(From Romans 5:1-5)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The Book of Romans, Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, was Paul’s Opus letter. It is the longest and the most comprehensive in its theology of all the Pauline Letters. It represents the culmination of Paul’s reflection upon and understanding of the gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus, his personal faith, and his practice of ministry and mission. It was Paul’s strong desire to preach the gospel in the churches of Rome, churches that Paul did not found, and to fold them into the flock of his Christian converts. By way of a personal introduction, Paul sent this letter to Rome through a sister in Christ and co-worker in the faith named Phoebe. He hoped to whet the spiritual appetites of the Roman churches with this letter ahead of his planned visit to Rome. He then planned to continue his journey in mission into Spain and the regions to the west, spreading the gospel message, making new Disciples of Christ Jesus, and building inroads toward transforming the world of his time.
Paul knew well the transformative power of our Triune God within his own life. The love and grace of God the Creator was revealed to Paul through Christ Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer, on the road to Damascus. As Saul the Pharisee, he was going with writs of condemnation for followers of the “Way” of Jesus. He encountered the risen Lord Jesus on that road, and his own stalwart heart of allegiance to Jewish Laws and practices was transformed into a new heart of love. Thus, Saul the Pharisee became Paul the Apostle of Christ Jesus through this experience of our living Lord. The flame of the Holy Spirit Paul received upon his conversion blazed so powerfully within him, that he felt compelled to share the life-changing gospel of the love of Jesus throughout all the regions of his known world. Paul was determined, under the power and continual guidance of the Holy Spirit, to live the love of Jesus he had received toward others, and to build the eternal “kindom” of God everywhere that his missionary ventures would carry him.
This week, our East Ohio Conference held its Annual Conference sessions. Not surprising to the times in which we are living, the theme of this year’s event was titled “Live Love”. The scriptural foundation for this year’s theme was taken from 1John 4: 7-13, which states:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
In this passage, we immediately find the same eternal truth of God’s love for us, as revealed in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus, which Paul described in our lesson from Romans for today. It reminds us that the atoning love and grace of God in Christ, is offered to us because God first loved us. We know love because of we have experienced the love of God in the person of Christ Jesus. Therefore, we are admonished to live this precious gift of God’s atoning love for us by offering love to others-by living love.
As Bishop Malone reminded us this week, it feels good to say that we love others, and it feels right to say we love others; but truly loving others is about a lot more than thoughts and feelings-loving others is work-hard and vigilant daily work. It doesn’t happen once for life, for true love is a verb, an action word, and not a noun. True love is the love we act out whether or not we “feel” like loving. That is the love of Jesus. This love does not insist on having things its way, but it bears all things, and believes in the possibility of all good things, because all things are possible with God. Possible, dear friends does not mean easy, but it does mean that with God good things can be done.
Guest speaker, Rev. Dr. Michael Beck, shared with us a story about working with some children in Africa. A large basket of fruit of many kinds was place by a tree. All of the children were lined up some distance from the fruit and tree and given these instructions: “When I say ‘go,’ the first one to the tree will receive the basket of fruit.” Dr. Beck was surprised to see that when he said go, the children all joined hands and walked together to the tree. When the children were asked why they walked together when any one of them could have run to the tree and won the whole basket for themselves, they replied “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu is an African saying that literally means “I am, because you are.” It celebrates the connectedness we share with one another-and demonstrates the loving and mutually caring mindset these young children possessed. We could all learn a life-lesson from them. With their spirit of sharing and mutuality, they were living love.
Bishop Malone reminded us of the divisive times in which we are living. Political, socio-economic, racial, ethnic, cultural and religious differences have found their expression in acts of, separatism, violence and hate. “Ubuntu” does not state that I am because you are like me, think like me, look like me or believe like me-I am, because you are-period. You and I are inextricably connected by the love of our Creator. We were created in love and for love. We are each a precious creation of God, in all of our diversity. No one deserves more honor and respect than any other person, for we are all equally loved and valued by God. Not one of us stands worthy of greater love, peace or access to quality of living in God’s kingdom than others-I am, because you are, and we need to be living the very love we have so graciously received from God in Christ. It is hard work, and that is why we are not left alone and to our own devices on this journey. The Holy Spirit, the third person of our Triune God that we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday, is our helper. The Spirit is our Advocate and Comforter, but also the one who convicts us of sin and selfishness, and calls us to find better ways of both being and living the love of Christ in the world. It has been said that the greatest journey begins with just one step, so let us begin a new journey of living love today by taking one big step. Let us each remember “Ubuntu”—I am because you are—we are connected. If you are not made whole, then neither I am truly whole. The total body suffers when any one member suffers pain, whether it be the pain of physical harm or emotional and spiritual injury. Brothers and sisters, let us remember this day that we are all one body in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior; who is one with God the Creator and one with the Holy Spirit who Sustains us. We were created in love and redeemed for love; so let us go forth to truly live love. Let God’s people say, Amen!