We continue to “do church” during these strange and unprecedented times. It is fun to put dates ONTO the calendar, instead of just taking them off. Next week we are going to try a drive-thru communion for the first time and our Missions Committee is working on a drive-thru dinner for mid-September. During worship today we blessed backpack tags and device stickers (here is the liturgy if you would like to use it in your church!) and will send them out to our kids so they’re ready for the start of school.
We continued where we left off in Romans today – this letter has been such a source of comfort to me lately. I hope you find comfort in Paul’s words, as well!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 30, 2020
Hold Fast To What Is Good
Well, it has been a week.
Wildfires moved quickly and fiercely through California.
A category four hurricane decimated the Louisiana coast.
A black man was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer, igniting a new wave of black lives matter protests and demonstrating just how much work we still have to do with racial reconciliation in our country.
The Republican National Convention wrapped up and, following last week’s Democratic National Convention, officially kicked off what we all know is going to be a very volatile and divisive presidential election.
Actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43, and indescribable loss to the Hollywood community, both as an actor and as a person.
Schools are trying to re-open. And it’s not easy. And people have lot of thoughts about that.
And this seems so small in the grand scheme of things, but someone impersonated me on Instagram, which was super annoying to have to deal with while I was at the doctor with my daughter for her four-month well visit.
AS AN ASIDE – and I say this not only because of what happened to me on Instagram this week, but also because I have had several clergy friends who have been impersonated by email and it caused giant messes at their churches – please know that I will never randomly email or direct message you on social media and ask you for money or gift cards. I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are evil people in this world that unfortunately are really good with technology. And they really should use their technological geniuses to make the world a better place instead of trying to scam people, but – alas – here we are. Moral of the story: If something seems not like me, it’s probably not me.
But – that is actually a really good segue into this morning’s scripture reading, from Romans. It begins:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9, NRSV)
So let’s talk about evil (that’s a fun topic for a Sunday morning, right?)
Unfortunately, in a lot of different ways, we have all seen evil unfold over the past several weeks – even months. We are living through an indescribable moment in history, collectively wondering when – and how – this chapter is going to end. Amidst a global health crisis our news is filled with headlines of violence, division and turmoil. It is not a dream, it is not a movie, it is not some scenario we are trying to avoid; it is the reality of the world we are living in right now.
But despite all of this, I think we have also seen a lot of love – a lot of true and tangible and genuine love. We have seen goodness in people, in communities and in organizations. We have seen kindness and compassion come in simple and grassroots, but also very real ways. We have seen love conquer the evil we are facing; we have seen good overcome the bad.
And this scripture reminds us that, in this moment, we have to hold fast to what is good.
That is how we will get through these challenging times, how we will close out this chapter in history we are writing.
Scripture has always kind of fascinated me – for several reasons. First of all, it is so diverse in terms of literature and style, so there is a little something for everybody, no matter what you are going through. Second of all, there is a lot of overlap in stories and timelines, so you know, that even if every single word is not 100% historically accurate, that there is still truth to scripture as a whole.
And finally, scripture has stood the test of time. It has been around a lot longer than we have – thousands of years, in fact. So while we keep saying that we are living in unprecedented times and we have never experienced a pandemic before – scripture has.
Scripture has been through wars and exiles and natural disasters and pandemics.
And it has lived through it.
And it has been a stronghold and a lifeline for people.
In many ways, scripture has never been so real to me. Sure, it has spoken to me at different points throughout my life and, in many ways, captivated me (I studied it for seven years, after all). But there is something about going through a long-term global crisis that makes me better understand the suffering and uncertainty that is talked about in scripture. And it makes me appreciate peoples’ faith in the midst of their struggles – and their hope, their tenacity and their commitment to overcome evil with good.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is the longest letter Paul ever wrote; it was written to a church that he, himself, did not found, although some scholars believe he did meet some people from the church throughout his travels. Paul had heard reports of quarrels between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – two very different groups of people united under this one umbrella of Christianity, trying to figure out how to be united when their perspectives on things were so very different.
On multiple levels, this actually sounds very familiar to what we are going through in the United States right now.
This particular passage is sort of a rulebook about what it means to be Christian. I read it described this week as, “A staccato series of imperatives for all Christians, drawing on the wisdom tradition and focusing on social relations.” (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, With The Apocraphal/Deuterocanonical Books. San Francisco, Calif. : HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.) In other words, it is a somewhat straightforward (but also in many ways challenging) list of what it means to live out your faith in Christ. Some of these rules seem obvious – some seem like a challenge – some seem downright impossible.
Paul is not saying that it is going to be easy; in fact, I think he knows just how difficult what he is asking us to do is. But he leaves us with this charge of what we have the capacity to do. The final verse of this passage says:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:21, NRSV)
In other words, if we do these things – if we follow these rules and commandments and challenges – we can put goodness into this world.
Goodness that will overcome evil.
Goodness that will bring the Gospel to life.
Goodness that will help us close out this chapter.
Goodness that will change the world for the better.
The thing about this portion of Paul’s letter is that he names evil; he talks about suffering and persecution and sorrow; he says that we will have enemies. He is saying that everything we are experiencing in our lives right now – the realities of this year – a public health crisis, impossible solutions to childcare and education, systemic racism, harsh political division, family members and friends duking it out in the comment section on Facebook (to name a few) – is part of life. It is not a pleasant part of life, but it is a part of life.
And Paul is not saying that Christianity is going to take all of these things away. What he is saying, however, is that, as Christians, we can be active participants in overcoming these things in our lives.
We can be the change that will shine light into the darkness of this moment.
We can be the voice of reconciliation that is so desperately need throughout our country.
We can be the good that will overcome evil.
And none of this is easy, especially not when the world is falling apart and tensions are running high.
But I really do believe that, as Christians, we can rise up. We can overcome evil with good and bless the people who disagree with us and persecute us. We can help others, we can love one another and we can practice hospitality.
And I believe this because it has happened before. Because scripture tells us – it shows us – that people of faith have walked through fire before and come out stronger on the other side. Scripture shows us that nothing – not even death itself – stops God from intervening and redeeming a situation.
Paul is not naively saying these words and commissioning the Roman Church to just Pollyanna a tough situation. Paul knows how hard this is going to be. His own story was not easy – he experienced suffering and persecution. He knows the gravity of what he is asking the Romans to do – and he believes they can do it.
And so when I say these things to you – when I say we can be the change, when I say we can be the voice of reconciliation, when I say we can be the good – I say them knowing that, while it might seem impossible, it has been done before and we can rise up and do it again today.
So let your love be true. Resist what is evil. Hold onto – and lift up – the good things around you. Love God and love one another. Celebrate every little tiny bit of hope you see and experience. Help others when you can. Bless your friends and your enemies. Don’t try to always get the last word in. If you are going to engage in debate with someone, do so with love and affection for the person you are talking to. Make sure we are all taking care of one another – making sure we have the basic things that we need.
So let us put kindness and love and compassion and hospitality into the world so that one day we can look back on this time – we can read this crazy chapter we are writing right now – and see that we were not overcome by the evil we faced – but that we overcame that evil with good.
Thanks be to God!