Overcoming Evil with Good (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermons on YouTube…

Tomorrow, Prince of Peace members will gather with members of lots of other faith communities – Christian, Jewish, Muslim and others – for what has now become the annual Montgomery County Interfaith 5K.  We’ll gather together and get to know each other better.  We’ll get some great exercise.  And we’ll collect food and money for needy people in Montgomery County.  It’s a great event and year after year, people have enjoyed it so much that it continues to be really well attended.

But the original impetus for the Interfaith 5K was actually a disgusting act of evil.  A number of years ago, Shaare Torah Synagogue was defaced in the middle of the night with Nazi graffiti.  It was pretty shocking not only for the congregation of Shaare Torah, but for many others of us who figured that in our tolerant and religiously diverse upper Montgomery County, stuff like this shouldn’t happen.  But it did.  And people were shocked, and disgusted and angry.

But in the aftermath of that event, folks from Shaare Torah thought that instead of just being shocked and angry – and letting the narrative of religious strife continue – wouldn’t it be great if people in our community of all faiths could do something positive? Something beneficial that would show the community that people of different religions in our community could come together for something positive and good?

And that’s how the idea of having a 5K was first hatched. We got involved early, because it turns out that one of the things Jewish and Lutheran congregations have in common in Upper Montgomery is that we both have a bunch of people who like getting up at the crack of dawn and go running!

But over the years, the Interfaith 5K has become more than just another run.  It’s been an opportunity each year, for people of all religious groups, to focus our attention on doing something public and positive in our community; it’s been an opportunity to focus our energy on doing something that benefits others; and it’s been an opportunity to actually involve our bodies in building friendships and relationships with one another.

In many ways, it’s been an event in which we all come together to do what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Romans – “to overcome evil with good.”  And it’s not that we think – or that Paul thought – that by doing a few good things evil people or evil actions – will cease.  Since the Nazi graffiti on the walls of Shaare Torah, there have been other acts of evil, violence and intolerance even here in Montgomery County.  But Paul points out that, as people of faith, God calls us to be people who show our community, and our world, a different way of living.  We can stew in anger and disgust over evil, or we can work even harder to do good.

And in a world which seems constantly bombarded with evil and bad news at every turn, we always have a choice.  We can get caught up with the evil, or we can focus on the good.  This is never easy, and it wasn’t for the first century Christians to whom Paul wrote, either.  After all, some of the evil was directed personally at them.

But every year, as we participate in the 5K, it can serve as a reminder that “overcoming evil with good” is often about:

  • Focusing on what we can do that’s positive, instead of dwelling on the negative; Often, I have a hard time with this.  But it really doesn’t do any good to simply post outrage on Social media and come up with zingers to mock people who do outrageous things.  Paul writes, “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all”, and sometimes, the first part of “overcoming evil” is not letting it blind your mind and your sight…
  • Emotionally investing yourself in helping someone else, perhaps especially somebody who’s been hurt by evil; one of the reasons that Paul reminds people to leave vengeance to God is not only because that’s true scripturally, but because this is what Jesus did…!  And also, when you get caught up in getting revenge, you have no energy left to do anything else.  Paul writes, “rejoice in hope” because sometimes “overcoming evil” is about trusting God to deal with the evil that you can’t stop, and using that hope to energize you to be a sign of God’s goodness in the world around you…
  • Physically making peace in a world filled with anger and violence; you know, we can collect food, raise money and issue statements of solidarity with other religious groups without getting together and having a race.  But it’s not the same as actually building relationships with others.  It’s those relationships which make for peace.  Paul writes, “so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” and that often means starting and nurturing relationships with people who aren’t like you, who don’t share your same religious or political beliefs, and who you might not otherwise come into contact with.  Sometimes, “overcoming evil” is about putting your actual body into positive action with others…

“Overcoming evil with good” seems like a tall order.  And it is.  But often, it’s done gradually through small and simple things.  Good begins to overcome evil when we focus on what’s good instead of just what’s wrong.  Good begins to overcome evil when we emotionally invest in making things better instead of just complaining about what’s messed up.  And good begins to overcome evil when we build relationships with others, instead of letting evil continue to drive us apart.