10 September 2023

Moving on from last week’s call to be agents of salvation, this week follows it up with a call to be those who confront evil – within ourselves, our communities and our world – which is, of course, a large part of what God’s salvation is about!

We face another challenging week of worship this week, as we face the darkness that must be transformed within us and our world. May we not shy away from this work, but worship courageously and go out to be people of love – even for our enemies.

Exodus 12:1-14: God gives Moses and Aaron the instructions for the Passover meal – for the animal that must be chosen, sacrificed and eaten, how it is to be prepared, and the way the Israelites must eat it, with urgency and ready to travel. The blood of the animal is to be placed on the doorposts of their homes so that the plague of death which comes on the Egyptians will not harm the Israelites.

OR Ezekiel 33:7-11: God instructs Ezekiel to be a watchman to Israel and to give the people God’s message that God does not delight in the destruction of the wicked, but wants all people to turn from wickedness and find life.

Psalm 149: An exhortation for God’s people to praise God both publicly (in the assembly) and privately (on their beds) and through their praises to proclaim and establish God’s reign and overcome wicked kings and nations (Note: The sword image is a metaphorical reference to the power of the praise expressed by God’s people, not a literal call to religious violence).
OR Psalm 119:33-40: A plea for God to teach the psalmist God’s decrees and to foster love for God’s laws in his heart.

Romans 13:8-14: Paul exhorts the believers to owe no debt to anyone except the ongoing debt of love, which fulfils the law. Because of the urgency of their hope, Paul encourages the believers to live pure lives, free from the dark deeds to which they may be tempted.

Matthew 18:15-20: Jesus teaches his followers a gracious process for making right with those who have hurt them – going first to the individual, then, if necessary, taking along a couple of witnesses, and finally, taking the matter to the church. Then he encourages his followers to agree, for in doing so, they find power in prayer and Christ’s presence in their gathering.

After the last few weeks in which we have explored God’s salvation and our call to share it with the world, we come this week to the challenging issue of confronting evil, which is an inevitable result of our commitment to bringing God’s reign into visible manifestation in our world. The Moses story leaps forward from Moses’ call, to the final result of Pharoah’s failure to negotiate the Israelites’ freedom – the judgement of the Egyptians and the rescue of the Israelites. Paul encourages God’s people to go further than those of Moses’ time by loving all people and seeking to live pure lives even in the face of wickedness. Jesus, on the other hand, brings the confrontation right into the gathering of believers, making it clear that we will face conflict and injustice inside the church as well as outside of it. Finally, the Psalms support this theme in their challenge to praise God both privately and publicly and in so doing manifest God’s reign in our lives and world (Psalm 149) and in the plea for God’s laws to guide our lives and for God to nurture love for God’s ways in our hearts (Psalm 119). So, we are challenged this week to confront evil – within ourselves, in our communities and in the world – and overcome it with praise of God and in living lives filled with and expressing God’s love.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: Overcoming evil with good – the good of love – is a seemingly naïve approach to injustice in our world, yet there are so many powerful examples of people who did exactly this. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa – the list is long and challenging. There is much evil to be confronted in our world – this goes without saying – and it takes strength and boldness to stand against it. But, as Henri Nouwen said, “If, in order to overcome the beast, we in turn become the beast, the beast has won.” Herein lies the problem of Christians who take on a dominating and aggressive view of Christian influence in the world – seeking to overcome terrorism through war, violence and “shock and awe” tactics, seeking to overcome the structures of wealth and power that lead to poverty and oppression through argument, slander, corporate warfare and public attack, seeking to stop abortion by killing those who practice it, or seeking to “protect” heterosexual marriage by attacking gay marriage. In all of these situations, our actions are not those of love, or of Christlike goodness, but are those of the very systems we seek to change. We cannot bring peace by declaring war, we cannot heal poverty by destroying the rich, or empower the weak by disempowering the strong. We cannot protect our children by killing adults, or bring security to our nation by embracing violence against the violent. We cannot protect “our” relationships by undermining those of others (irrespective of how we may feel about the morality of those relationships). No, as we seek to bring peace, justice, community, equality and responsibility into our world, we must embody the principles we preach, by loving those we oppose and seeking their well-being as well as our own and that of those we defend. And, lest we fall prey to “us and them” thinking, let us heed the challenge of Jesus to face the conflicts and disagreements we have in the Church with grace, love and compassion, even as we stand strongly against the evil that lives within us and within our brothers and sisters. It is not an easy task, nor, usually, a pleasant one, but the Gospel’s call is both an invitation and a confrontation, and our journey into Christ-likeness is about learning to ebrace and proclaim both of these elements even as Jesus did.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It is a sorry state, and a massive blow to our witness for Christ, when Christians point fingers at one another, argue with one another, and treat one another with disdain and violence. It is a sorry state, and a massive blow to our witness for Christ, when Christians “circle the wagons” and throw accusations and aggressive words out at those we disagree with. In both cases we are only projecting our own evil outward, and in both cases we have abandoned the example and the teaching of Christ as we seek to confront evil in the world. As a friend once said, “The problem with the Church is not that it has a dark side. The problem with the Church is that it tries to deny that it has a dark side.” But, when we can face the evil within us – both as individuals and communities – honestly and with a true desire to change, evil is overcome. In the same way, when we can confront the evil we see in others with a genuine love for them and a concern for their well-being and that of the community in which they live and work, we will find that evil can be overcome. Sometimes, as Moses found with Pharoah, and as so many people through history found, this loving confrontation will require us to be strong and to embrace suffering, pain and possibly even death at the hands of those we seek to lovingly confront. But, if choose to abandon the way of love and become like the evil we seek to address, we have become part of the evil, rather than a solution to it. This is as true of calling “sinners” to repentance, as it is of facing criminals, abusers or addicts. Judging others never brings change. Loving them enough to enable them to see their own goodness and nobility and desire to live into it, does. Our calling is hard, sacrificial and will often cost us dearly. But, this is the work of Ezekiel’s watchman (or woman), and of Pauls’ encouragement for us to live pure and loving lives.

We Are The Church
In Defiance
You Deserve It
A Place For Us

Hymn Suggestions:
A Charge To Keep I Have
Jesus Calls Us, O’er The Tumult
The Voice Of God Is Calling
Rise Up, O Men Of God (Could also be sung as “Rise Up, O People Of God”  with a very small change to how the words fit the notes. And “brothers” in the last line could be sung as “siblings”)
Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You (The Servant Song) (Link to YouTube video)
Lord, Make Us Instruments Of Your Peace (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy For the Breaking Of Bread
A Liturgy Of Compassion