A few days ago, something amazing transpired at a fast-food drive-through window in Atlanta. A young woman named Feroza Syed was waiting in her car to reach the service window when she happened to notice something bizarre happen at the window.
The person in the car in front of her received his order and then rather instantaneously threw the drink he had received in the face of the young female server and drove away.
Feroza could not believe what she was seeing, but she was incensed. She moved her car forward to the window and found a young African American woman in tears. Her name was Bryanna.
Feroza spoke to her soothingly and then gave her a $20 tip. In their brief conversation, Bryanna explained the reason the man was so angry was that he had ordered his drink with no ice and somehow there was ice in his drink. Brianna also said it was likely that she was so emotional because she was pregnant.
Feroza said, “When I got home, I was so angry I could hardly settle down.” It is likely that Feroza wished she had gotten the license plate number to report the drive-through offender to authorities. Instead, Feroza decided on an entirely different kind of reaction to her anger.
I always have struggled with what to preach on the Sunday after Christmas — which obviously also is the Sunday before New Year’s Day. What do you preach between “Peace on earth and good will toward men’’ and the reality of January when a New Year’s promises are already being broken?
“When I read the story about Feroza Fayed, I knew immediately what I wanted to preach on this Sunday.”
When I read the story about Feroza Fayed, I knew immediately what I wanted to preach on this Sunday. Paul said it first in verse 21 of Romans chapter 12: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
When we stop and think about these words of Paul, our first reaction might be: “Do what? Paul, that might have been possible in the first century but in the 21st century we cannot even agree what evil is.”
Paul has been preparing us for our incredulity by essentially saying, “This is not going to be easy,” and then he proceeds to tell us just how hard it is going to be. He does not mince words. He says flat out: ”Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”
That sounds good in a sermon. Some might call it “preacher talk.” But then he keeps on talking and we are struck by the thought that he really means it. He writes, “This is your spiritual act of worship.” The King James translation is even more direct. It reads, “This is your reasonable service!” Thank God Paul did not quit writing at that point. He gives us a thoughtful approach to what at first glance seems impossible.
The first step according to the apostle is, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“You do not feel your way to a new way of acting.”
John Drakeford once said in one of my classes in seminary, “You do not feel your way to a new way of acting; you think and then act your way to a new way of feeling.” That process, according to Paul, begins with perhaps the hardest thing any of us ever does in this life. That is our learning to “not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.” Jesus said something very similar: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
I am not sure we understand how radical those words really are. Because we do think of ourselves more highly than we ought, we evidently do not take sin seriously. At least we do not take our own sin seriously. However, we take others’ sin very seriously. If people are breaking the law by entering this country illegally then are separated from their children, some rationalize that as justice.
It is at this point that we perhaps begin to understand just how radical these words are. Paul seems to anticipate that and suggests we try them out within the family, which in this case is the church.
First, he challenges us to use the gifts given us from the grace of God. He lists preaching, teaching and leading. Some are thinking, “Well, that lets me off the hook. I am not called or gifted in those areas.” Paul must have known we would think like that because he has the audacity to mention serving and encouraging.
Then once again he really gets in our face by changing the venue from the church to the world at large. He talks about blessing those who persecute us, associating with those of low position. He gets very specific when he says, “Do not repay evil with evil.” Instead, feed your enemy when he is hungry. Give him something to drink when he is thirsty. Paul also urges us to contribute to meeting the needs of others by giving generously.
It is a shame Paul did not clear up a related matter in the area of contributing. Did Paul mean contributing only through our church and our personal charitable giving or did the radical nature of his words perhaps indicate that we who are abundantly blessed should not be resentful of some of our tax dollars being used to help the less fortunate while knowing that some will “game the system.” I really wish Paul had addressed that, because it would give us some guidance on one of the most divisive questions in our nation.
Paul sums it all up when he writes, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
When Feroza Sayed got home from the incident at the drive-through window, she was still seething and was finding it difficult to calm herself. It was then she decided to use social media to tell the story and ask her friends to contribute small amounts of money to give to Bryanna. In a matter of days, she had received $1,800. Feroza called the manager of the restaurant and got permission to come and present Bryanna this unexpected gift.
That, it seems to me, is the exact meaning of Paul’s advice: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
Gary Cook serves as pastor of Gaston Oaks Baptist Church in Dallas and as executive director of Gaston Christian Center.