This is essentially my sermon from yesterday.
A new season is upon us. Fall is here. When we walk outside in the morning, the autumn breeze nips at our faces. We look up and bright, vivid reds, oranges, and yellows fill the tree tops, reminding us that indeed, beauty does still exist. As we walk, we hear the crunching of fallen leaves beneath our feet. The memories of the dog days of summer have slipped away and no longer cross our minds. Our focus instead is shifted to the falling of the first snow. There is something about fall that always makes me stop in my tracks, and I can never put my finger on it . . . not with certainty anyways. Something that transcends simply the shifting from one season to the next. Here we are, stuck between two points while living in one. The leaves are falling and the grass is dying. Nature all around us is slowing, preparing themselves for the long, harsh, cold winter. But no matter how freezing temperatures may become, and no matter how much snow we have in April, we hold onto this hope that once spring finally rolls around, new life will emerge. Life will once again be vibrant in nature. Maybe all this is what causes me to stop in my tracks, and simply watch the tree tops sway in the wind, and have my eyes follow the falling leaves to the ground. I realize that this old life must cease in order for this new life to bud and blossom in the spring. All this talk about old and new and life and death leads me to a passage that Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. (Romans 7:4-6)
The old has gone. The new has come. Paul is comparing the law and the Spirit, and draws lines between the law and that which is old, and another line between the Spirit and new life. Essentially, one could surmise that he is saying the law is no longer valid, that we are no longer held captive by it. But rather, we are now called to live by the Spirit and the way of Jesus. The way marked with extravagant and undeserving love. A way marked by mercy and grace. Or in the words of Paul himself, the way marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He finishes this off the fruit of the spirit by reminding us that there is no law against such things.
The law or the Torah was integral to the life of our Judeo-Christian ancestors, the Israelites. The law was simply a moral obligation . . . a way to pay off their indebtedness to God. But rather, it was a way to act out of gratitude for God’s saving acts, for God’s salvation. Through the Torah, the Israelites would fulfill the two greatest commandments – to love God and to love ones neighbor. But as one can recall from Leviticus, the number of laws is quite numerous. And quite difficult to observe to perfection.
If we look at the Torah through the lense of Paul (post-conversion), we see the new covenant transcends it.
Maybe this new way that Jesus came to initiate compelled him to say that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But maybe instead of fulfilling the law by living up to it by acting correctly and following it to a T, he fulfilled it by transcending it. And what do I mean by transcending the law? Let’s recall some more words from the apostle Paul:
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 murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Paul reminds us that the fulfilling of the law is by love, because love goes beyond what the law demands.
John Caputo writes: The only measure of love is love without measure. Love is not measured by a rule, but rather love expends itself without return on behalf of the other. Love will stop at nothing, which is the excess that is ingredient in love.
Rob Bell also writes about this deep, unconditional love: Agape doesn’t love somebody because they’re worthy. Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love. Agape doesn’t love somebody because they’re beautiful. Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful. There is love because, love in order to, love for the purpose of, and then there is love period. Agape doesn’t need a reason.
As we leave today, and in the weeks to come, may we pause just long enough to notice the changing colors of the leaves and the soft crunching beneath our feet. May we pay attention to the autumn breeze nipping at our faces and the browning of the grass. May we notice the birds flying south for the winter and the thicker coats that our pets are growing. And may these signs of fall remind us that the old has gone and the new has come. May they transcend their face values and point us not to the law, but to the way of Jesus, to the way of love and grace. And may this remind us of our newfound freedom.