The readings for today are here

The weather cannot be described in terms of good and evil. It has no conscience, no moral compass; and yet Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, saving the lives of all aboard his boat. So maybe it is not out of line altogether to read Paul’s instruction with a weather eye towards the south, and the destruction dealt by #HurricaneHarvey since last weekend.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Over the past month people have joked about bringing back the old-style school desks, under which some of us were invited to “duck and cover” in case of a nuclear attack back in the day. Yes, and our children today practice “active shooter” drills and lockdowns. It’s not just about tornadoes any more, or monthly fire alarm tests.

But do not be overcome by evil. Do not be dismayed. “Do not lag in zeal,” writes Paul; “be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12:13)

We saw a lot of criticism this week of a certain megachurch and its leader in Houston, who was apparently slow to extend hospitality to strangers fleeing Hurricane Harvey and its wake of devastation. We saw his response contrasted with the actions of myriad smaller churches, synagogues, and mosques around the area. The world is watching to see if we mean what we say, when we say that our God is love, and that we walk in the way of the cross. So let our love be genuine.

Let love be genuine. (Romans 12:9a)

So I got to thinking about what a disaster preparedness plan for a church should look like. What does it mean for us not only to resist being overcome by evil; not only to escape disaster; not only to save ourselves, but to overcome evil with good; to contribute to the needs of the saints, and extend hospitality to strangers? How can compassion be built into a disaster preparedness plan?

Some of this could be practical stuff. Having an up-to-date phone list to check on one another in times of distress. We’ll be working on that soon with a program coming from the diocesan offices.

Last winter, a friend lamented that when the schools are closed due to weather emergencies, the children have no place to go and the parents are often at a loss for what to do, if they can’t miss work. She said, “Surely the churches should be the first to step up and open their doors,” and a lively Facebook discussion ensued about whether the churches themselves might be inaccessible due to the weather, and whether they had the right staffing and volunteers and readiness to be able to offer such help; the kind of discussions that we saw rehearsed and dismissed as excuses this week as the floods rose in Houston.

I was one of those who made excuses; but what if we were to recruit and maintain a list of volunteers willing to undergo background checks and safeguarding training; a standing corps of compassionate friends, ready to receive stranded students in case of closed schools and stressed parents?

How will we build compassion into our disaster preparedness plan?

What if we had a team of prayer partners well versed in non-violence and active listening standing ready to respond in case of civil unrest in our city; ready to respond with open hearts and clear minds, with prayerful hands and compassionate lips?

Beyond and behind the practical considerations, there is the foundational stuff. The stuff of theology. Knowing our place in the world and in God’s kingdom. Do we have the theology in place, and the relationship with God and our neighbours to combat a sudden attack of homophobia and transphobia such as the #NashvilleStatement released this week? Do we have the tools to deny demeaning words and replace them with the gospel of love? Do we have the humility and wisdom to call out the unbenevolent dictatorship of structural racism, and to clean out our own biased souls?

Does our personal disaster preparedness plan include repentance, and rejoicing in the way of the cross?

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

We have the ultimate example of evil upended, overcome in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How much more evil does it get than to crucify the Son of God? The very sky turned dark at the sight of it. And yet Jesus would not be turned from his plan of compassion, of love and mercy, by this disaster. He would not call on forces of violence to trample the evil that faced him. Instead, he overcame evil with his own good offering of love, steadfast faithfulness, self-sacrifice.

How very good, then, to see God’s new world order: “Let there be life!” triumphing over the forces of evil and death.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself, and take up their cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

If we are to take up that cross, that good means of victory that combats violence with compassion, smothers death with life, breaks open heaven without harming the earth; if we are to take up that cross, then we are to proclaim God’s love to the world in word and deed, as Jesus did, to the ends of our lives and beyond.

Walking in the way of the cross, our plan is for compassion; our zeal is for service; our love is for God and for our neighbours.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9,21)

Come hell or high water, hold fast to that cross. Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice for the sake of the world.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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1 Response to Overcome

  1. Pam Thompson says:

    Hope for the best but exect the worst. With North Korea, Isis, and Harvey it is hard to be optimistic. But I must show my love for Christ as a messianic jew in my lifestyle.

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