Nearly 15 years ago I decided on a Tuesday that I would preach from this chapter in Romans on the following Sunday. That’s unusual for me. Normally I have my sermon’s planned out months ahead of time with both Scriptures and the sermon title already chosen. But that Tuesday changed the course of history. It was September 11, 2001. I don’t know why God has us reading again Romans 12 on this day in the life of the history of our people. I can tell you that I focused on a number of aspects from this chapter, and probably focused more on vs. 17-21 than any other area if this chapter. When we hear the Bible tell us that God responds by saying: vengeance is mine, I’m guessing that a part of us says – can I help? Most of us would be fine if the verse just ended with leaving vengeance to the Lord, but then vs.20 takes us so far away from where we want to be: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…” And then finally Paul ends the chapter with these verses: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
What do we do when we find ourselves in a society and a culture, or even just a personal reality where the goodness is really hard to find? Was Paul’s life any different from that reality? Were not his people hunted and killed because they were Christians and they did not follow the status quo which was set up? They were seen as threat to the society around them and so they were targeted. When I heard about the officers being shot yesterday I was speechless and in shock for a little while. This does not happen in a civilized world. We do not shoot the people who protect us. We do not shoot the people who lay down their lives every day to ensure our safety. These actions don’t match with the civilization that we know. The only application of this Scripture that we can think of is the part that speaks about vengeance and the part that defines what our actions ought to be toward our enemies. But the advice given by Paul simply does not seem realistic.
Paul’s encouragement in vs.2 reminds us of what actions we need to take now that this reality is our reality. We cannot be conformed to this world. We have to be able to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. What does our response need to be? For police officers there will almost surely be an even more increased sense of vulnerability as at any time they can be the victims. This has always been the case, but I’m guessing that these types of visible attacks serve to increase that vulnerability. As citizens we need to make every effort that we can to support our officers with random acts of kindness. They need to know that they are supported and that we simply need them. Paul encourages us in vs. 9 to love each other in a way that we outdo one another in showing honor. What would outdoing one another in showing honor look like? What I hope would happen is that pastors from the black community would take the initiative and go to police stations across the country and apologize for a culture of anger and mistrust. What I hope would happen is that police chiefs from across the country would go to black community churches and apologize for profiling. From there my prayer would be that a dialogue would begin. These horrendous, breath taking acts of violence and killing have to stop. It takes the leadership from each of these communities to speak to it publicly and without hesitation. I can think that this may be the only way that we can overcome evil with good.