Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taking the High Road

Romans 12: 9-21

In this week's sports section, there was the report of the guy who is chosen to second at quarterback. There was the report last week of the sprinter who ran the semi-finals of the relay, but was replaced in the final by the gold medalist at that distance. There's the manager who is passed over for the new job, the soldier who isn't promoted in rank, the guy who loses the girl to someone else, the politician who loses the election.

Disappointment is part of life. There are always things that we wish for, hope for, work for, that don’t happen to us. There’s always going to be stuff we want that we don’t get. It’s true now, and it was true in Paul’s time, too. There were other disciples who were more popular, other preachers who gathered more crowds and maybe weren’t in jail so much. But Paul preaches, here, the high road. He preaches humility. He preaches grace.

It’s a hard thing, grace. When there are others who do our job, or volunteer in our committee, when there are others who seem to do what we do, but better or more visibly, it is a human thing to struggle with envy and doubt. When there are people who attack us, we naturally want to do more than just stop their attack, sometimes we also want to destroy them, somehow. Don’t you think Paul felt that way about those preachers who came around to his church in Galatia, telling them that to truly be a Christian, the men had to be circumcised? Not only did Paul disagree, he probably felt very mama-bearish about that church, as if to say “Don’t mess with MY people!”

But that isn’t what he says. Even if he is writing in what may be interpreted as a tone of anger, he lays out in Galatians the reasons why being a true Christian isn’t a matter of physical change, but spiritual. No, he wasn’t exactly kind to his opponents, the Judaizers, but neither did he lay waste to their reputations. Paul says, here in Romans, that one must carry on in the path that God has laid out for you. All Christians are called to specific things, to “live in harmony with one another, do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

Easily said, harder done. In a fallen world, wisdom is usually seen as speaking the correct opinion, expressed as a judgment. Wisdom is rarely seen as the ability to keep our mouth shut about that which does not directly concern us. To the world, wisdom isn’t the complimenting of your opponent in a dispute. Can you imagine the scenario of a talk show on Fox or whomever, and the two or more talking heads ever saying at any point “that’s a very good point, I am going to have to think about that?” Mc Cain did something like that on Thursday, suspending his political advertising for a day to allow Obama the room to claim his place in history, and running an ad congratulating him. That’s class, that’s taking thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

Pelagius, in the 4th century, wrote a commentary on this part of Romans, and he has a few interesting points. In the 15th verse, it says “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Why is it, Pelagius asks, that we weep with those who rejoice, and rejoice with those who weep? Why are we angered or dismayed at other’s success, and cheered and happy at others’ misfortune? I’m sorry to say, but it is a very insightful question for us all. It is a very fallen trait, but one that we all share. I am jealous at another pastors’ success. I am dismayed at another church’s expression of the Gospel, feeling as if we should have done it first, bigger and better.

It’s not just church, either—there are many ways to raise great kids, and I feel sometimes as if I fall short of them all. We all have those moments, and Paul’s response is to say that that’s not the way of Jesus. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, it says, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Even our actions in response to someone else’s success is a witness to Christ. Our nobility in response to success shows the face of Christ no less than others’ success itself.

Verse 20 is one of my favorite lines of the Bible: “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.” Heh, heh. Love that! I will cause my enemies pain by being nice to them, which will confuse them!” but Pelagius, and Paul both would probably say that I am interpreting that one wrong. My interpretation, unfortunately, is against the spirit and tone of what Paul has been writing, and Pelagius says this; So that when he has realized that that the coals have been amassed upon him through your undeserved mercy, he may shake them off, that is repent, and may love you, whom at one time he has detested.

Paul preaches kindness to our enemies as a matter of grace, not revenge. Yes, the goal is to bring that one over. But not over to your side, instead it is over to God’s side. Do not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good, so that God’s face may be seen. A face of grace, humility, caring and respect.

Our posture should be one of carrying the gift of forgiveness, not of wielding the sword of righteousness. What makes people our enemy often is that which we let grow in our own minds. People disagree all the time, but only when we let resentment and fear grow in side of our souls do disagreements become bigger. Wars start through countries not talking and listening, and it is no fault to try to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.
Taking the high road isn’t easy in this world. People want disagreement, they want pain, they want Jerry Springer, they want Hannity and Colmes. But that isn’t God’s way. God’s way is humility, grace, and wisdom. Yeah, I know, boring. But I think that if we really did try it, it might change the way we think about what exciting really is! It may be a different view from the high road.

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