What About Good and Evil?


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As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Mark 11:1-11; 15:6-15

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

 

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A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.

 

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My best friend whom some of you met at my installation service (she read scripture that evening) has a five year old. Usually, stories and movies for children that age are fairly clear about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. They often separate the world into these two categories: good over here with birds chirping and sun shining and bad or evil over there with gnarly trees and menacing music.

But several months ago, she and her family watched the movie The Sound of Music. The girls were delighted by the songs and the children and the story overall. But one particular character kept nagging at the mind and heart of this sweet, inquisitive five year old.

If you’ve not seen the movie yet, first of all: how is that possible? And second of all, spoiler alert, if you need to cover your ears or zone out for a second, I completely understand although the movie is worth watching even if you know how it ends.

So, if you’ve seen the movie, you are all familiar with the character Rolfe. Rolfe was problematic for our five year old, and days after they’d watched the movie, she asked her mother, “Umma, you know the boy who sings ‘sixteen going on seventeen’? Why did he turn bad at the end?” It bothered her deeply that a character who began as “good” could then behave so badly.

See, Rolfe is a sweet seventeen year old and Liesl’s love interest. The two get a mini story arc with a playful, sweet song about young love, and we root for them. He seems to be one of the good guys. But then he joins the Nazis and literally blows the whistle on this family, putting them in harm’s way. He wasn’t bad from the beginning, and who knows if we would say he is bad or “evil” now. But he does do a really horrible thing to this family whom he knows so well.

What to do with a character like Rolfe who won’t fit into our nice, neat boxes of who is good and who is evil?

If we are honest, though, we don’t live in a storybook world for five year olds. And in real life, no one truly fits into those molds.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian novelist, once said:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?” “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Our very own Victor Floyd first introduced me to this quote, and it is perfect for Palm Sunday. See, Palm Sunday is a celebration, a parade welcoming a hero. Palm Sunday is children singing hosanna, coats being thrown on the ground, palm branches waving as extensions of our open arms, receiving Jesus into our lives. Stephanie read our Palm Sunday text for today.

But I read that very same crowd’s reaction when the hero they welcomed turns out to be different than what they’d hoped for.

“Hosannas” to “Crucify him,” all in one week.

“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of [each and every one of us].” And we are a fickle people.

Next Sunday, it will be Easter. Another opportunity for celebration, the reason for celebration in the Christian faith tradition.

But as Walter Brueggemann, theologian and Old Testament scholar, says, “We cannot leap from ‎Palm Sunday to Easter. We have to go day by day through the week of denial and betrayal to the Last Supper to arrest and trial and execution. That is the only road to ‪Easter, and that is our work this week.”

This week is Holy Week. Sandwiched between two festive celebrations is a rocky and broken road. Before we can arrive at the transformation that is Easter, we must walk that road.

I hope to see many of you this week, so we can walk that road together.

On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we will gather again as a community in the chapel and in this sanctuary. We will break bread together; we will watch and listen to beautiful music and keep vigil.

Whether you can be here with us or not, however, I hope you won’t skip from Palm Sunday to Easter. I hope you will go day by day through this week remembering that Christ was rejected, and that each of us continues to reject him several times a day in our own lives. I hope you will pause to remember that between the Hosannas and the Alleluias, we shouted “Crucify him!”

Because the world isn’t divided between good and evil. And it is nothing but human to harbor both within us.

Jesus entered this world knowing this to be true of us, knowing that we are a capricious people. But he came any way. And he came proclaiming that we are loved by God, forgiven by God, and he came offering us a new lease on life, no matter what our lives have been.

But perhaps before we can fully receive that grace we need to admit that we are not perfect, admit that there is not only good, but also evil within us, admit that yes, we, too, have shouted, “Crucify him!”

And when we’ve been honest with ourselves, honest about who we are and what we’ve done and left undone, perhaps then and only then, can we truly accept the love and grace that God offers us.

This week, we are afforded the opportunity to do just that, to examine our lives, to be honest about who we are, about the good and the evil that lies within us all, to sit with that for a little while rather than brush it under a rug, or pretend it doesn’t exist, but to face it.

To face the reality of who we are.

Because then, and only then, can we truly embrace the reality of whose we are. And, friends, we belong to God.

We are on the road to Easter, to new life and transformation, but let’s not rush it. This week, let us allow grace to meet us where we are, to meet us in the midst of our harried and disheveled lives. Let us allow it to catch us in full mob-mentality, fists in the air screaming. Let us allow it to catch us at our very worst. Let us allow grace to meet us where we are.

This past Wednesday, renowned author and Presbyterian, Anne Lamott was here, sitting right there on this chancel. And she says this, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Grace meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.

Friends, the world is not divided between people who are good and evil. It is divided between those who only see themselves and those who are able to see others. And this isn’t about sight with the eyes, but sight with the heart.

That crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with palms and hosannas saw only themselves. It may have been Jesus on that donkey, but they didn’t see him, they didn’t see what he was about, what he proclaimed. They only saw themselves on that donkey. And they hoped by hitching their wagon on this guy, they too would be exalted and celebrated.

So no wonder they turn on him so easily. When their self-interests aren’t immediately met, they get angry. When he challenges them rather than validates them, they get angry.

Caspar Green, a retired minister in New York, says this:

Whatever the crowds expected, just didn’t happen. Their expectations and Jesus’ agenda are worlds apart. Their agenda is a coup d’état. Jesus’ agenda is to scope the place out for a teach-in. Their agenda is a revolution that will sweep away one empire and replace it with – a new empire. Jesus’ agenda is a revolution that will replace empires altogether with a humanity in which everyone is included. Their agenda is to co-opt God to legitimate their vision of utopia. Jesus’ agenda is to realize the divine image that lives in every person.      So, at the end of the day, after all the excitement, nothing happens. The expectations are utterly unmet. This is indeed the beginning of the end, where the unmet false expectations turn the crowd’s adulation to disappointment, and finally to bloodthirsty anger.

The crowd that turns into a mob sees only themselves.

But Jesus sees others. As he rides on that donkey, he sees those around him. He observes the pain, the need, the desperation that is within every beloved child of God.

And as the crowd shouts “hosanna” which doesn’t mean, “yay God” it means, “save us,” he understands what they truly need saving from.

And it’s not the Roman Empire or any empire of this world, they need saving from themselves. They need to stop being self-absorbed, and they need to reach out beyond themselves, beyond their own self-interests, their own fears, their own agendas, and to see others.

Because at the heart of Jesus’ message was this: Love God and Love Neighbor. But first, you have to go beyond yourself and notice your neighbor before you can love him or her.

But that’s where true freedom lies, where true salvation lies. When we are free from ourselves and free enough to love others.

Grace meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.

It gently coaxes us or sometimes gruffly pushes us to be more than what we’ve been. To see beyond ourselves. To love as Jesus did. And to live and die as Jesus did, with a love that not only saw others, but often put their needs before his own.

Let us follow this Jesus to the cross this week. And in so doing, we, too, shall find our true selves, our true liberty, and our true salvation. Hosanna, indeed. Save us.

Amen.

 

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