Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Right Time to Love

[This message was shared earlier today during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 14:1-14
Imagine a scene with me. You walk outside the church building this morning toward our parking lot and look across Congress Park to see a man about 6’5” tall, muscular, weighing about 250 pounds, throw a toddler violently and abruptly a distance of some ten feet. When the child lands on the pavement of the sidewalk across the street, she appears to be shaken up and bruised. She cries.

What would you do in this situation? What should you do?

If you’re a Christian, your answer to these questions should be rooted in your identity as a baptized child of God, a disciple of Jesus. As such, your response ought to reflect the love of God, a love that saves us by grace through faith in Christ, whether we deserve being saved or not. (By the way, none of us deserves it.) Christians are the grateful recipients of the ultimate act of love: God becoming human, bearing the death sentence for sin that we deserve despite His own sinlessness, and giving new and everlasting life to all who repent and believe in Him. As Romans 5:8 tells us, “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

When Christ comes to live in believers in Him, we are set free to love God and love others the way Christ loves us. 

So, as you see the big man throw the little baby, the love of Christ should inform your response. 

But what is the loving response?

And speaking of that, what exactly is love? 

The world offers all sorts of definitions. 

Many of these definitions are rooted in the idea of affection. If you feel affection for someone, the world says, that's love.

For example, people say that you ought to be able to marry whoever you love, whoever you have affection for, whatever their gender or yours. 

That’s true legally. Society allows that.

But what does God think? Well, when Jesus, who lived in a Roman-dominated world in which homosexual and bisexual behaviors were far more prevalent and accepted than they are today, spoke about marriage, He always assumed that the covenant of marriage involved a husband and a wife. When Jesus is asked a question about divorce, He cites Genesis and says: “ the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” (Mark 10:6-9)

So, if Jesus is telling us that some affections people may form for each other are contrary to God's will and plan for human beings, what is God’s definition of love? 

The writer and scholar C.S. Lewis considered that question in reading the Bible and gave what I think is an accurate summary of what God calls love as revealed in His Word, the Bible: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

In other words, from God’s vantage point, love is willing and doing that which is best for the other person: Best for them not just for today but for all eternity, best for them spiritually even more than financially or emotionally.

Love has little to do with how we or others feel about people and everything to do with seeking what is best for them, even when it costs us, even when it's inconvenient

It’s a love that does not come naturally to we human beings, a love that God implants in those willing to daily surrender their lives and wills to the One Who died and rose for us. 

Such love may sometimes incite us to say or do unpleasant things to protect people from physical or eternal dangers. 

Love tells a child to stay away from the fire for fear of the child being burned. 

Love also tells a child to keep sex for marriage for fear of emotional and eternal dangers. 

The apostle Paul told the first-century-Christians at Phillippi to let the transplanted love from Christ fill them, even when doing so brings pain, rejection, or misunderstanding, as it did to Jesus Himself. “In your relationships with one another,’ Paul says, “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” 

And that is what love is. Love is servanthood to God and to others in the name of Jesus Christ, Who saves us from sin and death. It confidently loves and serves others in Jesus’ name even when it puts people’s goodwill or our lives at risk, knowing that because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and because of His empty tomb, we belong to God forever!

In the past, I’ve preached several sermons (which I’m sure you all remember) on the last eight verses of today’s gospel lesson. Today, I want to focus on just the first six, Luke 14:1-6. It tells us what it means to love as Christ loves in our everyday lives. Take a look at the passage now, please.

Verse 1: “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” 

In the preceding chapter of Luke, we’re told that Jesus violated the Pharisees’ sensibilities when, on a sabbath day, He did the work of bringing miraculous healing to a woman suffering from a crippling disease. At that time, Jesus asked the Pharisees whether “this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, [should not] be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:16)* 

Jesus was saying that, whether on the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s God’s will that we live in the freedom of His grace to serve God and others in His name. The Pharisees are unmoved and instead, as today’s gospel lesson begins, have their eyes fixed on Jesus, wondering if He will once more do God’s will in defiance of their expectations. 

There's a lot of their attitude in the world and in the Church these days. People expect the God we meet in Jesus to conform to their expectations and standards. 

Some people, though they would never say it, want to out-holy God. They're like Jonah in the Old Testament who didn't want to go to Nineveh for fear that if he spread the message of God's condemnation for their sin among the Ninevites, they might repent and be saved by God. He was disappointed when that happened, angry that God didn't do His God-business the way he thought God should. 

Other people, advocates for their favorite sins, parse Scripture to show how God agrees with them. 

Our call as human beings is to submit to the gracious lordship of Jesus not so we can make God conform to our image of Him, but so that God can go to work conforming us to His image. Seeing God in the flesh in Jesus, the Pharisees didn't like that idea very much. Do we?
Verse 2: “There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body.” The word used of the suffering man’s condition in the original Greek involves an inflammation of his extremities, likely caused by congestive heart failure. Jesus decides to use this as a teachable moment. So, He turns to the Pharisees gathered for dinner in verse 3: “Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.”

Jesus’ question wasn’t a hard one. But the Pharisees didn’t answer. They preferred a God and a faith tethered to their rules, expectations, and beliefs, rather than having a living God Who sets us free to do God’s loving will. 

Luke says that Jesus took hold of the sick man, healed him, and then released Him. Jesus pulled the man to Himself, then set him free. That's what Jesus wants to do for us and it's precisely what He does every time He calls us to confession and pronounces His forgiveness, His absolution, over us.

The Pharisees aren't impressed with Jesus' healing of the man, it seems. They might not have minded Jesus performing such an act of love on any other day of the week. But they thought Jesus had no business doing so on the Sabbath.

Verse 5: “Then [Jesus] asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And [again] they had nothing to say.”

Love is servanthood to God and to others in the name of Jesus Christ, Who saves us from sin and death

And the right time to live out that love is every moment of every day

When the love of God invades our lives, it will cause us to do things like...
  • speak and work against injustice, 
  • share the good news of new life through faith in Jesus, 
  • help with disaster relief, 
  • pray for those who hate us, 
  • sacrifice for our kids as well as discipline them, and 
  • speak uncomfortable and unwelcome truths to friends in hopes of bringing them help, safety, or salvation.
And what about the brute who threw the baby in the imagined scene on Congress Park? Well, imagine that a split second after the man threw the baby to the sidewalk on the other side of the street, an RTA bus goes speeding by. The man wasn’t harming the child; he was saving the child who had somehow wandered out into the road. The man put himself at risk to save the child. 

That, friends, is love.

It’s a love that reflects the love of God Himself for us as seen on the cross. 

True story: A man was flirting with an affair with a woman from work. 

A friend, like Jesus pulling the sick man to Himself in today’s gospel lesson or the burly man in our illustration flinging the baby to safety, pulled the man aside and told the man bluntly, “Don’t do this. Don't do this.” 

The man was angry. He railed at his friend. “How dare you tell me what to do? You’re not perfect.” 

His friend didn’t rail back. He allowed as how he wasn’t perfect, how he made mistakes, how he committed sin, how he, to his regret and pain, had committed the very sin against which he was now trying to warn his friend. As a Christian, chastened by that experience, he tried to turn away from his sin and turn to God each day. He was only giving his friend what he thought was loving counsel. In Paul’s phrase, the friend spoke “the truth in love.” 

What truths are we willing to tell others in love and gentleness? 

What boats are we willing to rock to lovingly serve neighbor, friend, relative, spouse, parent, child, stranger, foreigner, immigrant? 

Are we willing to love our neighbor even when the time does not seem right?

These are the questions Jesus lays before us today. May we, as Jesus’ disciples, already saved from sin and death by Him, choose this day, 
in the power of the Holy Spirit, to love and serve others in His name. Amen

*The woman Jesus heals in Luke 13, followed by teaching on humility, and His healing of the man in this passage from Luke 14, followed by teaching on humility, exemplify Luke's characteristic pairing of incidents involving women and men throughout his gospel. Sometimes he contrasts their faith responses. At other times, their responses affirm one another's and underscore God's faithfulness. For example, early in the gospel, Zechariah is told by an angel that he will become the father of John the Baptist and doubts, while Mary is told by angel that she will give birth to Jesus and accepts the message. In the temple in Jerusalem, where the baby Jesus is taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised at eight days old, two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, separately affirm that the child is the Messiah-Savior of the world.