“If you pay too much for cable television, you feel powerless. When you feel powerless, you take kung fu classes. When you take kung fu classes, you want to use your kung fu. When you want to use your kung fu, you become “the fist of justice.” When you become “the fist of justice,” you run across rooftops. And when you run across rooftops, you fall into a dinner party… Don’t fall into a dinner party.”
Wouldn’t we all like to be the fists of justice, given the way things are in the world? It really feels like we’re living in a world gone mad. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer; it’s every person for themselves; the law of the land is “do what you feel.” Nothing is sacred. Anything goes.
Has it ever happened to you that just one ignorant person, one lazy coworker, one rude customer, one impatient motorist, one gossipy friend, or one nasty word ruins your whole day?
When we’re wronged, it’s only natural to get mad. It’s natural to hate the sins, and hate the sinner even more. And, it’s natural to want to fight back; to wage war against the world and its greedy, immoral ways… But is that God’s way? Is that how God wants us to live in a world gone mad?
In our Old Testament reading for today, Abraham was soon to join his brother in what was the unquestionable world capital of evil: a city called Sodom (and its neighbor called Gomorrah).
Joining Abraham were the visitors from God who appeared to him earlier to reassure him that God would be keeping the promise to give Abraham and his wife Sarah a child, even in their old age.
But before they get to Sodom, God has some news for Abraham: God has heard the cries of the victims of Sodom and Gomorrah’s evil. So God “consults” with Abraham over God’s plans. Notice whose side Abraham takes: Abraham begs God for mercy for these wicked cities! For the sake of as few as ten righteous persons in these cities, Abraham argues that God should spare them all. God, on the other hand, appears determined to wipe the cities off the map—and if we read on into chapter 19, we discover just how evil these cities were.
Abraham’s visitors rendezvous with Abraham’s brother Lot at the city gates, and together they go to Lot’s house. Suddenly, a mob forms outside of Lot’s door, demanding that Lot hand his visitors over to them—so that they can commit acts of extreme violence against them so disgusting, I cannot possibly describe them from here.
Apparently there were not ten righteous persons were in the cities—perhaps not even one—because God destroys them both in an inferno of fire and brimstone.
And we must be very clear, here: this was not an act of wrath from an angry God. This was an act of mercy and justice for the cities’ countless victims; to protect the world from their evil. In mercy for those who suffer, God does not take lightly the sin of evildoers.
But ultimately, God’s Word teaches us that when we become the victims of evil, never must we respond with evil. We are not to enact justice in the form of vengeance against the wicked. We’re not the fists of justice.
Do you remember what Jesus said in the presence of his murderers? “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.” That it is to be our attitude.
Doubtless this is the most unnatural of responses, because when someone sins against us, we do feel powerless and we want to take the power back. But this is not God’s way.
As Christians, we intercede for our enemies. We forgive as those who desperately need God’s forgiveness. We show them mercy—because we need God’s mercy. We pray that God would somehow change their hearts that they would change their ways.
This is not an act of powerlessness. Laying down the cause of vengeance is to say, “God, I trust you to sort this all out. I don’t need revenge, because I have you.” It’s even okay to be angry and outraged at what people say and do—as long as we lift the outrage to God, rather than hurling it on our adversaries. God hears your cries and the cries of all who suffer unjustly. God’s not going to forget what’s been taken from you. And God will (somehow) make it right.
And while we intercede on behalf of evildoers, we must join Christ in interceding for their victims. All around us, our neighbors suffer the ignorance, the prejudices, the greed, and the violence of others. As disciples, we are to bring them God’s mercy. It begins in prayer, and the Spirit will lead you from there—to feeding the hungry, and building up all who are torn down by evil persons and evil systems that exist within our culture and our economy to benefit a lucky few at the expense of the many. The Spirit will give you power to enact God’s mercy to heal broken lives and broken cities. The Spirit will give you the strength to love your neighbors and care for their needs with the same urgency as you care for your own.
Without forgiveness, without mercy, the human community will tear itself apart. We will destroy each other. But with forgiveness, mercy, and intercession, we can take on the problem of evil—and overcome it. God is on the side of those who need mercy—and those who give it. This is the way to life and healing. This is the way to hope.