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Resisting Evil … (February 25, 2018)

Wednesday, while I was writing this sermon, I had the CBC News Channel on in the background. They were showing the rally at the Florida State House by the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which was victimized by the horrifying shooting last week.

Student after student came to the microphone, speaking a single message: “Enough is enough! Never again!”

These young people are making a strong commitment to the future. They are demanding change. Never again should teenagers be subjected to this kind of carnage. Never again should any people experience raw terror like this. Never again should children feel unsafe going to school. Never again should the voice of young people be silenced by those in power. Never again should students have to protest for their lives. Never again should an innocent life be taken while trying to gain an education.

Enough is enough! The time has come … or in the words of Jesus, “The time is fulfilled …”

But this rally was more than a commitment. It was a warning. With a strong voice, they warned politicians and the gun lobby. “You can’t silence our voices. Your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. You were elected to take action, and when you line your pockets with money from the gun lobby, don’t count on being re–elected, because in a few years, we will be able to vote, and we will vote you out.”

Speaking out is the first step. These courageous young men and women are ready to take the next step … they are ready to act out. They are organizing protests which bring their righteous concerns to the attention of the powers that be. They are organizing a National School Walk Out on March 14, and the March for our Lives on March 24.

Emma Gonzalez was one of the students who spoke on the day after the massacre, “We call BS …” on every excuse that somehow tries to legitimize what happened. Enough is enough!

Why do I bring this up on this 2nd Sunday of Lent? Today we’re talking about the second baptismal question:

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

In Lent this year, we are reflecting together on our baptismal covenant. Last week, we reflected on the first promise. We promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. We are formed into a community by God’s grace, and we promise to honour that gift by joining together regularly and frequently in worship, where we are strengthened and nurtured to be God’s people.

Today, we promise to resist evil. Actually, the promise is a little deeper than that. We promise not just to resist evil, but to persevere in resisting evil.

Sometimes I wonder whether we think that Christian faith is an easy thing. After all, our lives are mostly pretty comfortable. We have enough money for shelter and food; we have money left over for vacations and other things we want to buy—large–screen tv’s and Netflix subscriptions, computers and internet, stuff for hobbies and all kinds of distractions.

And then Jesus comes along and upsets the apple cart by saying, “If you want to be my followers, deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Or as a contemporary translation puts it: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self–help is no help at all. Self–sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (The Message)

That’s not an easy word. It’s hard stuff. Jesus is talking about life and death. Take up your cross and carry it. Follow me.

That’s hard for us because we live in a world where we’re used to putting ourselves at the centre of everything. We don’t want to give our money away, much less ourselves.

But here’s the thing. If preserving our life is the most important thing, then we easily become consumed with what the body or mind need to keep on going. This morphs quickly into self–centeredness. Pleasing the self becomes the most important thing. All of my energy and my time will be devoted to buying or consuming or experiencing what I like, what I love, what I want.

Advertisers know it, and they suck us into the never–ending journey of chasing a shadow. It is all a lie.

Jesus offers us another model for devotion. Don’t worship yourself, he says, don’t spend all your time trying to fix yourself or please yourself or just stay alive. Instead, give your life away. Hand it over to God. Lose yourself—and you will find yourself. Take up your cross—and in following Jesus you will find out who you truly are.

This is really hard to do, to lose yourself, to give your life to God. It goes against all of our instincts.

It was hard for Peter. He takes Jesus aside and begins to protest. Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan. You have no idea how God works.”

Now let’s be clear about this word Satan. A quick check of Wikipedia shows that our modern understanding is that “Satan is the Devil; he is the personification of evil in various cultures.”

That may be true these days, but it wasn’t true for Jesus. The Hebrew word ha–satan doesn’t mean “devil” at all. It’s not a proper name. It simply means “the accuser” or “the adversary”.

Jesus isn’t saying that Peter is evil incarnate. Peter is acting as an adversary. He’s standing between Jesus and God’s purposes. So Jesus says to him, “Get behind me. Get out of my way. Don’t oppose me, because I have to do this … and so do you. If you want to walk in the way of the cross, if you want to walk in my way, if you want to be known as one of my followers, then you too have to pick up your cross. For another person’s sake, give yourself away. For God’s sake, give yourself away.”

And as you do so, you will find life. True life. Abundant life.

The question for Peter is whether he’s ready to walk with Jesus. The question for us is whether we are ready to walk with Jesus.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you persevere? When you mess up, as you surely will, 100% guarantee, will you start afresh? Will you turn around, and begin following Jesus in the way of life and death again?

Almost all of us know what it’s like to have that kind of adversary which gets in the way of walking with God, which gets in the way of truly being a disciple, which gets in the way of following Jesus. It might be a person, but more likely, it’s whatever is keeping you from doing the things God has created you for and called you to do.

We call our adversaries by different names. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Greed. A lust for comfort. Insecurity. And a million others.

They all get in the way. And they’re so very crafty about how they get in our way.

Just one example — a friend of mine told me about 25 years ago that he felt called to devote his life to mission work. But he was afraid because he had grown accustomed to a certain standard of living and feared leaving it. He never did it.

Back to Florida. I think we saw hell there with the shooting last week. In the middle of that hell, gospel voices were raised. Young people began to persevere in resisting evil. They began to call a nation to repent its hunger for guns and a gun lobby which lusts only for power and which doesn’t give a damn about other people.

It happened here too. Last night, many volunteers banded together to speak out against the evil of homelessness. We walked, we stood, we worked together in the Coldest Night of the Year event. We raised funds which will help to provide housing and food and — most importantly of all — a little bit of hope.

It happens again and again.

For us, who claim to be followers of Jesus, it is not a choice. It is a gospel imperative.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you … can you … respond, “I will, with God’s help?”

Be careful. It will cost you your life. But in place of your life, you will receive the life of God.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

February 25, 2018 (2nd Sunday in Lent)

Mark 8: 31–38

Genesis 17: 1–7, 15–16

Romans 4: 13–25