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"What is Evil?" Third Sunday in Lent - March 3, 2024

Good morning,

Today is the third Sunday in Lent. During Lent we clergy finally get to preach on the real stuff. The stuff we are chomping at the bit to teach you about all year. We are off the leash. I am so excited! I’m talking of course about brimstone, hellfire, and damnation. The judgement that awaits us if we don’t repent. I’m talking about denying yourself now to store up treasures in heaven. I’m talking about confessing all your most deeply hidden sins, saying mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, that kinda stuff. Lenten Stuff. Everyone’s favorite stuff, right? 

 Father Jared preached on that uncomfortable word sin, and he already is tough act to follow, so I will not preach on sin. I picked another Lenten favorite for us: let’s talk about evil!

First, let’s really ease into this, I have a new favorite discovery about the word evil. If you pay attention to our lovely ASL interpreters behind me, the sign for evil is ____.

Isn’t that just cute? It reminds me of when my children were little, and pretended they were fearful monsters! ____

Now they are teenagers which is pretty much the same …

What is evil? 

That is quite the question. What is evil?

The monsters my children imagined themselves to be, certainly are not real or evil. The monsters in their room, under their bed or in their closet, may have been, but with a little imagination, a bowl of water and some food dye, we captured those monsters and sent them packing. 

But there are certain circumstances, certain elements in our world that I call evil. War and genocide, racism and dehumanization, poverty and hunger. You know I could go on. With words even more uncomfortable. We are talking about evil after all. But here is the thing, you and I personally can do preciously little about these systemic evil parts of our society. Yes, we can give to charities, protest wars and genocide, we can vote for people we hope will effect change in our poor neighborhoods and schools. But thankfully, day to day, most of us here do not encounter a lot of evil. 

Or do we? 

What is evil?

The Collect today prays to defend us. To defend us not only from all adversities that may happen to the body, but also from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. Evil thoughts are a whole different animal than systemic inequities and violence. 

Ok, so, what are evil thoughts? It’s not like people wake up in the morning and think to themselves: Today is a good day to be evil. No one thinks of themselves as evil. Nor should we. Those are not the thoughts this Collect tries to protect us from. It talks about the evil thoughts which may assault and hurt our soul. Assault and hurt the soul. 

The only thoughts I know, that have the power to assault and hurt our soul, are the ones that tell us stories of our shame. Intrusive stories of not being good enough. Not being worthy. Not being lovable. Stories that have us think that our actions are so big, so unique, and so evil, that we are beyond God’s reach. Thoughts that separate us from God are evil. These thoughts? They lie to us. They do not even belong to us.

Let me give you an example. A very neutral example, one that does not involve family and friends, because this subject is already sensitive enough. Let’s say you worked at a certain company for years and management was bad, really bad. Your boss, and by the way Jared, this is not about you, your boss always criticized and asked questions like: Are you really not getting this? Are you sure that degree of yours isn’t fake? Is this project still not done? You know you don’t have what it takes, right? Good luck finding another employer that would hire you. 

When this abusive relationship with the boss, when this bad job ends. When you are gainfully employed now at a good company with a great boss, Jared, this is still not about you, you would assume your troubles are over. But there they are, the words from your former boss firmly implanted in your brain and posturing as yourself: Honey, you know you are not smart enough. You are an imposter. You just don’t have what it takes. These thoughts speak with your voice and into your heart and soul, but they are not yours. And these thoughts are evil. Because they make people believe they are unworthy.  Now, this employee, who is actually very capable and talented, that part does sound like me though, Jared, this person can be plagued by self-doubt and have a hard time performing the job they are good at. They no longer have the boss from hell. And their degree is real. But these evil thoughts, planted by a stranger, assault, and hurt their soul into believing the worst about themselves. Making it so difficult to focus on the job at hand. But even more importantly, so hard to believe that God loves them. 

Evil thoughts of all kinds can get entrenched in our brain. They can sound like “I’m not good enough” Or sometimes they can sound bitter, or like indifference: “no one helped me, why should I help?”. They have many ways in these evil thoughts. They take all forms. But they all have two things in common: 

1: they are not really your thoughts, even though they sound like you. 

2: they separate you from God.

That second part, the separation from God, is how we are assaulted and hurt to our soul by thoughts. Evil thoughts. 

I’m grateful to serve in a church with such a beautiful and ancient prayer tradition. Such a complete set of prayers. When you have the time, look through our Book of Common Prayer. You will find that for almost every situation and circumstance we have a prayer or liturgy. And if it’s not in this one, we do have a Book of additional services. Today’s Collect is one I especially treasure. It brings up a word we tend to want to ignore. It makes us question evil. What is evil?

What makes this question even more intriguing, is that the prayer our High Priest and Savior Jesus Christ himself has taught us, the ancient Lord’s Prayer, is known by every Christian. It is prayed the world over in most every language. And in it we pray to be delivered from evil.

 Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. 

I think a lot of us, when we hear and pray these words think of a personal sin we are tempted to commit. Looks like I’m gonna have to pick the word sin up after all. Just for a little bit. We look at it as a personal sin we commit, we think that is the only evil we need to be delivered from. Things like overspending, a short temper, parking in the handicap section. And while there is nothing wrong with praying for that, it just is not the whole picture. I don’t know if overspending is evil, I think it depends on the situation. 

But I do know, I know, that any thought that keeps you separated from God is evil. I also know that they are tempting these thoughts. Because they seem so familiar. Familiarity makes us feel safe, even when it’s awful. It is tempting. 

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Lead us not into the temptation of believing thoughts not our own but deliver us from thoughts that separate us from you, oh God. 

War and genocide, racism and dehumanization, poverty and hunger, we have no problem identifying them and seeing them as evil. No matter who commits them or who suffers them, we know they are evil. Or at least we should know. 

But our thoughts? We think they all belong to us. Are us. And ironically enough, believing that these evil thoughts that attack us belong to us, can lead us into evil actions. Evil actions that we commit outright, against ourselves and others, and actions that condone such evil with an active act of silence.  Safeguarding our thoughts against evil is fundamentally necessary. Because thoughts turn into actions. 

May we be defended from all evil thoughts that assault and hurt our souls. For our sake. For the sake of the world. 

For God’s sake, don’t believe everything you think. 

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