“A Beacon of Faith is Also a Person Watched”

Romans 13:8-14

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

September 7, 2014

 

We live in a coastal area and have our own lighthouse—Ponce Intlet.  Lighthouses are popular even though they have been replaced with newer technology.

 

My first encounter with a lighthouse that I am aware of is the Hatteras Lighthouse.  I went there as a young teenager with my parents and sister who was pregnant with her first child and my first niece.  Some of the things I remember are--I got sunburned really bad, and I remember I couldn’t straighten my legs.  We went to the lighthouse and after climbing the steps to the top twice, my legs were straight and I was good to go!  The next thing was the stories of the shipwrecks.  I think there were some partially hidden wrecks in the sand.  I learned that the lighthouse was to warn the sailors about the dangerous water, so they could avoid being shipwrecked.  That trip started my liking and collecting lighthouses.  I climb to the top of all the ones I can.

The beacon is there to be seen and used to be safe.  From our house, on a clear night, we can see the light of the Ponce Intlet Lighthouse.  Perhaps you can also.  A beacon is a point of reference to guide people from one place to another.

 

Love—the love that God exhibits; not the emotion so often displayed today—is the identity marker of the Christian community.  Love is the beacon showing the way and it is the description of the Christian community and the Christians who belong to it.   This love defines the Christian community and is its measuring rod.  Love defines the attitude of the people of faith.  Love describes the behavior of the people of faith.

 

The Christian mystics said that this love has two feet—love of God and love of neighbor.  It isn’t an order; that is, that in order to love your neighbor you must first love God.  Rather, it is that the love of God is simultaneously inseparable from the love of neighbor.  This is because God is the neighbor.  Eugene Peterson in The Message writes the first part of John’s Gospel to say that Jesus Christ became flesh and moved into the neighborhood!  Loving God and loving neighbor are the two feet that Paul talks about here in Romans.

 

This love is not confined to the church but extends out beyond the walls to embrace the people of creation.  Neighbors are not just the people gathered with you here this morning.  Neighbors are not just the ones on either side of your house or apartment or in front of it or in back of it.  Jesus expanded that notion to include all of the people of creation.  Today, with globalization, the neighborhood takes in a lot of people!  God calls us to love all of the people of creation—and that is a very difficult task given the hatred and provocation in today’s world!  At least it is for me, and I imagine it is for you as well!

 

Why is this love so powerful?  Why is it more powerful that the power of law?

 

Laws are useful.  Laws set the standards and boundaries of acceptable behavior.  Laws make it easier to live together efficiently.  Laws protect people from being harmed by others.

 

But, what the law can’t accomplish, love can.  Love changes or transforms the heart.  When one is empowered to love God and neighbor, there is no need to keep monitoring to see if someone is doing what the law requires.  To put it another way, the one who loves the neighbors does what is good for them.  In concrete terms, loving the neighbor—doing what is good for the neighbor—is love incarnate in the real world doing justice and being in right relationships with them.

 

This love’s mission is to transform the world, and that seems like an overwhelming task.  But, Paul makes it more manageable for us.  We start where we are.  We begin with our neighbors—both inside the church and outside.

 

For Paul, love has very little to do with emotion.  For him it is more about love in action.  Look at his examples.  They have more to do with behavior than feelings--don’t break the marriage vows; don’t murder, steal, or covet.

 

Our neighbors—those inside the church and those outside—will know we love them by the way we treat them!  Our actions will speak louder than any sentimental greeting card we can send them!  We are to live out our love for people each and every day--acting lovingly toward our families, toward our friends, acting lovingly toward our enemies, acting lovingly toward the clerk in the store, our boss at work, etc.

 

We become the beacon for others and people to be watched when we live out our love for God and the people of creation.  Jesus told his disciples to be found working when he returns.  Putting it another way, it is only as we live out our love each day that we will be prepared when Christ returns.  It is through our living out God’s love each day—and people are watching—that people will know about Jesus Christ and want to be transformed themselves.  We are to make no secret of our faith.  We are to live so everyone can see clearly who we are.