An Odd Debt To Owe

 ’Passover is a wartime liturgy.’

Dr. Michael J. Chan, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary

If we think of it, the Passover observance truly is designed for times of war, times of adversity, times or oppression, times of hatred and abuse, times of pandemics. It is any time when we need to remember that we are not alone, and that we have not been forgotten. A time when we celebrate a renewed trust and faithfulness by remembering the trust worthiness and faithfulness of God.

Passover, Pesach, the first of the  three annual Jewish festivals celebrated yearly.  They are celebrations yet holy and solemn moments of remembrance of God and the fact that he has redeemed his people. Passover is not only a remembrance of the faithfulness of God in the Egyptian exodus, but the history of the passover celebration is a building block of faith and community. Meaning, that the celebration itself is as much a part of the remembrance as is the reason for the celebration. 

Imagine a football game where the championship title was handed out amongst the exuberant cheers of the crowd before either team had taken the field.  Or a spelling bee where a young person is handed the trophy before a single letter had been uttered.  An academy award announced prior to a camera being turned on or a stage actor taking a bow before ever entering the theater.  And…what if this recognition of award was scheduled to be faithfully remembered annually, before there was ever a ball hiked, a word spelled, a camera loaded, a curtain opened?

As Moses, and his helper Aaron, left the palace of Pharoah, after their tenth time of speaking God’s words to ‘Let my people go,’ and being rejected –  God began to give these two men instructions for celebration of  the peoples’ release.  They were to organize a party to celebrate the deliverance of their first born male children during the tenth plagued, and, at the same time, to prepare the community to be ready to leave on a minutes moment.

They were about to a joyful event before they even understood what they were celebrating because the focus of the celebration had not yet happened.

So, Get this – The actual act of preparing, and then taking part in, the celebration was the first step in their trust of God, the first act of faith in their pursuit of God, and the first grasp of their coming liberation.

See, the Passover event, the deliverance of the first born sons, was the sounding call for the coming act of God – an act of liberation.  The passover celebration is a yearly time of remembrance of God’s act of liberation. A reminder that God is the God of liberation for all people, the God of freedom for all of humanity. 

‘The Passover meal,’ according to Michael Chan, ‘assures that the people are regularly attentive to the memory of liberation.  The time when God began teaching Israel to live, no longer as citizens within a system of domination, but rather recipients of the fierce benevolence of God.’

Passover is a reminder of how the ruler, the Pharoah was fighting against the freedom the liberating God demanded, the ruler was fighting against the lifegiving freedom of God, Moses, however was fighting for all of creation.

It was the time that the people were ready to make the transformation from slaves to freed men and women.  It is a time, much like our current times, when God is calling us to a very similar transition.

God called the people to trust that he was the God of deliverance and that they were to be ready for his calling of them out of slavery at any minute.  They were to have their eyes open and ears listening to the call to liberation.

He was calling the people to trust him with the what without understanding or comprehend the how.  God was calling the people to prepare for a transition from slavery to freedom, a change of mind as well as a change of status, a change of the way they talk to themself, the way they see themself, the way the consider others.  God was calling them to an individual transformation and a community transformation.

A Transformation that began with Trust, and landed on a power as a people. A people called to the the hands and feet of God. God was calling them to live out of the Love that was going to deliver them.

They made their bread without yeast to reduce the needed time.  They painted their doorposts in an act of trust and freed obedience.  They look to God for the transformation on earth.

Let’s take a leap forward, about 1,600 years, past the birth, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, past the conversion of Paul, to the time when Paul is addressing the believers living in Rome. A time when he is carrying on this mission of liberation.  Delivering a people, not from a diabolical ruler who keeps the people in a physical slavery, to a time when the slavery and oppression is much more subtle, a much more civilized oppressive time, a time when the message is targeted to a problem within each person, a time when the issue of slavery and the need for deliverance is an internal matter for the community of faith, a time much like our time.

Let’s look at one of the most abused, most misused, more perverted passage in the Bible, a passage used to enslave and oppress since the beginning of time.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 

Romans 13:1-7

In there early years of our own country, this passage was used by slave owners to keep the black slaves in submission, it was used during the American Revolution to keep the rebellion down, it was used as part of the physical and emotional propaganda forcing native Americans off their ancestoral land to a death march across the United States to the land many of us now call home, It was used recently in June of 2018 when our then US attorney General, Jeff Sessions, supporting the action of separating families at the border, said: 

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes, orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.” 

It was used in In July 1933, during Hitler’s first summer in power, a young German pastor named Joachim Hossenfelder preached a sermon in the towering Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin’s most important church. He used the words of Romans 13 to remind worshippers of the importance of obedience to those in authority. The church was festooned with Nazi banners and … flags, its pews packed with the Nazi Party faithful — including men in the brown shirts of the [Stormtroopers], the Nazis’ paramilitary movement.

Ironically, as Paul wrote to the church at Rome, his message was in direct opposition to these misuses of the passage.  If we go back to his previous writings in chapter 12, we see that he is not talking about blind loyalty to oppressive states, but, instead he was speaking to a life lived in opposition that is still founded on God’s law.  A love that is not motivated by hate and oppression, a love that let’s us live in a deliverance that then enables us to speak that love through our lives regardless of the oppression or freedom we live in.

Paul is calling the believers, in the midst of a very subtle oppression unseen to the outsiders, calling them to live without uncalled for risk, instead, he is, calling them to live in the same way that the Hebrews were led to live prior to their deliverance, a call to celebrate deliverance even before the deliverance, a call to live always ready, in haste, to receive the message from God to pick up and go, a call to love, care for, see to, a call to trust and look to God, even while we are following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

It is a calling of an individual walk, a calling of a community looking ahead in unity, a calling of love.  And, in this calling, Paul makes the powerful statement, the statement that was as profound, yet controversial, then as it is now. 

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’

Romans 13:8

Imagine, summing up everything that a religious faith had called for, everything that a faithful person had adhered to, everything that had been used, and  abused, by religious institutions and political powers to control and oppress,  to sum it up in these three simple words,

‘Love one another.’

It was as outrageous as Moses and Aaron telling the people to celebrate deliverance before it had taken place. Paul was telling the people that very code  they had been governed by, the law and it’s man made additional restrictions, could be summed up in a single word, that word being Love.

Love your neighbor, clearly it was not that easy, Jesus has complicated it when he made sure that they understood that the ‘everyone’ applied also to the Samaritans, those we are most ingrained to hate. Now Paul is telling the believers that love is also to those that oppress, to those that speak hate and division, to rulers that abuse, to religious leaders who manipulate. I am sure that the listeners to the words of Paul couldn’t help but think ‘this guy has now taken LOVE pretty much as far as it will it will spread.’

And, now, Paul is reminding them of the furthest stretches of love that had already been given by Jesus, the stretch to ‘love each other.’

The full covering of God’s Love, as well as our order to love, surely spreads to all, there is now not one outside of God compassionate and merciful love.

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another’

Now, here is the thing, God’s love is so full, and overflowing, that when the believers fail to live is, fail to answer the call, fail to make our own sacrifices – his love is forced to find another path.  God chose Moses, who was not an accepted member of the Hebrew community by the Hebrew community to show the Love of God through their deliverance, God chose a man named Paul, who was not a Christian, but, instead was a devout persecutor of Christians, to tell the Romans this message of Love, because it was overflowing and had to find a new path. 

God is calling us to Love, to recognize our own deliverance that has taken place, to step out of the bonds that we allow to restrict and control us, to love all people.  It is interesting how the phrase ‘Love all others’ is showing up on shirts and signs, in places totally unfaith related, the message of love has failed to be revealed to the world through the followers of Christ, so it is overflowing.  It is accompanied by outflows of the Love of God, statements like, ‘Listen to the Oppressed.’  You can walk into a store downtown, a store that does not carry the  label of ‘Christian’ yet you will find shirts with statements like these hanging on the racks, you can enter a Christian labeled store and find t-shirts with labels such as ‘I put the stud into Bible Study.’  We have failed to love, and we live in a world that is screaming out, ‘Love Me.”  A world where Jesus told us to live and go teaching and showing the world everything that he has taught and shown us.

It is time for the church to celebrate our deliverance through our love.

Let’s pray.  Pray.

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