First Presbyterian of Fairfield worship service for August 30thPosted by First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield on Sunday, August 30, 2020
Performance running shoes are often colorful and attractive, with sleek designs that make you want to hit the pavement and go fast. But not many have the brilliant design of the Adidas “Futurecraft.Loop,” which is 100 percent recyclable. That’s right: A performance running shoe made with all-recyclable materials and no glue.
Raincoats will keep you dry, but the plastic in most of them will eventually sit in landfills for many years. In addition, plastic comes from fossil fuels, which put carbon in the air. Now you can choose a raincoat made from fast-growing algae. Yes, algae. It mimics plastic in every way, but also consumes carbon from the atmosphere.
“The jacket lets you put on a future where we are no longer dependent on fossil fuels,” said Charlotte McCurdy, the creator of the raincoat.
Other brilliant designs include a typeface designed to increase legibility for people with low vision, a prefabricated “hospital room in a box,” a credit card that monitors your carbon footprint, and an electric motorcycle that is largely 3D-printed.
All of these are hailed by Fast Company magazine (September 2019) as “award winners that are reshaping our world.” The winner in the category of social good is “The Water Box” in Flint, Michigan. This mobile filtration unit plugs into the public water system and pumps out safe, lead-free drinking water.
Recyclable running shoes. Carbon-negative raincoats. Hospitals in a box. Mobile water filtration units. Brilliant, revolutionary designs.
Of course, innovative ideas are nothing new. Flip-phones were great when they were first introduced, because they were so easy to use. Answer by flipping it open; hang up by flipping it closed.
Remember the Rubik’s Cube? It was eye-catching and beautiful, and its design made you want to grab it and play with it. Yes, it was hard to solve, but the puzzle didn’t require an instruction book.
Going back even further, you find pencils and scissors. These are great products that you use every day, “extremely intuitive in their functions,” says Massimo Marrazzo. It’s hard to improve on the design of the pencil and a pair of scissors.
Pencils can be tricky, however, when you put words on them and then begin to use them. Wanting to send an anti-drug message, someone designed a pencil with the phrase “Too Cool to Do Drugs.” Good message, right? Wrong. As the pencil was sharpened, it read:
“Cool to Do Drugs.”
Not a brilliant design.
Back in the first century, the apostle Paul had some innovative, indeed, revolutionary, ideas about what it meant to be a true Christian. He shared his design with the followers of Jesus in Rome, using words as surprising today as they were when they were first written.
For starters, Paul encourages us to do the opposite of what people expect of us, especially when we are attacked. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). The approach that most people take is: “Don’t get mad, get even.” Or “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Heaping curses on evildoers is acceptable behavior in most faiths and cultures. But Paul says, “bless.” The Christian design is to offer good to a persecutor instead of fighting back, counterattacking, or evening the score.
“At this point Paul stands firmly with Jesus,” says pastor and scholar N.T. Wright. “In both Jesus’ teaching and his own practice there was a strikingly new note: Hostility was to be met with prayer, and violence with blessing.” As Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Pastor Peter Marty tells the story of a woman named Martha, who had a terribly difficult childhood. “Mom regularly beat me with a strap,” she recalls. “She was mean even when I did nothing wrong. My dad was cruel for reasons I don’t understand. He’d pack my lunch for school and often put a rock in it instead of a sandwich. As hungry as I was after school, I dreaded coming home.”
Marty asked her how it was that she and her husband managed to raise a beautiful child of their own after the hellish childhood she had endured. So often, abused children become abusers, and the cycle of violence continues. Martha said, “I was determined to do the complete opposite of what my parents did for me.”
Do the opposite. Love instead of hate. Bless instead of curse. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” says Paul, “but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). That’s a brilliant design.
Paul also encourages us to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, instead of the values of the world. The world is “dog eat dog,” with people competing fiercely and being willing to harm each other in order to succeed. But the values of God’s kingdom invite us to “live in harmony with one another” (v. 16).
The world is full of climbers who want to show off and be accepted by powerful and influential people. But the values of God’s kingdom encourage us to “not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are” (v. 16).
In the summer of 1985, professor Henri Nouwen left his position at Harvard Divinity School and joined a movement called L’Arche, which means “the Ark.” He moved to France and spent nine months living with people with learning disabilities, and sharing life with them. Then Nouwen joined the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada and served as its pastor until his death in 1996.
Nouwen took seriously the instruction of Paul to “associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” He moved from Harvard to L’Arche, he said, so that he could be “closer to the heart of God.” In the L’Arche Daybreak community, he supported a young man named Adam, who was severely disabled. As he cared for Adam, he came to a deeper understanding of his faith and what it means to be loved by God. Within L’Arche, the focus is on loving those who feel alone and abandoned because of a mental disability. It’s a brilliant design.
Finally, Paul encourages us to conquer our enemies in an innovative way: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads” (v. 20). Paul does not want Christians to be passive in the face of their enemies, rolling over and playing dead when confronted by evil. No, says Paul, take action: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21).
In his book The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene tells of a speech Abraham Lincoln delivered at the height of the Civil War. In it, Lincoln referred to Southerners as fellow human beings who were in error. An elderly lady chastised him for not calling them irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed.
“Why, madam,” Lincoln replied, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
The unexpected and innovative design of Christian life is to overcome evil with good, instead of fighting evil with evil. If our enemies are hungry, we feed them. If they are thirsty, we give them something to drink. In the end, we destroy our enemies by turning them into friends.
“To transform an enemy into a friend requires one person to step forward and initiate the change,” says blogger Suzanne Kane. “That’s often propelled by love, the kind of human emotion that forgives all slights, looks past harsh statements, past injustice, social pressure and aggressive actions and finds common bond.” Such a transformation is often grounded in what Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
When faced with an enemy, don’t attack them. Instead, “Golden Rule” them. Feed them. Give them a drink. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
The apostle Paul challenges us to do the opposite of what people expect of us, blessing instead of cursing. He invites us to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, instead of the values of the world. And he encourages us to conquer our enemies with kindness.
Yes, there is evil in the world, and Paul knows it. “But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness,” says N.T. Wright. God knows that “the way to overthrow evil, rather than perpetuating it, is to take its force and give back goodness instead.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross, and what we are challenged to do in daily acts of love and sacrifice.
This is a brilliant, revolutionary design, right up there with hospitals in a box. And it’s a design that is never finished, but one that we need to work on every day.