This week's author is the Rev. Mary Nelson, South Central Regional Minister for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Romans 12: 9-21 (NRSV)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 honour. 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.
Reflection: What's A Christian To Do?It seems like the word “evil” has been in the air a lot lately. Specific events (the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville and elsewhere, for example) and specific ideologies (Naziism, racism, anti-Semitism, etc.) have merited the label. There can be no doubt that hatred and violence are counter to the will of God. These things have no place in the Kindom of God.
I’ve also seen the word “evil” used to describe people, though, too—and this use gives me pause. The guy who plowed his car into a street full of peaceful protestors. The sheriff who ran a tent-city jail in the desert known for its inhumane conditions. The President of the United States who, well, pick any recent outrageous behavior you want. Much as I deplore the actions done by these people, much as their behavior may indeed be counter to the will of God, I cannot name the people as evil. Their actions, sure. But not the humans themselves.
In our churches, one of the basic conflict management principles we teach is that “all people are welcome; not all behaviors are welcome.” In some cases, sometimes we invite a person whose behavior is hurtful to the worshipping community to leave the church until they can demonstrate a change in their behavior. In the process of making the decision to invite someone to leave, we inevitably acknowledge our own brokenness and need for healing—we recognize that “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”—and that we all behave occasionally in ways that are counter to God’s will and harmful to God’s Kindom. We never make the choice to invite someone to leave without also giving clear directions for what reconciliation and return might involve. We never invite departure without also inviting grace.
If Sherriff Arpaio were to walk into your church on Sunday morning, would you not welcome him with a sign of peace? If President Trump’s security team swept your sanctuary and ushered him in, would you not pray for him? Would you not offer a word of repentance (remember: to repent is to turn around, to turn toward God) if someone who exhibits hateful or violent behavior presented themselves to you?
This is, after all, the ministry to which we are called as Christians. Judgment is God’s job – deciding who is good and who is evil (and remember: we were all created Good; we were all declared Beloved at the moment of baptism) is up to God, not up to us. Paul tells us to hold fast to what is good—to bless even our persecutors, and pray for them—to overcome evil with good. Paul tell us “not to return evil for evil,” but to behave better than those who behave badly.
Yes, we must resist evil in all its forms. And to do that, we must name evil as evil. We don’t do this by venting on Facebook or “sheetcaking” or passing judgment. We resist by showing what love in action really looks like. We resist by offering opportunities for healing and growth and new life.
We must remember that a person’s evil behavior is not all that God sees in God’s Beloved Creations. We must work hard to recognize the brokenness at the heart of the behavior, and work to offer the healing good news that there is another way to live.
Prayer:Help me to overcome evil with good, Holy One. And help me to see the goodness You have created, even in those whose behavior makes it hard to see. Help me do better, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Special Prayer Requests:
- Those in Texas and surrounding areas affected by Hurricane Harvey which made landfall on August 26;
- those grieving or suffering after a vehicle attack in Barcelona on August 17;
- the family and friends of John Polglase, the spouse of Columbia pastor Rev. Betsey Polglase. John died on August 21; and
- a prayer of joy following the celebration on August 26 at Silver Lake Conference Center honoring 60 years of outdoor ministry.
- Those grieving or suffering after a train derailed in northern India, killing 23, on August 19;
- those missing or injured after a U.S. Naval Vessel collided with an oil tanker on August 21;
- the family and friends of Michele Reed Van Epps, wife of Rev. John Van Epps, Archivist for the CT Conference and pastor of Ivoryton Congregational Church. Michele died on August 19;
- those grieving or suffering after violence caused one death and numerous injuries in Charlottesville, VA, when white supremacists and anti-hate groups clashed on August 12;
- those grieving for the two Virginia state policemen killed in a helicopter crash on Aug. 12;
- those grieving in Sierra Leone after mudslides killed more than 500 people on Aug. 14;
- those grieving for 3 soldiers after a U.S. military place crashed off the shores of Australia on Aug. 5;
- the family and friends of Rev. Dewey Frank Fagerburg, Jr., retired UCC pastor, who died on July 14;
- the family and friends of Rev. Joseph O Shaw Jr., retired UCC pastor, who died on June 20;
- the families and friends of those found in a truck in San Antonio in extreme heat, on July 23;
- Mark Engstrom, member of the CT Conference Board of Directors, and his wife Nina, who are facing health issues;
- the community of Conway, MA, and the United Congregational Church, UCC, Conway after a tornado touched down on Feb. 25 causing significant structural damage;
- the people of South Sudan where nearly 1 million people are facing famine;
- the members and staff of Thompson Congregational Church after a fire severely damage the building on Dec. 29;
- Michael White, former Operations Manager at Silver Lake Conference Center, who was diagnosed with colon cancer;
- Juliane Silver, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Silver of Middletown, who is in dire need of a liver transplant. We pray that a donor will come forward giving the gift of life and a portion of their liver to Juliane;
- Chacy Eveland, husband of the Rev. Marcia Eveland, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Ansonia, who has been moved to a full-time facility for care of dementia;
- the thousands of migrants worldwide who flee from violence and persecution in search of safety;
- our ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in South Korea;
- the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
- the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
- this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism; and
- those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
Roxbury Congregational UCC
David F. Peters - P
Sandra L. Kleisner - MM
Congregational Church of Salisbury UCC
Diane Monti-Catania – P
Barbara Colliins – CE
Jack Bowman - MM
Scotland Congregational Church, UCC
Paul J. Doyle - P
Seymour Congregational UCC
Allyson C. Glass - P
Cherie E. Weiss - MM
Huntington Congregational UCC
Lucille L. Fritz - P
Mary Nelson's primary work is with congregations in transition and crisis and providing leadership resources. She works with clergy of the Region in offering counsel, support and advice as well as pastoral care. Raised in Plymouth UCC in Des Moines,...