He completes this section by encouraging us to overcome evil with good. In a culture that is enthralled with violence who do we accomplish this? How do we demonstrate love and goodness without being overwhelmed by the violence, evil and hatred that we so often see on display?
Text: Romans 12: 9-21
Let Love be Genuine
Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather is film that explores the dynamics of a crime family. The youngest son becomes involved in the family business and in the climax of the film has all of his families rivals killed. All this while he is attending church. It is a film which explores the theme of redemptive violence and it is not alone.
There are countless films which explore and even glorify this theme. Kill them before they kill you, kill them because they wronged you or your family. The actors and subtleties of the story might change, but the underlying theme of redemptive violence is the same. The attitude is that if the violence is redemptive, that is it makes a wrong right, then the violence is justified. More than that it is easily marketable.
Movies are not alone. Television, some genres of books and many video games all fall within this profile of creating a product which glorify redemptive violence. The movie Minority Report is one that explored the theme of pre-emptive violence, removing the cause of potential harm before it can do harm. Each of these: movies, television, books and video games are billion dollar industries. The myth of redemptive violence is prevalent within the culture we are surrounded. Yet, these industries alone are not the soul source of redemptive violence.
The foreign policy of many nations is also built on the myth of redemptive violence. Wars are started through the justification of punishing a nation for its transgressions. This is as old as time; the cornerstone of the NATO alliance is that an attack on one is an attack on all. Of course, we also see wars proclaimed for preventative means. The recent war in Iraq was launched because of the fear of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This is the same discussion that surrounds the Iran nuclear program and the North Korean nuclear program. This week North Korean launched a missile over Japan that could hold a nuclear warhead. We’ve been told that “all options are on the table” in terms of the response. A frightening prospect.
Former US President Jimmy Carter has said, “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”
On a personal level when we are slighted personally we don’t think of how we can forgive the individual who harmed us. We think of the things we’d like to do to that person. Whether it’s giving them a piece of my mind or making them pay or and I wager we’ve all thought it, I’ll kill em. It seems as if we are hard wired to respond violently, to lash out and cause additional harm. We take that Old Testament saying of an ‘eye for an eye’ very literally and then we add a little extra in for good measure.
Except that saying ‘an eye for an eye’ wasn’t intended as a form of redemptive violence. It was intended to work as a judicial system that was to prevent escalation of violence and prevent further harm.
If what we find in the culture around us is full of redemptive violence and if we can see the problem of this violence, we must ask ourselves as the church, what models do we have for turning away from vengeance or for helping either our enemies or strangers?
What we find in our reading from Romans today is a unified opening. That love must be sincere and this sets the theme, not only for today but for our entire lives. We must be genuine in our love, it must be devoid of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy for a Christian is a deadly sin because new life in Christ starts inside, but if Christ isn’t driving your innermost thoughts then all you are doing is faking the Christian attitude towards other people. If this is the case, something is wrong, something is amiss.
Paul writes, “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.” He the proceeds to give us a litany of ways we are to act when people are being less than nice to us. He finishes by reminding us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.
Theologian Frank Crouch writes, “Unlike our natural tendencies, these verses call on us not only to address the cares, concerns, and challenges of people like us, who we already know and love, and who already know and love us. Nor do they limit the horizon of our concern to our extended family, to existing members of our community, or to people who actively support us and never threaten us. The verses challenge us to care for people in need, regardless of how they fit into various religious, social, or political categories.” (Reference – Working Preacher).
When we read these versus and we examine our lives in the light of God’s love; when the hypocrisy fades away this is what we are left with. A command to love one another. In this light the myth of redemptive violence that culture perpetuates, does not hold up. We can’t love one another if we are going to do violence. We can’t overcome evil violence.
You are all aware that several weeks ago White Nationalists, members of the KKK descended upon Charlottesville Virginia. Also there that weekend were a lot of clergy, many who have trained specifically in non-violent protest. Following that weekend one of the clergy who was there wrote an article about the events. He wrote that, “It really felt like every step you take could be your last.” That was the fear people felt, that was the tension. Author and theologian Brian McLaren is quoted saying, “Sometimes our presence, just a bunch of clergy showing up … people who were angry or looking for a fight would calm down.”
That’s a power that not only clergy have, but all faithful followers of Christ are endowed with the ability to help bring peace. To resolve tensions, not to blow them up again. This ability stems from our ability to love in the face of anger and hate. Our ability to forgive in the most trying of circumstances.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments that weekend occurred with author Lisa Harper was standing in front of a militia member. After standing for hours she turned to leave to avoid increasing violence. She addressed the man before her one last time.
“I just want you to know, we love,” she said.
Harper said the man’s face, grizzled and tired from the day, suddenly softened. After a moment, he replied: “I love you, too.” (Reference – Think Progress: Clergy in Charlottesville)
Let your love be genuine. Hold fast to what is good. Bless those who persecute you and most importantly do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. If each of us can do this is small and large ways each day, we will see a difference. We will see more people turn to God, we will do our part in the work of the kingdom of heaven. Amen.