The Antidote for Hate
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | September 3, 2023
Due to technical difficulties there is no recording of the service available.
Read Romans 12:9 – 21
Our New Testament lesson this morning picks up where we left off last week in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church… I truly believe that the message it contains is important for us to hear today, in light of what has been happening around the country and even closer to home.
A little over a week ago, a gunman opened fire at a biker bar in Orange County, California. When it was all over, four people (including the gunman) were dead and six others were wounded. One of the women that was wounded was the gunman’s soon-to-be ex-wife. She was the first person he shot before shooting the woman she was dining with… he then began firing randomly at other people inside and outside of the bar… his apparent anger and animosity toward the woman who was divorcing him cost three innocent people their lives and changed the lives of many others in unimaginable ways.
Then last Saturday, another gunman chose to kill three people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, for no other apparent reason than because they were Black… the shooter had a swastika on one of his guns… a symbol of the hatred this man held in his heart.
And then two days after that, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, walked onto campus and murdered his faculty advisor... resulting in the campus being placed on lockdown in just the second week of school. As of yet, the motive for the shooting has not been made public…
So much hate leading to so much violence and so much senseless loss of life…
All the more reason for us to cling to the words that Paul wrote to the Roman church because they provide us with THE ANTIDOTE FOR HATE… and it can be summed up in a single word that we find at the start of today’s New Testament lesson… and that word is LOVE.
Because in the unforgettable words of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
Now, what we find in this passage from Romans that calls for our attention this morning reads like something straight out of Jesus’ handbook for how we should live in community with one another.
Like the rules and regulations of a Homeowners’ or a Condo Owners Association… or the constitution and bylaws of an organization… or the policies and procedures at a place of employment… the Scriptures provide us with the guidelines for what is required for us to work, live, and play together.
And so, as we look more closely at the first verses of the text we read:
This calls to mind Matthew 22 (34 – 40), where we find the account of Jesus being questioned by one of the religious leaders regarding which is the greatest commandment…
To which Jesus responded:
Love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self… in a nutshell this truly is THE ANTIDOTE FOR HATE… because if we love God and we love others as well as ourselves… and we remain focused on serving God and the people of God… there simply is no room and no time left for hate.
Today’s text is a call to replace selfishness with selflessness… to focus less on self and focus more on what is good… as we are encouraged to think of others first.
Now, turning our attention to the next verses in the text, we read:
Verses which harken back to Jesus’ Sermon the Mount where we find these words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43 – 44).
And these verses from Romans also encourage us to reflect on Jesus’ willingness… and dare I say desire… to associate with the very people who are so often pushed to the margins of society…
These people of “low position” that Paul refers to… in other words, the sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes… the sick and the homeless and imprisoned…
The ones that Jesus was speaking of when He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did [or did not do] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did [or did not do] for me” (see Matthew 25:34 – 45).
But Paul does not only take a page or two out of Jesus’ handbook… being the scholar that he is, Paul also delves into the Hebrew Scriptures… what we know now as the Old Testament…
Paul is referring to the Book of Deuteronomy (32:35) as well as the Book of Proverbs (25:21-22) in these next verses which read:
I cannot help but be reminded of the concept of killing someone with kindness… although, given everything that has been going on, I realize that is probably not the best metaphor to use…
Perhaps it would be better to reflect on something else my grandmother used to say which is, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”
Simply put, we will not be successful in winning souls for Christ if we spend all our time spewing words of anger and venom… that is what the rest of the world is busy doing on a daily basis… which means that we… as the church… the body of believers… have to offer something different than the rest of the world.
We have to be that beacon on a hill… that light shining in the darkness… signaling to others that this is a safe space where they are welcome to come… assuring them that this is a place and we are a people where love… THE ANTIDOTE FOR HATE… is on full display.
And that brings us to that last verse of the text which reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul tells us that the antidote to overcome evil is good… and that leads us to the understanding that THE ANTIDOTE FOR HATE is love.
And it dovetails with what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to say in his 1961 speech, “Loving Your Enemies,” about why we should love our enemies. It is a speech that is still very relevant to this day and is worth reading in its entirety but for our time left together this morning, I want to invite our attention to a few excerpts. [The full text of the speech can be found at: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-detroit-council-churches-noon-lenten]
In explaining why we should love our enemies, Dr. King said:
Dr. King went on to explain that we must love because of what hate does not only to the victim of the hatred… but what it also does to the soul and the personality of the one who hates:
Let me suggest that it is incumbent upon us as followers of Christ to love everyone… even those who hate… make that, especially those who hate… because that is what Jesus would do… and that is exactly what Jesus did…
Even as He hung on the cross, Jesus said this about those who were responsible for His crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Talk about the epitome of extending grace!
Now, looking back at his speech, Dr. King went on to explain the redemptive power of love:
Now, perhaps someone is sitting here or listening on the phone questioning how we can possibly love people who have committed extremely vile acts and done truly despicable things.
Well, I am glad you asked, because earlier in Dr. King’s speech we find these words:
The fact of the matter as Dr. King, the Apostle Paul, and most importantly, Jesus, have all explained to us so eloquently… is that we have all been called to love… because at the end of the day love is undeniably and unequivocally THE ANTIDOTE TO HATE.
And now let us prepare to demonstrate that love as we join in the celebration at the Lord’s Table… a reminder to us all of what love in action looks like.