Sunday, February 01, 2015

Do the things that evil hates

The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B: 1 Corinthian 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
If you could pick a super-power, what would it be?
I think I’d like to be able to cast out demons.
And my cool super-power would be so awesome that I wouldn't even need to say or do anything. Demons would see me coming and “pop!” Out they’d come!
That’s what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue near Capernaum. Mark says he is a person with authority. Jesus grabs the heart and won’t let go. So suddenly a guy jumps up and shouts “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
Jesus engages the unclean spirit directly, silencing it and calling it out. And with convulsions and shouting, Jesus drives the unclean spirit out of the man.
That’s what I want to do!
Imagine being able to spot something we don’t like in someone and just throw it out! The problem, of course, is that we’d always identify the evil in the other guy, never in ourselves. We’d always be tempted to be the one who decides who is good and who is bad and who needs cleaning up and who doesn't.
I think this temptation is what motivates the people who stand outside military funerals or gay pride events and shout hateful, untrue and disgusting things in God’s name to and about gay and lesbian people. I think this is also the temptation for people who join ISIS and kill people in the name of God. They think they are confronting evil…but they have become evil themselves.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1963, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The lesson we are learning again by watching a film like Selma and recalling the long non-violent struggle against state-sponsored racism is that minds—and hearts—were changed only when people refused to be goaded into violence by violence but instead did exactly the things that evil just cannot tolerate.
So my wish to have a spiritual super-power to cast out demons may sound cool but I think in the end it would not work. Because whenever we decide to fight evil with evil, evil always wins.
When Jesus encounters the unclean spirit he not on some spiritual search-and-destroy mission. And he is not a Gary Cooper-like lone sheriff who’s come to clean up this town. No. Instead he taught. It was his authority as a teacher that evil could not stand to be with. Jesus was doing the thing that evil hates. And that is the key.
If you want to cast out demons, do the thing that evil hates.
Doing the thing that evil hates is taught in Christian community. Just look at Paul’s teaching to the Christians in Corinth. In today’s epistle, Paul addresses a question sent to him about food sacrificed to idols. Corinth was a Greek city and this congregation had within it both Jews and Greeks. There were people raised in the synagogue and people raised in the religious supermarket that was Greek and Roman religion. The popular religions of the area were an array of different gods with a little deity for every possible need, and each cult had its own ritual. The meat that was sacrificed in these temples was not destroyed (as in Jewish temple practice) but turned around and sold in the marketplace.
We read in Acts (15:29) that one of the requirements placed on Gentiles who became Christians (without first becoming Jews) was that they were not to buy, serve or eat meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols.  Some Christians in Corinth defy this rule and it was creating division. So they went to the apostle Paul to help straighten out this mess.
The Christians who ate idol-meat had a good case. They knew that the little fake deities were nothing compared to the One God made known in Jesus Christ. These Christians knew that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are freed from all these little godlets. They said that if Jews who follow Christ are freed from their law, so are Gentiles freed from theirs. Paul says that they are right. But being right is not the point. Caring for one another is.
He urges people to refrain from eating if it would be a scandal for others. But he also tells those who stay away from idol-meat to go ahead and have an idol-burger if they are served one by a Christian who thinks it’s just a burger. Paul says the most important thing is that everyone is to look out for the other person’s conscience.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his little book about demons and their ways called The Screwtape Letters, that if the Church of England (and we) were to follow this rule then the Church would become a “hotbed of charity” that would be make a demon’s work nearly impossible. 
I had to learn the hard way about casting out demons. It meant learning Jesus’ new teaching and authority as well as Paul’s model of liberty tempered by charity. It all started when I was a brand new priest. From time to time I’d end up at a Roman Catholic Mass…maybe for a friend’s wedding or a funeral or something. And I’d insist on receiving Communion. After all, I know my orders are as valid as theirs. I knew we believe the same thing about baptism and Eucharist. So I’d step up and tell myself I was being a “prophetic witness.”
A wise spiritual director, on hearing me talk about my “courageous witness….” reminded me that the line between being prophetic and being a jerk is pretty fine. In fact, I was putting my brother priests in a terrible spot and causing scandal to those who did not share my knowledge. This is what Paul meant when he says knowledge puffs up but charity builds up. Maybe I’m right, but evil just loves it when my knowledge becomes another Christian’s scandal. The fact that we Episcopalians welcome all the baptized to receive communion, no matter what flavor Christian they may be, does not mean I get to dictate how other communities do things. It’s sad and painful to be denied communion in churches where we share so much. But there are times when I sit because charity demands it. I sit because it is not about me, it is about we.
So, do you want to cast out demons? Here’s how. Do the thing that evil hates.
Evil hates justice and thrives on division. Seek reconciliation.
Evil loves it when we are silent about injustice and marginalize the poor. Speak up and work on behalf of the oppressed and outcast. 
Evil drives us to be selfish and care only for ourselves. Cast out evil with compassion.
Evil wants us to be alone and cut off. Drive evil crazy with your prayer, your trust in God, and your life in Christian community.
Evil flourishes when we hate in God’s name. If you really want to cast out demons, love.
Evil feeds on our resentment and our list of wrongs. Cast out evil. Forgive.
Evil wants us to focus on scarcity. Fight evil. Be generous.
Evil grows when we get caught up in anxiety. Cast out a demon. Let go of needing to control every outcome.
Evil needs violence—in every form, physical and emotional—so fight evil and live peaceably.
Jesus shows us, starting with his encounter in the synagogue and ending in his journey to the cross, that he had power and authority. But he always met evil on God’s terms. By simply living and doing what he was called to do; by teaching, healing, and being a companion to the outcast he did all the things that evil hates…he drove evil crazy! When Jesus was crucified, it looked as if evil won. But in fact evil was defeated. Forever.
We have that power and that authority right now. Through our baptisms, the Eucharist and the power of the Holy Spirit in this community, everyone in this room has the power cast out evil in wonderful, surprisingly practical ways of compassion, holiness and calm.
It turns out that we do have a super-power that casts out demons. We defeat evil whenever we do the things that evil hates.

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