We didn’t talk much about evil when I was growing up. Throughout my upbringing in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was enormous faith in progress, technology and education to eradicate all forms of ignorance. And the consensus view in that time was this; there is no such thing as evil (a mere superstition). Terrible atrocities, like genocides, were the fault of a lack of education, knowledge, and eventually could be removed from the face of the earth with the right strategy. This was true also for mainline churches. How many of us raised in the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, hear about evil on a Sunday morning? Not too often.
If you wanted to hear about evil in a Christian context you needed to watch television and listen to TV preachers talk about evil non-stop. According to them evil was everywhere and specifically they would point to a country; the Soviet Union, Iraq, Iran, etc… as the place where evil was most manifest. Or evil was with specific groups; gays, liberals, feminists, other religions. And Biblically they would exclusively point to two books in the Bible, Daniel and Revelations. Unlike mainline churches who would see the world’s woes in terms of poverty, climate change, world peace, racism, etc… and try to be part of an effort to reverse these ills the more fundamentalist churches would focus on something or someone they named as evil and pray that they (the holy remnant) would be protected or saved from his clutches.
Bishop and author NT (Tom) Wright puts it this way, “There are two familiar approaches to evil in our culture. The first is to the head-in-the-sand approach. You pretend evil does not exist, or that it is only a challenge the world can overcome with the right solution. The second answer is the mirror-image of the first, to wallow in evil, and to see all over the place, seeing demons behind every bush. But Jesus’ way is to recognize the reality and power of evil, and to confront it with the reality and power of the kingdom-announcement. Evil is real and powerful. It is not only ‘out there’, in other people, but it is present and active within each of us.”
I think this is perhaps a change for many of us to absorb, that there is evil in the world, that it is not just a matter of what we don’t know or someone or something we need to denounce and demonize but rather what we need to be delivered from. Evil is present in our world and often it cannot be explained or fixed. Wright says evil needs to be named, it needs to be confronted and it needs to overcome with the kingdom news, with the announcement that Jesus’ kingdom can deliver us from evil.
Tom Wright reflects on the nature of this struggle with evil as one akin to giving birth. “Jewish visionaries, from the early Prophets right up to Jesus’ day and beyond, saw Israel’s vocation in terms of a great build-up of pressure and pain. When hope had died and fear had conquered the morning star would dawn at last. The whole world, with Israel at its heart, would enter a period of tribulation, of sorrow and anguish, like that of a woman in labour: and from this new world would be born, in which God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The evil itself would press us to choose a way and different way, to turn away from the world’s values of success, prestige and power and toward the Gospel values of community, sharing and compassionate love. The “birth” as Wright calls it would be made manifest in the kingdom-announcement. The world would see Jesus’ vision made real in the now, we as a church would witness to what could be, what should be. No coercion, no shame, no guilt, just the church being the church, the Gospel revealed, a powerful witness on display for all to see.
Albert Schweitzer once put it like this, “Jesus was called to throw himself on the wheel of world history, so that, even though it crushed him, it might start to turn in the opposite direction.” If we want to be delivered from evil we need to acknowledge that the work of doing so has already been done in Jesus’ life and teachings. Jesus’ kingdom announcement were not merely words, they were deeds, they were miracles, they were healings, they were turning the world upside down, where those who were first would be last, and those who were last would be first. Jesus both literally and figuratively turned the world and the tables upside down. He threw himself onto the wheel of history and moved it in a new direction.
But this evil in the world, in us, will keep trying to move us back to a familiar groove. And we are called to push back, to be delivered from evil by replicating what Jesus said, what Jesus did, who Jesus was, what Jesus came to be. For most of my life I have seen the church react to evil in one of two ways, to name it and urge powers to change it or to name it and denounce those who are associated with it. But what about the church being delivered from evil by proclaiming what the kingdom is, what Jesus said we are, who and what we are called to be.
I know that new Canadians in general and Muslims who are new to our land in particular have received a more positive welcome in Canada than most places around the world. But we would be lying if we suggested this welcome has all been positive and without tension. Listen to the talk of the town, in public spaces, in informal gatherings, and you will know what I mean. The evils of treating others as less than human are present in our world. I believe the truly evil acts of our time have come when we have looked at God’s creation; the earth, other cultures, other religions, any “other” as less than. That outlook makes it easier to commit acts of genocide.
So how do God’s people proclaim what Jesus has already lived and preached? I believe I saw an example a few weeks ago in Bedford. Bedford United Church and the Al-Rasoul Islamic Society Mosque shared worship together and then offered a proclamation, an announcement, no one could miss. Christians and Muslims stood along the Bedford highway forming a human chain between both buildings as a witness to what God has done, to what God is doing. I imagine for a lot of people the experience of being “delivered from evil” was made real that day.
And so my friends what will be our witness to the kingdom proclamation? How shall we tell the world, how shall we tell each other, how shall we tell ourselves, that the kingdom is stronger than evil, that what Jesus did and said is truth and what evil tells us is a lie? How shall we remind ourselves of the worth, the dignity and the humanity of all God’s creatures? Some modest and humble souls say, “I carry my faith privately, I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself, go around being preachy and self-righteous.” Indeed the Bible does say a thing of two about that (Matthew 6:1-13). But the critique of the self-righteous person is not that s/he proclaims or announces the kingdom, it is rather that s/he calls attention to her/himself. My friends this is not about us, this is about being delivered from evil and into the kingdom. We point to the One who is the Creator, who is the purpose and who is the bread of life. And that One brings life and life in abundance. It’s not what you did for the kingdom, it’s what Jesus did in the kingdom and how we can witness to that, celebrate that, and proclaim that. The kingdom is here. It is done, on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s shine a light on it and in the process let’s push back and resist the powers that dehumanize us and make us something we were not meant to be.
Hallelujah! Thanks Be to God! Amen.