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September 3, 2017

Romans 12:9-21 Hold Tight

The death toll from Hurricane Harvey’s wind and flood stands at 47 as of yesterday. The day before Harvey’s landfall, monsoon rains in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have killed more than 1,200 as rescue workers scramble to provide aid to 41 million people stranded by the worst such disaster in years.

And on the same day, floods in Sierra Leone, on Africa’s west coast, created mudslides that have killed “more than 1,000.” Another 600 are missing, which means the death toll will likely climb.

A lesser known disaster that could use the water that Harvey rained on Texas has been going on for days in Montana as wild fires are keeping 1,000 people from returning to their homes.

As we worry about family in Texas and Louisiana, we also marvel at the stories of heroes who went into flooded areas and rescued people. We think about what might we do to help. And we wonder what all this means.

First—it is not God’s will or God’s punishment. It is the difficulty of living on a planet where there can be too much rain or not enough. It is the difficulty of living on a planet where we have changed the topography with cities and roads and our attempts to make water go where we want it to go.

It is the difficulty and challenge of life; and while God may set it all in motion, God does not micromanage creation. God gives us the ability and the freedom to determine how we will share this planet and this life together.

And it is this life together, no matter how much we try to separate ourselves into tribes and nations. How we share this life together matters.

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

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.” 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.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Ken Hested says this scripture stretches us and makes us wrestle with what the Spirit has to say. His paraphrase of Romans 12 goes like this:

Love from your devotion, not from your ambition.
Be quick to praise, slow to blame.
Don’t quit in hard times. Show what you’re made of.
Practice hospitality—without issuing debt.
Laugh ‘til you cry with friends in their rejoicing;
cry ‘til you laugh with those doubled in grief.
Don’t wrestle with pigs. It only makes them mad and makes you muddy
. Be relentless in prayer, patient in pardoning,
quick to encourage, and urgent to amend.
Don’t fight fire with fire—let your baptismal waters do their work.
Settle old scores with buttered hot biscuits.

As you move from this sanctuary back into your week, here are some questions to keep before you each day as you hold fast to what is good, and do your best to overcome evil with good.

How were you brave today? 

How were you kind today? 

How did you fail today?

And today is all we get, so make it count. When the day ends, leave it in God’s care and go to sleep. Then tomorrow is a fresh page, a new chapter, a clean slate to begin again.

Open unto me, light for my darkness
Open unto me, courage for my fear
Open unto me, hope for my despair
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow
Open unto me, strength for my weakness
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness
Open unto me, love for my hates
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself
Lord, Lord, open unto me!

- Howard Thurman