The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 5, 2022
Some years ago, Brian Doerksen had a striking vision enter his imagination. He came to believe that God put it there. The vision started out looking like a news clip of student protests from the 60’s. Many in the young, long-haired crowd were holding up signs that read, “Make Love, not War”. But, as he looked further, the signs changed to read: “Make Love, Make War.”
Praying about what that meant, Brian felt it was a message from God about how His people should, with love, “fight the good fight” – as the Apostle Paul once told Timothy. Brian saw his vision as a depiction of God’s desire to raise up an army of spiritual soldiers who would, with love, wage war against unfairness and ungodliness – and advance God’s campaign to reclaim this rebellious world He still loves.
But do we have the courage and self-control to be the loving warriors God wants? Do we have the bravery to suffer the wounds inflicted on those who fight evil? And do we have the self-discipline not to respond to evil with evil ourselves? We do not, but the Spirit does – and is eager to put such qualities into us.
Romans 8 describes the Pentecost life. It is not a self-help, do-it-yourself life. It is a receiving of what we cannot give ourselves: a new identity and a new inner strength to fight the good fight right. The Spirit brings about both our adoption into God’s family and our assurance of our new standing with God, as the Spirit bears “witness with our spirit” and prompts us to call God “Abba! Father!” By that the Spirit sets us free from the family of the fearful and makes us see we belong in the family of the feisty who wage war with love, courage and self-control. Romans says, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption” – who brings us into the family and through us everyone else who’s willing to join the family. We don’t make any of this happen. We receive everything as a gift of grace. And we never grow into God’s good soldiers by depending on our hard work, but by turning ourselves over to the Spirit’s reshaping of our lives.
Now, the first fight each of us must fight is the fight against our former self – with its tit-for-tat, eye-for-an eye orientation!
The Croatian Christian theologian Miroslav Volf noted, “To triumph fully, evil needs two victories…The first happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.” Hence, as we oppose the forces of evil, we must seek the Spirit’s supernatural help to refrain from the incivility, disrespect and unfairness with which others come up against us. For the Spirit can enable us to return good for evil.
If anyone had the right to respond to evil treatment with angry, personal attacks, it was Martin Luther King. He and his family had been continually abused, and threatened with death. Yet, he always dealt with those who despised him with courtesy and grace. Though he forthrightly articulated a lot of painful truths people hated to hear, he listened and spoke with comity and kindness – even when he was dismantling their wicked self-deception. He destroyed many an enemy – by making folks his friends.
As did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Antonin Scalia. Though they served on the Supreme Court together from opposite ends of the spectrum of judicial philosophy, they developed a close and mutually cherished friendship. He’d send her flowers on her birthday, and she’d send him handwritten notes at the holidays. When asked how they did it, Scalia said, “We attack ideas. We don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas. If you can’t separate the two, you better get another job.”
To do the job of fighting the good fight right, most of us need the Spirit to enable us to separate the two and to love those we think are dead wrong.
In the feisty Pentecost life, we accept everyone as they are, even while we don’t accept the world as it is. We refuse to make peace with its injustice, cruelty and dishonesty. We make war with every unrighteous status quo. We speak against evil. We take action in society, culture and politics. And we take our lumps to do so.
Some Christians live their life as though they’re riding a bus to heaven and have asked its driver to wake them up when they reached their destination after they’ve napped away the hours. But, if we surrender to the Spirit as our commanding officer, we remember there are causes worth fighting for and getting wounded for; and we trust the Spirit to give us the courage and self-control to persevere in the good fight no matter what.
The Holy Spirit makes us God’s children; and if children, then also heirs of all the blessings of God’s grace to live as a family of the feisty.