Homily: A Reflection on Romans 12:10-14

[A homily on the power of “doing unto others…”; “if you can’t say something nice…” and “bless your heart.”]

Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel (at Callaway Gardens, Georgia)

Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel (at Callaway Gardens, Georgia)

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.  Bless this who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:6-14)

We live in difficult times.  In addition to the obvious problems of terrorism and criminal violence, our very discourse has become aggressive, based on the demonization, judgement, and condemnation of others.  While we are still largely protected from physical violence, we feel threatened by it, and the violence of public discourse has done great damage to our hearts and our community.

In place of the loving order we were meant to create, nurture, and spread; the chaos of separation and hatred has made its way from the outer edges of civilization into our very midst.  To use another metaphor, the garden we were given to tend and spread, changing the tangled brambles of monster-inhabited wilderness into a place where all things work to the glory of one another and to the glory of God… the brambles and monsters have made their way into the center of our cultivated places (that is to say, into our own hearts and communities) – filling them with brambles and allowing it to become infested with monsters itself.

So what do we do?  How do we reclaim our own hearts?  How do we reclaim our communities?  How can we ever hope to transform the infested places of our our world into places that work towards the glory of love?

Do we build a bigger army?  Form a new political party?  Set up roving groups of armed vigilantes?

No.  Salvation is local – and spreads from there.  We double down on love.

We bring patience to our hearts.  We bring kindness to all our dealings with one another and with others.  We bless those who persecute you – and we curse no one.

It sounds so impractical, but it works.  Moreover, it is within the capabilities of every human being – strengthened by Christ to make it happen.  It doesn’t require getting every policy just right.  It doesn’t require figuring our the motives and intentions of everyone around us.  It just requires that we change the way we act towards one another.  That we treat others the way we would want to be treated; that we recognize the brokenness of those who hate us and work towards their healing with our peaceful response to their attacks.  That we stop categorizing and demonizing the people we meet to justify our divisions and see them as our brothers and sisters who are in as much need as we are of a kind work and a healing touch.

This is the Gospel.  We transform the wilderness into paradise, we change enemies into allies, we change divisions into unity, we heal the groaning of this world… and we do it through patience and we do it through joy, and we do it through blessing.  And all of this is made possible because we do it through Christ.