8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 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 neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
This talk is recorded and can be heard here, if you would prefer to read it, the transcript follows:
How would you describe the Itchen Valley?
On our website we describe it as ‘the four beautiful and friendly villages
of Avington Easton Itchen Abbas and Martyr Worthy’. And I know that’s how we see this wonderful place and, in so many respects, that is Lucy and my own experience here beautiful and friendly…fantastic.
But we have recently conducted the Who Cares survey https://itchenvalleychurches.org.uk/who-cares/.
We are working on an overview of the data and we plan to do this in the next edition of Itchen Valley News and on the Itchen List.
But, as I was inputting the responses of our neighbours into the who cares website (I have no idea who wrote what) I had a chance to look at the response cards and pray my way through them. And of our population a lot said some worrying things about others things that hurt them the most. They used the following words or similar words to describe their experience of others who were:
But hang on a moment, you may be thinking is this really a picture of Itchen Valley? We didn’t ask people to limit their comments to encounters with their neighbours in the Itchen Valley. So they could be referring to other relationships, outside the Valley.
And just because one particular relationship is very difficult, that doesn’t mean that every relationship that person has in the Valley is dysfunctional…
But nevertheless, there were a large number of our community with perceived relationship issues; issues which hurt the most out of everything they have to handle in their lives.
So what can we in the church do about this?
I think the answer is in the passage we have just read from Romans: Paul is saying that we need to love one another
OK so you have switched off…‘Here we go again, you may be thinking love love love….’
Love does sound so wishy washy, a bit feeble really.
So I have been thinking of a way that we might FEEL what we need to do.
And of course Paul provides it:
In verse 8 he says ‘owe no-one anything except to love one another’
Our duty to love our neighbours is something we owe them because we owe Jesus a debt because he paid the cost of pain and suffering for us on the Cross.
It’s like if we owe money and the creditor says, ‘don’t pay me – pay this other person’; we owe them; we owe our neighbours a debt
So how can we feel this?
So some very fortunate people here may not have a mortgage. Then there will be many who do have a mortgage or, like Lucy and I, pay rent.
But even if we don’t have a mortgage or pay rent, we may remember
what it was like to pay the mortgage or pay the rent. We may remember how important it was to pay the mortgage or the rent every month. It is possibly our most essential priority. If we don’t pay the mortgage or the rent, then we become HOMELESS: on the street with our spouse, who is probably telling us its all our fault, cold wet and rejected and with our children probably in care….
It is a DISASTER
If we haven’t paid our mortgage or rent by the due date we will probably spend the night awake worrying about it. It will certainly be the last thing we think about before we go to sleep and the first thing we think about in the morning. So we make sure that we pay our debts by the due date. Its a priority.
Paul says that we owe a debt of love to each of our neighbours. We don’t wait for them to be nice to us, so we can be nice to them. We owe them, just because they are our neighbours.
As we should pay our debts, our mortgage payments, our rent and our taxes when they are due, so we should pay the debt we owe our neighbours by loving them.
We owe it to them, because Christ loved us first
But what does love mean anyway? The word is agape in Greek which is the language that Romans was written. Agape means self giving, self sacrificial love. Please remember, that there is no love without sacrifice. It costs us something to love, time, effort, pride it costs…
But what does love mean?
1 Corinthians 13, so popular at weddings and so essential to marriages,
lists the characteristics of love:
does not dishonour others
not self seeking
not easily angered
does not delight in evil
but rejoices in truth
Interestingly the concerns shown the Who Cares responses are in eight main areas and are precisely the opposite to what St Paul says that love is:
Our neighbours are hurt BUT Paul says love is:
because people are:
Aggressive Not easily angered
Arrogant Not proud
Dishonest Rejoices in the truth
Untrustworthy Always trust
Inconsiderate Always protects
Selfish Not self seeking
Backstabbing Does not dishonour others
So what can we do about this?
The most important thing we, as a church, can do is to be salt and light in the community to set an example of how to behave. And many of us do already. We need, as Christians, in the Itchen Valley community to be setting an example of loving our neighbours. And if we all consistently do so…then it will catch on.
It should be known of us, those of us who go to church, that we are never ever unpleasant to our neighbours or about our neighbours.
It should be known of us, those of us who go to church, that we are never ever unpleasant to each other or about each other.
We can be an example of love in the community.
When Amanda arrived in the parish, I was very struck by something that she said.
I was talking a bit about my previous parish and what a difficult environment it had been and I said something about a particular individual in the parish who had been very destructive in that church and community.
‘No’ she said ‘we don’t do that’. ‘We don’t speak badly about other people’.
And she was right
If we are Christians, we don’t speak badly to or about other people.
If we have a problem with them, we see them individually and privately about it before we let anyone else know as the other reading today in Matthew says.
This sort of love is not wishy washy: its a matter of self discipline.
It comes at a cost of time; a cost of pride and perhaps involves forgiveness.
Like an athlete controlling the body: its a matter of controlling the tongue…we practice, daily.
I am always struck by diplomats, how very good they are at controlling what they say. We are Christ’s ambassadors, in the Itchen Valley.
We need to exercise Diplomatic Discipline, in what we say.
We need to be known for this; we need to be different from everyone else in the community who may be complaining:
about new people
about old people
about the council
about the government
about the pub
about the village hall
about the church
We don’t participate in these discussions; we don’t respond if someone seeks to start them; and others are embarrassed by our silence so they don’t do so in our presence.
We need to be known for being different, that we don’t speak badly to or about others: we are Christ’s ambassadors.
But it is not just what we say (or don’t say) about people or indeed to them. There are things that we can do, which make a difference.
When I lived in Kilmeston there was a nice enough chap, a middle aged writer, living in one of the cottages; he lived alone; he had been there for years and years.
Opposite him across the road, was another cottage which a family bought and developed and the mother started having coffee mornings for the parents of her kids friends.
So cars were drawing up the whole time opposite the kitchen window of the middle aged writer, who had lived there for ever.
He got very angry about this. It disturbed the quiet tranquility of the village, from his point of view, particularly from his kitchen window.
And he made his views known to the mother: he said that he didn’t like her; he hadn’t liked her contractors who had developed the house (actually her father) and her family’s arrival had ruined the village.
I was asked by the very upset mother what she should do.
I said that she should absolutely refuse to be horrible back. She should treat him with kindness, randomly – random acts of kindness: ‘when your hens lay eggs, when you grow some veg just deliver some to him with a note. if he is angry with you, just be consistently friendly in response. She agreed to do this.
Two or three years later, sadly the family had to sell the house and move .
I was chatting with the writer and he said to me ‘I am so disappointed that they are leaving the village’. They are such a lovely family, they have been so kind to me’.
Disputes with neighbours CAN be turned round. It costs – some humility some time and refusing to respond to anger, with anger: refusing to join in with ‘what everyone says’ about someone else.
If we are Christians then we MUST lead in this respect.
We MUST treat our neighbours as if we owe them a debt of love and random acts of kindness is one of the ways to go.
So this has been quite a challenging talk, I guess for all of us, it certainly has for me. And we all fail from time to time in this area of what we say and do; fail to say and fail to do.
But we need to put in place some spiritual disciplines to ensure that in what we say and do we don’t build a barrier of sin between us and God so he cannot guide us; so that he will listen to our prayers.
This is what I suggest: So every day, like an athlete in the daily discipline of exercise, we need to do our spiritual exercise: to reflect, perhaps before we go to sleep, and first thing in the morning: have we paid the debt of love we owe our neighbours by what we have said or done during that day?
If not, we need to repent: we need to come before the Father and ask for his forgiveness before we go to sleep.
And I’m afraid we need to realise that it is only a charade, a pointless waste of time, which actually angers God if we take communion today or any Sunday, unless we have reflected on whether we have paid the debt of love we owe our neighbours and repented, where we have not, determined not to fail in this area again.
As the BCP Communion says:
‘Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins
and are in love and charity with your neighbours
and intend to lead a new life,
following the commandments of God
and walking from henceforth in his holy ways:
draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament
to your comfort and make your humble confession
to almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees’