Saturday, January 31, 2015

Silence, Unclean Frenzied Spirit! (RCL Epiphany 4B, 1 February 2015)

RCL Epiphany 4B
1 February 2015

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  Mark 1.21-28

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday the 1st.

Our daughter, Anna, spent this past fall semester at the University of Amsterdam studying international criminal and constitutional law.  While she was in the Netherlands, she participated in a field trip to the International Court of Justice for the Former Yugoslavia.  There she spent the day attending various meetings and sessions, including a session of the trial of Radovan Karadzic, a Serbian leader accused of ordering various atrocities during the Bosnian conflict.

She sent me a text message that day.  'I've just spent the day staring at evil,' she wrote.  When she and I spoke later, she told me that Karadzic had picked her out in the courtroom and stared at her for a very long time.  'How did you react?', I asked.  'I stared back,' she said.  I cannot help but think that my daughter, soon to be articling with the Crown Attorney's office in Toronto, has already begun to develop her personality as a prosecuting attorney.

Have you ever been face to face with evil?  I know that I have.  What I remember most is that the face of evil I met was banal, unemotional and quite intelligent.  As a student of German language and literature, the study of the Holocaust was an expected part of our studies.  We studied the war crime trials held in Nuremburg and the faces of the accused remain in my memory.  Men who would kiss their wives and children good-bye in the morning, spend their day at the office arranging for the transportation of thousands of people to death camps and then return home to have a quiet family dinner, to read the children a story before bedtime and then to listen to music or to read a book before going to bed themselves.  Then, the next day, they did this routine all over again.

Even the evil that we see happening in the Middle East today wears the same face.  Men in masks calmly kill their captives or drive women and children out of their homes to face hunger, sickness and possible death.  Whether in the Third Reich or Iraq or Syria, evil is dispassionate and methodical.  And evil is personal and intentional; there are human beings who have chosen to thwart God's purposes because what God wants for us:  genuine freedom, human dignity and equality, generosity and compassion, the stewardship of creation, threaten those who cannot see outside the box of racism, nationalism, religious extremism, any other -ism which seeks to destroy the creatures of God.

On the other hand, the victims of evil rarely have such banal faces.  Tears fall from their eyes and their mouths are opened in silent screams of despair.  Some leave silence behind, shouting and screaming at their oppressors and at those who stand helpless in witness to their tragedy.  Such scenes fill the screens of our televisions and computers, causing many to wonder where is God and even if there is a God.

In today's gospel Jesus comes face to face with a victim of evil.  Notice where Jesus is.  He's not in a war zone or a prison or some other place where it is easy for us to imagine evil dwelling; Jesus is in the synagogue, a place of study and prayer.  Nor is Jesus alone; he is surrounded by witnesses who are waiting to see what he will do.

What they witness is no dramatic ritual on Jesus' part.  He simply silences the evil spirit who has gained control of the man.  Whether the words Jesus speaks are accompanied  with a gesture or merely by staring the spirit down, we are not told.  What we do know is that the spirit flees, not without some drama, but departs nevertheless.

Those who witness the event become aware that God's sovereignty has just been revealed to them.  They speak of this by describing Jesus as one who teaches with authority.  He has no need of fancy gestures, no need to shout, no need to demand attention.  Jesus meets the evil head on with compassion for the victim and trust in God's ultimate purposes for us and for all of creation.

Evil cannot outlast compassion.  Evil cannot endure the willingness of men and women to go quietly and confidently about the task of sharing with God in the work of restoring right relationships between people and aiding all of God's beloved become more fully alive.  Evil will claim casualties, whether the actual deaths of those who like Jesus are not afraid to look evil in the face and calmly resist or the sacrifices that we make as we work towards the reign of justice and peace God intends for all of us.

So, in this 'mean' time, a time between the resurrection of Christ and the coming in its fullness of God's kingdom, a time where evil seems so present and so powerful, we who follow the way of Christ confront evil calmly and resolutely.  Every time we restore the dignity of a sister or brother by ensuring that he or she is housed and fed, we stare evil in the face and silence it, if even for a moment.  Every time we support the work of our church or other humanitarian agencies in care for refugees and prisoners of conscience, we stare evil in the face and silence it, if even for a moment.  Every time we confront religious prejudices that blame whole communities of faith for the sins of extremists, we stare evil in the face and silence it, if even for a moment.  Evil's faces are many, but the faces of God are even greater.

It's time to put our 'game' faces on, for the game we are playing is for life of God's world.  Amen.

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