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Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, November 15, 2015

Je m'appelle Patrice Bleicher, une citoyenne de France, de Paris; et je dit; Evil is real, and it is alive in tis world. Right now, in France...tomorrow somewhere else.  We must take seriously the questions it raises for those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Today we are going to examine two possible responses to those questions...one from Michael Curry, the man we had the extreme good sense to elect Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America (thank you, Bill Schenck, for loaning me the book), and one from Jesus of Nazareth (he’s also available in a Book, and I heartily recommend it).

Bishop Curry writes with a light, good-humored touch...let's go with that first. He says things are now so horrible, so dangerous, that what we need are crazy Christians. Yep, crazy. Nuts, loco, meshugineh, out-of-control folks so insane they can’t see our situation in the world is hopeless. In other words, people who pray and act as if what they do matters.

Crazy Christians "do not repay evil for evil but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing." Oh, that IS crazy, crazy as Jesus! Mary of Magdala, who shows up at the Cross and the sealed tomb, because she's the nut who knows something is about to happen that will change the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who writes not a learned theological treatise but a story that tells the truth about slavery, because she's the lunatic who knows most folks would never read a theological treatise but they love a good story. Jim Hensen, who makes characters out of green felt and glue because he knows you can teach kids more about kindness if you help them feel what it's like to suffer, being green. Verna Dozier, who suggests that, before you start using the Bible to whack people and condemn them, it might be helpful if you actually studied the Bible and looked into its mirror, so you can change yourself.  CRAZY Christians.

Crazy Christians get their own personal vision of their own personal work in the larger work of tikkun olam, repairing the universe, to set things right.

Now here's the bad news: being crazy has its risks. Your heart can be broken. People may call you names, spread ugly rumors, throw rocks, or worse. When Bishop Jane Dixon would complain, Verna Dozier would reply: "So, have they asked you to be crucified yet? No? Then stop whining and get on with it!"

Here's the good news: you will never be more yourself than when you are responding to your own personal vision of how the world could be better. You will be true. And truly you. You will be able to perceive your role in the transformation. You will be authentic, the real YOU God created you to be. You may not sing like Beverly Sills and Marian Anderson, but you can sing like Sandy and Doris…and that will be very good indeed. It will be good for the world.

Pray and let the vision happen, then support the vision with action. Right after 9/11, while we were still paralyzed with fear, Bishop Curry says he was asked to pray with a Moslem. On an airplane. It’s fair to say that he was not comfortable, but he did it…then he wrote these words:

“As we prayed, I could see the dream – the dream of a world where the gospel of love is lived and is real. The dream of a world in which the bridges of love are built and the highways of justice are established. The dream of a world where there is no more hunger, no more war, no more poverty, no more suffering, no more harm. The dream of a humanity reconciled to God, to each other, and to all of creation….We need to rededicate ourselves to that dream and let the dream of God be our mission.”

Hannah was truly herself when she poured out to God what she longed for most. Eli called her a drunken spectacle, but God heard the desire of her heart and made the vision a reality, and then? Then she did her part…she gave her precious child to the service of God AND she made him a little coat year after year, so he would know he was not abandoned but treasured by the mother who loved him so persistently. That beloved child became the great prophet Samuel.

A bit later in time, the Church of England sent a clergyman to pastor folks in a rural area of South Africa, where he met a little five-year-old boy and taught him some stories from the Bible. As it happens, the little boy became quite ill and had to be transported to a hospital, where poverty and distance kept family and friends from visiting. At great personal sacrifice, the pastor went often to see the boy and tell him more about heroes and heroines in the Bible tradition. You may never have heard the name of the pastor (Huddleston); the name of the small boy was Desmond Tutu. Just set things in motion; the world will be changed.

Okay, those stories are about one response to questions of evil, don’t be afraid to be crazy…what is the second option from today’s lessons? My friends, Jesus’ words teach the same idea in Aramaic, Greek and English…also in French: “Prenez garde que personne ne vous seduise.”  Take care that NO ONE seduces you. En garde!  Be careful and, yes, “lead you astray” is too fussy a translation…the word really is seduce. Take care that no one seduces you into thinking that revenge is the answer; remember, “he who would seek revenge should first dig two graves.”

Take care that no one seduces you into thinking you should kill yourself for Allah. Indeed, Holy Quran clearly teaches that Allah is a god of life and peace. Take care that no one seduces you into thinking persons of the other political party, or the other racial group, or the other ethnic culture…that any of “the others” are evil; you will be led astray for sure. Take care that no one seduces you…hold fast to the vision, put the vision to work in all your thoughts and actions and certainly in your prayers. Enable and empower the transformation in God’s dream for the world…pray to the God of the future for the future of all creation. All, everyone.

Evil beckons us from the most reasonable-sounding arguments, the most sincere love of country, the most exciting of sexual pleasures, the most helpful of financial enrichment…but if it IS evil, en garde!  Take care that no one seduce you into thinking evil or doing evil.

Some years back, scholar Morton Kelsey wrote a wonderful book called God, Dreams and Revelation, in which he teaches out of his training as an Episcopal theologian as well as a Jungian therapist. Call it what you like, he says…”evil and good, negative psychic energy and positive psychic energy or even the old-fashioned picture language of demons and angels…the only thing that matters is:  if it destroys, do not cooperate with it!” 

Evil is real; it is out there. It is, as God warned Cain, couching…lying around, just relaxing and waiting for us to fall for its wily charms. Jesus says: Take care that no one seduce you. Michael Curry says: The world needs what you have to give…y’all feel free to get out there and go crazy now, y’hear? 

Amen.

     - Prof. Patricia G. Bleicher