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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
17 Pentecost - Proper 18
September 7, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
No  one  likes  to  be  in  debt.  It’s  not  comfortable  to  “owe”  other  people  or  to  
“owe”  creditors.  Everyone   prefers  to  be  free  of  that.  /  You  and  I  are  blessed.  
been  paid  by  Jesus  Christ.   Our  lives  are  built  on  the  richness  of  God’s  grace  
and  mercy.  Jesus  has  set  us  free  from  guilt,  from  the  endless  worry  and  loved  
and  appreciated.   Everything  of  that  nature  has  been-taken-care-of  for us  by  our  
Savior.  By  Jesus’  death  and  resurrection  –  and  by  our  baptism  into  Christ  –  
we  have  received  a  new  life,  a  debt-free  life.   We  do  not  owe  anything;  Jesus  
has  paid  our  debt.  We  are  free  to  lead  joyful  lives   because  we  live,  
unencumbered,  in  Christ,  and  Christ  lives  in  us.  

When  the  apostle  Paul  says  “owe  no  one  anything…”   we  like  the  sound  of  
that.   We  would  prefer  to  owe  no  one  anything  --  not  money,  not  hosting  
Thanksgiving  dinner  at  our  house  next  time,  not  a  really  big  favor  that  we  don’
t  know  how  to  repay.   We’re  uncomfortable  “owing”  people  things.  We’d  rather  
pay  our  own  way  and  know  that  we’ve  been  self-sufficient.   So  we  feel  good  
when  Paul  says  “owe  no  one  anything.”    This  is  especially  so  when  we  know  
that  Jesus  Christ  has  paid  our  essential  indebtedness,  and  we  are  free.   The  
guilt  that  rightfully  belongs  to  us  has  been  taken  from  us  and  shredded.    We  
don’t  owe  anything  any  more;  we  are  free  as  newborn  children  because  of  the  
mercy-of-God  in  Jesus  Christ.  

There  is  one  hitch,  though…  Paul  does  not  stop  with  saying:  “owe  no  one  
anything…”   he  goes  on  to say:  “except  to  love  one  another.”   Let’s  look  at  
the  whole  verse  --  Paul  says:  “Owe  no  one  anything  except  to  love  one  
another;  for  the  one  who  loves-another  has  fulfilled  the  law.”    Well…  when  he  
puts  it  that  way,  it  sounds  altogether  different,  doesn’t  it.  “Owe  no  one  
anything  except  to  love  one  another.”  It’s  like  saying:  “owe  no  one  anything  --   
except  the  very  best  you  have,  and   that  from  your  heart.”   

“For  the  one  who  loves  has  fulfilled  the  law…”   Talk  about  the  “law”  is  a  
conundrum  for  us  Christians.   Are  we  supposed  to  obey  the  law  or,  since  
Christ  has  set  us  free  from  sin  and  death,  do  we  now  live  apart  from  the  
law?   Paul  spends  lots  of  time  in  his  letters  writing  about  the  law  as  opposed  
to  the  Spirit,  about  living  ‘under  the  law’  in  contrast  to  living  ‘in  the  Spirit.’  
Those  of  us  who  belong  to  Christ,  Paul  says,  do  not  live  under  the  law,  but  
live  “in  the  Spirit.”   What  does  that  mean?  And  given  that  we  live  “in  the  
Spirit,”  what  role  does  the  law  play  in  our  lives  as  Christians?   //   Paul  gives  a  
pretty  good  answer  to  such  questions  in  today’s  reading  from  Romans  
thirteen.  If  we  love  one  another,  not  from  a  sense  of  heavy  obligation,  but  
born  of  the  freedom  we  have  in  Christ,  we  fulfill  the  law.   Because  we  do  not  
live  under  a  load  of  guilt,  burdened  by  wondering  if  we  are  worthy  people  --  
(God  has  claimed  us  as  God’s  own  children!)  --  we  have  peace  and  room  in  
our  hearts  to  love  one  another  as  Jesus  has  loved  us.

“Owe  no  one  anything  except  to  love  one  another.”   Okay;  that’s  at  least  
somewhat  simplified.  Instead  keeping  track  of  the whole  law  and  worry  about  
each  piece  of  it,  now  we  only  need  to  be  mindful  of  loving  one  another.    But  
what  is  love?  Do  we  understand  it  well  enough  know  how  to  “love  one  
another?”   /  The  love  Paul  is  talking  about  means  doing  good  for  others  
without  regard  for  what  they  can  do  for  you  in  return.  Love  is  a  generous  self-
giving  for  the  sake  of  the  well-being  of  the  other  person.  It  is  not  giving  so  
that  I  can  feel  better  about  myself;  it  is  not  sloppy-giving  where  what  I  give  
may  or  may  not  benefit  the  other  person.  Hopefully  it  is  not  angst-ridden  
giving  where  I  fuss  and  complain  so  much  that  I  almost  cancel  out  my  
generosity  by  my  grouchiness,  although  sometimes  that’s  the  best  I  can  do.   /  
The  love  Paul  speaks  of  is  action  taken  on  behalf  of  someone  else.   As  the  
reading  says  “Love does  no  wrong  to  a  neighbor;  therefore,  love  is  the  
fulfilling  of  the  law.”  

Noted  theologian  Douglas  John  Hall  teaches  that  in  order  for  us  truly  to  
understand  any  given  virtue,  we  need  to  know  its  opposite,  what  that  virtue  
negates.   In  teaching  this,  he  refers  to  Paul’s  three  great  Christian  virtues  -  
faith,  hope  and  love.  Scripture  makes  clear  what  each  of  these  negates.  Faith,  
according  to  Paul’s  writings,  is  the  opposite  of  ‘seeing.’  What  we  know  by  
faith  we  know  through  trust  in  God,  not  on  the  basis  of visual  evidence.   The  
apostle  Paul  has  written:  “we  walk  as  yet  by  faith  and  not  by  sight.”   Faith,
therefore  is  “not  seeing.”    Hope  negates  consummation.  What  we  hope-for  is  
something  we  do  not  yet  possess.  We  hope  for  what  still  lies  in  the  future,  
something  we  expect  God  to  bring  for  the  good  of  the  world.  It  would  not  
make  sense  to  say  we  ‘hope’  for  something  that  we  already  hold  in  our  hand,  
like  wealth  or  riches.     Love,  Dr.  Hall  says,  negates  a  number  of  things.   We
find  this  in  the  13th  chapter  of  First  Corinthians.    But the most important  thing  
love  negates   is  power.   Love  is  clearly  the  opposite  of  power  in  1st  
Corinthians  thirteen,  which  states:  “love  does  not  insist  on  its  own  way;  love  
is  not  irritable  or  resentful;  love  does  not  rejoice  in  wrongdoing,  but  rejoices  in  
the  truth.  Love  bears  all  things,  believes  all things,  hopes  all  things,  endures  all  
things…”     In  each  instance  listed,  power  would  do  just  the  opposite  --  insist  
on  its  own  way,  become  irritable  were  it  denied,  not  care  if  it  needed  to  do  
wrong  or  whether  it  upheld  the  truth…

This  type of  love  --  love  that  is  the  negation  of  power  --  comes  to  life  in  
Jesus.   Jesus  gave  up  the  power  of  divinity  to  become  human  so  that  he  
could  get  close  to us,  walk  with  us  in  our  life,  understand  our  joys  and  our  
sufferings.   Instead  of  overcoming  the  world  by  force,  God  overcame  the  world  
through  the  relative  weakness  of  love  --  sending  his  Son  to  endure  humiliation  
and  death  on  a  cross.  God  could  have  conquered  humankind  with  an  army  of  
avenging  angels,  but  God  chose  to  work   through  humbleness  and  mercy  
instead.   Jesus  set  aside  power-over-us  and  chose  to  be  among  us  as  one  
who  loves.  Having  power  would  have  protected  Jesus;  choosing  love  left  him  
vulnerable.     What  an  amazing  thing  to  do  for  us.   

“Owe  no  one  anything”  Paul  tells  us,  “except  to  love  one  another.”   How  
could  we  not  love  one  another,  freely-flowing  love  coming  from  a  well-spring  
of  gratitude  in  our  hearts,  when  we  know  what  Jesus  has  done  for  us?   Who  
else  would  have  gladly  and  completely  put  aside  power  in  order  to  love  us?   
Who  else  would  have  swapped  the  strength  of  power  for  the  vulnerability  of  
love   --  in  a  world  where  people  get  slaughtered  --   so  he  could  be  near  
enough  to  tell  us  about  God’s  goodness?    Who  else  would  willingly  face  a  
horrible  death  so  that  he  could  give  us  everlasting  life?  How  could  we  not  
respond  by  loving  one  another  for  Jesus’  sake?    This  is  what  Paul  is  talking  
about  when  he  says  to  owe  no  one  anything   but  to  love  --  always  to  love  
each  other  as  God  has  loved  us  in  Jesus.

There  have  been  some  new  biographies  and  articles  written  recently  about  
Mother  Teresa.  For  years  the  world  has  known  what  an  amazing  person  she  
was,  how  she  gave  her  entire  life  to  God,  serving  Jesus  Christ  tirelessly  all  
her  days.  The  human  community  has  claimed  her  as  a  saint  for  her  work  
nursing  the  poorest  and  most  desperate  people  in  Calcutta,  India.  Mother  
Teresa  made  her  home  among  the  “untouchables,”  members  of  the  lowest  
caste  in  a  culture  trying  to end  it’s  strict  “class”  structure.  But  for  centuries  
the  untouchables  have  been  shunned  by  respectable  people  and  old  habits  are  
hard  to  break.  With  minimal  resources  Mother  Teresa  and  her  helpers  cared  for  
the  untouchables  --   sick,  injured  and  abandoned  --  tending  their  wounds,  
dispensing  medicines,  giving  them  shelter,  comforting  them,  and  most  
important,  letting  them  know  that  someone  cared,  that  God  loved  them.  Mother  
Teresa  herself  lived  humbly   --  sleeping  on  a  mat  in  a  small  room  in  the  same  
building  where  she  cared  for  the  sick,  without  air  conditioning  or  heat,  without  
running  water…  can  you  imagine?   She  was  not  someone  who  had  to  live  that  
way.  No  one  forced  her  to  undertake  this  work;  she  had  options,  but  Mother  
Teresa  chose  to  live  with  the  poor  and  the  despised  as  her  way  of  serving  
Jesus  Christ.  By  loving  those  deemed  to  be  the  least  loveable  –  those  most  in  
need  –  she  showed  her  thanks  and  praise  to  Jesus.  

But  recently  it  has  been  revealed  that  Mother  Teresa  endured  great  spiritual  
loneliness  during  the  last  thirty  or  forty  years  of  her  life.  Although  she  prayed,  
read  her  Bible,  worshiped  daily,  and  served  Christ  with  her  whole  being,  she  
could  not  sense  Jesus’  presence.  Over  the  course  of  all  those  years  she  did  
not  feel  God’s  nearness  or  hear  God  speak  to  her;  she  did  not  have  the  warm  
sensation  of  the  Holy  Spirit  beside  her  or  within  her  to  uphold  her.   Her  hands  
did  God’s  work,  her  mouth  spoke  Jesus’  words,  but  she  could  neither  feel  nor  
hear  the  presence  of  her  Lord.   This  emptiness  brought  pain  and  loneliness  to  
her  spirit  --  God’s  great  champion  did  not  receive  the  comfort  of  knowing  
Jesus’  nearness.   Regardless,  she  continued  to  love  others  with  her  words  and  
by  her  deeds,  teaching  about  God’s  saving  grace  and  being  Jesus  to  them.    
Her  personal  sorrows  did  not  make  her  waver  in  faithfulness.  The  fact  of  
Mother  Teresa’s  spiritual  struggles  simply  makes  her  witness  and  her  work  the  
more  amazing.

Whatever  lives  we  lead,  whatever  opportunities  of  service  you  and  I  have,  we,  
too,  are  called  upon  to  love  one  another  as  Christ  has  loved  us.  We  do  not  
owe  anyone  anything.    We  do  not  live  under  the  burden  of  having  to  pay  the  
debt  of  our  guilt  --  God  has  wiped  away  our  sins  in  Jesus  Christ;  we  don’t  
have  to  toil  to  show  that  we  really  are  worthwhile  human  beings --  God  has  
claimed  us  as  his  beloved  children;  we  don’t  have  to  demonstrate  that  there  is  
a  purpose  for  our  being  here  on  earth  -- God  has  created  us  to  praise  and  
serve  him.   We  don’t  owe  anyone  anything  in  that  sense  because  Jesus  Christ  
has  taken  our  debts  onto  himself  and  made  us  free.   So  we  rejoice  to  hear  
Paul  say  “owe  no  one  anything”  --  that’s  right!   But  we  also  remember  how  
Paul  concludes  his  instruction:  “except  to  love  one  another.”   

Owe  no  one  anything  except  to  love  one  another.   We  don’t  owe  each  other  
anything,  except  all  we  have,  our  very  best,  given  graciously,  freely,  gladly  --  
as  Christ  as  given  himself  to  us.  We  are  not  in  debt,  but  we  owe  love  to  one  
another  because  of  how  greatly  we  are  loved.  It  is  a  joyous-giving  to  love  one  
another,  because  our  whole  lives  are  nourished  and  sustained  by  love,  God’s  
love  poured  out  upon  us  and  wrapped  around  us  in  the  constancy  of  the  
Son,  Jesus  Christ.                                amen.   
Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20