Way to everyone getting enough daily bread and good health. Pursuing anything but love as Jesus Way is more than fakery, it’s downright sinful because it fails to shoot for the target of love God’s got us aimed at and hurts those we do not love while chasing down personal wealth as a purported Christian goal.
This analysis works on the other items I mentioned earlier too:
We all have to believe this or that or go to hell, Jesus indicates in Matthew 25 that it is those who care for others, those who put love into action for neighbors, that inherit the Kingdom God has prepared for us. Jesus mentions nothing about the need to have this or that Christian belief.
The Bible as an inerrant work written by God was a notion that didn’t exist until the late 1800s. Jesus says nothing about it and neither do the Gospels.
God’s goodly created homosexuals being an evil or sin is certainly not something ever stated by Jesus, nor is it otherwise recorded in the Gospels.
And Jesus does not claim we are to despise those of other faiths.
Indeed what Jesus and the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us is that we are to love all others. Jesus actually claims this means we are to even love our enemies! Love them, not find reasons to hate or exclude them. As Paul said, love does no harm to a neighbor. No. Harm.
Any, any, any church practice which is not aimed at the target of love is pseudo-Christianity because it is a practice not founded upon the life, teachings or actions of Jesus, nor is it aimed toward love.
So here’s the thing, we are about to have communion. In many churches the Lord’s Table has what theologians call fences around it, that is there are bars to whom is invited and to who may partake. In some churches you have to believe this or that or be this or that to even have communion. Jesus had and has no such bar to his table or to His community. His meal practice was open to all. It IS open to all.
This is Jesus’ table and here in this church Jesus’ table remains as Jesus of the Gospels started it, open as open can be. There are no fences to communion here. None. Not a member of this church, you are invited and welcome. Poor? Rich? Sick? Healthy? Hungry? Fed? Criminal? Law Abiding? Stranger? Local? Old? Young? Non-Christian? Christian? You are invited and welcome just as you are. Why? because we take very seriously God’s aiming us toward love. We aim toward doing no harm to a neighbor. We aim toward loving God and our neighbors and ourselves. This is no pseudo-Christian table. It is the Lord of inclusive, no strings attached Love’s table.
And always anywhere, everywhere there is a Lord’s Table, Jesus meant it to be open to you, to me, to us, to EVERYONE. God’s love has NO strings attached and worship and communion in this Sacred and Holy place are meant to reflect just that. May our daily living reflect that as well. AMEN.
2. Bibleworks 9, Strongs 2556 –kakos– defined.
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