They will know we are Christian by our Love.

During the sixties and seventies, you could be assured, at any of the “new” contemporary guitar masses, you would eventually be singing, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love by our love.” According to this morning’s reading from Romans, if St. Paul had been alive during the sixities, this would have been his theme song, for as declares this morning, the act of loving our neighbor is the fulfillment of the Law.
 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another for those who have loved have fulfilled the Law.” 
What Paul has done is what many scholars would call reductionism, the act of reducing scripture to a single line. In this case, St Paul has reduced the 613 commandments given by God to Moses into one simple line, “love one another.” St. Paul, however is not alone in this act of reductionism. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus adheres to this Levitical tradition when asked by the Pharisees what the greatest of the laws are by stating, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all you mind. This is the first commandment and the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the laws and the profits.” (Matthew 22, Mark 12)
 What are Jesus and St. Paul talking about when they talk about loving our neighbor? When we see the word love in the New Testament our English translations fail us. In Greek, the word love is used to translate three different words; eros, which is romantic love, philos, the love shared between two friends and agape” which in the King James translation is translated as charity, as in the concern for another. Most often when St. Paul uses the word love, he is referring to agape’. A more accurate translation of this morning’s opening line could read, “be bound to no one for anything, except to for being charitable to one another, for those who are charitable to others have fulfilled the Law.”
In the second verse of this morning’s letter from Paul, Paul expands our opening statement with the following ,” The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; you shall not steal, you shall not covet;’ and any other commandments, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Who is our neighbor? One could assume our neighbor is one who is part of our community. However, Luke, after the Pharisee recites the great commandment, he challenges Jesus by asking “who is my neighbor?” To this, Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Jesus uses a Samaritan, an individual who is scorned by the Pharisees for being impure in his practice, as the hero of the story. Jesus uses a Samaritan, who willingly risks being defiled by possibly touching a corpse. Jesus uses a Samaritan to demonstrate that loving your neighbor means loving the stranger who is in need, no matter the physical or spiritual costs. For us, this means being charitable to; our neighbor who lives next door, our neighbor who is the welfare mother who lives just a block or two away from St. Peter’s, our neighbor who lives on the streets of Providence, and yes, our neighbor who is the child scavenging for food in a dump, nearly half a world away. 
As a community whose vision is to become a community of apostles, (those who are sent into the world) where each person is growing in deeper in relationship with God, neighbor, self and the world, how we express love for our neighbor, and let me interject “the stranger,” is important. The world is watching us and asking, “do we, who profess a faith in Christ, live the love or the charity of Christ? Evangelism isn’t just about the words we use to share the Gospel with others. . .evangelism is also how we demonstrate the love of God for others. St. Francis is often noted as saying something to the effect, “preach the Gospel always, use words rarely”. St Theresa of Avila calls us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. (Notice, she did not say the mouth of Christ but the hands and feet of Christ.)
At St. Peter’s, I believe we have made great strides towards becoming the community of apostles we want to be, especially in regards to the Community Market. Often times I am asked if I am worried if we are being ripped off by people who don’t really need the food, my answer is always “no.” I am also asked if I am concerned our guests are dependent on us for food, my answer is also “no.” Because, I am not convinced it is the food our guests are necessarily coming for. Instead, what I believe they come for is the experience they receive. What other food pantry, other than at St. Peter’s, can one receive food by simply giving their name and address? What other food pantry can people come to, where they are warmly received a the door, offered a cup of coffee and a bit of respite in our church while they wait for the market to open? What other food pantry offers their guests the dignity of being able to pick out the food they actually want to eat and not given a random bag of groceries based on what someone else feels they need? Only here at St. Peter’s on Friday afternoons are our South County Neighbors afforded this level of dignity and this unique experience of God’s unconditional love for them. 
This morning St. Paul tells us, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another for those who love have fulfilled the Law.” So GO, spread the Gospel, by loving your neighbor as yourself.
Amen

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