Saturday, August 30, 2014

Living In Harmony With Others - Romans 12:9-21

New Testament Lesson                                                             Romans 12:9-21
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 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. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

        Last Sunday, United Airlines Flight 1462 was flying from New Jersey to Denver, and had to divert and land in Chicago.  It seems that a fight broke out between two of the passengers.

A woman wanted to recline her seat, but the passenger behind her was using a small device called the “Knee Defender” that disabled the forward seat from reclining.  Words were thrown back and forth, there was yelling, the woman threw water in the man’s face, and before you knew it, the plane was landing in Chicago and two of the passengers were removed from the jet.

One of the witnesses to this event described these two passengers as behaving like children and wondered why people can’t be more civil to one another.

We can laugh or shake our heads in bewilderment at conduct like this, but it does not take much for a little bit of yelling and tossing of water to escalate into something far more violent.

It was back in January that a man began texting his daughter during the previews of coming attractions in a movie theater in Tampa, Florida.  Another person in the movie theater stormed out to complain to the manager about the other person using the phone during the previews, and then came back into the theater alone and began shouting at the person with the cell phone.  Voices were raised, a box of popcorn was thrown, and then bullets were fired and one man is dead.

Sometimes the violence spreads into the community like a wildfire.  In Ferguson, Missouri, the police shooting of one individual suspect spread to riots on the streets, looting in stores, leading to 155 arrests, 4 injuries and another death. (Wikipedia, “2014 Ferguson Unrest”). 

And beyond that there is the violence among drug cartels in nations south of us.  And there is the violence in Gaza.  And Isis and the beheading of a reporter in Syria. There are the frequent abductions of young girls by warlords in Nigeria

Now, there is not much we can do about the situation with drug cartels in Mexico or with the abduction in Nigeria.  We alone can’t stop ISIS and terrorists. 

But keeping in mind what Paul said about living in harmony with one another he put peacemaking on a more personal level.

“As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” is what Paul said.

We can’t do much about the violence between nations, or even in a community in Missouri, but we can do something about building peace in our own community, and within our places of work or school or family.

In verse 16 of our New Testament lesson, Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another.”

So what are we to do?  How can we live in harmony with other people?

Step one – love others.

Now that sounds fine, except there is one problem.

We are surrounded by idiots, sadists, the self-centered, the socio paths, the psychopaths, and the crazy folks.  Peace would be very easy if everyone would just do things MY way.  But they don’t, and that is where the challenge comes in.

There are people who break in line, turn on their cell phones in the middle of a movie, who talk too loudly in the library, who vote for the wrong candidate, whatever.

We are surrounded by people who are one way or the other difficult.

To us Paul says in the New Testament lesson, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.”

What is the proper response to someone who insults you?  You love them.

What is the proper response when someone cuts you off in traffic?  You love them.

What is the proper response when someone won’t let you recline your seat on the airplane?  You love them.

This is difficult, but next time you look at the person who is rude to you stop and think about how that person is a child of God, loved by God, adored by God, and forgiven by God.

Who knows what that rude person has gone through?

Not long ago I was in the grocery store.  I had my list and my shopping cart and all I wanted to do was get the stuff on my list, pay for my groceries and go home.  It had been a long day and I was tired. 

And you know how you are in a grocery store… you go up one aisle and down the other and you go back and forth from one section to another.  And as you navigate through the store trying to find all the things on your list, there are times when you keep running into the same person.

And so it was with me a few days ago.

This was a person who just seemed so angry.  He would bump into other people and would respond with a salvo of profanity.  He dropped a bottle of something on the floor and it was glass so it broke, and out came more profanity and anger – as if it was the store’s fault, or my fault.

I just tried to keep to myself, turn the other cheek and get on with my shopping. 

I was paying for my groceries when I saw this guy one more time – he was cutting in line at another checkout line. 

What is it with people?
When I left the grocery store I thought I would never see him again, but his car was parked right next to mine.  His wife was waiting for him in the car and wouldn’t you know it – they began to argue.  I’m not sure what all they were saying, but it was obvious from bits and pieces of the conversation that he had just lost his job.  These groceries had been bought with their last few dollars.  His wife looked weak and perhaps seriously ill.

        I suspect that this man’s life was probably in shambles.   Life had been mean to him and now he was going to be mean to others.

        With his profanity and yelling and rudeness it is easy to see only the rudeness.  But look deeper and this is a wounded man loved by God.  Loved - not because he deserved it, but because of God’s grace. 

        Paul tells us in this New Testament passage to “weep with those who weep, and to laugh with those who laugh.”  Sometimes the person who disrupts our harmony is in such pain that we need to stop and see the situation for what it is and to weep with them.

        Paul tells us to love others, and to do so with sincerity.  It is amazing how quickly a genuine smile and an understanding word can defuse a situation. 

        The way the Bible puts it in the Old Testament book of Proverbs is to say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

        Most of us respond to anger with anger, but all that does is to stir up more anger.  Things escalate.  We want to stand our ground.  We want to come out victorious.  We want to yield to no one. 
        “An eye for an eye,” is what Moses taught.

        And that was a wonderful new concept of justice in a world in which if a person put out your eye, you could put both of his eyes out.
Moses limited justice to reasonable punishment.

        But we pervert that concept of Mosiac justice today.  “An eye for an eye” concept in this age means that if you cuss at me, I’ll cuss at you. 

You bully me, I’ll bully you. 

You push, I’ll shove.

Throw popcorn in my face, and I’ll put a gun in your face.”

        At some point somebody has to break that cycle, turn the other cheek, and walk away from this discord.

        ““As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” said Paul.

        The sad thing is, no matter how much we put our pride aside, no matter how many times we turn the other cheek or how many times we give a soft answer in an effort to turn away someone’s wrath, peace and harmony do not come.

Paul said, “As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” but sometimes it does not depend on us.

        Angry people will remain angry.

        Bullies may never stop bullying.

        Mean folks are mean.

        Abusive spouses or bosses continue to abuse.

        And as Paul says in our New Testament lesson, we should hate such evil actions. 

        We cannot control other people.  Some people will never respond to kindness.  Some people will always be hateful, or even dangerous. 

        Sometimes, we just need to walk away.

        When Jesus sent out his disciples into other communities, he talked about how he was sending them out into a difficult world, and that they were being sent like lambs among wolves.  There would be times, Jesus warned, that the disciples would not be well received but would be rejected.  “Shake the dust off your feet and move onto the next town,” Jesus said. 

        He didn’t tell us to burn the town, or to loot or riot.  Just move on, and get on with your mission in life.

        Sometimes we have to leave the toxic people in our lives behind and move on.

        It would be great if we could be at peace with everyone, but we can’t.  Because we cannot control the actions of others.

        But we can control our actions.

        “As far as it depends on us…” we will do what we can to turn around this culture of being uncivil to one another.

        As far as it depends on us, we will respond to other people’s rudeness with kindness.

        As far as it depends on us, we will respond to other people’s disrespect with respect.

Copyright 2014  The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.