How Do We Talk About Evil?

Preached on 7 June 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year b

When I go to the movies, one of my favorite parts is the previews – seeing the trailers for movies that will be coming out in the next few months.

Well, today, we’re going to start with a preview – what’s coming up in the next few months.  We are entering into that long season of Ordinary Time; the Season after Pentecost that begins on Trinity Sunday and ends on the Feast of Christ the King.  We will be working our way through large portions of the Bible with what is called semi-continuous readings.

Our Old Testament readings will begin with the great kings of the United Israel, before it divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  We will hear about Kings Saul, David and Solomon and about the prophet and judge, Samuel who anointed Saul and David; and when necessary, sometimes advised or chastised them, always speaking the word of God.

Then we’ll spend some time in the Wisdom Literature – Song of Solomon and Proverbs.  We’ll hear the stories of Esther and Job.  Toward the end of the season, to bring the story full circle, we’ll hear the story of Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother, and we’ll end with the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

In the New Testament, we will read from the letters: Second Corinthians, Ephesians, James, and Hebrews.

Our Gospel readings will progress through Mark’s gospel with a 5-week interlude this summer when we hear Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.

And now, for today’s feature stories.

First a little background context. Up until now, the people of Israel have been governed by Judges with God as their king.  God speaks to them through the judges.
Samuel is the current judge in Israel.  He is getting old.  He has delegated some of his work to his sons, but the people see them as corrupt.  They demand a “real king” like all the other nations have.

And God says, “Fine.  But you’ll be sorry.”  Samuel warns them what it will be like under a king.  He will send your sons to war.  He will make your daughters work for him.  He will take the produce of your land and your livestock and give it to his favorites.  You will end up as slaves.”

Nevertheless, the people choose to reject God.
They’ve had enough of this mysterious, transcendent god-as-king and want a real, live, flesh and blood king that they can see and hear and touch.  They want a king to protect them and fight their battles for them.

They seem to have forgotten all that God has done for them; how God brought them up out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; how God fought their enemies and gave them the land in which they now live.

And so, Saul is made king.

Now let’s take a look at the Gospel for today.  Mark’s gospel is action-packed.  In just the first 13 verses, we hear about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and testing in the desert. And then Mark starts to tell about the Galilean ministry.

By the time we enter the story today, Jesus has called the disciples.  His first sign was to cast out an unclean spirit in Capernaum and he has been traveling around the countryside healing the sick casting out demons, and teaching – always proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Word has spread and he is widely known; whenever he comes into town, crowds gather around him.

Today, we find him newly arrived in his hometown.
Now, he is not claiming to be king or even God at this point, but he is proclaiming the kingdom of God and his actions give credence to what he is saying.
Here is God, himself, in flesh and blood.  On the one hand it almost seems like just what the people in our OT reading wanted.  On the other hand, Jesus is nothing like what they expect in a king; certainly not like the other nations.

And groups try to discredit him.  His family arrives on the scene – probably embarrassed, even ashamed, saying, “Don’t mind him, he’s out of his mind. Come on Jesus, let’s go home.”

Then there are the religious authorities who show up.  They have seen what Jesus is doing and get it completely wrong.  Their interpretation is that he must be from Satan.  This is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit Jesus refers to.

Jesus tells them a parable.  Metaphorically, he has bound up Satan, the strong man, and is robbing his house – freeing souls from the power of evil.  He is claiming that God is stronger than the oppressor.

Jesus is pointing to the Reality of the Powers in the world working against the goodness of God.  Oftentimes, the Powers are human institutions that are started for Good.  But then they seem to take on a life of their own and end up doing evil.  Grapes of Wrath – banks.

I wonder, how do we talk about evil?  Even in the church we tend to shy away from that word.

When I think about the warnings that Samuel gave the Israelites about the dangers of a king, I wonder, what human institutions we have put in place of God?

I wonder which human institutions have taken the place of the “Old Powers?”
Samuel’s warnings seem all too contemporary.

I wonder what it says when we put away the font and the Paschal candle, the symbols of our identity in Jesus Christ through baptism, and bring flags, symbols of the human institutions of Church and State, and display them prominently in our worship space?

I wonder how we discern when a Power for Good crosses the line and becomes a Power of Evil?
When industry crosses over from lifting people up and providing jobs, to pushing them into crushing poverty with low wages while increasing their own profits?
When we move from using the wonders of medicine to give people a new lease on life and improve the quality of their lives and cross over to allowing our fear of death to prolong a life of pain and misery?
When the military moves from protecting vulnerable people to protecting profits or even producing profits for war profiteers. I don’t pretend to have answers;
I hope to encourage conversation.

Evil in the world is dead set on standing its ground against the kingdom of God.
The Good News is that God is stronger than every oppressor.

Now I know that I’ve said some challenging things today.  My point is to encourage us to question things we may take for granted.  I will be available in the parish hall after the service if you would like to discuss these ideas with each other or with me.