The message at the WOW (Worship on Wednesday) service in Gettysburg on July 30, 2014. The Bible verses used are 1 Peter 3:8-18.
I don’t know how many of you are on facebook, but if you are, you’ve noticed that every once in a while there’ll be a saying that just takes off, “goes viral” as they say, so that you’re seeing it everywhere. There was one going around recently that I found out was actually a quote from the singer Eminem. It said, “I don't care if you're black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that."
That sounds really good. The trouble is, it’s not really a Christian attitude. What I’m talking about is the part that says, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Because the implication is that if you’re not nice to me, I don’t have to be nice to you. I can treat you in exactly the same way you treat me, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad.
Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In other words, we’re not supposed to treat people the way they treat us. We’re supposed to treat people the way we’d like them to treat us. Jesus said that if someone demands our shirt, we should give them our coat, too. Jesus said if we’re hit on one cheek, we should turn the other to them. Jesus said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
In our reading for tonight, Peter says something similar. Peter says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
That’s a really hard thing to do. I’ll tell you right out that there are plenty of times I don’t do it. There are plenty of times I don’t repay evil with blessing. There are times I don’t repay blessing with blessing. It’s a really hard thing to do.
Peter goes on to talk about why we should do this. And this is important, because I think we get it wrong sometimes.
I don’t know if you got the same stories when you were a little kid that I did, but a lot of times in these kids stories, the hero of the story goes to the bad guy, to the bully, and treats him or her with kindness and respect, and as a result the bully changes his or her behavior and becomes nice. Well, it’d be nice if real life worked that way, and maybe sometimes it does, but there are a lot of times when it does not. In real life there are a lot of times when we treat the bully with kindness and respect and the bully just takes advantage of the situation and bullies us farther.
See, Peter did not tell us to repay evil with blessing because that will make the evil person change their ways. It might, or it might not. If it does, that’s wonderful. But that’s not why we’re supposed to repay evil with blessing. There is one reason, and one reason only, that we are supposed to repay evil with blessing. We’re supposed to do that because that’s what Jesus did. We’re supposed to do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Peter said, in fact, that we may suffer for repaying evil with blessing. And he said, if we do, we don’t need to worry about it. We’re in good company. Jesus did that, too. Jesus suffered, and even died, for our sins. Jesus suffered the ultimate evil, and he repaid it with the ultimate blessing.
The only reason we’re supposed to do this is because it’s what Jesus did. It’s the right thing to do. Peter says that for our trouble, we may have people talk about us. They may say all kinds of stuff about us that’s untrue. They may even threaten us. But Peter says it’s okay. He says it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Still, of all the things the Bible tells us to do, I think this may be the hardest. We like the gospel according to Eminem a lot better. We like the gospel that says, “If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you.” That’s a lot easier than the gospel that says, “If you’re a jerk to me, if you threaten me, if you talk about me behind my back, I’ll still be nice to you.” We know what we’re supposed to do. But it’s really hard to do it.
I wish I had a nice, simple way that made it easy for us. I don’t. As I said, I struggle with this as much as anyone. So, instead, what I’m going to do is talk about some things, that, when I think about them, do help do these things. Here they are.
One of them is to remember that I don’t know other people’s stories. All of us are shaped by a lot of things. The family we grew up in. The place we grew up in. The people around us when we were growing up. The experiences we’ve had since we got older. The jobs we’ve held. The people we’ve worked with. The places we’ve lived. The things we’ve gotten involved in. The chances we’ve had. These and all kinds of other things all contribute to make us who we are.
And that can be for good or for bad. If I’d grown up in a different family, if I’d grown up in a city rather than on the farm, if I’d grown up with more money or with less money, if I’d been better looking or worse looking, if I’d been more athletic, if I’d gone to school in a different place, if I’d gotten a different job, if I’d never met Wanda, I might be different in a lot of ways. I don’t know what those ways are. I might be better or I might be worse. There’s no way to know.
And there’s no way to know about other people, either. So when we run into people who treat us badly, who are not nice to us, who basically act like jerks, we need to remember that. We need to remember that we don’t know what went into making them that way. That does not justify bad behavior, but it can make us more understanding of bad behavior. It can help us make allowances for people and treat them well even when they don’t treat us well.
Another thing I try to remember is that all of us, each and every one, are God’s children. That’s true of the nicest person you’ve ever met, and it’s true of the biggest jerk on the planet. Each one of us is one of God’s children. That means that every person we see is our brother or our sister.
That helps me. It helps me when I’m dealing with someone I’d rather not have to deal with. It helps when I remember that God loves that person every bit as much as God loves me. After all, we say that nothing can separates us from the love of God, right? So nothing can separate other people from the love of God, too. That person I don’t like, that person who did not treat me well--that person’s a child of God, just like I am. That person is my brother. That person is my sister. Again, that does not excuse bad behavior. But it does help me remember that I need to treat each person with respect and love, no matter what they say and no matter how they act, because their family, just like I’m family. We’re all part of the family of God.
There’s one other thing that helps me, too. It helps me when I remember that I claim to be a Christian. Because as Christians, we don’t follow some other human being. We follow Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ did not say, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Jesus said, “You can curse me and I’ll love you.” Jesus said, “You can beat me and torture me and I’ll forgive you.” Jesus said, “You can kill me and I’ll die so your sins can be forgiven.”
If Jesus had said, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you,” none of us would be saved. Because none of us has been nice to Jesus. Oh, maybe sometimes we are, but not always. There are a lot of times we ignore Jesus. There are a lot of times we pay no attention to Jesus at all. In fact, there are plenty of times we deliberately do not do what Jesus told us to do. If Jesus had said, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you”, we’d all be lost.
But Jesus did not say that. And as people who claim to follow Jesus, we should not say it, either. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are called to love everyone. Even the people who we think don’t deserve our love. After all, Jesus loves us, and we don’t deserve his love.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Even knowing all that, I still fail a lot of times. There are plenty of times I don’t show love to people the way I should. But these things do help me. Maybe they’ll help you, too. And then, maybe we can be closer to being the people God wants us to be.