Oct 23, 2016
Confess, Trust, Serve
Series: Our Vows
"Confess, Trust, Serve" from Baptismal Vows by Reverend Chris Dowd. Released: 2016. Track 3.
  • Oct 23, 2016Confess, Trust, Serve
    Oct 23, 2016
    Confess, Trust, Serve
    Series: Our Vows
    "Confess, Trust, Serve" from Baptismal Vows by Reverend Chris Dowd. Released: 2016. Track 3.
  • Oct 16, 2016Accept to Resist
    Oct 16, 2016
    Accept to Resist
    Series: Our Vows
    Accept to Resist

    Ephesians 6:10-17



                In Methodist tradition, when a person is baptized, the pastor asks three historic questions of our faith.  These three questions represent three promises to God that we’re expected to keep.  They’re referred to as our baptismal vows, the vows that we make to God as we begin our Christian journey.  For most of us, these are the first vows that we ever make.  For all  of us, these are the vows that should form us, the commitments that should shape the way we live our lives. 

                Today is week two of our three-week sermon series called Our Vows, where we’re exploring each of these baptismal promises.  Last week, we talked about the first vow:  Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent  of your sin?  That sermon is on our website if you missed it and would like to get caught up. 
                This week, we’re exploring the second vow that we make at our baptism:  “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  Do you

    accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

                It’s good to let the enormity of this vow sink in before answering yes, whether at our own baptism, our child’s baptism, or when reaffirming our baptismal covent.  Because resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in

    whatever  forms they present themselves is no small thing.  To say yes to this question is to promise that we’ll side with God to fight evil in this world.  That we’ll work to correct the injustices of this world.  That we’ll stand up against oppression in this world.  Which means that to say yes to this question is to promise that our convictions will take priority over our comfort and our convenience. 

                We must honestly face the fact that this is not the easy path.  This is almost always the risky path.  Because evil, injustice and oppression do not appreciate being resisted.  But it is the path to which we are called.

                 This morning, I want to talk about evil, injustice, and oppression in reverse order.  I want to explore the subtle distinctions between these three enemies of God’s desire for creation.  And I want to illustrate the point with a specific example.  We’ll begin with oppression.

                Oppression is when those with power exploit or abuse those with less power or with no power.  When those with power — physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, economic, political, military — exploit or abuse those with less power or with no power.

                Examples of oppression are rampant throughout the Bible.  And in every case, God both sides with the oppressed and expects God’s faithful to do so as well.  So in the Old Testament, for example, it’s the Egyptians enslaving the Hebrews.  During the era of the kingdom of Israel, it’s those who have financial resources exploiting those who do not.  In the New Testament era, it’s the brutal tyranny of the Romans over God’s faithful throughout the empire.

                Oppression, of course, is still rampant in our world today.  There are all-too-many examples of those with power exploiting or abusing those those with less power or with no power.  Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, domestic violence is the specific example I want to talk through today. 

                To put it bluntly, domestic violence is a form of oppression.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault…sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.  The statistics about this form of oppression are shocking and horrifying.

                It’s estimated that 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.  On average, 20 people every minute of every day are physically abused by an intimate parter, That’s 10 million people each year.  For a host of reasons, only 34% of these victims receive medical care for their injuries. 

                72% of murder-suicides are the result of domestic violence.  94% of the victims of these crimes are female.  In the state of Texas, it’s estimated that 75% of 16-24 year olds have either experienced dating violence or know of another young person who has.

                As God’s faithful, we’re called to resist such oppression.  First, and most obviously, by not participating in it.  Which means that we are called to get help if, God forbid, we find ourselves to be either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence.  We resist such oppression by getting help for family or friends who are victims of domestic violence.  And by teaching our children — particularly our sons — that God expects them to treat all people, and especially the intimate partners they date and marry, with dignity and respect.  And by teaching our children — particularly our daughters — that God expects their intimate partners to treat them with dignity and respect.  And by educating ourselves about the problem and helping raise awareness of this issue.

                Oppression becomes injustice when society does not take adequate steps to prevent and solve the problem.  When we respond to such oppression with indifference or complacency or ignorance.  For example, in 2013 in the state of Texas, it’s estimated that 31% of domestic violence victims requesting shelter were turned away due to lack of resources. 

                As God’s faithful, we’re called to resist such injustice by supporting local shelters, to make sure the needs of those being oppressed can be met.  And by vocally affirming law enforcement officials who are trying to combat the problem through prosecution of the perpetrators and finding safe haven for the victims.  And through bipartisan action with our elected officials, to ensure that resources are available to help victims and their children. 

                That’s what it looks like to resist injustice and oppression.  Let’s turn to our Scripture text to help us with the idea of evil…

    [Read Ephesians 6:10-12]

                Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is written to a community comprised almost entirely of Gentile converts to the Christian faith.  Coming from a pagan, polytheistic background, these were folks who were just getting to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were newcomers to the faith who had no grounding in the Law of Moses.  No understanding of Judeo-Christian standards of moral and ethical behavior.  And their new faith had begun to radically transform their personal and social identities, as they were learning the basics of what it means to follow Christ.

                So it’s striking that a discussion of evil features prominently near the end of this letter.  It’s also striking that the problem of evil features prominently in our first two baptismal vows.  It’s striking, and something that we should take seriously.  “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against…the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil…”

                (Side note — as a child of the ’80’s, when I read the word evil, I hear it in the voice of Vincent Price, with that cackling laugh that comes at the end of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  But I digress.) 

                In the New Testament, as is evident in the verses we just read, evil is personified by the devil, by Satan.  In this understanding, the devil is a fallen angel, whose pride and desire to be an equal with God has gotten him expelled from the heavenly court.  There are demons who worship and serve the devil, just as there are angels who worship and serve God. 

                And there’s a cosmic battle between good and evil.  A battle for the hearts and souls of human beings.  Because human beings are God’s favored creation, the object of God’s devotion and love, with whom God desires a relationship.  So Satan and his demons seek to get back at God by attacking God’s children.  This is a cosmic battle whose casualties are evident in the pain, suffering, and death that we see all around us in this world.  A cosmic battle that will indeed be won by God and the forces of good.  But that final victory will not come until Christ returns at the final judgment.

                This is the traditional understanding of evil and the way it shows up in the world.  It’s the understanding held by the vast majority of Christians — Orthodox, Roman Catholics, many conservative expressions of Protestantism, and a fair number of folks in the Methodist tradition.  It’s the understanding that I was taught growing up, and it’s still the understanding that makes the most sense to me.

                But it’s not the only understanding of evil.  For some folks, and for many Methodists, this traditional understanding of evil represents an ancient worldview that can be reinterpreted.  There are plenty of faithful Christians for whom the personified concept of evil — Satan and his demons — is not helpful.  For some, the manifestation of evil in the world is the result of immoral choices, an unfortunate consequence of God’s gift of free will.  A terrible misuse of free will that results in the pain, suffering, and death that we see all around us in this world.

                I want to make clear that both the traditional and the reinterpreted understandings of the doctrine are evil are faithful.  They also agree on an important point.
                My favorite professor of all time was my Systematic Theology professor in seminary, a guy named Rev. Dr. Billy Abraham.  Billy is a brilliant theologian.  His doctorate is from Oxford.  He’s written I-don’t-know-how-many books, any number of which I would highly recommend.  His class pushed me intellectually more than I’ve ever been pushed, before or since.  He’s also Irish, from Northern Ireland.  He speaks with this wonderful Irish accent.  He’s constantly got a smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eye.  When I think of the Irish, I think of Notre Dame Football, my favorite band, U2, and Billy Abraham.

                Well one day in class, Billy was lecturing about the problem of evil.  And he said, “I know some of you Americans don’t believe in Satan and his demons.  That’s your business.  But I’ll tell you now that we Irish believe in the little people.”

                Then he told us something that I never would have expected a professor at SMU to talk about.  He said that he had participated in an exorcism back home in Ireland with a Catholic priest friend of his.  He said that he had seen evil embodied close up, and that he never wanted to see it again.

                And he told us that, as we think through the doctrine of evil, whether we have a traditional or reinterpreted understanding, the witness of the Christian faith is clear and consistent and uncompromising.  It’s biblical, and it’s a central part of our baptismal vows.

                The main point to be made about evil is that evil is real.  It’s a reality in the world at cross-purposes with God.  Whether it’s an external force that’s engaged in a cosmic battle for the hearts and souls of God’s children, or the immoral choices made in a misuse of human free will, evil is the cause of the pain, suffering, and death that we see all around us in this world.  The oppression of children of God is a manifestation of evil.  To allow the perpetuation of an injustice is to fail in our resistance to evil.

                And it’s real enough and a big enough deal, that at the very beginning of our Christian journeys we make a vow to God to resist it, in whatever forms it presents itself.  And the author of Ephesians tells us about how we are to resist…                         

     [Read Ephesians 6:13-17]

                 Take up the whole armor of God, Ephesians tells us.  Truth.  Righteousness.  The gospel of peace.  Faith.  Salvation.  The word of God.  In these things, God offers us freedom and power.  And if good is to make headway against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, then God’s people must take up the whole armor of God. 

    For the purpose of  resisting evil, injustice, and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves. 

                I want to say that again, because it’s a vital point.  The freedom and power that God gives us is not to be used simply for our own personal salvation and wellbeing.  It’s to be used in the service of God.  On the side of God against what our first baptismal vow calls the evil powers of this world.  Because if we as God’s faithful don’t resist, this present darkness will grow darker still.

                Here’s how Albert Einstein put it.  He said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”  That’s how evil, injustice, and oppression survive and thrive.

                As followers of Christ, we’re called to take up the whole armor of God.  Because in the 20 minutes that I’ve been talking, 400 people in this country have been victims of domestic violence.  God needs us to resist that.

                And of course, that’s just one of the seemingly countless forms in which  evil, injustice, and oppression present themselves.  None of us can resist all of the ways that they present themselves in this world.  But all of us can resist at least one of the ways they do.  And all
    of us are called to be engaged in the battle.
                The author, professor, and activist Elie Wiesel died in July.  After surviving the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he devoted his life to resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in the world.  His brilliant and haunting book,

    Night , should be required reading for us all.

                When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, his acceptance speech was a powerful testimony to the ideas we’re talking about this morning.  Although his theological perspective was from Judaism, we of course love and serve the God.  And he could just as well have been talking about our second baptismal vow as Methodist Christians.

                He said, “We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.  Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

                …And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

                 Friends, may we the accept the freedom and power God gives us.  And may we have the courage and willingness to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

                In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

  • Oct 9, 2016Renounce, Reject, Repent
    Oct 9, 2016
    Renounce, Reject, Repent
    Series: Our Vows