given on Sunday, September 20, 2015–third and final of series
Scripture lesson: Romans 13:8-14, NLT
Love Fulfills God’s Requirements
8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Reflection: Theological Virtue #3: Love. Love is a verb.
“But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself, which is at the very center of the concentric circles. There it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.” –John Wesley via Hal Knight’s article, “Zealous for What? The Choicest Zeal”
Two weeks ago, the weather was dripping-sweat hot, the fair was winding down and Labor Day promised a brief respite before the regular workweek resumed. That Sunday the sermon’s theme was the theological virtue faith and last Sunday it was hope. Today the virtue is love, the third and final one.
Love is a commonly used topic in sermons, so the challenge is how to identify the topic as a habit or a lasting attitude that defines a Christian. Remember, that is how the lectionary commentary defined virtue. For Christians, love is a habit, but it is a habit of action not simply an emotion.
Love is a verb. Christians establish a relationship with God and can express that relationship as faith. Confessing one’s belief in God, though, is just the beginning of a Christian’s journey with God.
Once in a relationship, one hopes for a deeper relationship. Hope must become a purposeful effort to deepen one’s knowledge and practice of Christian principles. One must dare to hope, to study scripture, to worship in Christian community, and to live that faith daily deepens the relationship with God.
Being able to declare one’s faith and daring to deepen the relationship with God, leads Christians to the third virtue love. Love is the action that Christians demonstrate toward others. Love is a habit that moves the Christian off the sofa and into the community to serve as God’s agent.
Mother Teresa, now declared a saint by the Pope, provided a vivid example of the modern Christian. She demonstrated her faith by doing, by providing hope to the poorest, the sickest, and the lost through her loving actions.
“Faith in action is love—and love in action is service,” Mother Teresa said. Not only did she say it, she lived it. Faith, hope and love defined Mother Teresa throughout her servant life.
John Wesley certainly would agree with this saint. His focus in ministry became serving one another. He did not care who needed what, if he could find a way to provide it, he did.
Much less, Wesley developed the methods for Christians to use as they developed their relationship with God or faith; and continued to deepen the relationship be expecting accountability to a small group. These practices opened the hearts of the followers to serve one another; to love one another. Love is an action; love is a verb.
Love has one of the strongest meanings as a noun, but love as a verb must be a practice. Of course, love, the noun, certainly creates all types of images of human relationships, but love as a verb puts one’s faith into action.
Hal Knight studies Wesley and is an authority on him. The quote from his recent article in The Missouri Methodist shares Wesley’s viewpoint about being zealous for God: “But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself. . . “
Knight explains Wesley’s zeal using the image of concentric circles, like when the water’s surface becomes when a fish jumps or a stone is thrown in. He explains:
Wesley asks us to envision a number of concentric circles, each representing something deserving our Christian zeal. The closer to the center of the circle they are, the more they should elicit our zeal.
In the outmost circle is the church. Every Christian should be zealous “for the church universal, praying for it continually,” and especially for his or her own local church.
. . . Even more than the church, Christians should be zealous for praying, “for the Lord’s Supper, for reading, hearing and meditating on his work, and for the much neglected duty of fasting.”
But more than these, the Christian should be zealous for the works of mercy which constitute the next circle.
Any work of mercy is love in action. Love is a verb and Wesley placed the importance of serving in the center of the circles because without works of mercy, God is absent in the community. The UMC website identifies Wesley’s works of mercy:
Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor
Each decision we make personally and collectively as a church must answer to Wesley’s theology. Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another.
Living one’s faith openly is challenging in this 21st century. As was explained by Jeremiah in Lamentations, we must examine our ways and test them. We must put our ways to the test so Saint Mother Teresa and John Wesley can see that our Christian faith is in action as we serve one another, as we want to be served.
Knowing whether one is living with God in the center of their life is challenging. The world around us seems to through roadblocks at us all the time, but we take courage in God, too. He loves us, as he wants to be loved. The more we practice, the better we become. Wesley does give us one more test to see whether or not love is a verb in our life:
“. . . our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself . . . it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.”
Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another. Stop and examine yourself. Is you relationship with God strong enough that it fills your whole heart and it overflows in loving one another. Is love a verb in your life?
Dear Omnipotent God,
Love is a verb that you demonstrate repeatedly.
We dare to hope others see your love through us.
May faith be more than a word but a relationship.
Let us work in community to serve one another.
Let us share our faith with all we meet.
Let us invite others to dare to hope, also.
Thank you for the wisdom of words
Not only in scripture but from others
Who love God enough to share with others.
May we be your love in action today. Amen