Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
There is a popular view of the world that compares light and dark, rough and smooth, good and evil, and which suggests that both are necessary elements in the rich tapestry of life. Both must exist and both are indeed valued. And they are essentially equal.
This is fine when we are talking about the textures of surfaces, the illumination of objects, even the balance of colours. A meal that is all sweet might be uneatable – expect possibly for a sweet-toothed child. A photograph which is all in one colour or which is either over-exposed or under-exposed is rarely particularly informative. Even in creative writing the story comes from the tension of the action and if there is no issue to be resolved then there is not much of a story to tell.
It gets a little tricky however when we say that good and evil are held in an everlasting balance and that when one gets out of balance then the created order itself is also unbalanced.
But in this case, which is the good and which is the evil? Which quality prevails in the order of the universe? What defines what is just and unjust? Moral and immoral? Holy and indeed evil? If they are of the same potency when which defines the nature of our moral and social and indeed legal order?
On the other hand if the whole of the creation is the handiwork of God then it is His character that must prevail in it. If God is ordered, then His creation is also to be ordered. If He is rational then rationality must also be the overall character of the universe. If He has purpose then this quality must also be an intrinsic part of His creation.
But if the universe is in this supposed balance, then who is to say whether it is ultimately good or evil? And how are we to know? What we end up with is a moral and a spiritual dead end. Indeed a society that follows such a morality is bound to end up wholly confused and at variance with itself, lacking both meaning and direction. It might end up as an amoral survival-of-the-fittest regime which would be supremely ugly. That was part of what was being contested in 1939-45.
On the other hand if God has indeed created our world and our lives then His rule and His principles must prevail in all aspects of life. His morality must in the end define who and what we are.
And in Jesus God has indeed shown us not only who and what He is but also what we are. In Jesus we also find our own identities and the purposes of our lives. He therefore defines the values which we esteem and those which we do not and indeed cannot honour.
But Jesus also recognized the presence of evil within our society and our institutions. It is deep and subtle and it is indeed sourced by one who is profoundly opposed to every aspect of the person of Jesus and the purpose of His life among us. In this sense, the rebellion of evil against God is personal for God is personal, and the sentient life He has created is also personal. That applies to us and indeed it also applies to beings in the heavenly realm, messengers and agents: normally known to us as angels.
Some had indeed departed from the will of God and are eternally opposed to Him, spreading their influence and their works among humanity.
But this is an evil that lies within us and among us, and which binds us. It is also an evil that can in turn be bound by one stronger than itself – for that evil is not equal to God but is under Him even if opposed to Him.
Nevertheless that is the evil which Jesus confronted and defeated on the cross, and whose defeat He invites us to share within the depths of our own lives and hearts. It is an evil which has to fall back before Jesus just as the darkness has to fall back before the light.
And Jesus calls us to receive Him and in so doing to be released from the bonds of evil, of self, of our own desires and appetites, of the demands of self that stand opposed to the will and the purposes of God.
He could of course rip out every trace of evil in society and in each person directly and personally – but that would violate the love with which the universe is created and with which we also are made.
Rather, He looks to us to yield ourselves to Him and to the work in our own lives of His Holy Spirit. He is given as water to cleanse, as fire to purify, as wind to move and motivate and indeed to give new breath and life.
He also is there to take from our lives that sense of randomness and loss of direction, and to instill an inward leading. He is there to give us life in the scriptures and in the sacraments, and in personal prayer as well as fellowship with one another.
Of course it would be easy to rip out that root of evil directly and forcefully – but that is not the way that One who made us and loves us acts.
Oh yes, the evil one did indeed sow weeds in the garden of the Lord, to corrupt and undermine all that is lovely and beautiful. But it is also countered by that particular kind of weed-killer: applied with exquisite care and at unspeakable cost. It is the blood of Jesus Christ.