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Pentecost 13 2017

Romans 12:9-21

Sometimes satire is the best way to make a point. A couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence Tina Fey did just that in her “Sheet cake” monologue which will go down as one of Saturday Night Live’s best.

She opened by saying, “I know a lot of us are feeling anxious and asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’ I would urge people this Saturday instead of participating in screaming matches and potential violence, find a local business you support… maybe a Jewish bakery or an African-American bakery … order a cake with the American flag on it and … just eat it.”

Then, as she went on to comment on such things as the irony of the United States government shooting rubber bullets at the peaceful Native Americans protesting the pipeline at Standing Rock, or presence of Nazis of all things) in America, or the rise 250 paramilitary militias in the United States – as she was listing these evils and conflicts she was shoveling cake into her mouth hand over fist.

One of the things that fascinated me about the comedy routine was that it created some serious dialog. Was she really inciting complacency in the face of evil? Or was it the spoof designed to send the opposite message … that we can’t just sit and eat cake in the face of all that is wicked. What really was her message? That argument raged on social media. Still is.

But one message was clear … and this is the message I’m bringing to you: We are frustrated. Very, very frustrated. And we don’t know what to do with our frustration. Day after day another story breaks about things that happen, or policies put into place, or policies repealed which hurt people and which hurt our planet. Nazis –NAZIS!! – marched with loaded semi-automatic weapons in Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us!” A sheriff convicted of pulling people off the street simply because they were Hispanic and of abusing prisoners in his custody has been pardoned because he was “just doing his job.” Hispanic immigrants in Houston are not seeking medical help during the flooding for fear of being detained and imported. Racism is winked at if not outwardly condoned. Social safety nets are being pulled away from our most vulnerable. We’ve pulled out of the Paris Climate accords because we won’t accept proven science about climate change. Advances won by our transgendered brothers and sisters to serve patriotically in our military have been revoked.

So why does all of this frustrate us so much that we’d like nothing more than to just hole up with a sheet cake and eat the whole thing? Why does this frustrate us? Because we dare to actually believe the words Wendy read from or second lesson … because we actually dare to believe that the advice St. Paul gave to the Romans applies to us. Here’s a replay of our epistle highlights: Hate evil. Love good. Show honor. (Honor! Where has honor gone?) Practice patience, perseverance and prayer. Extend hospitality to strangers. (Let me read that one again.) (and again) Here’s good leadership advice: Don’t be haughty. Don’t claim to be wiser than you are. Live peaceably with all. Never practice vengeance. And, finally, St. Paul ends with this advice: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

I don’t think Tina Fey’s monologue made a point. I think it asked a question. Just what is the Christian response to all that is going on? What is a Christian to do when the policies of its nation and the attitudes and actions of its leaders are just the opposite of what Paul preached to the Romans … one hundred and eighty degrees from what Jesus taught on the sermon on the mount … diametrically opposed to everything you have heard from this pulpit in the 40 years of this congregation? What do we do? Nothing? Stuff our faces with cake?

I don’t know about you, but I get angry at all of this … almost to the point of being hateful. I can’t stand the rhetoric. I can’t stand the lying. I an’t stand the smug in-your-face “let them eat cake” attitude. I will confess before you my sin of harboring hate in my heart. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

That isn’t the kind of heart St. Paul says we should have. What do we do with that – in addition to confessing it? An insightful approach comes from Paul F Knitter in his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. Knitter talks about the Buddhist greeting, “Namaste,” which is a way of acknowledging that everyone we meet has all the same goodness that is in us. When we acknowledge that there is goodness in everyone, it enables us to relate to them with the kind of genuine love of which Paul speaks. Now, this has implications for our attitude toward evil, because, if we can recognize that others have all the goodness we have, “we also have to recognize that we have the same capacity for evil as those whose actions we hate.” That’s tough. That’s the part we confess when we say that we are captive to sin and cannot redeem ourselves.

Yeah, our resentment and hate is going to erode our hearts as much as it has those we despise. When we use anger to oppose those who do evil in our nation or in the world we are just perpetuating the evil. For instance, there is a growing movement called Antifa, who advocates physically clashing with the Nazis and Skinheads – trading rock for rock and bottle for bottle. Thank goodness Nelson Mandella and Desmond Tutu didn’t “get back” at their oppressors that way. Thank goodness Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t retaliate with billy clubs and mad dogs at the Edmund Pettus bridge.

St. Paul says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” St. Paul says, “Do not practice vengeance.”

Tina Fey asked a good question: Are we just going to sit and eat cake in the face of everything that is happening? No, but neither are we going to become them. We become the people who St. Paul encourages us to be: Loving, honorable, patient, persistent, prayerful, hospitable, peaceable. Let’s let St. Paul have the last word, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


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