Come-unity: Don’t fake it!

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 31, 2014.

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

What is the primary motivation behind God’s mission (God’s redemptive work) initiated by Christ and carried on by the Church? Human guilt or Godly love? Your answer to that question will impact how you reach out to and interact with the world. Is the world primarily loved or guilty? I think God, first, loves the world (c.f. John 3:16-17).  And, that love should define who how we interact with each other and the world God so loves and came to set right (save).

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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Can you tell a fake?  Can you tell the difference between something that is real or not?  A Rolex, a twenty-dollar bill, a smile?  Can you tell the difference between a forgery and an original?  The fact of the matter is, sometimes we are and sometimes we aren’t.  Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference.  Sometimes it’s really easy.

In our reading for today, Paul urges the church to stop faking it and start living the love they claim to have received.  His concern, I think, is that it’s easy for people to tell when we’re not being sincere in trying to live out our most basic beliefs.

The core of the Christian faith tells us that God’s love for the world changes things.  And, yet, if that be the case, then why doesn’t the church (broadly speaking) look any different from the world around it?  We can say we are many things but the proof of what we truly are is in how we act.  If love is the defining attribute of our faith, then we’ve got to start living it.

We can’t fake it.

“Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9a, New Revised Standard Version), writes Paul.  It “should be shown without pretending” (Romans 12:9a, Common English Bible).  “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it” (Romans 12:9a, The Message).

It’s interesting to note that there are at least two ways to translate the first half of this morning’s reading.  We can understand verses 9-13 to be a laundry lists of do’s and don’ts or it can be translated as a list describing what it means to love genuinely, without pretending.  Grammatically speaking (in the Greek), either translation is acceptable.  Given the greater context of Paul trying to help the community live in unity, I would tend toward the second reading:

9          Genuine love is:
abhorring the evil; clinging to the good.
10        being affectionate to one another in brotherly love.
outdoing one another in honor,
11        not lagging in diligence,
being afire in the Spirit,
serving the Lord,
12        rejoicing in hope,
persevering in affliction,
being devoted to prayer,
13        contributing to the needs of the saints,
pursuing hospitality.[1]

Similar to his list in 1 Corinthians 13, this list in Romans 12 gives us a glimpse of what it means to love genuinely, without pretending, through the center of our being, without faking it.

The love Paul is speaking of is not sentimental or sensational.  Love, here, is sacrificial.   The type of love, Paul is calling for is more than a belief: this, Godly love, changes the way in which we live our lives.  Love, true and genuine, changes the way we interact with one another and the world around us.

As we love genuinely, we learn that love does not curse—not even those who harass us.  Those who truly love laugh with those who are laughing and cry with the crying.  Those who love without pretending see people as people treating everyone as equals.  Those who love unhypocritically, don’t think of themselves as better than anyone; meaning, they often associate with those whom are forgotten by society.  Those who let love guide them “don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good” (Romans 12:17,Common English Bible).

Loving like this isn’t for the faint of heart.  It’s not always going to be easy or emotionally satisfying.  To love those who are different from you… Paul, in our reading for last week talked about the community being like a body.  To love the bad breathed mouth, to love the sweaty underarms, to love the stinky feet takes a great deal of effort and self-sacrifice.  Resist the urge to fake it.  You can’t.  Be sincere.  Love genuinely.

Live in peace.

Over the past two weeks we’ve considered the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 133:1, New Revised Standard Version) “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”  We’ve talked about what it might look like for unity to come in community.  Two weeks ago, we talked about how messy and miraculous unity is when diverse peoples live together.  Last week, we discussed the importance of finding our place in community—how everyone has an important part to play (even the anuses!) in making the community strong.  We’ve prayed relentlessly that unity might come through community.  Today, in our final week, we get the terms of the contract.

For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about what unity in community looks like.  Today, Paul tells us how we are to act if unity is to come in community: love genuinely; don’t fake it.

A recent study exposed that 87% of Americans view Christians as judgmental.  That number is probably a bit low considering that the research also suggests that 91% say Christians are anti-homosexual which seems to fall under the judgmental category to me.  People can tell when we’re being authentic or not.  They can tell the difference between the mockery we sometimes call church and the life-giving, grace-filled community Christ calls us to live into.

Therefore, love genuinely.  Don’t fake it.  People really can tell the difference.

Love genuinely.  Don’t fake it.

Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.

18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. [2]

Strive toward these things and unity will surely come to this community.

Let’s pray.

God, join us together once more that unity might come to this community.  Give us a common vision.  Help us find our place that we might find value in the work you set before us.  And, with you at the center of our lives, may we live in peace.  Loving God, you’ve shown us what it means to love, you’ve shown us the way that leads to unity and peace, may we now live into it.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

[1] “Exegetical Perspective: Romans 12:9-21” by Christopher R. Hutson in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p17.

[2] Romans 12:9b-21, Common English Bible.