Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sermon: Resisting Wrongdoing

Exodus 1:8-2:10

One of the challenges of last week’s topic, forgiveness, is that people think that to be forgiving people or to be compassionate people means that you let evil people walk all over you. That you let others do wrong to you. And yet the Bible shows us, right after telling us one of the greatest stories of forgiveness, that resisting wrongdoing is a godly thing. So last week we heard how Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery – that he was able to see beyond the pain of what had happened to him, and he was able to see how God had used his situation to bless others – in fact to save their lives.

Many years later, still in Egypt, the Bible tells us that people have forgotten what Joseph did. In fact, the Israelites are now being mistreated. Because the Istraelites numbers have grown, the Egyptians are afraid of them so they are forcing the Israelites into work gangs and giving them hard labor. Then to make matters worse the Pharaoh tells the midwives that if they are delivering a Hebrew baby and it is a boy, kill him. It is a horrible situation.

But into this situation, steps the very salvation of God. First we have midwives, women who are helping in the delivering of children, and they know that the orders that they have been given are wrong.

These are women who have dedicated themselves to the bringing of life into the world, so how could they suddenly become agents of death? They can’t. So they resist the orders. They play on Egyptian prejudice that thinks the Israelites are more like animals They claim that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly and they can’t get there in time – and Pharaoh believes it.

Unfortunately it does not stop the injustice. Pharaoh makes the decree even more strict. Throw all the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River. It doesn’t matter if they have been alive for a few minutes, days or weeks, drown them in the river.

Which of course leads to mothers hiding their children, striving their best to keep their babies secret. One mother, named Jochebed, who has a healthy and beautiful son is able to hide him for three months, but then realizes that she cannot hide him any longer.

So she puts him in a basket of reeds and sets the basket among the reeds. The woman’s daughter, Miriam, follows behind, making sure the baby is safe.

Then we have Pharaoh’s daughter who finds the baby. And we another act of resistance in the face of oppression.

She knows that the child is one of the Hebrews, she knows what her father has said, but she provides for the child’s life and in fact adopts him as her own son, naming him Moses.

So right after last week’s wonderful story of forgiveness and setting aside a wrong that is done, we have this equally powerful story with many women who are resisting evil. They are standing up to it in their own way and refusing to give in to it. And while it may seem like these two ways of responding evil are opposite or in conflict, they are not.

I am quoting from The Book of Joy as the Dalai Lama explains that forgiveness is not acceptance of the wrong.

“There is an important distinction between forgiveness and simply allowing others’ wrongdoing. Sometimes people misunderstand and think forgiveness means you accept or approve of wrongdoing. No, this is not the case. We must make an important distinction.” The Dalai Lama was speaking emphatically, striking one hand against the other. “The actor and action, or the person and what he has done. Where the wrong action is concerned, it may be necessary to take appropriate counteraction to stop it. Toward the actor, or the person, however, you can choose not to develop anger and hatred. This is where the power of forgiveness lies— not losing sight of the humanity of the person while responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness.”

“We stand firm against the wrong not only to protect those who are being harmed but also to protect the person who is harming others, because eventually they, too, will suffer. So it’s out of a sense of concern for their own long-term well-being that we stop their wrongdoing. This is exactly what we are doing”[1]

So essentially what he says is that you separate the evil act from the person. You do what you need to do to stop the evil actions. But you do not become angry or hateful of the person or persons who are hurting you – never lose sight of the fact that they are human too. In fact, by helping them to stop being evil you actually protect them from the harm that they will do to themselves if they continue to act in an unacceptable manner.

So imagine that you are one of the individuals who was injured when the Neo-nazi drove his car into the crowd who were standing in opposition to racism. Clearly what he did was wrong. And you want to stop that from ever happening again, but you don’t have to harbor hatred and resentment against him. In fact, you can work to forgive him. You see, being agents of God’s forgiveness actually has the potential to be the most powerful response to evil.

But it cannot be cheap forgiveness. For it to bring real change, we must move those who are doing wrong into a place where they realize what they are doing and are repentant. You have to confront them and convince them.

I admit, this requires deep internal strength, and often can only begin by resisting those who are doing wrong. In our bible passages, the resistance is in refusing to obey evil orders. In the last century the resistance has been in the efforts of the civil rights movement where people both refused to obey laws that discriminated but also spoke clearly and powerfully to educate people about the need for change. We see it in the recent the peaceful protests in various countries against corruption and injustice, where people see that their government is no longer serving the interests of the people, and where favoritism, nepotism and financial fraud taint their leaders. So they resist and they make known the issues.

The idea is to help those who are doing wrong to see what they have done, and to get them to repent, to change their ways. To get the neo-Nazi’s to see that racial hatred is just plain wrong, and get them to repent.

But those gains are slow – in fact, as we can see there are still some who refuse to acknowledge that what was done was wrong – they want to hold onto evil. But we do not give up. We continue to not only hope and pray that those who spew hate and bigotry will come to see the evil that that are doing, but we resist their efforts to harm others, we speak out against them clearly, we educate and develop relationships until the human beings who are doing wrong repent of what they have done, and forgiveness, real forgiveness can happen.

That’s what we would hope to do if we were one of those injured by the driver. If and when these means are successful, we have brought salvation not only to those who were being oppressed but also to those who were causing the harm.

A side note: While last week’s passage dealt more with personal hurts and suffering. This week’s talks about how we address systems that cause human suffering. But there are deep similarities. Both of them talk about the power of forgiveness. Both are about everyday people, like you and I. Both are about seeing God at work in the world – in the first believing that God has brought good out of the harm that we have experienced, and the second believing that God can bring change (even if we don’t believe that we can change things), and being courageous and compassionate in the face of wrong.

The opening of the book of Exodus, with the examples of the many women who oppose Pharaoh’s orders is a reminder that despite our limitations, God works through our hearts, refusing to accept the wrong, and bringing about change.

Whether one is a midwife or a mother, or a princess resisting wrongdoing, we can be part of God’s intricate plan of salvation. The world becomes a better place, lives can be changed (lives have been changed – people like yourselves have even saved lives) – simply by resisting wrong, refusing to obey an unjust decree, showing compassion to those who are being treated unfairly, and educating and converting those who are doing wrong.

Being Christian and being forgiving does not mean sitting back and doing nothing, it means powerfully moving people toward repentance and the saving power of God – and you and I have a role in that every day. Whether we realize it or not, our small acts bring God’s salvation.

[1] Lama, Dalai; Tutu, Desmond; Abrams, Douglas Carlton. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (p. 234). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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