Sunday, June 19, 2016

5 Pentecost

June 19, 2016

Galatians 3.23-29;Luke 8.26-39

+ I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine this past week, specifically about the shootings one week ago this morning at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  This friend of mine is an agnostic. Not an atheist, mind you. An agnostic.

Now, most of you know, I am especially fond of agnostics because, let’s face it, we too are all agnostics, if we are honest with ourselves, if we but scratch our spiritual surfaces. An agnostic is one who says, I simply do not know. Which is one of the most honest ways of looking at spirituality.  None of us, of course, knows. We hope. We long. We step into the unknown and hope and believe we will be held up.

What prompted this conversation was when my friend shared a comment on Facebook that said, essentially: “the devil’s followers don’t shoot people.” His thinking here is that, in the wake of the shootings in Orlando, it was people like Omar Mateen, a believer in God, who do things like this.

I don’t usually enter into these conversations. They go nowhere. No one’s minds are changed. But it was an interesting take on the situation. And I did have to say this to my friend:

evil is evil—and that where evil dwells, that is not the will of God, as I understand it.

I am no agnostic when it comes to such a belief.  This is what I know. A person like Omar Mateen can claim God’s righteousness all he wanted, the Westboro Baptist Church can claim God’s righteousness all they want, but anyone-ANYONE—who murders, who belittles, who limits the inherent rights of others, who are violent in word or action, who HATES in the name of God is deceived. By saying they are doing it in the name of the God, they are committing sacrilege. The highest form of sacrilege.  They are in fact doing the exact opposite of the will of God.  They are doing the will of the so-called “Devil,” the deceiver, the unholy one—that personification of all evil.  

Now, we often deceive ourselves. We convince ourselves that evil does not really exist. But let me tell you. In that nightclub last Sunday morning, evil existed. Evil ran rampant. Evil is what executed those cold-blooded murders.  Not God. Not a follower of God.

I believe God was most definitely there. I have no doubt about that. But God was with those who were fleeing and dying and suffering.

In that moment, Omar Mateen was not God’s agent, was not representing God or anything that came close to God.  He was the devil’s agent.  And he was doing the Devil’s work.  It was evil—plain and simple.
 And evil DOES exist.

Now I’m not saying I believe in actual supernatural devils or demons.  But, the fact remains, whether we believe in actual demons or nor not, whether we believe in Satan as a spiritual reality or not, what we all must believe in is the presence of actual evil in this world. Whether that evil is natural or supernatural, or both, the fact is, there is evil.   Even good rational people know that!

And those of us who are followers of Jesus have promised that we must turn away from evil again and again, in whatever way we encounter it.   Whenever we are confronted with evil, we must resist it. In our Baptismal service, these questions are asked of the person being baptized (or their sponsors):

“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

And…

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

And, as our Baptismal Covenant asks us asks us:

“Do you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

Evil is something we must stand up against however we encounter it.  Whether we encounter it as a spiritual force, or whether we encounter it in other forms, such as racism, sexism or homophobia, or as a rogue, fanatical gunman systematically shooting innocent people in a nightclub, as followers of Jesus, must stand up against evil and say no to it.

In a sense, what we are being asked to do is what Jesus did in this morning’s Gospel.   We are being compelled, again and again, to cast out the evil in our midst, to send it away from us.  This is not easy thing to do.   It is not easy to look long and hard at the evil that exists in the world, and in our very midst. It is not easy to hear the stories of young gay and lesbian and transgender people huddling in bathroom stalls, pleading for their lives, or texting their mothers with messages of final goodbyes as they await the gunman.  

We must, even as we face these stories, resist the evil that exists in this world.  It too can be cast away. It too can be sent reeling from us.

The story of Jesus is clear: good always defeats evil ultimately.  Again and again. It might not seem like it in the mass shootings and murder.  But it is there.

Christ, as we heard in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, breaks down the boundaries evil in its various forms sets up.  In Christ, we hear, there are no distinctions.  In Christ, all those things that divide us and allow the seeds of evil to flower are done away with—those issue of sex, and social status and nationality and race are essentially erased, those things that cause people like Omar Mateen to lash out against.

And we, as followers of Jesus, so prone at times to get nitpicky and self-righteous and hypocritical and divide ourselves into camps of us versus them, are told in no uncertain terms that those boundaries, in Jesus, cannot exist among us.  Those boundaries, those distinctions, only lead to more evil.  To less love.

But even then, even when evil does seem to win out, even when there are moments of despair and fear at the future, there’s no real need to despair.  Even in those moments when evil seems to triumph, we know that those moments of triumph are always, always short-lived.   Good will always defeat evil ultimately.

Yes, we find the premise of good versus evil  in every popular movie and book we encounter. This is the essence of conflict that we find in all popular culture.  We learn that on the first day of Fiction Writing 101.  Good versus evil—and good always wins. But, for us, as followers of Jesus, this is not fiction.  That is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking. It is the basis on which our faith lies.  

When confronted with those spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, we must renounce them and move on. And what are those spiritual forces of wickedness in our lives?  What are those forces that divide us and cause conflict among us?  What are the legion of demons we find in our midst?  Those spiritual forces of wickedness are those forces that destroy that basic tenant of love of God and love of each other.  Those spiritual forces of wickedness drive us apart from each other and divide us. They harden our hearts and kill love within us.  

When that happens in us, when we allow that to happen, we cannot be followers of Jesus anymore.  We cannot call ourselves children of a loving God.  When that happens our faith in God and our love for each other dies and we are left barren and empty.

We become like the demoniac in today’s Gospel.  We become tormented by God and all the forces of goodness.  We wander about in the tombs and the wastelands of our lives.   And we find ourselves living in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of that dark abyss of hopelessness that lies before us. It would be easy to feel like that in the wake of Orlando and all the violence we experience in this world.  

But when we turn from evil, we are able to carry out what Jesus commands of the demoniac.   We are able to return from those moments to our homes and to proclaim the goodness that God does for us.  That’s what good does.  That’s what God’s goodness does to us and for us.  That is what turning away from evil—in whatever form we experience evil—does for us.

So, let us do just that.  Let us proclaim all that God has done for us.   Let us choose good and resist evil.  Let us love—and love fully and completely, without barriers.  Let us love each other. Let us love peace and nonviolence.  Let us cast off whatever dark forces there are that kills love within us.  And let us sit at the feet of Jesus, “clothed in and in our right mind,” freed of fear and hatred and violence and filled instead with joy and hope and love.




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