By Rev’d Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
Today’s reading from the 13th chapter of Romans has been working on me all week. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not commit murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Romans 8-11
The Bible is full of wonderful wordplay in its original language. When it is translated into English, we often lose the wordplay involved in different passages. But today, I hear a wonderful and important word play in our own language from the Epistle reading.
“Owe to no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
“One another” can also be heard as “one: an other”
“The Other” is an important concept for those of us who follow Jesus. Time and time again, we hear of Jesus crossing boundaries and Jesus ministering to and with people who had been “othered” by proper religious people.
Jesus calls us to love “the other.” To love “an other.” To love one:an-other.
To fulfill God’s law, we are called to love “the other.”
Take a moment to think about: Who is “the other” in my life right now?
There are the obvious:
People who rub me the wrong way
People who don’t look like me
People who behave differently from me
People from different countries, who speak different languages than me
People who have a different amount of wealth than I do
And then there are the less obvious “others”,
the ones that are sometimes harder for me to love.
“The other” in my life right now is also:
The one who has a yard sign or flag that offends me
The one who is making different choices about COVID safety
The one who relies on different news sources
The one who supports the opposite political candidates
Oof. We are called to love these “others” in order to fulfill God’s law.
I don’t like to hear that.
In my worst moments, I want to hold onto my righteous indignation, and my belief that I am right and they are wrong. I would rather write those others off as “bad people” instead of facing the truth and seeing them as beloved children of God.
Today’s reading from Romans does not stop with the reminder that loving an “other” is the way to fulfill God’s law. Paul goes on to tell us, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
It is time for us to wake from sleep.
To wake from the sleep that we’re all alike.
To wake from the sleep that things are just naturally going to turn out alright.
To wake from the sleep that our individual lives do not have the power to change the world.
One of the side-effects of this pandemic and the horror house ride that is the year 2020 is that many more of us are being shaken awake from our sleep.
We are waking to the reality of systemic and institutional racism.
We are waking to the reality of gun violence
We are waking to the reality of the technical divide:
how those who already have the least are getting left behind in school and work
We are waking to the reality that our society is very, very broken.
But the joy in this, the hope in this, is that, as Paul says, “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
The hope in the midst of “becoming woke” is that we now can see more clearly. We can now see clearly enough to address the ways that we ourselves are broken. We can see clearly enough to reach out to “the other” and invite them into the difficult work of healing and wholeness too.
But addressing our own brokenness and then offering healing and wholeness to others is not like a shiny band-aid we can slap over the way we currently are. No. Facing our brokenness and offering healing and wholeness requires heart-wrenching, exhausting, and sometimes humiliating work.
As we awake, we begin to see the depth of brokenness in ourselves and our society.
And if we dare stay awake,
we are called to engage in the embarrassing act of naming and claiming the ways that we ourselves are broken and have caused pain.
we are called to understand God’s desire for us and our world by digging more deeply into scripture study and prayer.
we are called to listen to and learn from the “others” in our world…to prioritize the life stories and interpretations of those who have been marginalized in our society.
we are called to amendment of life, over and over and over again.
Even though we continue to be a socially distanced community this fall, St. Luke’s has 4 resources for us to do this work. I pray that you will engage in one or more of these possibilities:
1. Bible Study: Starting this Tuesday at 7pm, we will have a one-hour weekly online Bible Study on the lessons for the following Sunday. Attend when you are able. Participating in this study will help you get more clear about the life and teachings of Jesus, and about how God wants you to live your own life.
2. Sacred Ground Faith and Race Group: Starting Monday September 28th, we will begin a monthly 90-minute online Sacred Ground group. Over the year, this group will read two books “Jesus and the Disinherited” and “Waking up White.” Between each session, we will watch documentaries and read articles about the intersection of faith and race. This group will help us face some difficult truths in our own lives, in the history of the US, and in what is going on in our country today. Registration is free, but required. See your Friday announcements or contact me for more information.
3. Prayer Fence: St. Luke’s will be inviting “the other” into prayer with us this fall as we transform our chain link fence on Hillandale into a prayer wall. During the month of September, we will create a space that will invite people to write a prayer and tie it to our fence. Over the fall, these prayers will grow and create the words “Hope” and “Love” as a testament to all who drive by. This will be an “outward and visible sign” of all sorts of people being able to share prayers together.
4. Working with Neighboring Episcopal Congregations: St. Luke’s members are invited to get to know “others” even from within our own denomination as we partner with St. Titus and El Buen Pastor in two projects. The first is our Good News Vegetable Garden project coordinated by Mary Beth Berkley. And the other is an invitation from St. Titus and El Buen Pastor to become part of their monthly food distribution. In these ways, we invest ourselves in feeding those who are hungry while also building relationships with people who have had different life experiences than ours.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one: an other.”
What commitment will you make this fall to living into this command to Love One: An Other? and to the healing of the world and of your own soul?