"Love in Action"

Proper 18.A.23
Romans 13:8-14
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Imagine what might cause a person to head out on a rainy spring night, when temperatures hover in the mid-forties, to walk along the quiet roads of rural New Hampshire? Insomnia, maybe? A troubled mind? An opportunity for a quiet, albeit chilly and damp self-reflection? These all make sense. However, the truth is far more dramatic…a life saving mission! But one without sirens or flashing lights…just a flashlight.

“Sporting a reflective vest over her red raincoat Sarah Wilson sweeps her powerful flashlight from the wooded bank on one side to the marsh on the other. She’s looking for amphibians on their annual migration from winter hibernation hideouts to breeding ponds, reports Elizabeth Hewitt. When Sarah sees a hopping spring peeper, she scoops the frog up mid-air. When she spies a slow-moving salamander, she gently picks it up. Her goal is simple: to help the critters cross the road.

On busy migration nights, just a few cars can form a potential threat to the long-term survival of amphibian populations. One study found that spotted salamanders here in Massachusetts could face local extinction if more than 10 percent were squashed by cars. Other research showed that at one key road crossing California newts had a mortality rate of nearly 40 percent.

That’s why volunteers like Wilson fan out to help the little creatures navigate one of the riskiest parts of their journey from winter sleep in marshes to spring spawning sites in vernal ponds--all too frequently bisected by pavement.

In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us to be aware of the times in which we are living. He writes: “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Paul’s understanding of salvation is not just focused on the individual--it’s cosmic as well. God’s saving grace is at work in all of creation as well as in the lives of individuals. God’s saving work is a reality with a past (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), it holds a present reality, and a future completion. God’s salvation involves creation as well as the people of God.

St. Paul wants us to be aware of the time--not in terms of political elections or the seasons of a sport such as baseball or football, or even a school or corporate calendar. Instead, the time of which Paul wants us to be aware is that centered on God’s salvation. This is a time which doesn’t have anything to do with when the Halloween and Christmas decorations show up in stores, but has everything to do with God’s daily, ongoing presence and work in people’s lives, in churches, in institutions, and through creation--such as a road crossing between a marsh and a vernal pond on a rainy spring night. The awareness of the time of which Paul speaks doesn’t relate to a company’s yearly profit (although this is important), or a team’s ranking (though this is also important), commencements and graduations or even a long-awaited promotion (though these are important too). Instead, it’s an awareness of and participation in God’s ongoing saving, renewing, redeeming, reconciling work in people and systems and cultures--and creation all around us. So, the time to wake up isn’t one which comes and goes as with the seasons of the year--it is always this time. As Leo Tolstoy once wrote: “Remember that there is only one important time, and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.”

Which brings us to the verse preceding Paul’s admonition about the importance of time. Here, he writes: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” This echoes Rabbi Hillel (who lived about the same era as did St. Paul) Hillel summarized the whole of the Torah in a kind of “negative golden rule” saying: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest, he said, is explanation.” This echoes Jesus who says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. The idea is that when we are able to look at another with true compassion, we’re not going to do that person harm.

Love does no wrong to a. neighbor. In general, I believe, people these days are pretty confused about what it means to love--for that matter, I suspect a good many were confused about love in the days of our Savior and St. Paul as well--such is the plight of human nature. A remarkable amount of people leave love to feelings--feelings of romance, be it infatuation or attraction. But, when we leave love to the realm of feeling we lose sight that love, most accurately, is a choice, an act of will. It is a gift given to another.

All of which brings us back to slimy amphibians such as spotted salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers as they croak and trill and make their way from their underground winter burrows to the vernal pools of their birth where they will spend a few days (or weeks) courting mates through song and--in the case of salamanders--elaborate courtship dances. Love, indeed.

In today’s lesson St. Paul tells us that in loving our neighbor (even those who feast on flies and mosquitoes) we should do no wrong. And that this type of love is the fulfillment of the law. This is a love which is best expressed when we set aside our wants, needs, feelings and expectations in order to give ourselves to another. Whether it’s feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, comforting the sick and dying, or taking the time to listen (really listen) to your partner, spouse or children or give up the comfort of a cup of tea and a cozy chair on a rainy spring night with the goal of shepherding amphibians across the road. These are all examples of love in action---a love which changes the world. It is a love which fulfills the law. It is this kind of love to which we are called in Christ--a love which is best expressed in the present tense, in the way we live our lives. Live, then--this day and every day….with love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.