Summary: There is much that is required of us to be an authentic Christian community, and the glue that holds it all together is love.
Are there any of you out there who grew up on Lincoln Logs? Though I loved Lincoln Logs, I somehow managed to make it through my childhood without ever having a set of my own. I always played with my cousin’s or my friend’s Lincoln Logs. I had Legos of my own, but I really like the Lincoln Logs more because if you wanted to build a building, it really looked like a building instead of the multicolored plastic box that results from Legos. Those original Lincoln Log sets came with instructions about how to build Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Abraham Lincoln’s childhood cabin, but you could also use your imagination to build other structures. It was easy to do because those logs just fit right together, and before you knew it, you had a building. The thing about Lincoln Logs (or any other building for that matter) is that the building doesn’t stand if there’s not something to support it, and the roof is not a roof if there is not a building underneath it. It’s the same way with any Christian community, with the church. Paul’s words to the Romans essentially provide us with the basic building blocks to become a true and complete Christian community.
Before we look at the building blocks that Paul has set before us in this morning’s Scripture reading, we need to be reminded of our foundation. No Christian community is even possible without the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, made the Christian community a reality, and it is on this foundation that we are built. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been united by a common bond of salvation; we are a community saved by grace through faith. And from the life and ministry of Jesus, we draw our own life and ministry; our purpose is revealed. Christ is our sure foundation, and remembering this, we can begin to build our life together using the blueprint that Paul lays out in Romans.
You see, what Paul puts before us today are the core essentials to an authentic Christian community; as important as Christ the foundation himself! So what are the building blocks? To be peaceful, not vengeful; humble and compassionate. Our words should be filled with blessings, not curses. We should be hospitable, prayerful, patient, hopeful, passionate, and above all full of love. Love is the key. Love is what makes all those other traits Paul mentions possible. Love is like those notches in every Lincoln Log that make it possible to put two logs together. Only when we have genuine love is it possible for us to be truly passionate, compassionate, hospitable, and all those other things.
But what is genuine love? What does it look like? In order to fully understand the kind of love which Paul has in mind here as he calls the Romans to “let [their] love be genuine,” we need to have a grasp on two different Greek words which describe “love.” The first of these Greek words is philadelphia. As you may know from the motto of the city of Philadelphia, this word refers to brotherly love; the love that blood relatives have toward one another...at least ideally. We as the church are to love one another with brotherly and sisterly love in such a way that reflects the love we have with God the Father. We are to care for one another just as if we are blood relatives. If we have this kind of love for one another, this philadelphia, then it will be apparent through our actions, which is what the Greek word agape refers to. Agape is much more than any feelings of love; it is the love that I show you by my actions, even if I don’t feel it! Quite simply, love is more about what people do than about how we feel. We often think of agape as unconditional love, which couldn’t be truer. If we act with compassion and love towards others, even when we may not feel love for them; that is unconditional love, agape. When we love one another in such a way that it is reflected through our actions, then we are loving genuinely, we begin to share our lives together, and we are drawn together as an authentic Christian community. That’s the really amazing thing about the Christian life; over and over again we discover that when we behave toward someone as though we really did love them, then, to our surprise, love, care, and concern for the person’s welfare quickly springs up!
In 2006, I led a youth mission team on a Katrina Relief trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi. We had two teams working on projects throughout the week we were there. One team spent the week traveling to various homes in the Pascagoula area helping people by cleaning up their yards and moving furniture. The other team spent the week hanging drywall in an elderly woman’s home. We hung that drywall, then we mudded, and taped, and sanded, and mudded, and taped, and sanded for days and days and days. But throughout that time, the team interacted regularly with the woman who had lived in that house until Katrina hit. That first day we worked in Pascagoula, we didn’t know Miss Barbara from any person we might have crossed paths with on the street, but by the end of the week, it was a different story. We spent the week mudding, taping, and sanding in Miss Barbara’s house. She, in turn, bought the youth popsicles or ice cream each day. And we would always take time to sit down and talk to one another. The youth were acting with love and compassion toward this woman who had been displaced from her home by Katrina, and she in turn was acting in love toward us. And the result was that by the end of the week, we really did love each other. So strong was that love, in fact, that there are some youth from that mission team who still interact regularly with Miss Barbara, even though it’s been four years since we worked in her house. What we shared was genuine love, acted out as if Miss Barbara was our very own family, and the result was the formation of authentic Christian community.