Pentecost – Proper 18
Exodus 3: 1-15; Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12: 9 - 21; Matthew 16: 21 - 28
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
A few days ago I received a wedding invitation and attached to it was the RSVP card that you send back to let the host know whether or not you will attend. I have seen many of these cards before, but this one was unique, as it went beyond the standard two choices you often see on such cards: “gladly attend” or “regretfully decline”
The RSVP card attached to this wedding invitation I had these two standard choices, of course, but it also had three more – that’s right, there were a total of five possible options to select from: 1. Gladly attend. 2. Regretfully decline. 3. Resentfully attend. 4. Enthusiastically decline. 5. Will forget to respond but ultimately attend anyway. I think my response will be #5, even though I am marrying the couple who sent the invitation.
Life is complicated. And if you are able to see the humor in it, as this couple clearly does, it seems that life becomes lighter, easier to bear. But humor is not enough, is it? You all watch the news, hear it on the radio, or read it online. The number of challenges we are facing globally seems to grow each day. And many of us become numb to the problems of the world – whether that is on our southern border, in the state of Missouri, or across the Atlantic in Israel, Iraq, or the eastern Ukraine.
Many have confessed to me in the past weeks that we seem to be living in a globally dark time. Often, I confess, I have felt the same way. But a view of such despair is not biblical – no matter how bleak our problems may seem. “Do not be overcome by evil,” writes the Apostle Paul in Romans, “but overcome evil with good.”
There is no doubt that evil exists in the world - it is a clear and distinct reality. But so is its defeat. I believe whatever power evil does have in this world is receding, because Jesus’ death upon the cross severed the power of evil from its source once and for all. Of course evil flares up now and again in the form of war, disease, racism, injustice. But they are simply the dying breath of an evil ignorant of its demise. The evil we see so clearly in the world today is much like the tail of a lizard that keeps moving, even after it has broken off the lizard’s body. The tail continues to move, but it won’t for long. I believe the same is true for evil.
Why God chooses to allow evil to exist after its defeat is not a question we are in the position to ask. But here is a question we can: What is our response? In Romans, the answer is clear. Paul writes: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” and elsewhere “Bless those who persecute you.” I will not pretend that I have done this with much success. It is impossible for us to do on our own effort – but loving our enemy is possible with God.
Perhaps in the wisdom of our prayers, we might become like those who faced evil and triumphed beautifully in spite of it. I am thinking of people like the holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, or the civil rights leader and martyr Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They witnessed evil in its most sinister disguise. And yet they were able to see evil differently than many do. In their wisdom, Wiesel and King saw evil as an invitation - one that required a response of justice and love. And the responses of Wiesel and King to the evils they confronted changed the world.
In your life, when you confront evil, how do you respond? Do you “regretfully decline” - numbing yourself to its reality; or do you “gladly attend”? To “gladly attend” might mean to take something ugly and godless and breathe into it the very Spirit of God. God has given you power to do this. But it’s not easy. Resurrection rarely is. But it is possible. All of us one day have to face the things we have created, and for some, that means confronting the evil we find in our own heart. How we respond, that is up to us. But respond we must – our lives demand that we do. AMEN.