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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Friday, November 17, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Overcoming and Patience

Overcoming and Patience
Romans 12:9-21
 
In today’s scripture lesson Paul continues his letter to the Romans and presents some ideas about what it means to live as a Christian. He deals with two aspects of Christian life, how to deal with fellow Christians in the community of faith, and how to live as Christian among those outside the faith, especially with those who are opposed to Christians. Let’s hear what he has to say: (read Romans 12:9-21).
 
My grandmother believed that the telephone was an invention of the devil. Even though she was not a particularly religious person, (she didn’t attend church) she firmly believed in the devil. So she would under no circumstance have a telephone installed in her house. I’m not sure where her idea about the telephone’s evilness came from, but the idea was so firmly planted within her that she lived most of her life without one in her house. It was only when her children forced her to have one when she reached the age of 84 that she finally agreed to have it installed. Her grown kids showed her how to use it, but when they tried to call her she never answered. When asked why she didn’t answer, she firmly replied, “That thing is an invention of the devil.” It was only a year or so later (after she had fallen and one of her kids found her and called for an ambulance) that she could see the goodness in the use of a phone. She still wouldn’t use one herself, but the door was open to new possibilities in her thinking about the phone.
 
In his letter to the Romans, Paul presents a list of ways Christians are to relate to each other and to the world around them.   He believes that one of the best ways to show others what the Christian faith is all about is to live the faith. It was not teaching my grandmother all about the phone that helped begin to change her attitude, it was demonstrating what it could be used for that made the difference. Just so, it is not necessarily teaching the faith that brings the greatest impact, but demonstrating the love of Christ, that can have a greater impact on how others feel about Christ. 
 
There is evil out there in the world. We see its destructive processes daily. But we are called to meet evil in the way that God met it: with love and generous goodness. God did not overcome evil with greater evil, but used the power of love and forgiveness to overcome evil’s effects. All we have to do is look at the cross as the supreme example of the power of love and forgiveness to change the world. We can look at the good that has come from Jesus’ resurrection, not just the power that comes with salvation but all the good things that have come from believing in Jesus’ resurrection. We can look at the many ways evil shows its destructive force, but we also must look at all the ways love has shown its transforming force. There are lots of instances of hunger and poverty in the world, but look at the number of people that have been fed and clothed and housed over the years in the name of Christ. We can look at the number of murders in the world, but we must also look at the number of lives that have been saved through research, and prayers in the name of Christ, offering healing, and hope. We can look at the ways in which religion seems not to matter in our society in particular, but we must also look at the ways faith still transforms lives not only in our community but all around the world.
 
Paul knew about transformation. He witnessed for himself the power of faith to change lives. Jesus didn’t meet him in that blinding moment to get back at him or to punish him for the persecutions he performed. Jesus met him with a blinding love and one simple question, “Why are you doing this?” Blinding Paul was not a form of retaliation, but a way of getting Paul’s undivided attention, offering him healing and transforming him so that he too could offer others the transforming love of Christ. 
 
We are a strong community of faith because most of the time we reach out to one another in love, not an arrogant, self-serving love but a love that helps us meet each others’ needs. Joe and I have made it through a somewhat trying couple of weeks because of the love and care and concern extended to us by this congregation. I think we have the Christian community living part down pretty good.
 
But it’s not just about us. It’s also about the community around us. Paul says, “Extend hospitality to others.” But he goes even further than just being hospitable. He calls the people of faith to live peaceably with all. There is that curious little phrase in his words, “…feed them…give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals upon their heads.” What he means is that we might just bring about a sense of guilt which brings more reflective thinking that will make our enemy give pause in his ways of doing us evil. He might just begin to see something different in us that could lead to transformation. 
 
Unfortunately when someone criticizes us or is hostile to our efforts to befriend them, we want to retaliate. A gentleman in one of my former churches came up to me after one of the services and criticized the prayer I had offered. I felt my anger begin to surface, and an explosion of words wanting to burst out. Fortunately a very good person took me by the arm and led me down to my office before I could say anything. I sat and fumed for quite some time knowing I was right in what I had prayed and thinking of ways I could get back at the person who had criticized me. As I sat fuming I happened to glance at a piece of paper that had these words written on it: “In times of disagreement, as long as my need to be right is more important than my desire to be in relationship with you, there is no hope for reconciliation.”  I wondered what would have happened if instead of reacting in anger I would have simply said, “I will think about that.”
 
Paul’s passage in Romans is a good guideline for us as we think about how to live our lives in Christ, both in the community of faith (in our church) as well as in the community of non-believers. It takes great patience to learn to live in the type of love that overcomes evil. But when we have Christ living in us it is not impossible. 
 
In this time when our society is becoming increasingly secular, when transformation needs to happen, it will be important to demonstrate our faith through how we deal with others. Arguing about beliefs won’t do it. Distancing ourselves from others won’t do it. To look with disdain on others won’t do it. Placing ourselves above everybody won’t do it. Meeting evil with evil won’t do it. Offering the love of Christ through our actions is the most likely way to create change in our society, the most likely way to bring others to Christ.
 
I wonder what would happen if the next time we get into a disagreement, we listen with the love of Christ and respond with that same love. What would happen if we reacted to hostility with love and kindness? What would happen if we practiced patience with someone stubbornly fighting us to be right? What would happen if we were kind to our enemy? Now hear Paul’s words again and let’s think about how that applies to our lives here and now. What situations do we find ourselves in that these ways of being the body of Christ would change things:
 
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 buy doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads..” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.   

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