Summary: A sermon about repaying evil with good.
A colleague of mine once told me about a time he was driving down the road and another driver, who was very angry with him for some infraction, drove up beside him cursing and making gestures at him.
My colleague rolled down his window and instead of returning insults he said to the guy: “Gee, I’m really sorry for whatever I did. I apologize.”
He told me that, at that, the other driver’s face relaxed and his frown turned into an embarrassed smile: “Oh, that’s okay,” he said, “I’m sorry I lost my cool.”
I looked at my colleague in awe after he told me this story.
I said, “That is wonderful the way you handled that situation.”
His response was: “Don’t get me wrong.
I was about to give-it to the guy until I remembered that I have a sticker advertising my church on the back bumper.”
It seems like so many people are angry these days.
And it’s so easy to get angry—all we have to do is turn on the t-v, listen to the news in the car, or scan the headlines on the internet or even just overhear someone else’s conversation at Starbucks.
We, as a people, are facing problems that pose serious threats to us all—even to the extent of losing our jobs and our homes.
It’s no wonder so many people are angry about so many things.
But, while anger may make us feel more powerful in the face of overwhelming obstacles, it doesn’t help us find solutions.
When we’re angry, we inevitably look at our opponents with contempt.
So, as Christians how do we respond to the issues in this world that get under our skin?
Oppression, injustice, deception, manipulation, violence…
…we really can’t just sit back and ignore what is going on if we really believe in justice and peace and freedom, can we?
If we turn to the Apostle Paul here, he says we are to “hate evil.”
Surely that means we should do everything within our power to fight against it!
But I think we have to be careful.
He also says we’re not supposed to repay anyone evil for evil and that we are to overcome evil with good.
While it sounds pretty straight forward in theory, in practice it’s anything but that.
I mean, who hasn’t been smacked on the cheek, assaulted with a nasty comment, or run over by a cheap shot…and NOT been tempted to try and get some kind of revenge?
Fighting back and responding in-kind seem to be the basic human impulses when we are mistreated.
But our Scripture Lesson for this morning declares that we, as Christ followers, are to find quite different ways of dealing with the problem of evil.
Paul writes: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…
…do not take revenge…
…on the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry feed him [or her]; if he [or she] is thirsty, give him [or her] something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his [or her] head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
You know, I used to think that the “heaping burning coals” on the head of your enemy was the ‘getting even’ or the ‘revenge part’ of this passage.
But that is not true at all!!!
Think about it; it happens to all of us.
Have you ever been in a really bad mood for some reason, and treated a spouse, a clerk in a store or a stranger on the phone with angry, sarcastic and bitter words?
I sure have.
What happens when that person responds with love and calm rather than returning your anger, your wrath with wrath?
It tends to calm you down doesn’t it?
It might even embarrass you a bit for having been so rude and angry.
It doesn’t happen all the time, but I think it does eventually…
…even if it takes a couple days or weeks or months or years of contemplation.
I sure do have a lot more respect for someone who does not react angrily to me when I am being angry with them…
…how about you?
I might even come to love that person, if he or she is a stranger or has been thought of as an enemy.
There is so much truth to what the Bible is trying to teach us this morning.
Revenge only keeps evil in circulation.
Whether in a family or a town or an entire community like the Middle East, the culture of revenge, unless it is broken, is never-ending.
Both sides will always be able to justify more violence and hatred.
When Paul talks about heaping burning coals on someone’s head he isn’t talking about another way to ‘get back at someone’ or ‘take revenge.’