3/3/2013 sermon: What to do about evil

Location: St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Ashburn, Virginia
Text: Luke 13:1-9
Third Sunday in Lent

What to do about evil

******************************KIDS’ PREVIEW******************************
So I have a hard question for you. Why do bad things happen to people? Do you have any ideas?

  1. Maybe the person did something bad to deserve what happened. Like, when someone hits another person, and then gets hurt when that person hits them back. We might think that the person who hit first deserved getting hurt. That’s the question that the people asked Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. They said, “A bad thing happened. Did the people do something bad to deserve getting hurt?” These people asked, “Why do bad things happen to people?Maybe, though, there are other reasons why bad things happen to people. Can you think of any?
  2. Maybe the people hadn’t done anything bad. Some people think that when bad things happen to GOOD people, God is allowing them to be tested. We don’t like to think that God lets bad things happen to us. BUT sometime we wonder if bad things are a test. Like when someone steals you bike (or—just suppose—your brand new Portable Play Station that your uncle gave you yesterday). Then the test might be what you do after your bike or your PSP is stolen: do you forgive the person who stole your bike, or not?
  3. Other people say that we just don’t know why bad things happen. In other words, there is no answer that we can understand. We don’t like there being no answer, because we always want to know “Why.”

But nobody knows the answer to why bad things happen. And a lot of people get stuck here. When bad things happen they get angry at God, angry at God for letting bad things happen. Some people even think that if nothing bad happens to them, they are BETTER than those who do have bad things happen to them.

Our gospel lesson today says that if we wonder who’s better, we are asking the wrong question. Jesus says that we need to be sure that we are good people, not to worry about what others do, or wonder if we are better than others.

Thank you for sharing your ideas. Your parents and I are going to talk about this hard subject some more, while you are in Sunday School. So they should be able to answer any questions you have, when you get home.

******************************ADULTS’ SERMON******************************

Have you ever wished that you could ask Jesus one thing, in person? I’m not thinking here of Jesus as a genie in a bottle, who we uncork only to grant us three wishes (although that is sometimes how we treat Jesus). Rather, I’m thinking that we might like the opportunity to ask Jesus to explain just one of the big UEMs, the big UnExplained Mysteries of the universe.

For example, we might ask Jesus to explain a theological mystery:

  • “Just where, exactly, were you—Jesus—during the three days that your body was in a tomb?”

OR, we might go for a less cosmic and potentially more profitable question:

  • “Where IS Jimmy Hoffa?”

OR, perhaps we might ask a more pragmatically useful question, one nearer to our own hearts,

  • “When are we going to get a building of our own in which to worship you?”

If our gospel lesson today is any indication, though, Jesus’ answer to our question might not be as straightforward as we would like. What we can glean from our lesson today is what to do about evil, but we have to dig around a bit to discover this.

See, Jesus was teaching the people while they were all traveling to Jerusalem. And some people who were with Jesus were distracted by news of a recent bit of shocking evil. Pontius Pilate, Rome’s occupying ruler over the Israelites, had had some people killed while they were in the temple, worshiping.

  • Now we don’t know the circumstances. Maybe the victims had been Zealots, people plotting and acting to overthrow Roman rule. Maybe Pilate had his storm troopers take advantage of the victim’s worship, killing them when and where they were sure to be.
  • Maybe those who were killed were innocent of wrongdoing, people who just had happened to get in the way of Pilate’s evil fancy. We just don’t know.

In their heart-of-hearts, the people who asked Jesus about this incident may have been wondering: “Had these people deserved their fate?”

In other words, was this a case of bad things happening to BAD people, or to GOOD people? At root, the people who asked Jesus to explain this evil were wondering why God allows such evil in the world. What they got, though, was Jesus’ instruction on what to do about evil.

Jesus refused to play the blame-game. He did not judge those who lost their lives by Pilate’s evil. Moreover, Jesus said—as directly as Jesus ever said anything—that what had happened had not been because the victims had been bigger sinners than anyone else.

In fact, Jesus redirected his questioners’ attention away from judging, away from blaming, away from examining those others’ lives. Instead, he refocused the questioners on examining their own lives, their own sin. Jesus said, “… unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” In other words, don’t look at the victims lives, look at your own.

Many people believe that Jesus meant that the victims had not died because of their sins. Jesus didn’t actually say this. What he did say suggests that we shouldn’t be wondering whether those other folks deserved what they got, but to realize that if we got what we deserved, we would all be dead, too.

This is not a happy thought. But in this way, Jesus told them—is telling us here today—that asking “Why?” about evil is asking the wrong question, and that asking “Why me?” when calamity strikes US is a useless endeavor. There is no answer to this question, at least no answer that we are prepared to hear or equipped to understand.

So what can we do, should we do, when evil befalls us? I’ll share three examples.

LoveAntidote4EvilFirst, in the book of Job, when God allowed the evil one himself to test Job, three friends of Job came to console him. These friends spent seven days sitting on the ground with Job, without saying anything to him because they saw that he was suffering and in much pain. Silence is a proper response to evil befalling another, not silence from a distance, but being physically present, in silence. There is nothing that we can say that could explain evil, but we can demonstrate our love with our presence, with love being the only known antidote, the only known “cure” for evil.

Second, I have been told (by my wise friend Alma Deane MacConomy) of a young woman whose husband was killed, leaving her with a new baby. A few years later she married a widower who had three little girls. She was nicely settled in this happy family circle when her second husband was killed, also. The widow stopped praying for a time, except to say to God, “I know you’re there, but I have nothing to say to you.” In this way this woman was able to refrain from blaming God for what she had lost. Eventually “she regained the fullness of her life, and became a pillar of her church, a delightful companion, and the kind of grandmother all kids would like to have.” Doing whatever is necessary to not blame God is another proper response to evil that befalls us.

Finally, reflecting on these things, as we are doing today and throughout Lent, is a proper response to evil. This is because if we wait until we are actually in the presence of evil, we are not in the best frame of mind to begin to plan our response. Kate Braestrup—a Forest Service chaplain—in her book “Here if you need me,” says that the best response to evil is to look around and find the love, and to focus on the love, because that is where God is in any situation.

These are not happy thoughts, and evil is not a pleasant subject. But now we know what to do about evil:

  1. Refrain from judging others.
  2. Do not blame God.
  3. Be a loving—if silent—presence.
  4. And finally, look for the love, share the love, be the love.
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