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.
There’s a lot to take in here, so we’re going to use as our matrix, John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God.
Do No Harm.
In Elmer Bendiner’s book, The Fall of Fortresses, he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel: “His B-17 (The Tondelayo) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That wasn’t unusual, but on this occasion their gas tanks were hit. Later, as he reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, the pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told him it wasn’t quite that simple.
On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask the crew chief for the shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast them out of the sky. Even after thirty-five years, the event was so awesome that it leaves the author shaken, especially after he heard the rest of the story.
Bohn had been told that the shells had been sent to the armory to be defused. The armory told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They couldn’t say why at the time, but Bohn eventually discovered the answer. Apparently when the armory workers opened each of those shells they didn’t find any explosive charge. The shells were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.
Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for until they found someone who could decipher the note which read: “This is all we can do for you now.”
That’s a somewhat exaggerated clip that gets to the heart of road rage, social media angst, and our general hair trigger rage.
Oh, the harm that goes with unforgiveness to the people we’re not forgiving…and to us.
I’m up here preaching about forgiveness and unforgiveness, and those of us that truly need that message, are the ones thinking I’m preaching to someone else. We’re not like the lady hitting the guy over the head with her purse or pocketbook, but we have the unforgiving nature that leads to the root of bitterness that leads to a critical spirit welling up and festering inside of us. Sometimes we’re afraid to let our grudge go. We’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve gotten comfortable with it, we think it protects us, shields us, BUT WE HAVE TO LET IT GO. As Yoda says, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” You will suffer more with unforgiveness than the person you won’t forgive. It’s like a bullet, you have to take it out for the wound to properly heal. You have to root out the bad stuff, before you can truly heal and bring about the good.
Y’all know the passage from Matthew about seeing the dust in other people’s eyes while we’re walking around with giant planks in our own eyes. We have to be real and honest with ourselves, others and God. That’s the only way we have a hope of living up to the marks in this passage, the marks of the Christian life. In Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Let the peace of the Holy Spirit flow through you. When we get angry or frustrated, we need to let it out and vent to God. We can even hit a punching bag, scream in the shower, anything to get out our anger productively, not destructively.
If it’s more than just a tiff or annoyance and someone has actually hurt us, our Loving Parent God, will deal with it. Paul writes in verse 19 – 21, “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. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Leave room for God’s wrath and do not repay anyone evil for evil. That does harm to the community, your witness and you! And Paul hardly ever uses the word “Beloved,” so you know it’s important. Get the anger, hurt, vengeance out of your system, and leave it for God to take care of. Our Loving Parent has a clearer picture of the who’s, why’s and how’s of every situation. Give it to God, so we can go about doing all the good we can.
That brings us to the second Wesleyan pejorative.
Romans 12:9-13 – 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.
Fred Craddock, tells a story of a church that lost track of the importance of hospitality. Sadly, it was a church he once served, early in his ministry. It was located in the hills of eastern Tennessee.
Years later, Fred returned to that church. He brought his wife, Nettie, along for the ride — for she had never seen it. As the two of them drove to the little town, Fred reminisced about a time of controversy in that church. The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory was expanding, and new families were moving into the area. Fred, the young pastor, urged the people of this beautiful, little white-frame church to call on the newcomers, to invite them to join them.
“They wouldn’t fit in here,” was the curt reply.
A week later, there was a congregational meeting. “I move,” said one of the longtime members, “that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” The motion passed, over the pastor’s objections.
When Fred and Nettie pulled up to the old church building, years later, it looked to be a busy place, much busier than he remembered. In his words:
“The parking lot was full — motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: ‘Barbecue, all you can eat.’ It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs — all kinds of people. Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.’”
Hospitality. We must not be stingy with God’s grace, we have to share it, and by us sharing it, it multiplies. We have to be the Gospel lived out. What that means is we have to show them our real, authentic selves trying to live out what Christ commands us to do. We will mess up. Definitely. But we have to aspire to do the good, be the light, and seek the higher way.
Yes, there is evil in the world, and Paul knows it. “But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness,” says N.T. Wright. God knows that “the way to overthrow evil, rather than perpetuating it, is to take its force and give back goodness instead.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross, and what we are challenged to do in daily acts of love and sacrifice.
Betty Meadows, general presbyter of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery (a position similar, in some ways, to bishop) describes a summer sabbatical that transformed her life. She left her church world behind and went “under cover” for three months, working as a Waffle House hostess. To her surprise, as she put it, “the risen Christ showed up every day.”
A van broke down in the parking lot, on the Fourth of July, carrying a family from Alabama. No garage or mechanic could be found. A waitress heard of their plight and called her boyfriend. He arrived 15 minutes later and fixed their van, for the price of a cup of coffee.
“The risen Christ in the mechanic and the waitress,” writes Betty.
A lawyer set up shop in the Waffle House, offering legal help to the needy of the community, for what they could pay — or for no payment at all, if they couldn’t afford it.
“Day after day,” writes Betty, “this lawyer sat at a table, smoking his cigar, meeting client after client, turning down no one. The risen Christ in the lawyer.”
A woman hobbled into the restaurant, a cast on one leg, but displaying signs of other medical difficulties. The police had just arrested her boyfriend for drunken driving and had impounded his truck. She was turned out on the street, with nowhere to go. The restaurant was so busy, none of the staff could give her a ride to the bus station, but she called her landlord, who lived an hour and a half away. He dropped everything, and drove right over to pick her up.
“When the landlord arrived,” writes Betty, “I said to him, ‘How kind of you to drive so far for one of your tenants, for this woman.’
“The man looked puzzled. And then he said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’
“The risen Christ in the landlord.”
“But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness.” We have to show people Christ and that leads us to our third rule.
Stay in Love with God
An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied: “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
We stay in love with God, by knowing our place. We are the second fiddle to Jesus and when we reflect Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a beautiful harmony emanates everything. When the world sees our “goodness” we point to Jesus. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not by our own merit; it’s not by my own strength. Ellie Holcomb writes about this temptation in her song, “Only Hope I’ve Got.”
I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story
Or let myself believe I’m you!
I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…
Will You help remind me of what is true?
The ONLY hope I’ve got, It’s You.
We stay in love with God, by taking care of our devotional lives. We stay in love with God, by inputting good stuff in, and letting the bad/angsty go. We stay in love with God by actually making God a priority – in our time, in our lives, in our hearts. If we live out the calling in Romans 12, we automatically will fall more and more in love with God as we show to the world the true marks of the Christian life.
Do no harm. We’re able to let go of our unforgiveness and angst and bitterness. Do good. We’re actually able to put more good out in the world through our being ambassadors of Christ. And finally, we are able to stay in love with God, by reminding ourselves we are not God, and the only way to any kind of goodness is through Jesus. Thus, we can live the true marks of the Christian life. We can do no harm and put good in the world by staying in love with Jesus. He’s the only hope, we’ve got and we can trust in the Triune God conquering Evil at last!