One (among many) advantage of being part of a multiple staff is that every so often, someone else preaches.  This coming Sunday is just such an occasion.  I get to lead the liturgy and listen to a good sermon.  Tonight, at our midweek Eucharist, I do preach…on this Roman’s text.  So here you go…early.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011


“I’ll Never Get Even”

Romans 12:9-21



“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge.” Romans 12:17




I can tell that fall is coming.  Some might point to the hardy mums in their flower beds that are beginning to show their fall colors. Maybe it is the coolness we enjoyed each evening this week that made you feel the turn of the season.  For me it is a smell and a sound.  It is the smell and the crunch of the grass under my feet that makes me think fall.  These sensory reminders take me back to the practice field in high school, It reminds me of football practice and as much as anything, that reminds me of fall.


I wasn’t much of a football player really.  To be good at this sport it takes a certain robust physique which I did, at one time, have.  It takes agility, which I didn’t naturally posses but had to work at.  But it also takes a certain attitude.  It was the attitude that was the hardest part for me.   Because of my size I was recruited to be a lineman.  Offensive lineman.  I have a temperament for that.  I could rationalize protection.  Defensive players need to have a killer instinct they wear on their sleeves.  I have it too, but it is hidden, somebody says ‘repressed.’  In one game, I was playing center, the defense was in a 3-4 set so the middle linebacker was over me.  On this play we were running a 145 trap, an off-tackle play, and my job was to fire out on the linebacker and cut off his pursuit angle.  I snapped the ball, lurched out to my man, and instead of any normal ‘bone and shuck,’ or ‘bump and roll’ response to my block he managed to punch me in the nose, right through my facemask.  My eyes began to tear, I couldn’t see and of course the blood.  I knew if someone noticed it they’d take me out of the game so I went back to the huddle and tucked my head so no one would see.  The quarterback called the next play, “ready! Break! We all clapped and turned toward the line of scrimmage.”  I turned to Lester, the left guard on the way back to the line, “Lester, ignore your assignment, do me a favor and ‘cut’ the middle linebacker.”  He saw my squished nose.  “Sure,” he said.  So Lester cut the guy, hitting him about the knees, I hit him high, and then made sure that I was on top of him in the pile.  Then I ‘raked him.’  That means you make sure that your elbows are on one side of his ribs and your knees are on the other and as you are getting up you move in a crawling motion, raking so to speak, and bang up those ribs.  He stayed down and I stood up and turned back to the huddle and that linebacker limped off the field.  “Thanks Lester,” I said, “I’m even.”


Psychology will tell you that human beings are not really all that civilized a creature.  We have retained a certain number of traits that preserved our species.  One of these traits is the ‘fight or flight’ impulse when we are threatened with danger.  Our physiology automatically kicks into gear.  Adrenaline courses through our veins.  Our heart rate rises.  Our respiratory rate increases.  Our senses focus on the threat and we determine which option will suit us best.  Competition on the field of athletics allows (usually) a marginally civilized outlet for this quality.  I also played ice hockey, another ‘bloodletting’ sport, where occasionally during a fight a hockey game breaks out.


Think of it, though, don’t some of these primal instincts come out in other activities?  How about business?  When we’ve been knocked down by the opposition, don’t we tap into these primordial juices to get the team to bond and get creative and productive to ‘beat’ the competition?  Politics?


Have you ever seen a series of practical jokes that stop being funny because the series is ultimately about ‘getting even?’  Sure you have.


Some years ago there was a big hullabaloo in the news over a certain, so called Christian, preacher who suggested that the President of Venezuela should be assassinated.  There were all kinds of rotten things cited as the justification for this proposed retaliation.  One could even turn to scripture, to the ‘first’ testament and say: “20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.”[1]  Read carefully, you will note that this part of the Levitical code is to limit retaliation.  Part of the whole ‘get even’ experience is really about getting ‘more than even,’ if we are truly honest.  Pat Robertson’s comments do not only exceed the limits of this part of the law, he is ignoring the words of Paul (and Jesus too, I might add).


Paul writes his church in Rome.  He tells them to “hate evil” and “hold fast to that which is good”[2] The Apostle insists that it is not the Christian’s prerogative to avenge evil.  Finally, it is God alone who rights wrong and balances injustice.


There is something about this ‘doormat’ view of Christianity that is uncomfortable.  So what are we to do?  We all acknowledge that feelings of anger and yearning for revenge are at some level natural.  I, for one, have a hard time with the admonition to, “don’t do something, just sit there.”  Fortunately, Paul doesn’t only leave us with a theological point; God alone has the right to avenge wrong.  Paul does offer us something for me to do, if I’ll never get even.


Paul suggests that we can overcome evil with good.  We need not be a whipping post for every abuse that comes our way; there are times to retreat to safety.  I would never advocate for abused women to ‘turn the other cheek.’  In every case of evil, something needs to be done.  But to do something, which is always my impulse, means to skillfully use goodness and graciousness as my response.


What is accomplished in this, you might ask.  You might even cite the bible and say that in doing this I am “casting pearls before swine.” Maybe.  But in the short-term, if my enemy is hungry and I feed them, if they are thirsty and I give them something to drink, I avoid participation in evil myself, and I expose it for what it is.  Paul’s words to the Roman Christians do not ask us to improve the world with kindness.  He invites us to participate in a new world, a world in which our lives are signs of God’s justice and God’s rule of peace.  And yes, that isn’t the way we usually operate.



[1] Leviticus 24:20

[2] Romans 12:9