Scripture: Romans 12:14-21
Sermon: “Bullies”
Pastor Todd Buurstra
This is a recording of the Contemporary Service (9:15am).

Ever felt bullied to the point that you threaten violence? (Don’t respond by raising hands.) We live in a violent world. It starts with schoolyard bullies like Randy who spent recess threatening like this, and goes on to include Ms. Willoughby. I mean, think about it:
Though its against policy here, you may feel your arm twisted at church for a good cause.
You may feel pressured at work (bullying) to put in the extra hours that your boss does.
You may feel threatened/bullied at home: If you dare do…I will…

And didn’t the homegrown terrorism at Fort Hood, make us all feel bullied? And so it was appropriate that you asked me: should we be inviting the imam to our Thanksgiving Eve service? After all, don’t they call us INFIDELS, and does this disrespect our troops?
So how does God call us to overcome intimidators?

From the time we dwelt in caves and carried clubs the automatic human response has been FIGHT or FLIGHT. God has wired that into us as a protective measure.

Fight: Mr. Watson’s gun. Randy’s muscles. As former Soviet dictator Nikita Kruschev said: the difference between Communism and Christianity is great. When someone strikes you on the face, you turn the other cheek. If you strike me on the face, I’ll hit you so hard your head will fall off. And so the Spirit lifts up our tendency to repay evil for evil and get revenge in these verses. Because as Carl Jung says, you always become the thing you fight the most. So down through the centuries we have become increasingly violent… Bob Deffinbaugh tells us that the fight response doesn’t overcome evil, it succumbs to evil. It just keeps the cycle of violence going.

I was with a Muslim friend from Palestine Friday night. Natsuko and I were out to dinner with her teacher friends. Nabil, having grown up a strict Muslim, was not sipping wine. But then he told me, Todd, I’ve lost my faith in God. Oh, why? Because if there is a God how can he let what’s happened to my people? I told him how faith helped me, but it wasn’t registering. A cost of the cycle of violence, whether you’re a Palestinian kicked out of your homeland, or a Jew who lost loved ones in the Holocaust, is loss of faith.

I suppose if we chose the fight response to our Islamic neighbors we would hold meetings to keep them out of the community, and rally against them building mosques, etc. I thank God that no one is advocating that. Fight doesn’t feel Christ-honoring to us.

Flight: So the church often chooses flight. Ignore Muhammed followers, leave them to their own, don’t go out of your way to get to know them. Don’t invite them over for Thanksgiving. Thankfully no one here is saying that either, but I confess that’s my tendency. After all, most good Christians are raised, like me, to be lovers rather than fighters. I remember the first time Jack, my cousin across the street, wanted to fight me, I just let him because I thought it was wrong to hit back. Dad took me aside, and told me, in no uncertain terms, If he hits you, you hit him back. Then, I used to not say anything when they scheduled sports for 9 AM on Sundays either. But the Spirit tells us that flight is not always possible. Terrorism does need a decisive response, too. After all, the Spirit is writing this to Christians who are about to fed to the Lions in the Roman coliseum. Should they just roll over and play dead? Not unless that’s a strategy to not get mauled by lions.

Right: So Jesus offers a third way, not fight and not flight, but right. This is the path of nonviolent resistance. Flight? Nonviolent. Fight? Resistance. Your husband beating you? You don’t shoot him, but you definitely report him.

Muslim Sihks say the same. Once when Gandhi was left to rot in jail his followers held a celebration. Now the British empire had outlawed demonstrations, but how could the government arrest the Indians for congratulating them for imprisoning their leader. Not knowing what to do, the British occupiers let their beloved Gandhi go free.

Or, remember the story of the little schoolboy who was being taunted on the bus by a big bully? Exasperated, one day the smart-thinking little guy blew a handful of snot in his hand, and walked up to the goon and said, I want to shake the hand of a real bully.

So, how do we overcome the evil of terrorism without succumbing to it? I think that after two years of conversation, we welcome Imam Shahid, originally from SE Asia and now from Somerset Muslim Center, to our Thanksgiving Eve Service. Why?

  1. The service will not change its Christian character, except for his few minute explanation of a verse on gratitude from the Koran.
  2. Though criminally terrorism must be punished, socially terrorism is fanned by exclusion and smothered by inclusion.
  3. Our troops are best supported by making our neighborhood more safe and peaceful.

How will Jesus use you to overcome evil through non-violent resistance? God may just want you to start by attending our Thanksgiving Eve service.

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