Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sermon by Wayne Sherrer: Defeating Evil Every Day

Pentecost 6B, July 16, 2006

Wayne Sherrer, Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. That observation by Edmund Burke over 200 years ago could easily have been based on today's gospel reading. Did you notice the silence? Herod the king had an ear for public opinion and catered to its approval. He had arrested John the Baptist because John's public remarks about the king's marriage were not good for his image. Locked up in jail, John quickly became old news and no further threat. Out of sight and out of mind was good enough for Herod. He also recognized that John was a holy man. Herod came to John's prison cell to listen in private to the prophet's words. But Herod's wife was not satisfied. Herod had to protect his prisoner from his wife's fury. And then came the day of the party. It was a grand affair with the nobility and the other leaders of Galilee taking part. The highlight of the party was a dance by Herod's step-daughter. Herod was so impressed that he spoke words no parent should ever say, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” But the die was cast and Herod's wife took full advantage. The surprise is not in her request for the head of John the Baptist. The surprise is the acceptance of that request by the people attending the party. People who had been instructed in the Law of Moses. People who offered sacrifice in the Temple. People who were pillars of the community. They said nothing; they did nothing. Herod was still worried about his image—worried what his guests would say if he broke his oath—but beheading a holy man seemed less likely to affect his image. He might have made a different choice if someone objected, if anyone had called John's death murder, but the silence allowed evil to triumph that day.

It is an unusual reading for a Sunday morning—especially as we gather to baptize Shannon into God's family as a member of the holy catholic church. Unusual, but very fitting, for in her baptismal service all of us renew our own baptismal vows. We will vow to persevere in resisting evil. We will pledge once again to strive for justice and peace among all people. We will promise to respect the dignity of every human being. As we look around our world, countless opportunities await us. We can see violence and oppression. We see war and hear rumors of war. We see some lives are thought precious and others are treated as worthless.

By our charity we do much good for the victims of evil, but each day brings new victims. We cannot stop the world's evil with charity alone. Disarming a man with a knife is better than simply bandaging the trail of victims he leaves behind him. We cannot oppose that evil with silence. The powers that be in our age are just as likely to follow popular opinion as was Herod. With the advantages of opinion polls and focus groups, modern politicians and other decision-makers are more accurate than ever in knowing what the people think.

And thinking is the essential first step in living out our baptismal promises. We need to make the effort to be informed. The well-known monkey trio who could “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” were not Christians. Of course, the information explosion of today means that none of us alone can possibly know all the places where evil batters human lives. But modern technology does make it easier than ever for us to get the news when evil launches a new attack on human beings and other elements of God's creation. There are few places on earth today where evil can operate and not be seen. If each of us concentrated our limited time on a single injustice or other evil, then together we could better combat the forces of darkness in our world.

A second logical step is the sharing of information. Many possibilities exist. Some people could write short notes for the Citadel or e-Citadel. Others might put together a program for a Sunday forum between services. Concerns could also be contributed for the Prayers of the People and for the weekly prayer concerns printed in the bulletin each week.

The next step is putting that information to use. Of the numerous forms of action I will just name a few. All of us can pray. We can pray that we resist when evil tempts us. We can pray for the ability to recognize evil when it disguises itself and pretends to be good. We can pray for courage to confront evil despite our fears. We can pray that all leaders and decision-makers might be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and work for peace, justice and human dignity.

We can also talk to people we meet in an informed way. If we become passionate about a specific evil and can show how it affects the lives of others in God's family, we will be far more persuasive than if we just repeat “it's wrong, wrong, wrong.”

We can write to officials in government and business. All of them have some sensitivity to popular opinion and they ignore it at their peril. But they aren't mind readers. Aiming brainwaves toward Harrisburg or Washington, DC just does not work. The authorities do pay attention to the volume of mail they receive when they judge how strongly people feel about matters of justice and peace. Believe it or not, decisions have been reversed.

We can support organizations whose purpose is increasing peace, justice and human dignity in the world. In that way our energy and talents are magnified far beyond what any of us could accomplish by ourselves. You need look no further than the most recent issue of Diocesan Life for one such organization. An article there reminds us that last year's diocesan convention re-established the Peace Commission. I am sure they would welcome new faces to their efforts. I am reminded of a song entitled “One Man's Hands.” One man's hands can't tear a prison down, but if two and two and fifty make a million, we'll see that day come round.

Besides living out our own baptismal vows, we have a second obligation, and that is to Shannon. As witnesses to her baptism we will soon vow to do all in our power to support her in her life in Christ. Here at Trinity we even put it in writing by signing the oversize certificate in the back of the church. A large part of that support will be the example we set before her as we live our lives. Her understanding of what it means to be a Christian will be greatly shaped by the lives of the Christians she sees—by your life and mine. God promised at our baptisms that the Holy Spirit will accompany us and help us to persevere in resisting evil. The same Spirit calls us to repentence and helps us be faithful to our baptismal promises.

Will you persevere in resisting evil? I will, with God's help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God's help

Will you witnesses do all in your power to support Shannon in her life in Christ? I will, with God's help.


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