There was a very popular Broadway musical entitled, “Jekyll and Hyde.” One of the songs from that show was entitled, “Good ‘N Evil.” Included among the lyrics of that song were these words, “The battle between good and evil goes back to the start - Adam and Eve and the apple tore Eden apart! The key thing about good 'n' evil - Each man has to choose!” Because the Broadway musical is a dark story the song concludes with “Evil's for me - you can have good!”
Good and evil are truly as old as time. In the beginning of time, God had one and only one commandment. The man and the woman were not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Everything around the man and woman, including they themselves, had been described by God as “good.” All that existed was good, everywhere, through and through. Evil, as the man and woman, might understand it, was not present. Well, we know the story. The man and woman ate the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened. “7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:7-8). Immediately, we see good has changed. The man and woman were ashamed of their nakedness and they were afraid of God. As we read further, God found the man and woman. He asked the man if he ate the forbidden fruit. The man replied, ““The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). The man admitted he ate the fruit but only because God put woman with him, and she is the one who gave it to him to eat. Good has changed. The man learned quickly to blame others and admit only what is provable. The woman learned from the man. She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:11).
How might we visualize the change from good alone to good and evil together? One way might be to think about a hole. Now a hole is not a real thing. Right? You cannot go to Home Depot and buy a hole. Kids cannot dress up for Halloween as a hole because holes are not real things even though they exist. A hole exists as a missing part of something else. We might have a pair of pants and observe, “I have a hole in my pants.” A hole is the absence of what was once present. We know there is a hole present because we remember what those pants were like when we they were in tack. In similar manner, we might think of evil as the absence, a hole, in what was once good. We know that it is evil because we still retain memory of what it ought to have been like, that is good. Confused? Think of it this way. The only way we know a line is crooked is if we know what a straight line looks like. The only way we know something is evil is because we retain a knowledge of what is good.
So evil marred good. Through sin a hole was punched into what was good but more in the way of punching a hole through a folded piece of cloth. It was not just single hole, but a hole in many places. And life is still very much like a folded piece of cloth. Every sin puts new holes into the cloth of goodness.
Now God, who created good, has been unceasing in his desire that man and woman would seek good. God sent Jesus, his own Son, to earth to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. The good news was that in receiving Jesus our sins would be forgiven and we would be called away from evil and called to do good. In that calling and accepting of Jesus, our tattered cloth representing our life before Christ is replaced with the seamless and complete cloth representing the sinless life of Christ. This happens because Christ loves us and forgives us. This is the good news God offers through Jesus.
And even though we may accept Jesus in this life, we know, God knows, that we are still inclined to sin and still want to punch holes into what is good. Goodness is still a memory imprinted upon humanity and like all memories we do not recall things perfectly. The Apostle Paul expressed the sense of seeing things as they are this way. First, Paul said, “12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the present, we still see in part and thus are more than capable of acting in ways other than good. The second thing Paul said was, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). The reality, that which is good through and through is found in Christ.
Knowing that we do not always see things clearly, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to give instruction on how to live our lives continually moving in the direction of good. From our New Testament reading today, Paul wrote, “9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Love here is not an emotion, it is an action. Paul’s point was that we must love with sincerity. How do we display such love? We begin this way, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Have you ever been the edge of very high point such as the edge of a roof or to the edge looking into a very deep canyon? For many people who come to that edge, there is almost a magnetic-like pull over that edge. Paul was saying do not go to edge of hole, to the edge of evil. Step back from evil with the feeling hatred toward it. Instead, cling to the safety of goodness. Do not let your hands go of what is good. What is good? The person of Jesus. Hold tight to him.
Paul then went into rapid succession of actions that represent love and goodness. “10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Be willing to serve other people because of love. I read that we make friends for one of three reasons. When we are young, we make friends based upon pleasure. Our friends are those people who make us happy because we enjoy doing similar things. Now when we no longer enjoy doing those things, our pleasure friends will disappear. As we age, we begin including friends in our life because we are useful to them and they are useful to us. We have friends who are co-workers or neighbors. We might not even like these people that much, but we are friends because it is useful to get along. When that usefulness ends, those friends will disappear. The third friend we make are virtue friends. They are the people who become our friends in a deep and personal way. Their friendship is true whether the moment is pleasurable or useful. They want to do good for us simply because it is good for us. These are rare friends indeed. Paul was saying be that rare friend. Devote yourself as a friend to others and be good to them simply because it is good for them.
Paul continued. “11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” In expressing love and seeking goodness, we must remain vigilant to recognize that the strength to live our life comes from seeking God’s will and wisdom. We need to be excited about our faith and joyful about the hope we have because of the Lord. Billy Joel’s song pokes fun at Christian behavior. In the song, Only the Good Die Young, Billy Joel wrote, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun.” Paul’s point was nonsense! Christians should be the people abounding in joy. Paul wrote famously, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). With great sincerity, we need to show others why we have hope and they can as well. And we need to pray for one another. I mean by name and specific. It is a humbling experience when someone says to you, “It is so good to see you. I have been praying for you.” Prayer builds intimacy in our relationships.
Paul said our love and goodness must be practical. He said, “13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” We should be a giving people who express and show what goodness looks like and feels like by helping to solve needs of fellow Christians whether those needs are for food, clothing, shelter, companionship, or wisdom. Quite frankly, these should be easy things for us to do and doing these things gets us in practice for the heavy lifting that love and goodness demand.
Paul turned his attention to those difficult things. Paul wrote, “14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Now that is tough stuff. Blessing those who are unkind is not natural. I learned that lesson as a young child. My brother, who is four years older than I am, used to say to me, “If you punch me, I will punch you back 10 times and harder.” I, of course, would have to punch him and he in turn would have to punch me back. There was not a lot blessing going on when my brother and I were wrestling and fighting. We wanted revenge. Paul went after this point a little further in this passage. Paul wrote, “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” “19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Romans 12:17, 19-20)
Instead of revenge, we are to imitate Jesus, who when insulted and injured did not retaliate. When Jesus suffered, he did not seek revenge. This does not mean we have to be everyone’s punching bag. It simply means we will seek ways for God to bless them and move them toward goodness.
Paul then concluded with these words, “21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). God created us with free will. If we are free to pursue good, then we are also free to pursue evil. Because we have free will evil is possible, but free will is also the only thing that makes possible love, goodness, and joy. Paul said that we are faced with alternatives. We can either be overcome by evil or we can overcome evil. To be overcome by evil is to live a life making holes in the fabric of our life. We can seek revenge for harm done to us but that makes as much sense as eliminating a small hole in our pants by making it bigger. “You don’t see that small hole in my pants any more do you.” No because you replaced it with a larger one. We can seek to blame others for our problems and failing in life, but we know that will only result in us suffering alone in our failings. Or we can overcome evil with good. We can listen to God and follow the goodness revealed to us. We can imitate Christ and be a source of hope. We can practice the virtues of life and be the type of friend who never tires of doing what is good for our friends simply because it is good for them. We can be part of God’s plan to overcome evil with good. And by the way, in case you were wondering, there is no other plan available.
As part of that plan we learn that on the evening that Jesus was betrayed and arrest, itself an act of evil, Jesus said to his disciples, “9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:9-17).
Jesus gave his friends what we now call the Lord’s Supper. He gave them the bread and the cup to remind them that in the middle of evil seeking to destroy him, he had overcome evil. Jesus gave his friends the bread and cup because it was good for them. Through the bread and the cup his friends could hold in their hands the goodness of Jesus’ presence in their lives. You and I are Jesus’ friend as well and he is offering us the bread and the cup because it is good for us. It is good for us hold goodness in our hands. Let us come together to remember what is good and be strengthened to overcome evil with good. Amen and Amen.