“Our Values”

Romans 12: 9-21

August 30, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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.

Prayer.

In our epistle for today,

the apostle Paul correlates

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 Beatitudes,

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.

Romans 12:9-21.

Bookmark your Bible.

These are our values.

The Law could only take us so far.

The Law defines the playing field within which

the faithful know

we can act

with a reliable assurance

that our behavior is in bounds,

that our behavior is righteous.

Jesus brings the faithful to a new, elevated level of righteousness.

Kill your neighbor; obviously, that is outside the field,

and deemed, unrighteous.

Treat your neighbor poorly, however,

or with disrespect;

and one still would have been okay,

as long as they abided by the letter of the Law.

Our God of grace wants more.

Jesus wants more.

The apostle Paul

was willing and able to

serve it up on a platter in this,

his letter to first century Christians living in Rome.

Jesus leaves the old Jewish Law in place.

The playing field of Law remains, on which he builds.

Jesus spends a lifetime of ministry

Creating an environment of Christian values;

The marks of a true Christian.

By word and deed,

Jesus describes our values and how our values should be used in mission and ministry.   

Like a stadium makeover or renovation,

many improvements to the old fence and 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.

Sometimes Jesus even performed miracles on the Sabbath!

That wasn’t work.

Jesus performed merciful, loving acts of a merciful and loving God!

Jesus is God.

Jesus is

One and the same God

Who created all things,

One and the same God

Who created the Sabbath.

Paul, today,

makes a summary response to the Gospels

for the benefit of his church in Rome,

and for the benefit of the Church universal

(with a capital “C”)

(capital “C” includes both you and me).

It is in our interest to pay attention.

The words of the Apostle Paul

reflect the Gospel,

the Good News of Jesus Christ, and

clearly define our Christian values.

“Let love be genuine,” Paul begins.

Each of us believe

we are experts at being able to read the intent of others.

Paul is speaking for himself.

He is saying,

Make my motives pure.

Make your motives pure.

Let love be the only motive to define our relationship.

This may sound simple,

but, in practice, it is hard to do.

Love is easily adulterated or corrupted.

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 Christian life serves only as a pass-through,

A channel for the love of God to flow into the world.

The only reward is

A stronger faith and deeper relationships with our neighbors.

When that is made strong,

affection naturally follows.

Hate evil.

It is the only thing Christians are allowed to hate.

Evil is anything that separates us from God.

The byproduct of evil 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, feeds on destruction, and behaves without conscience.

Evil is an intoxicating drink,

when once tasted,

plants the seeds of addiction and dependency,

far more insidious than drugs or alcohol.

Evil never fully goes away.

Evil becomes the chronic illness,

that, at best, can be managed,

but at worst, can never be satisfied

until

Like locus in a tree

It kills the host.

Instead,

hold fast to what is good,

Paul tells us.

This is what is good:

being so concerned,

so involved,

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,

more deserving,

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.

“Live peaceably with all.”

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,

bridge building,

problem solving,

so that we can all live in peace together.

Peace is only stable

when everyone gets a fair shake.

Until families and friends of color get a fair deal,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Until families and neighbors who identify themselves as LGBTQ are treated equally and respectfully,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Until neighbors with disabilities are fully included and have a voice at the table,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Even in an absence of violence,

Hearts often remain at war.

What to do?

Whenever there is a lack of peace,

Start looking for a lack of justice.

Start there.

Resist evil.

Solve the problems of injustice and oppression,

create equal opportunity for everyone,

and allow peace to return to our land.

Practice hospitality,

the apostle Paul teaches us.

Hospitality is a primary concern

of Bishop Robert Schnase in his book

Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.

(https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074KM3MCX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1)

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,

our creativity

and ourselves,

all the while 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,

mine,

my,

and I

out of every conversation and occasion.

Humbly ask,

“what can be done for you?”

“Never avenge yourselves, …

If your enemies are hungry, feed them;

If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

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 less clear

when it is done by us,

or on our behalf,

out of anger or in retaliation.

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.

Didn’t we learn this on the playground in elementary school?

Haven’t we heard this message

for years in Sunday school, Bible study, and worship?

Often when promises are made to get tough on crime,

what is really intended is to come down heavy on punishment.

This isn’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 basic human 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 a Christian agenda.

It is our belief, because

Overcoming evil with good is one of our most precious values.

Overcoming evil with good is our value, because it is Christ’s value.

Political attempts to overcome evil with good rarely work out well.

Think Vietnam, the war on drugs, or the war on terror.

The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions

(Or so I’ve heard).

With both party conventions safely behind us,

The warning is equally shared:

Political promises are as smooth and slimy

as snakes in the grass.

Overcome evil with good by spending time, talent, and treasure

With neighbors who need you most;

people like those Jesus associated with.

Make yourself the one who reaches out to the stranger,

the visitor,

the sojourner,

the widow,

the orphan,

and invite them to become your friend.

Be the spinner of harmony

and the practitioner of peace.

Associate with the lowly.

Ease suffering.

Give hope.

Empower and encourage.

Once self-sustainable,

Set God’s people free and move on to address the next need.

Dearly beloved, friends, family, and neighbors:

listen to these words of the Apostle Paul, as found in Romans 12.

They endure, not because of his eloquence or stature.

They endure beyond the centuries

and across cultures

because these words convey

the values of Jesus Christ.

These are the values of the Christian.

Make them your values,

even as I pledge to make them mine.

Amen.

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