“Overcoming Evil”  Romans 12:9-21

If we are going to love others, we must know that we are loved by God.

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost  September 2-3, 2023

“Overcoming Evil”  Romans 12:9-21

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             The couple had made an appointment with me to work on their marriage.  I could tell when I watched them arrive that things were not going well.  A door slammed.  And strong words were spoken.  A number of “F” bombs were hurled.  Ultimatums were given.  Words that must have cut to the very soul of each other were spoken. 

            They didn’t know it, but I heard everything they said.  My eyes saw the deep pain that was inflicted.  They entered the building and spent a few minutes cooling down, went to the restroom, and arrived a few minutes late for the appointment.

            As they entered my office I noticed a pained smile on their face.  I said, “How are you?”  And they said those most insincere words, “Just fine.”  And I said, “No, you’re not.”  “I heard everything you just said.”  “I heard those awful words that were spoken.”  “I saw some awful things.”  We had something to talk about that day.

            That is how it is at times.  Have you ever got in it with somebody?  You’re angry and you just explode.  The cruelest words attack your enemy, whether that is your spouse, your parent, your kid, your friend, your co-worker, your lousy neighbor, or the stranger that just ticked you off.  And when it happens you really know deep inside that things are not ok.  They are not ok with you.  They certainly are not ok between you and the person whom you hurt.

            In word after word St. Paul tells of a better way to live.  “Honor one another above yourselves.”  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (See the longer section of Romans 12:9-21)  Does your temper need some direction?  Does your impatience need some correction?  Do you need a kick in the rear-end?  These words written in Romans 12 will offer some does and don’ts to your life.

            Rev. Richard Wurmbrand was a missionary in Romania in the days when atheistic Communism violently opposed the message of Jesus Christ.  Anyone speaking the message of Jesus faced being arrested and placed in prison.  But Pastor Wurmbrand would not be silenced.  As a result he would spend 14 years in a prison, from 1948 until 1962.  There he was physically tortured.  His first three years were spent in solitary confinement.  Wurmbrand said that in those years his faith became even stronger.  He also pitied the darkness of the mind and soul of the prison guards who had the job of watching him. 

            The guards were adamant that he was not to pray.  If he prayed publicly he would be beaten.  But on the concrete floor of his cell he would kneel and pray to his heavenly Father.  And because of this act Wurmbrand would be pulled out of his cell and would be beaten, especially targeting the bottom of his feet.  After he was beaten and put back in his cell, the prison guard would check on him through the small peephole in the door.  To his amazement, Wurmbrand was back on his knees in prayer.  Dragged out again, he was beaten severely.  This happened a third and a fourth time.  The prison guard looked at him and shouted, “What is wrong with you?  You have nothing.  What are you praying for?”  Wurmbrand responded, “I am praying for you.”

            I’m wondering – how is your love life?  No – not THAT love life.  I’m talking about the love life that Paul is speaking about.  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”  “Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”  St. John says this about a Christian’s love life, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  (I John 4:20-21)

            I believe that God yearns for something better for us.  It would be only natural to grow bitter in such suffering.  It would only be natural to seek to get even, to seek retribution, to desire evil upon such evil people.  It would be understandable that one could lose their faith in the goodness of God when they suffer so.

            But in the hardest times God yearns for our good and what is best, not just for us, but for the others in our life.  Paul begins with the words, “Love must be sincere.”  (Romans 12:9)  And then after that command are the words that explain what a sincere love looks like.  Another translation of that verse says, “Love without hypocrisy.”  Love can’t be fake.  It can’t be made-up.  It has to be real – authentic. 

            God takes us so much deeper than we would ever be on our own.  “Love without hypocrisy” “Be devoted to one another out of brotherly love.”  “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  “Live in harmony with one another.”  “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.”  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

            By ourselves we fight for what we want, what we should have, how our life should come out.  But God yearns for something better, greater, deeper.  The opening verses of this chapter tell us of God’s yearning for us, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  (Romans 12:1-2)  God yearns that His dear children do not molded by the ways of a godless world – the anger, the hatred, the cruelty – but that we are transformed by God’s word and powered by His Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another”  (John 13:34)

            Since March of 2020, these past 3 years, we have put a video recording of portions of our service, including the sermon, on YouTube and on our website.  Regularly there are more people who watch us on their computer, phone or TV than attend the worship service that we hold in our church building in Littleton.  Once in a while we get a note or an e-mail or a phone call from one of our on-line viewers.  Earlier this year a lady from Sacramento, once a Lutheran school teacher, remarked that if someone is going to love others, as Jesus tells us plainly to do, they must first love themselves. 

            I’m going to go one better than that.  If we are going to love others, we must know that we are loved by God.  God yearns for us to know His love.  St. John had much to say about this receiving of God’s love to us brought to us through the work of Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel we read, {Jesus said}“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)  Jesus has to have you in His grip if you are going to live and love in a new way.  In his epistle John would speak about this yearning that God has for us to first know His love, “We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)  “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  (I John 4:10)

            God yearns that we know Jesus and His deep, deep love for us.  You can’t give what you haven’t received.  You can’t give this love, real love, this love that has no hypocrisy, if you haven’t received love.  Do you know the deep, deep love of Jesus?  Jesus gave His own life so that you would be His own child.  Jesus buried all your sins and brought you to a living faith in Holy Baptism.  Jesus invites you to the meal at the Lord’s Table to forgive sins and then to offer you nourishment on your way to living your Christian life and showing sincere love in your life.

            God yearns for you to be His.  God yearns that you find peace in Jesus, His death and His resurrection.  He makes us fully confident that no one and nothing will snatch us from His hands.

            God yearns that we would desire to live in love with all, every day.  May God, who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!!               



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