Sunday, September 3, 2023
Jeremiah 15:15-21, Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28
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 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 then 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 revenge yourselves, but leave 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.
It would be a perfect text for my last Sunday, wouldn’t it?
But it works for this second-to-last week as well.
For the last few weeks I have been trying to explain the texts as clearly as I can because they communicate a great deal of what God’s hopes and dreams and expectations are for us all – for you, of course, who are dear to me – but for myself, too – for all God’s people.
Today’s reading from Romans continues what we heard last week – It’s Paul expressing how he understands the working out of his earlier command:
“Offer yourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable/spiritual worship.”
Clearly it means more than: “Show up for worship, give some money, clean the church bathrooms, accept Jesus as Savior.”
It begins with authenticity – Let your love be genuine, let it be real, not fake; let it be the real deal.
And loving each other requires hating what is evil – everything that works against love, that hurts others: cruelty, lies, false judgments, manipulation.
It requires protecting the other from evil, even at cost to ourselves.
It means hanging on tight to what is good; we are urged even to try to outdo each other in showing love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy in real and practical ways – This IS how we honor each other.
And he moves on into perseverance – keeping on keeping on in hard times, when “zeal“, enthusiasm, is hard to come by…when whatever suffering we experience is wearing us down and inviting us to give up and give in and quit – when prayer is dry and seems pointless.
We know times like that. All of us do.
But it seems to be important to Paul that we keep moving forward into freedom and love even in the worst times – and there ARE “worst“ times for us all.
Maybe we take a step back and rest a minute. Maybe we enlist help. Maybe we cry. But we don’t quit.
What about the next phrase: “Contribute to the needs of the saints,” yes, but ALSO, “Extend hospitality to strangers.” Do you find it interesting that they are paired this way? Get involved in the lives of those whom you know and love who need you – but equally – extend that same welcome and hospitality to strangers – to outsiders, to those whom you do not know: to those with whom you think you have very little in common.
Extend hospitality even to the “strangers” who do not love you.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…”
“If your enemies are hungry feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”
You can make the applications yourselves. You know how this hits you.
You know where you want to say, “Yes, but…” – to decide that the call of Jesus as both Matthew and Paul heard it is just too darn difficult – and that we can’t actually live this way.
Is Paul an extremist? Yes. But so was Jesus.
But neither were passive, namby-pamby, helpless in the face of wrong – nor did they suggest that we should be.
Jesus upended the table of money-changers, after all.
He claimed authority to speak truth – not only to power, but to the powerless.
And he poked fun at the pompous and the powerful which made the common people laugh right out loud.
Paul is serous. So is Jesus. But neither are asking you to sit on your hands and piously look away when evil stands up to shout.
So how about a story?
Have you ever heard of the little Bavarian town of Wunsiedel?
Neither had I until I stumbled across this story.
But every year neo-Nazis have marched through that little town to honor Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler’s worst officers.
In 2014 a small group of people decided to do something clever to discourage their presence, and their message.
They didn’t refuse to allow the marchers to march.
They didn’t fight back.
But they involuntarily conscripted participants into anti-Nazi activity by making the march a trigger for an anti-Nazi fundraiser.
In this town of 10,000 people they got hundreds of donors to pledge 10 Euros for every meter that the neo-Nazis walked.
They also put up multiple large signs all along the route thanking participants for the money they were raising for organizations that combat Nazi ideology.
While respectful of the neo-Nazis’ free speech, they also countered it with messages dismissive of that ideology, messages that intended to humiliate white supremacists.
At the same time the townspeople put out tables of bananas, water and other snacks for the marchers.
And at the end of the march route, there was a massive banner hanging across the road announcing that the neo-Nazis had raised 10,000 Euros to fight Nazism.
When anti-fascist, anti-Nazi, anti-racist protests are big – AND non-violent – not even angry but humorous, when they don’t turn ugly but hilarious, and especially when they can be used to raise money for good organizations working against these ideologies, they communicate to ordinary people that this is normal – that it is normal to oppose outrageous ideas.
AND that resistance to wrong can be done without resorting to the hate, anger and violence that such rallies intend to provoke.
The next year, Remagen did it, too.
And since then, attendance at those neo-Nazi marches has dropped dramatically. And the towns are still raising money for anti-fascist causes.
Nazis don’t like to be shamed, laughed it, intimidated by non-violence, beaten at their own game. You don’t need to be afraid of evil.
Think of this story when you read Paul: “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 overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good.”