Sermon: The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2015

The manifestations of evil have been tediously the same from age to age. When it comes to wickedness, nothing ever changes. It's the same ole, same ole. The list of things not to do listed in the ten commandments were, no doubt, well known as causes of human suffering well before God dictated them to Moses. If a modern day Moses was to climb a mountain to get an update, other than the word "donkey" being replaced with the word "car," I very much doubt that God would bother making any changes. There would be no need. Most evil is caused by greed and always has been (greed for wealth, greed for power and greed for pleasure). Whether it's an office worker prepared to bad mouth her colleagues to get a promotion or the CEO of a multi-national company prepared to deny future generations a world to live in for profits today, its greed that rules. The military empires and religious leaders of Saint Paul's day may have been replaced by the employers of child labour and exploiters of the earth's mineral wealth who top the list of evil authorities and rulers today, but it's the same cause and effect. You would think by now that we would have learned to recognise evil in its limited guises and would routinely avoid it for the sake of fellow human beings and future generations. But, of course, although we are all well aware of just how much our lives are dominated by the greed of the wicked, great and small, we are not prepared to do anything constructive about it, probably because we are the wicked, great and small, ourselves. At the end of the day people are unwilling to tear down the rich and powerful from their thrones, which, considering how many of us there are would be quite easy to do, as long as there is even the remotest of possibilities that they might get to sit on those lofty thrones themselves. It would appear that although human beings are capable of great acts of altruism, on the whole we choose self-interest to be our main motivator in our daily lives.

Of course, greed is not the only cause of wicked deeds, there are others. Sadism, extreme hatred, anger spring to mind. But these are out of the ordinary, possibly pathological, motives for doing evil. And herein lies the big problem with evil - most of it is just normal behaviour. Greed, self-interest, selfishness, betrayal, all are hard wired into the psyche of everyone of us, even the most holy saint is prone to put himself first. It is human nature.

Which is why following Jesus is not an easy path to take. The selflessness that is demanded of a true Christian is attainable, as it is in our natures just as selfishness is, unless we are sociopathic which is a rare condition. But it is very difficult to maintain because it exists within our natures well below our capability to do just about anything to satisfy our lusts and our desire for self-preservation and self aggrandisement.

The truth is that we need help if we truly want to be disciples of Christ and his witnesses by our actions in the world today and the only person who can help us to be Christlike is Christ himself. Furthermore, it is not just a matter of imitating Christ (an idea which is rendered risible by our human weakness), we actually have to take Christ into ourselves, to consume him, to become one with him, to allow ourselves to be filled with his spirit if we want to achieve that state of being in which we will possess the strength to overcome our tendency to selfishness and allow our capability to be selfless come to the fore.

Our selfishness leads to us hurting other people to get what we want and that is evil. It is exactly the opposite of the selflessness that should be the pursuit of all Christians, which is the putting of the welfare of others before our own even if that means that harm may come to us in doing so. The ultimate paradigm of such a Godly life is Jesus Christ himself who allowed himself to be brutally tortured and killed by routinely evil men so that we might live.

We are given a choice. We are not compelled, we are not forced to follow the same path that Jesus trod. We are always free to walk away. But there is no alternative, easy path to salvation. As Simon Peter realised, there is nobody else for us to go to, only the teaching of Jesus leads to eternal life. Therefore, let us, like Peter and those of his companions who remained loyal to Christ, renounce evil and all its pettiness, choosing instead to believe in Christ, the Holy One of God, the only one who can make us holy and good and fit for the Kingdom of God.

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