How are you doing with your Lenten practices? Are you saying The Jesus Creed when you wake up, when you lie down, and throughout the day whenever it comes to mind? Are you reading the Daily Scripture Readings? Are you planning to attend today's Community Mid-Week Lenten Service?
This morning as I was reading today's Scripture--Romans 12:9-21--I was reminded of this sermon that I offered in 2015 after the church shootings in Charleston, SC. The sermon comes from several years ago, and it deals with a specific event that was current then. Unfortunately, however, the TOPIC is still relevant. And I feel like this message points to a powerful example of the power of today's Scripture Reading and how we Christians can OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.
OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD
Wednesday, June 17. Dylan Roof, 21 years old – white supremacist – walks into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church while they’re having a prayer meeting.
- The people welcome him with open arms.
- For a whole hour he sits in on the meeting.
- In fact, the church people are so nice to him that he almost decides not to do what he came to do.
But he did it anyway. He took out his gun and said, “I have to do it. You are raping our women and taking over our country. You have to go.”
By the time he left nine Christ-loving, God-fearing, Bible-studying Christians were dead. Just because they were black.
Mothers, sisters, a young son, a beloved grandmother all dead. Because of hate.
A state senator, who was also a pastor, who was also a Doctor of Ministry Candidate at a United Methodist Seminary, who was also a husband and a father of two young children –Clementa Pinckney, dead at age 41, a victim of racial violence
The big question on all of our minds this morning is WHY?
And the answer is because we live in a broken, fallen world.
We live in a sin-sick world that is infested with evil.
And the Bible is very honest about that:
Ephesians 6:12 says,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…
The 23rd Psalm that says “The Lord is my Shepherd,” also says,
"...I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." –Psalm 23:4
1 Peter 5:8 –
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Jesus promised His followers, "In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
And he taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
Go home and read the first 3 chapters of the Bible:
-God created a good world – but it went bad because of human sin!
-God created human beings, and put us in charge, and gave us a choice:
AND WE CHOSE DISOBEDIENCE –
And now we live in a world FILLED with EVIL.
And understand that when I say EVIL, I’m not just talking about bad people doing bad things:
- I’m talking about a force
- I’m talking about spiritual darkness
- I’m talking about a condition of brokenness that permeates this entire world.
The Charleston shootings are an awful reminder of the horrible truth that the world is filled with evil:
- The evil of racism
- The evil of violence
- The evil of disregard for the value of human life.
Evil is alive and well on planet earth.
But there is something we can do. Turn with me to Romans 12, beginning in v. 9. This passage is rich. Read this passage every day for a month and it will change your life. If every Christian in America would live out this passage, we could change the country. Romans 12:9-21 has a ton of stuff to say about every aspect of life. But right now I want us to look at it in the light of what we saw in Charleston.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil…
Let me ask you: Do you hate the evil of racism enough to never, ever, ever again utter a racist comment, or tell a racist joke, or use a racial slur? Because Jesus says in Matthew 5 that anger and name-calling are just as bad as murder! When you make a racist comment, you’re denying the dignity and value and worth of another human being. And when you do that, you’ve taken the first step on the road to murder.
…hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Honor—that means you speak well of people. You lift people up. You respect people. You realize that everybody is created in the image of God, regardless of their race or social status or national origin, and you treat them that way.
11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Oh my. How often do we persevere in prayer? Not just a quick prayer before meals, not just a short devotional prayer – but how often do we get on our knees and plead with God to change things?
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
That means we have to make sure that everybody who walks in that door feels welcome, whether or not they look like us, talk like us, dress like us, think like us – everybody gets hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Ah, that’s the big one. This is what makes Christians different from the rest of the world. Forgiveness. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
One way to deal with evil is to enter into the pain of those who suffer – and here’s a way you can do that…
[Explain sending cards to members of Emanuel AME church.]
16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
This verse is talking about humility. One of the signs of humility is that you’re willing to listen. And one of the reasons we have so much division in our country is that we’ve forgotten how to LISTEN. It’s time we all stop claiming to be wiser than we are and start listening to people on the other side.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil…
Again, this is what should make us different.
I think about the Amish several years ago, when a shooter came into their school and killed some of their kids.
-They went to the guy’s funeral
-They took care of his family
-They gave money to the shooter’s children
They did not return evil for evil. How different would our country be if all of us Christians did that?
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Listen: Are you trying to live peaceably with other people?
Especially people who are different? Or people you disagree with?
Are you reaching out?
Are you listening?
Are you building bridges or putting up barriers?
19 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.” 20 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.”
--in other words, you make their face turn red with embarrassment.
Finally, verse 21, and this is the verse that I really want you to remember:
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So what do we do about evil?
- Well, we don’t pay back evil for evil.
- And we don’t let ourselves be overcome by evil.
What do we do? We overcome evil.
How? By doing good.
And the good news is, we have seen that happen in Charleston!
On the Friday after the shooting, during the bond hearing for Dylan Roof, the judge asked if any of the family members of the victims would like to speak. The first person who spoke was the daughter of a woman who was killed, and the first thing she said was:
“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…”
And then a man got up and spoke and he said:
“I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.”
A victim’s granddaughter said this:
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”
These family members who lost their loved ones overcame hatred with forgiveness.
They overcame evil with good.
And then on Sunday morning – Emanuel AME Church was open for business! The bishop appointed an interim pastor named Norvel Goff. And as he stood before a packed house, he said:
"The doors are open at Emanuel this Sunday, sending a message to every demon in Hell and on Earth that no weapon formed against us shall prosper!"
And the people of Emanuel AME went on to have a powerful service of worship in the very place where 9 of their members had been gunned down just a few days before.
Instead of giving up, they overcame despair with hope.
They overcame evil with good.
And then Sunday night – 10,000 people gathered on a bridge in Charleston. Half of them started on one side of the bridge, the other half started on the other side. They marched across the bridge singing “This little light of mine” and when they met in the middle, they joined hands and locked arms and formed a unity chain 2.5 miles long.
They observed 9 minutes of silence in honor of the 9 victims. And then they hugged and they laughed and they sang some more. And they showed the world that they were not going to let a madman divide their city. Dylan Roof wanted to start a race war. What ended up happening was exactly the opposite.
The people of Charleston overcame division with unity.
They overcame evil with good.
So what could you and I learn from the people of Charleston?
I think about those family members who were able to stand in that courtroom and look at Dylan Roof and offer him forgiveness Why? Because they saw him as a fellow human being.
And if they can do that for the man who killed their loved ones, then you and I can do it for the people in our lives. We can start treating everyone we meet as a human being, made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect.
We can overcome hatred with understanding.
And then I think about that church that held worship four days after the shooting. Did you know they also held their Bible Study this past Wednesday in the same room where the shootings took place? With bullet holes in the wall, and blood stains on the floor?
If they can do that, then you and I can keep going in the midst of our problems. We can keep going when we’re tempted to give up.
We can overcome despair with hope.
And then I think about that Unity Chain across the Cooper River Bridge. And I wonder, how could we do something like that in Kernersville?
How could we come together across racial lines and show the world that we are not going to be divided?
Let’s overcome division with unity.
Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Overcome hope with despair
Overcome division with unity
Overcome hatred with forgiveness and understanding
Not only is this in the Bible – but the people of Charleston have shown us that it can be done.
So let’s do it.