Monday, November 23, 2015

Sunday's Sermon - When Facing Evil

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 22, at 11:00 a.m. in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. During this sermon, we looked at how we might better face evil. You can also find a podcast of this sermon on The Cove Podbean page. 

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel: The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

When Facing Evil

Friday night, Debbie, Maggie and I did something we really enjoy. We went to Pittsburgh, but we didn’t go because it was “Light Up Night.” We had absolutely no idea, and as some of y’all I’m sure know, the traffic was crazy. But that’s not the reason we went. Instead, we went to Benedum to see a play that won four Tonies last year, including Best Musical. And the title, “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

Now the plot is pretty simple. A young man discovers that he’s actually a member of an important British family, the D’Ysquiths, and is, in fact, eighth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst.” And the play is basically about him either killing or trying to kill the seven cousins and uncles and aunts who stand between him and the earlship. Now I know that sounds pretty heavy, but it’s actually a musical comedy so that undertow of evil is sort of buried by peppy songs, elaborate costumes, and the same actor playing the seven D’Ysquiths, including two women, who by the end of the play, go to meet their maker.

Of course, right now, I’m talking about a musical, not anything in the real world, because I think we all know that the reality of evil isn’t even remotely clever, much less funny. And sadly, it sure seems as though signs of evil are all around us. I mean, it’s certainly alive and well and living in our world. My gosh, unless you’re living under a rock, we all know about Paris and ISIS and what’s happening in Syria and Iraq. But it’s not just there; we can see the same kind of stuff happening in Burundi and Mali and along the Mexican border and even within some of our own cities. And I’ll tell you something, as the father of a 13-year-old girl, Jared Fogle represents a whole lot more to me than how you can lose 200 pounds eating Subway sandwiches. But let’s get real, you don’t have to look overseas or watch television to see evil. No, it’s right here in Weirton, isn’t it? And we can see it every time a child is bullied or a reputation is slandered or an innocent person is hurt. I’m telling you, there’s evil all around us. And even though it may take different forms and come from different sources and claim different victims, I think the reality of evil affects us all in pretty much the same way. You see, it makes us feel scared, doesn’t it; vulnerable, powerless, hopeless.

And maybe that explains why it often causes us to do or at least to consider doing the same sort of things we’re confronting. I mean, when I’m face-to-face with evil, that’s when I want to put aside the New Testament and all this stuff about loving your neighbor and praying for those who persecute you, I want to push that stuff aside and trot out some good, Old Testament retribution, you know like “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And I sure don’t want Jesus telling me, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” In the face of evil, I mean, real, ISIS evil, that just doesn’t work, am I right? Man, that’s not what I want to hear, because I want those who commit evil to suffer, you know, like we’ve suffered, like I’ve suffered, even if that means that I have to descend to their level to make it happen, and then go through some pseudo-spiritual gymnastics to justify doing something that I know is not the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” But I guess that’s one of those consequences of evil, isn’t it? If we’re not careful it can both throw us down as well as draw us in.

And for that reason, I think it’s important for us to be as prepared as we can be in dealing all the very real evil that’s present all around us. And I’ll tell you, as a starter, I think there are three things that we can begin to do right now.

For example, if we’re serious about facing evil, first, I believe we need to recognize what evil actually is. I mean, good night, we can’t confront something we don’t recognize. And I’ll tell you, it’s amazing. The word “evil” is used 580 times in the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible, and every single time, it’s somehow related human beings, to actions and values, to thoughts and motivations. You see, storms and natural disasters and diseases are never called evil. They may be destructive. They may cause pain. They may even result in death. But evil, evil involves us. It involves us turning from what we know is right so that we can do what we know is wrong. It’s like Paul wrote to the Romans, “from heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools.” You see, that’s what evil is all about, it’s intentional, not accidental. And even though it may be instigated by Satan or by sin, they’re not the ones who do the deed. It’s our hands that get dirty. And it’s our neighbor who gets hurt. And it’s our consciences that get calloused. And our faith that gets distorted and destroyed. I’m telling you, evil comes from people who look a lot like us, sometimes exactly like us. You see, that’s what evil is, and I think that’s the first thing we need to recognize if we’re serious about facing it.

And second, when confronting evil, I believe it’s crucial that we remember that, in spite of what humanity might do to itself and its world, Christ is still the king who reigns with justice and love. In other words, we’re not alone. In fact, we’re not even ultimately in control. That position belongs to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that really brings us back to the passage we read a little while ago and I’m talking about these last words from King David. You see, Jesus is also the son of Jesse, the one “...whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.” You see, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the great king from the house of David. And that’s why, when he entered Jerusalem, the crowds shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” And he’s the “one who [will] rule over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, [which] is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” And he’s the one with whom God “...has everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.” You see, it’s through the one who, from David’s perspective, was coming but the one who, from where we stand, has come, it’s through Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of man, that God is bringing his creation to its destiny. And no amount of evil can interfere with the will of God. You see, when facing evil, second, we need to remember that Christ is still the king and that his will is justice and mercy and compassion.

And third, after we recognize what evil is and remember who Jesus will always be, I’ll tell you, its right here that we can decide to respond as citizens of this kingdom. And to do that, well, we’re going to need to be strong. You see, we’re going to need genuine strength to resist that little voice that whispers in our ears, telling us that things are out of control and that the world is heading to Hell in a handbasket and that no one is charge and telling us that we have all kinds of reasons to feel afraid and hopelessness because evil is winning and telling us that the only way to defeat evil is to turn away from what we know is right and moral and good and to become evil ourselves, in other words, to become just as cruel and as calloused and as godless as the people we oppose. Man, we’re going to need strength to resist the perverse logic of evil. And then we’re going to need to be strong to follow the one who said that the entire law can be summed up in two commandments: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” I think we also need to remember that this same one said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Let’s not fool ourselves, it’ll take strength to resist the pull of evil and to follow the example of the king. In other words, living as citizens of the God’s kingdom isn’t for wimps. But you know, when this is what we decide to do, I think we’re going to understand some things we may not have understood before. You see, we’re going to understand the potential of a tiny mustard seed, that’s planted in field and becomes the biggest of all shrubs. And we’re going to understand the power of yeast, that when added to a whole bunch of flour and water and sugar can effect all the dough. I’m telling you, in the face of evil, we can respond to the one we call king. That’s the third thing we can do.

Now, I think Debbie, Maggie and I really liked “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder,” although there’s no way we enjoyed the traffic we encountered coming and going. The play was a lot of fun. But of course, there’s absolutely nothing fun or funny about the evil that surrounds us. No, evil is not only scary but causes us to do things that we know are wrong. And for those reasons, I think it’s really important for us to recognize what evil is and to remember that Christ is the king who reigns with justice and love and to respond as citizens of his kingdom. You see, I believe that’s what we can do, when facing evil.

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