Is Evil Real?

Sermon – 08-26-18 – Proper 16 – Cycle B
Scripture – Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Title: Is Evil Real?

Oh God of the whole universe and more, guide my words and the thoughts of our minds and hearts that we may come close to understanding your message from our scripture lessons today. Amen

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We say that every Sunday in church. You may say it every day of the week. First, would God really lead us into temptation. I mostly think of God being loving. That does not seem very loving to me. Why would God lead people he created and loves into temptation?

There is the idea that we are being tested just as Jesus, himself, was tested in the wilderness directly after his baptism by John the Baptist. So when Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to us, perhaps he was warning us to ask for protection from temptation.

Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? We say the Holy Spirit took Jesus there, but who did the tempting? The whole passage of Matthew 4:1-11 is dialogue between Satan and Jesus. Why did the Father allow that to happen? Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to the location – this place of isolation – no food, how about water – 40 days? The physical body surely was weakened. Did Jesus sleep? Maybe. I don’t think we know. Surely, though, a very weakened body!

Let’s see. The temptations were bread to eat. Protection from a fall. Wealth and power beyond comprehension. Jesus countered these temptations with scripture. Each response from Jesus started with “It is written.” Jesus resisted temptation by knowing and quoting the Hebrew scriptures which we call the Old Testament.

Why would the Father allow Jesus to be tested this way? Indeed, the Father engineered this testing of the Son as training for this rite of passage as a human on earth. Therefore, should we not be honored that the Father would lead us into temptation as training for our lives as Christians, as followers of the Son?

However, this is not a fun thing like winning a prize or a maybe a game. This temptation business can be ultra-scary. Where is the line between the Father’s leading us to test us and the devil taking over? We pray, “deliver us from evil.”

Have you ever looked evil in the face, nose-to-nose or has your life been even-keeled and rather on the safe side?

I have known several children who seem to be filled with evil spirit. How did they get that way? Surely, God would not have deliberately caused that or allowed that – to a child! Maybe you have known adults who seemed not to have a loving bone in his or her body – filled with meanness, revenge, spitefulness. My theory is that these people missed out on love. That in the case of individuals, the space that love could have filled was left empty and Satan moved in without a qualm.

How often have you heard it said that we are born with sinful natures because of the sinning of Adam and Eve. It is quite easy to find verses in the Bible which point to how we need to be more determined, more focused on doing the right thing, not succumbing to doing the “bad” thing. We need to make the right choices, to choose to serve the Lord and not other gods. It is up to each person to resist.

However, Christian writers are reminding us that it is not the fault of the individual when evil moves in. It is the influences around the person which are responsible for the downfall. Eve was influenced by the snake. We could ask who influenced the snake. Then Adam was influenced by Eve who had been influenced by the snake. The chain goes on and on.

A recent article in Christian Century, told of a man who had become involved in a sinful business. It was all that he knew. From childhood, this person only knew this way of treating people for money. It is the only thing he witnessed. It was natural for this man to continue this sinful way of life which damaged other people’s lives beyond any relation to sanity, much less respect.

In Paul’s passge today in Ephesians, he instructs his readers how to protect themselves from evil. Paul is saying that the evil of this world goes beyond individuals to whom he refers as flesh and blood. Paul goes on to use terms such as authorities, cosmic powers, darkness. Paul gives us the picture of armor: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes that proclaim peace, a shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is really the word of God. Other places in scripture, Paul speaks about principalities, which I translate to mean governments but principalities can be giant movements of evil spirits that entangle governments and other authorities and kingdoms.

We yearn for the complete Kingdom of God to break forth. How will it happen? When will it happen? Paul thought that Jesus would come to earth again in Paul’s life time. Not so! Many of us call our present kingdom of God as a partial arrangement. God is here. Many believers are spreading love and assistance. You are probably one of these people. You are workers of the Kingdom as the Kingdom exists now. When the Kingdom of God is fully operating, Satan will have been banished. The evildoers of this world will be transformed or vanished.

In the meantime, how can we handle the evil of this world? How can we manage temptation, even temptation by the Father as we are tested? Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” I suggest walking away from foul language, walking away from bullying, staying away if at all possible where violence is likely to happen. Mainly, increase the outpouring of love and sharing and caring.

What does our Old Testament lesson today have to say? With the Israelites in early days, if they were focused on God, capital G, God took care of them, provided for them, blessed them. As soon as the eyes and hearts of the Israelites turned to other gods, God punished them. Our Old Testament lesson today is an example of God clearing the path for the Israelites as they entered the land of milk and honey. Joshua said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua took a stand.

Looking at our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was speaking very strangely about his body and blood which would be our salvation in the end. The crowds did not understand. The crowds stopped being crowds. Even many of his followers, left the tour. When Jesus asked his twelve disciples if they were leaving also, Peter, the bold, compulsive disciple said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God..” Let us echo Peter’s words and keep our eyes focused on this Holy One.

Lord, before we think of resistance as a battle, help us to try the resistance of peace, love, joy, and the provision of bread, water, and comfort. Amen

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