Sermon for Aug. 30, 2020 -- "Overcoming Evil with Good" -- Hugh Drennan

Overcoming Evil with Good

 

Doreen and I have three cats in control of our home. They began life as feral cats. Their mother was a huge white cat that nobody in their right mind would mess with, but trucks are another matter. Thus the three kittens living in a wall of our neighbor’s shed became orphans.

One day the smallest one stood at the top of the steps leading down from our house into our backyard, looked down on us on our deck and gave the smallest most pitiful “meow” you ever heard. Doreen immediately went into the house and got a can of tuna as I groaned.

At first, we fed them on the deck and provided water. Then, somehow they moved into my Shackteau (an old shed we remolded into my office. And, finally, they moved into our house.

Doreen named the black male cat Shadow, the wee female one who meowed she name Patch, (it had a yellow patch over one eye), and the large female she named Paw (it had one paw also yellow in contrast to her black fur). I felt the need to rename them and said Paw should become Pawline, Patch would be Patchtricia, and Shadow should become Lamont Cranston.

Now, how many of you are familiar with the name Lamont Cranston? If you don’t know, he was a character on a radio show popular in the 1930s. He was played by Orson Wells.

In 1994, a movie, “The Shadow”, was released, reviving that old character. The Shadow (Lamont Cranston) was played by Alec Baldwin. Anyone here see that movie? I didn’t, either. It was pretty much a total failure at the box office in spite of a great cast.

A bit more about the Shadow. In the movie, he is first seen as Ying Ko, a nasty opium smuggler, a really bad guy. He is taken in tow by a Tibetan monk who mentors him, and Ying Ko becomes Lamont Cranston. Lamont moves back to his hometown, New York City, and becomes a decadent playboy ne’er-do-well by day, and the crime-fighting Shadow by night. It was his way of atoning for his sins and being a drug smuggler.

So, what does Lamont Cranston have to do with Moses talking to a burning bush and Paul’s instruction to his friends in Rome about how to live life? Let’s see.

Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock of sheep, wanders along and finds a bush burning that doesn’t burn up; it just burns. A voice tells Moses as he approaches the burn to take of his sandals because this is holy ground. Moses does. The voice then tells him that he is supposed to lead his Hebrew nation to freedom from the Egyptians. And Moses says, “Say What?”

Moses balks at the whole idea but, in the end, sets out in the new course of life. It was a life-changing moment in which Moses becomes God’s man chosen to lead his people to freedom from Egyptian captivity. We know the story pretty well, as Moses follows God’s instruction to do this good thing. The Hebrew slaves follow Moses out of slavery into freedom through the desert to the promised land.

Moses, like Lamont Cranston has a life-changing moment where he follows the instruction to change an evil thing into something good. He overcame evil with good.

I spent a good deal of time this week trying wrap my mind around the concept of evil. What is evil? What people are evil? Why are people evil? I’m not sure how far I came.

Evil is defined as something not good, something morally wrong or wicked or harmful or injurious to others. Good, on the other hand, is something that is morally excellent, is of high quality and imbued with kindness.

Can you come up with examples of each? Who do we see as evil today? Who do we see as good? And how can we turn something evil into something good?

One of my favorite instructors when I saw in seminary was a great teacher and one who was very tolerant of my often odd way of doing things; he gave me the freedom to try things out. He was also an alcoholic. After I left seminary, he was sent by the dean of the seminary to dry out and recover at the Menninger Clinic. So, off he went, not by choice, and then was fired from his job by the dean. My teacher spoke with his counselor about that dean and how he felt about him. His counselor told him to pray for that dean. He was irate. Pray for that rotten son-of-a-gun?  He would sooner punch him out. But he prayed for his enemy. And my teacher changed. Doing this good thing for one he saw as an enemy changed him. He went on doing good things and was hired back by the seminary.

There is plenty of evil in the world today and plenty of evil people. The news is full of this evil, and those who try to do good. The marches for Black Lives Matter are good examples of this.

Good folk, wanting to change society from systemic racism, march from all over the country to demonstrate their commitment to this cause. Marches have been a way of working for social change in our history, like the ones that culminated in Washington D.C. where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I have a dream” speech. So, folks have gathered there today to confront today’s racism 57 years later. Much has changed and much has not in those years.

And then we see evil in those who turn the marches into times of violence. Some violence is understood as people reach their breaking point and just want others to hurt as they have been hurt. Others are just agitators who seize the moment to just do evil things.

So, how do we overcome evil with good? Perhaps it is just doing the right thing. Then, how do we know what is right? Good things, right things, it seems to me, go beyond secular definitions to sacred ones: doing what is in accordance to God’s will. Doing the right thing is doing the things that Jesus taught us to do in his sermon on the mountain, and in stories, and illustrate the kingdom of God.

Doing the right thing is to hate evil as Paul tells us. And then to work to bless those folks that caused us harm, as my teacher did and as Paul instructs us

It is following the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” in daily life. Seeking to make friends out of enemies, praying for those who exhibit evilness.

Paul reminds his friends of the scripture that tells us to feed and give drink to thirsty, hungry folks who are our enemies. Paul says that behavior will heap coals of fire on their heads. That statement means fire to help purify them, to help them to do good as well.

Or, perhaps most simply put, just do the right thing. Amen.

 

 
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