Romans 12: 9-21
31 August 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Romans 12: 9-21
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In our epistle for today,
the apostle Paul rightly responds
to the work and words of Jesus
as found in the gospels.
Paul’s words are an echo to the Sermon on the Mount,
the large and expansive texts
when Jesus prepares his followers
for his eventual absence.
In short, Paul, today, is staking the claim
for a more greatly defined
Christian ethic and morality.
These are our values.
The Law could only take us so far.
The Law defined the playing field within which
the faithful know
we can act
with a reliable assurance
that our behavior is righteous.
But Jesus brought the faithful so much further.
Kill your neighbor; obviously, that is outside the fence,
and deemed, unrighteous.
Treat your neighbor poorly, however,
or with disrespect;
and one was still inside the Law.
Jesus wanted more;
and the apostle Paul
was willing and able to
serve it up in this,
his letter to Rome.
Jesus leaves the old Jewish Law in place;
but he spends a lifetime of ministry
what life inside the playing field should look like.
Like a stadium makeover or renovation,
many improvements to the old field needed to be made.
What about the last, the lost, the least?
Jesus reached out to them,
much to the chagrin of the Jewish authorities.
What about the diseased, the unclean, the blind, and the lame?
Jesus cured their disease,
made them clean,
gave them sight,
and made them walk;
sometime even on the Sabbath!
That wasn’t work;
those were acts of God!
makes a summary response to the gospels
for the benefit of his church in Rome,
and for the benefit of the Church
(with a capital “C”) for all time
(that would be both you and me).
We best pay attention;
for his words certainly can solve
many of the problems we collectively face,
and can go a long way toward our self-improvement.
“Let love be genuine,” Paul begins.
Each of us believes
we are experts at being able to read the intent of others.
But Paul is speaking of the self.
Make my motives pure.
Make your motives pure.
Let the only motive be love.
This may sound simple,
but, in practice, it is very hard to do.
It is hard to weed out competing temptations.
“What can you do for me?”
invades our thinking
as soon as we reach out in love to another.
The love of Christ can expect no reward,
because we don’t own it.
We merely pass it on.
The only reward is knowing
that the relationship is strengthened
between the person who is loved
and with our God.
When that is made strong,
affection becomes mutual.
It is the only thing that Christians are allowed to hate.
Evil is anything that separates us from God,
and its byproduct is sin.
Evil is personified by those who wield violence for personal gain.
Evil is given life when greed is allowed to be undisciplined.
Evil replicates with division, hatred, and oppression.
Evil crushes others, is fed by destruction, and behaves without conscience.
Evil is an intoxicating drink,
which once tasted,
plants the seeds of addiction and dependency,
far more insidious than drugs or alcohol,
which never goes away.
It becomes the chronic illness,
that, at best, can be managed,
but at worst, can never be satisfied
until it kills the host.
hold fast to what is good,
Paul tells us.
This is what is good:
being so concerned,
so immersed in the work of the Spirit and the lives of others,
that needs can be anticipated long before they present,
and those needs can be addressed,
long before they spin out of control into problems.
People have a need to be treated with respect;
so it is good to show them honor.
People need to be treated with fairness and equality;
so do not be haughty,
as if you are better,
or smarter than you are.
People have a need for the basics of life:
food, shelter, and clothing.
So, if it is at all possible to extend a helping hand
to those without food, shelter, or clothing …
to meet their needs,
the world will be in a much better place.
People have a need for peace;
to be left in peace,
and to live in peace with neighbors.
Allow our Christian lives
to permeate with peacemaking,
so that we can all live in peace together.
Peace is only stable
when everyone gets a fair shake.
Wherever there is a lack of peace,
begin to search for a lack of justice;
solve the problem,
create equal opportunity for everyone,
and allow peace to return to equilibrium.
the apostle Paul teaches us.
Hospitality is a primary concern
of Bishop Robert Schnase in his book
Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.
Bishop Schnase describes radical hospitality
as hospitality that exceeds expectations
and goes the second mile.
It means we offer the absolute utmost of our abilities,
in offering the gracious invitation
to others to welcome Jesus Christ into their lives.
In a world
that encourages competition
for the title of “Number 1”
it is a radical invitation to claim the second spot as our own.
It takes a strong and confident Christian
to routinely place the needs of others before the self.
Take the me,
out of every occasion,
and humbly ask,
what can I do for you?
Paul makes special effort
to single out those who do us evil.
It is a sad reality:
we can’t force people to behave.
We live in a dangerous world,
and it has been this way since the fall in the Garden of Eden.
There are others who would do us harm,
just because they can;
shoot us down
or bludgeon us with a rock,
just as Cain did to Abel.
There are those in this world
who will knock us down,
beat us up,
steal our last dime,
leave us in a ditch half dead,
spit on our body,
and skip away whistling a happy tune.
We cannot overcome evil with evil.
Killing others who kill us
leaves us with a planet filled with graves
and survivors bent on revenge.
Suicide bombers that are killed by drone, cruise missile or bullet
only breed more suicide bombers.
Violence begets violence.
Injustice voids the peace.
Oppression stokes the fire of revenge.
We see it clearly when it comes to us,
when we are the victims.
It becomes hazy and a lot more unclear
when it is done by us,
or on our behalf,
in retaliation towards others.
Jesus, and Paul, teach us a better way: overcome evil with good.
The strong show strength when using restraint,
in dealing with enemies.
Compassion towards those who would hate and hurt you
always results in a better outcome,
than overwhelming force with even more force.
Didn’t we learn about this on the playground in elementary school?
Haven’t we heard this message
over years of Sunday school, Bible study, and worship?
When politicians promise us that they are getting tough on crime,
what they really mean is that they are coming down heavy on punishment.
They aren’t working on ways of overcoming evil with good,
like eliminating the conditions that breeds crime and violence
– poverty, discrimination, injustice, oppression, unemployment, lousy education, and barriers to health care and services.
Overcoming evil with good isn’t a liberal agenda.
It isn’t democratic or republican.
It’s not conservative, socialist, or anything else, for that matter.
Overcoming evil with good is Christian.
It is our belief, because it is Christ’s belief.
It is our value, because it is Christ’s value.
If you want to get ahead in this world,
don’t hang around the Tricky Dick or the Bubba Bill,
for power ultimately corrupts.
Oh, I know, the promises made at political conventions;
they are as smooth and as slimy
as snakes hiding in the grass.
Instead hang around with those who need you most;
people like those Jesus associated with.
Make yourself the one who reaches out to the stranger,
and invite them to become your friend.
Be the spinner of harmony
and the practitioner of peace.
Associate with the lowly and ease suffering,
give hope, and lift others up.
Dearly beloved, friends, family, and neighbors:
listen to, and heed these words of Paul.
They endure, not because of his eloquence or stature.
They endure beyond the centuries
and across cultures
because these words convey
the values of Christ.
These are the values of the Christian.
Make them your values,
even as I pledge to make them mine.