The Devil, Lucifer & Evil Myths

Yesterday, I preached a teaching sermon on the devil, Lucifer and evil myths. As people of faith, we often create collages in our minds of sayings, historical events, myths, scripture and other literature when we are attempting to understand the nature of topics such as evil. During the sermon we visited a few texts from scripture: Luke’s report of the return of the seventy boasting about their ability to cast out demons in chapter 10, Isaiah’s oracle of doom upon Nebuchadnezzar whom the KJV names Lucifer, in chapter 14, and the consummation of the cosmic battle between the evil empire of Rome and Jesus of Revelation 20. We very briefly surveyed the contexts of the epic works of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost as we moved from the middle ages and enlightenment understandings of the universe to modern and post-modern views of the universe.  We even stopped by the early days of psychoanalysis as we tried to make sense of all the demons in scripture. Hopefully, we arrived in present times where devils with pitch forks and horns are more about costume fun than some scary reality. I think the survey was worth at least a quarter of a credit in seminary. I share these words from the closing of the message:

We do live in a world where Evil is present. And, Evil Powers continue to cause hurt and harm in our midst. David Felton & Jeff Proctor-Murphy in their book Living the Questions help us understand the powers of evil in our midst. According to them the Devil, Satan or demons are “human conditions of hatred, spirits of injustice, attitudes of jealousy, and structures of destruction.” Systems of oppression and practices of Greed and Deception are the real devils of our world.

The power of the demonic is the power of us – power to reject God and to thwart the emergence of life, love and potential. – Living the Questions

We too often point and blame before taking any responsibility for the evil in our midst. We need to seek healing of our need to be blameless and to seek help to see the ways we participate in unjust systems and communal sins such as racism, sexism, ageism and all forms of prejudice and oppression.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray,  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from Evil.”

We pray to one who endured the pain and suffering of Evil in this world – who died at the vicious hands of power and greed, who was executed by systems of oppressive power in the hands of a few.
We pray to one who did not return his tormentors evil with evil,
with vengeance or revenge.
We pray to one who forgave the many who were complicit in his own torture and death.
We pray to the one who forgives us still today.
We pray to the one who invites us, in Paul’s words to
“not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”

After the sermon, we received our newest member into the love and care of the congregation. She later told me she was grateful for the message and we are in a dialogue about questions she continues to discover. I’m certain I do not have the answers and I’m convinced there are many more like her who would love the opportunity to live the questions of faith in the 21st century. I’m grateful for the conversational journey and look forward to walking forward in faith.

All in All, God is Still God

On a recent Thursday morning as we were trying to prepare the newsletter and I was busy with last minute details for the Regional Assembly, the electricity went out. Fortunately, only one computer file was damaged beyond repair, the newsletter, of course. We were forced to let go of the deadline for that newsletter and resolve to begin again later, frustrating as that was.

Friday morning I loaded my car to travel to Normal, IL. As Vice Moderator of CCIW, the Regional Assembly was my responsibility. After nearly two years of organization and planning, the Assembly was scheduled to kick off on Friday afternoon. I started the car and Low Tire on my dashboard remained lighted. Sure enough a front tire was low on air. My arrival time would have to wait, but eventually I was on the way.

On Friday evening we honored congregations who have added new members and gave to Disciples missions, and recognized individuals whose life of commitment to CCIW has been exceptional with Disciples of Merit awards. After the scrumptious banquet we gathered in worship led by the spiritual gifts of many Disciples from across the region including an awesome hand bell soloist, flag drill team, praise band, singers and a dramatic presentation of scripture. Then, the Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Lee proclaimed the truth of the good news, that whatever our journey, wherever we are on the way, we have a Cosmic Companion who walks with us, indeed carries us along the way.

In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness [humanity] has cosmic companionship. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Saturday we adopted a new Constitution and By-laws to re-organize our region for mission and ministry in this time and place, we approved a budget for 2013, elected new officers for the next two years, renewed our Global Mission Partnership with Guatemala, and participated in Holy Conversations led by our youth as we seek God’s guidance for the future of CCIW.

I was impressed by the youth leadership and the healthy conversations. Formerly a three-day, two night event, the 22hr assembly concluded on-time and we were sent to join Jesus on the Way!

Upon my return, it was time to prepare for Sunday worship and a Monday funeral. And, I was briefed on the tragic event that had unfolded in our community while I was away. We may never understand the why’s of evil that takes place in our midst. Murder is a senseless act. And yet, as disciples of Jesus we walk with God, who mourns violence and tragic death with us. We face this, not alone or dependent on our own strength. We lean on the everlasting arms filled with mercy and love. May God’s peace be with all who suffer as a result of this tragedy.

At the end of October we explored the Faith of Job. We heard how when confronted with the prevalent understanding of the cause or nature of suffering, you get only what you deserve, Job resisted the notion that he was accountable for his suffering. Job remained faithful, trusting in God which allowed him to protest his suffering. God’s response in this pre-modern parable was to remind Job that he was not God. Nothing more was available to the author(s) of this attempt to explain why presumably good people suffer as do presumably bad people.

Perhaps most valuable for us today is the wisdom that while we may be able to explain much of the suffering in our post-modern world as a consequence of economics, environment, genetics, social ills, psychological maladies, etc, we are not in control of every variable in life. Faith grants us the assurance of God’s good-will and love for all of God’s creation; God does not will suffering in a post-modern understanding of the world. God’s promise to humanity through Jesus is to be present in our sufferings. Contemplate the Gospel characters Jesus was always reaching out to (prostitutes, oppressed women, ethnic minorities, physically and mentally differently abled), bringing restorative healing, abuse ending mercy, and vision creating hope. God is with us in the person who stands next to us at the graveside of one we have loved, in the surgeon who reroutes our arteries and saves our lives, in the teacher who inspires our love for learning and understanding, in the garbage maintenance person who removes our trash and prevents the potentially hazardous growth of bacteria. God is present when we enact care, compassion, love and justice with and for other humans. God is not our adversary, the accuser, or a deadbeat creator. God desires a relationship with us. And in the end as in our beginning, God is God.

As we prepare for a season of discerning God’s will for the future of our congregation, we will be invited to journey together in the presence of God, seeking vision for the future God desires for us.

Eventually, everything needing to be done on that stubborn Thursday was completed, even the newsletter and I was reminded once again that my plans are not controlling the universe! Thank goodness! And, sometimes we need to step out of the way and let the Spirit of God lead us through the frustrations, delays, losses and game changers into the new life God desires for you and even me.