This is a transcript from the October 13, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
We're talking about goodness this month. Goodness gets a bad rap sometimes that maybe you're goody-two-shoes, maybe you seem weak but we're trying to reclaim goodness this month, and what you can do to be good.
Today what I want to talk about is a bigger question of good versus evil. Whenever we talk about good, we're eventually going to talk about evil. Why do they both exist? Was one existing because the other isn't really all that powerful, but the other one is? I think one of the ways, for us, as we feel like the world is more evil, there's all kinds of stuff going on, we get stressed out by it. There is a reason for that.
Built into us, as humans, is this tendency to notice threats, it's what's kept us alive for all these years, to notice that maybe, there's a predator nearby, to run away if you see somebody with a gun, to make sure you stop at the stoplight when it's red, so you don't get hit by another car. For some of us, some of us like to live dangerously out there.
These are ways to help ourselves preserve ourselves, to keep the genes going, keep humanity going, this has been built-in for us. When our brains are constantly thinking about the negative things, the stuff that is threatening us, the times for the gentleness, the love, the compassion that we receive doesn't get embedded into our brains as easily, because the threats or avoiding those, is what keeps us alive.
There's a professor at Stanford, Robert Sapolsky, he likes to talk about stress as a tool nature gave us to survive something like this. What are you going to do when you see something coming towards you? You're going to stress out and run away. Stress is this reaction in us to preserve ourselves.
Now, we are no longer running around land and fields with predators around us, but we are a more civilized world. Then how does this stress manifest itself? Well, in our bustling metropolis of Castle Rock, maybe some of us are getting sick of the traffic or construction happening, so stress starts to manifest that way. How many of you have found yourselves to look like this in your car? I have, you get stressed out.
Your destination is the goal, now your brain is saying, "The traffic, the other cars, the slow driver in front of you, the construction." Those are all threats keeping you from getting to your destination. You get angry, you get stressed, get uptight, you get anxious. Maybe you give a signal to a fellow driver to release some of that stress, maybe you shout in your car, maybe you bang on the steering wheel really hard and scare your children in the backseat. I don't know what you do, but we have our ways of being stressed out.
Our brains are creating all kinds of problems that may not even be threats. Now we are thinking all these other cars or those lines are trying to end our life. There are also things in our world though, those are a little bit smaller, those are everyday lives, but what do we do about the larger pieces of evil that we see in the world? Evil that shocks, that disgusts. Evil that is unfathomable to us. Evil that is trying to destroy the image of God in all of us.
The suburbs are particularly made as a place to escape evils of the city. That's how suburbs came to be, it was planned out that this is a safe place for your family and kids, but we all know, all too well now, that that doesn't matter, evil still follows. What do we do with all this? When we are faced with evil or threats, we either have this fight, flight, or freeze, and it can feel so overwhelming, especially, in today's world where we have 24/7 coverage of everything.
It feels like no matter what time of day, no matter where you are, you're getting on your phone that threats are everywhere. That we are just inundated with the threats around us, and so the stress rises, the anxiety rises, and we think almost everything is out to get us. Evil then becomes so overwhelming to us. Sometimes we'll repay evil with evil.
The only way we can see to stop evil from happening is by facing it, confronting it and maybe, even harming those who do the evil. We need to oppress, we need to dominate those who are doing that.
We could talk about larger evils like we saw in those pictures, but I want to shrink this down for us because we can get lost in the larger evils of the world, we won't know what to do, we're just one person. Let's shrink it down to just our everyday life, maybe our families or friends, and since I love movies, I want to talk to you about a movie called Eighth Grade.
I want you all to think back to your eighth-grade years, your middle school years. Some of us have to think farther back than others, but we've all had the same experiences. Middle school feels awkward, you're all growing, you're all trying to impress each other, there's bullying that goes on. It's just a very awkward stage. This is the main character of the movie, Kayla.
Kayla is very insecure about herself, she's trying to start a YouTube channel for inspiration, for friends, it's getting no likes or views. She's just been invited to a birthday party by a girl in her class, who doesn't want her to be there, she only invited her because her mom made her do that.
It's fun working with youth because I get to relive the weirdness of middle school all the time [laughs]. These are not, necessarily, evils, I guess, but they're these growing pains, this everyday stuff, but sometimes they're still injustice, they're still trying to repay evil with evil, there's still an eye for an eye type of mentality. That's how bullying starts, somebody feels very insecure about themselves, they want to make somebody else feel insecure about themselves. The only way you know how to do that is you're just going to do the same, say the same things to kids that you feel inside of you.
These are these little things that pile up that maybe, even for a teenager middle school starts to feel like there's so much overwhelming bad and evil around them. Maybe for you, maybe you're a parent that you have a kid that age, maybe you can think back when you were that age, maybe you have grandkids who are that age. It's a very difficult time.
What are the spaces, people, and issues around you that bring you stress and anxiety? What are the things around you that make you burn with that righteous anger, that you just want to get even with somebody? Honestly, even as a pastor, sometimes when there's somebody that's upset you or you think deserve something, and they end up getting what they deserve type of thing, "You feel good about it." To be honest, I get that too.
We like that feeling, where they get what they deserve vengeance, revenge, whatever you call it. Maybe in your own life too, these spaces where it feels stressful and anxious to you, that you just fight it with more evil, with more hate. Hate for hate, evil for evil.
We're going to move into a time of reflection. Leslie is going to come up and lead us in that reflection. As she comes up, I want you to start thinking about what are the places in your life that you feel this tension, you feel this anxiety and you want to get even, that you want to repay evil with evil?
We often believe the only way to change other people is to exert our own power over them. To combat evil, we must exert an even more powerful version of evil to make people change, that's the conflict we're in as humans, that's what we want to do, that's what we think changes people, but what if there's another way? What if there's a way of goodness? What if there's a way of changing the hearts and not just dominating someone else?
Scripture today from Romans 12:21 says that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch or if he's thirsty, give him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you, get the best of evil by doing good. In this larger chapter of Chapter 12 in Romans, Paul is talking to the disciples about how to live with one another, how to be a good Christian example in the world because this was a time where Jesus had come, died, rose again, and left again, and these were the people who are starting this new movement.
Now there's debates about can Jews be in it, can Gentiles be in it, who can be in, who can be out. Paul is reminding them that you are the representation of God's love here on earth. They are welcome, they are welcome. Your enemies, guess what. No longer repay them with evil but love them also. Show them goodness, show them compassion.
Jesus was an example for Paul and I think Jesus is example for all of us. He's the template of how to live in the world and live with one another that even on the cross when Jesus is being brutally beaten, killed, dying, Jesus prays for the forgiveness of those who are killing him. That's responding to evil with goodness.
Earlier in Chapter 9, I encourage you to read it all in your own time, but earlier in the chapter, Paul also talks about the three reasons why we do this, why Christians should not repay evil with evil, should not seek vengeance or revenge.
Number one, he says God can only judge, it is not up to us. When we try to judge ourselves or others, we ultimately fail but that's up to God.
Second, he says that vengeance and revenge breaks the spirit of somebody but goodness and compassion and love moves the heart.
Number three, if you repay evil with evil, if you get revenge, if you seek vengeance to stoop down to that level, it means you have been conquered by evil already. You have let it win, no matter what you do at that point. Booker Washington was an advisor for a couple of presidents after the Civil War and he's an advocate for equal rights.
He says this, “I'll permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him”. Think about his situation at the time they were in. There's a lot of reason to hate. He took the path of Jesus, the path of Paul by not repaying evil with evil.
What can you do? What can you do in your own world? How do you start small? How can you spread goodness and love to those around you? Maybe your family, your neighborhood, your city. Because the fact is evil isn't concreteness, evil is the absence of good, so for us to be the image of God to spread the goodness and the absence of it, can be contagious.
If we go back to Kayla an eighth grader. Throughout the movie, she's facing different trials, tribulations as eighth-graders do. She's facing peer pressure from boys for sexual acts to be liked, to be recognized. She's facing bullying from other kids, she's facing neglection. The worst thing of all, she's facing the voice inside of her own head telling her she's not good enough. She opens a time capsule that she created in elementary school to open her graduation in middle school and she watches the video of her saying, “Kayla, I'm sure this is a great day. You're going to celebrate with all your friends and you maybe even have a boyfriend”.
She realizes her life has fallen short of what she thought it would be. She's at this all-time low and she asked her Dad, “Can you burn my time capsule with me?” They start a fire because she wants to just forget all of that. She asks her dad if she makes him sad because when you're in that moment when you're in that place, you feel like you're not good enough. That the overwhelming evils and tribulations around you are just making you feel really small. This is how her dad responds,
“It's so easy to be proud of you. I'm not just saying this. Hey, I swear to God, I'm not just saying this. I'm sure. Sometimes, if I see you're upset or having a rough day, then I feel sad, but that being sad, that day-to-day sad or worrying that I do. That's not Kayla always. Beneath all that, I am always just so unbelievably happy that I get to be your dad. I think when your mom left I was really scared. I was really, really scared. I'm scared if you're going to be okay. Then you're starting to get older and you got, I don’t know. You take your first step and you said your first words and you made your first friend. All the things I thought I was going to have to teach you how to be nice, how to share, how to care about other people's feelings. You just started doing that on your own. Even your teachers would always say to me, 'You've got such a lovely daughter. You've done such a great job with her'. But I didn't do anything. I really didn't. I really didn't. I just watched you.
The more I watched you, the less scared I got. Does that make sense? I stopped being scared about whether you were going to be okay a long time ago. Do you know why? Because of you, you made me brave. If you could just see yourself how I see you which is how you are, how you really are, how you always have been, I swear to God, you wouldn't be scared either”.
Sometimes we feel like Kayla overwhelmed by everything going around and we need to remind ourselves that what Kayla's dad said to her, God says to us also. Remember the goodness inside of you that I made you. The image of God is in you. Sometimes we need to be Kayla's dad to say that to our own kids or say that to each other. How do we combat evil with goodness? Reminding people of their goodness, reminding people of the good in the world because we can get so distracted and overwhelmed with evil.
Let's not grow tired of doing that. Sometimes, it's a long trail, long journey to help eradicate evil to bring light and darkness. Many of you are parents, you know what to never give up. That's a long haul. Continue to love and point towards the goodness that you see in those that you love. That's how we fight evil in this world because it's contagious.
One last groundbreaking study that helps us see the contagiousness of goodness. Are you guys ready for it? There's going to be a picture before and after. One is before you say good boy or good girl to your dog. The after is after you say it. Before and after.
Before being called a good boy, after being called the good boy.
Before and after.
Russ has been talking about this five by five ways of growing deeper with God living out acts of gratitude and service and love and so that's what we're focusing on this month, is every day think of five different ways you can act out, service, kindness, and gratitude. That is your call for today. That is what Paul is calling us to as Christ is calling us to, to spread goodness in the world. Amen.