Monday, June 26, 2017

Intentionality; Romans 6:1-11

Rev. George Miller
June 25, 2017
Romans 6:1-11

Intentionality.

When we last gathered in worship, we discussed work. Today we discuss the intentionality behind the work.

But 1st- a true-life example.

On Tuesday a large envelope appeared in the mail, exquisitely detailed with calligraphy and a hand drawn bouquet of flowers.

Inside was a post card announcement about an upcoming event, a personally laminated copy of the ticket, a letter of instruction, and a frameable print-out of a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Touched by the class and amount of work done by the sender, I contacted her to give my thanks.

Her response was humble- “I was just in the mood. I want those I know who are coming…to know I care…It’s nice to have people we enjoy around us.”

Her generosity, rooted in love and thankfulness, branched out to others, intentionally expressing “I care for you.”

Intentionality.

The author of today’s reading is very intentional in his theology and purpose of composition.

Romans is an undisputed letter of Paul, addressing several issues- sin, grace, baptism, and the Crucifixion.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Paul writes. These are, after all, the views of a man living 2,000 years ago, speaking about cosmic events that, for him, were new and very local.

Paul is writing through the lenses of his culture, his time, his biases, and what he thinks his Still Speaking God is saying.

He does not have centuries of Christian study behind him, or knowledge of modern medicine, or the latest psychological studies about behavior or the brain.

Paul knows what he knows, and there is an intentionality to his opinions.

For example- his view of baptism. He doesn’t treat it as an afterthought or just a simple ritual.

Paul does not approach baptism as a pre-cursor to having cake or getting gifts.

For Paul, baptism is not just an act- it is an identity.

Baptism is expressed as intentionally becoming a part of Christ; to intentionally die on the cross with Jesus, to intentionally rise up from the waters, resurrected with the Lord, a brand new person, dead to the power of sin’s hold.

I appreciate Paul’s notion that baptism alters our present and shapes our future, and the importance he places on baptism- how it unites us to Christ, unites us to one another, and opens us up to new life, freedom, and the eternal.

Paul’s view of baptism reflects an experience that took place 3 weeks ago at Jacksonville Beach.

I was there for a boundary workshop, and the night before I went for a walk along the shore. What I saw in the surf surprised me- hundreds of people gathered around the water.

Baptisms were taking place for the congregants of a church made up primarily of people from Slavic descent.

It was beautiful.

Teenagers gathered in groups of four based on their gender. They all wore white, from top to bottom; the girls in dresses that would do for a prom or a wedding, the boys in jeans and pants

The girls held hands; the boys wrapped their arms around one another.

Each group of four made their way to the surf while loved ones surrounded them with flowers and music.

One by one, each teen waded into the waves by themselves, making their way to the baptizer. They were leaned back into the ocean, and when they emerged from the waters, they were greeted with the applause and cheers of the crowd.

These young adults were not only being intentionally baptized into the life of Christ, but they were being brought into the life of their community, as parents and relatives, some of them clearly from the mother-country were there to show their support.

Intentionality.

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we come to church? Why do we do the work we do? Why do we make offerings? Why do we sign up to bring in food or to sit on a committee?

Why are we here?

Why now?

Why with this particular group of believers, seekers, sinners, saints, and sojourners?

Why Christ? Why not Zeus, or Vishnu, or the tree outside, or yourself?

What is our intentionality?

Is it to placate an angry entity? To please a personal savior? To seek a spirit? To give thanks to a generous god?

What is our intention for being here?

To seek wisdom? To share in the wonder? To be spiritually strengthened? To feel safe?

Why are we here?

Is it because that’s what we’ve always done? Is it because there’s nothing else going on? Is it to experience an oasis in the midst of a desert?

Is it because of a hunger, a thirst, a loss, a gain, a question, an answer?

Why do we do what we do, and what is our intentionality?

Think of how the Gospels portray Jesus. How intentional he always seemed to be, even when he was interrupted, even when he acted extemporaneously.

If Jesus was about to speak to the masses he made a way onto a boat, or up a mountain, or sat upon the earth.

If Jesus was about to do a miracle, he focused his attention on God, gave thanks, included others, made it a teachable moment, or a time of celebration.

Jesus is always portrayed as aware, in control, as fully present and completely rooted in God.

What is our intentionality?

Is God pleased with empty rituals or does God enjoy genuine acts of gratitude?

Is Christ calling us to say words of “Yes” that we don’t mean, or to do ministry that we actually feel?

Is the Paraklete expecting us to speak up about the things we know nothing about, or to become courageous about the things we truly care for?

Does God want us to be puppets that are going through the motions of faith?

Or does God want us to be like surfers, playfully and intentionally riding the waves of the Holy Spirit, wherever they may lead?

Yes, work may be an important component of our faith, but so is the intention and heart behind it.

In conclusion, remember that packet of mail that was referred to earlier? Inside was a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Here is what it said-

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”

In other words- if the intent is love, then love is what is accomplished.

Can we get an “amen”? Let us all say “Amen.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work; Genesis 18:1-15 sermon

Rev. George Miller
June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15

Here we have one of my favorite biblical stories. Maybe because it starts off like an oasis, placing us in the comfortable shade of the mighty oaks.

Maybe because it features the kind of southern hospitality that Maya Angelou wrote about, featuring an opulent meal.

Maybe it’s because of the skepticism of Sarah. Here she is, nearly 99 years old, hearing that she’s going to have a child.

So she laughs, which is such a human thing to do, reminding us that people of faith are really just like me and you.

Maybe I like this story because it features Abraham, the father of our faith. Of all the people in the Bible, Abraham catches my attention the most.

How out of nowhere God says to Abraham “Go!” and Abraham goes, leaving behind all he knows to venture into a new land.

How God makes Abraham a promise and though it takes decades to come true, Abraham does not give up.

How Abraham is far from perfect.

He makes mistakes, lacks durable decision making skills, gets everyone wrapped up in his drama, and has to be assured again and again that things will be alright.

How for most of his life, Abraham was without a child or anyone to pass on his legacy to.

Then, when all logic says his family lineage will flicker out like a flame, God surprises him by saying “Look up to the heavens and know that your family will be bigger than all the cosmos combined.”

Abraham starts off as an insignificant nobody who becomes the Father to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Who says one person can’t make a difference or that the reality of the world dictates what God can do?

The core of the Abraham and Sarah narrative is the frailty of faith- that everything God is planning to do rests upon a childless couple, and the choices they do or do not make.

A reminder that basically every church, every family, every nation, every organization is in reality just one generation away from perishing into oblivion, and yet, here we are…

…Last Monday I had the opportunity to visit Kathryn at The Palms. She was laid up in bed with such severe pain. Her whole body ached, and the doctors weren’t sure what was going on.

We talked and I told her about today’s reading, asking “If you were to give the sermon, what would you, in your current situation want to hear?”

I asked, because I knew that if I could not give a message from the pulpit that I could also give to Kathryn in her pain, then my theology was false.

Kathryn’s response surprised me, because she said something along these lines- “If you want to get better, if you want to get well, if you want things to change, you have to work.”

Work- that was the message Kathryn gave to me.

Immediately, I got a smile, because I liked that idea, and I’ll share with you why-

The idea of us working does not take away the wonder and the mystery of God.

It allows God to be free, be wild, be holy and otherworldly and it also allows us to have freedom, make choices, and play our own role.

What I heard Kathryn say, and we discussed in great detail, is that God is able to do many wonderful things, but- we have to be willing to do our own part as well.

In other words- Kathryn could pray to God for healing, she could hope for a speedy recovery, but she would also have to do her part by going to physical and occupational therapy, getting her rest, and working with the medical staff.

What Kathryn proposed was a faithful form of partnership with God, in which the Lord will do God’s part, and that we do our part as well.

Work.

Faith is work. Faith is not always easy.

One has to deal with naysayers. One has to deal with circumstances that say otherwise.

Faith is work because we are asked to believe in a God we cannot see, a Savior who’s supposedly been resurrected, and a Holy Spirit that may come as a breeze or a fire, as a sergeant or a still-speaking voice.

Faith is work.

Think about it- God could part the Red Sea, but the Israelites had to be willing to walk through it.

Jesus could turn water into wine but the servants had to first gather it.

The Holy Spirit could fall upon the disciples but they had to leave the safety of the upper room to share the Good News.

In order for any of these things to be possible, they required action, bravery, and belief.

Each of these things involved work that needed to be done.

Now, mind you- Kathryn and I had a good chuckle when we realized the kind of work that Abraham and Sarah had to do to conceive a child was a very different kind of work. But still, they had to do their part…

I’m thankful for Kathryn’s insight into today’s story, because it is something I think we all need to be reminded of.

That the world we live in is a mysterious, wonderful place in which miracles and the unexpected does take place. Things happen that common sense says should not.

The Holy Spirit breaks in at unexpected times. Jesus meets us upon mountains.

God takes dark voids, death-filled tombs, and empty wombs and brings forth creation, resurrection, and new life.

But we- we have our own part to play; we have our own work to do.

God can call out to us, but we have to be willing to hear.

God can part the waters, but we have to be brave enough to step out, get our feet dirty, and cross to the other side.

God can send bread from heaven but we have to be willing to see it, gather it, share it, and not hoard it.

We can meet the Resurrected Christ upon the mountain but we aren’t meant to stay there.

We can receive the Holy Spirit but it means nothing if we remain fearfully behind closed doors…

One closing thought, going back to Sarah and her laugh. The mysterious 3-in-1 shows up in her life and shares the stupendous idea that she will finally have a child after all these years, and she’s skeptical.

I’d like to say “Good for Sarah.”

Others want to condemn Sarah for laughing; some will claim she must have had little faith.

I’m thankful Sarah laughed- you know why?

Because maybe that’s what God needed to hear.

You know how some people seem to drag their feet; some people keep putting things off; some people seem to slack off until you give them a firm reminder?

Maybe Sarah’s laugh is what put the fire under God’s butt to take action.

If you read the full story in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are about 75 years old when God first calls them to leave their land and have a child.

Which means it takes God 25 years and about 3 more visits for the promise to come true.

If that’s not slacking, I don’t know what is.

Sarah’s laugh was steeped in years of waiting.

Maybe Sarah was doing her own kind of work when she laughed. Maybe she was tired of waiting and she knew the best way to move God along was to goad him on with a laugh.

Maybe Sarah’s laugh was her way of saying “Oh yeah”, which prompted God to say “I’ll show you.”

And a year later- the promised child was born…

…By the oaks of Mamre God appears- are we willing to do the work of welcoming?

In the heat of the day the hungry appear- are we willing to feed them?

In the safety of our own structured lives God speaks an impossible word- are we willing to listen?

We can be skeptical, we can laugh at the absurdity of it all, but are we also willing to do the work?

Can we, like Abraham and Sarah, do our own part to make God’s promises come true and to ensure that the blessings of God’s Kingdom keep coming down?

Amen and amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mourning and Mountains; Matthew 28:16-20 Messsage

Rev. George Miller
June 11, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20

Here we have the triumphant ending to the triumphant telling of Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus Christ has been raised from the grave and the disciples gather around him while he generously makes the promise “Remember- I am with you always, until the end of time.”

Upon the mountain Jesus meets them. With all authority he asks them to teach, and to baptize.

“Go!” he says, recalling the words of God to Abraham and Sarah. “Go!” he commands, copying the call of Moses.

“Go!” the Resurrected Christ says to the 11 men before him, those who were worshipping and those draped in doubt.

“Go, do the work of the kingdom and know that day by day, you will never walk alone.”

This is supposed to be a story of celebration, and yet…yet it is a story steeped in sadness.

Why?

Because there are eleven disciples that met Christ on the mountaintop. Not twelve, but eleven- a sobering reminder that one of them is missing.

Judas- a friend who unfortunately took his own life; a peer who fell victim to an act of violence, even if it was self directed.

The shadow of this senseless death hovers over the holy proceedings, reminding us that as fantastical as these stories seem to be, they are rooted in reality.

The reality that friends die, people make flawed decisions, bad things happen, and any group of people, anywhere, at anytime will have to deal with the reality of loss and the mystery of suffering.

I have always felt sympathy for Judas. Yes: he betrayed his friend Jesus. Yes: he connived his life away for a few coins. I like to think he had his own legitimate reason for selling Jesus out.

I also wish that he had not committed suicide, that he had stayed alive to experience the Resurrection, to have Jesus breath upon him and say “Peace be with you.”

I like to believe that if Judas had not killed himself that Christ would’ve said to him “I forgive you and I set you free from the guilt of whatever you have done.”

But Judas does not allow that to happen, and through his actions he affects not just himself, but he affects his friends, his co-worshippers…and he affects us.

Today’s tale is a timeless one, and always will be. Scholars will say that the Gospel of Matthew was written for the church in mind, a telling of the Good News in which the disciples become a microcosm of what every congregation is like.

What the disciples say and do represents what church members say and do; what the disciples experience, many church members will also.

So here we have the disciples meeting Christ. They are called to do the tasks of ministry. Some of them worship with joy; some have their doubts based in the reality of the world.

Just like any given Sunday.

Some folk come here ready to get their praise on; some wonder why they’re here at all and if it’s even worth it.

11 people gather, but in the past there used to be 12; just like any congregation- there is always someone who is missing, someone who is away, someone who has died, someone who has turned their back on their faith, someone you will never see again.

11 disciples are there with the resurrected Christ, and it should be a totally joyful time, but a hint of sorrow is still there, as it is in any church.

If we are honest, every one of us here today has entered these doors with a bit of heaviness. Someone we have lost, guilt over something we did, worry over the woes of the world, uncertainty about the future.

We could waste our energy and pretend these truths don’t exist, but why? The Bible doesn’t hide from these realities.

Christ triumphs over the grave and yet the reality of real world pain cannot be erased.

So what is the Good News?

First, we can look at Christ’s closing words to his disciples. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Note- he does not say “All your problems will go away.” He does not say “There will never be an act of violence again.” Nor does he state “Your life from here on in will be easy-peasy.”

No. He says “I will be with you.”

This is a promise of presence; a promise of relationship. A promise that regardless if you are in a dark valley or besides still waters, Jesus will be with you.

He says “I will be with you to the end of the age.”

This is a promise for all time, a promise that is renewed day after day after day; a promise that means even after the clocks stop working, we will never be alone.

He says “Remember.” Ah- remember; what a powerful, potent word.

Remember is one way to say “Recall the generosity of God who gave you the gifts of creation, and who gave you the gifts of new life.”

But there is something else going on. Matthew makes it clear to us who’s there with Jesus, but he also makes it clear where they are- a mountain.

It is upon a mountain that the disciples meet Jesus and are empowered to do ministry and mission.

It’s not in the Temple; it’s not in a synagogue. It’s at the mountain.

Why does it matter? Because in Matthew good things happen upon mountains.

It is upon a mountain that Jesus defeats the devil (4:8-11).

It is upon a mountain that Jesus gives his inaugural speech. It is upon a mountain that he calls the merciful blessed and says that we are the spice of life (5:1-11).

It is upon the mountain that Jesus cures the crowd and feeds the thousands (15:29-39).

It is upon the mountain in which Jesus is transfigured (17:1-13). It’s to the mountain that Jesus goes when he wants to pray and spend time with God. (14:23).

Mountains are meaningful to Matthew. Mountains are a metaphor for where we most meet the Magnificent.

With today’s reading, I think we are given a gift, a gift meant to transcend any situation we are in, any darkness we may confront.

I like to think that each of us have our own “mountain”, meaning that each of us has a place or a time in which we most experience the Holy and we feel the most connected to God.

If each of you were asked “Where do you feel the presence of Christ the most?”, I’d hope that you’d all be able to say a place, a time, a moment in which the Sacred is most real, the Spirit is most present.

For me, it’s the Atlantic Ocean where I’ve spent so much time with folks I love.

It’s also this pulpit in which I get to look out upon your faces.

If Matthew was writing today’s reading just for me, I’d be meeting Jesus at Ft. Pierce or under our stained glass window.

If you were asked, what would you say?

Have you had a place, a time in which you knew, you just knew that you were taught, you were fed, you were healed, you were loved by Jesus Christ?

That’s your mountain. That’s your go-to place. That’s where the resurrected Christ is calling you.

That’s where we spiritually go when the bad things happen in the world. That’s what gives us hope when things seem hopeless. That’s what helps to make sense when things are senseless.

That’s the memory we hold onto that empowers us to remember, that calls us to be brave, even if we can no longer physically go to that mountain anymore.

Our metaphorical mountain is where we get to meet Jesus again and again and again.

In our world there is so much to worry about, there is so much to mourn, and so much to fear. But there is so much to be thankful for, so much to celebrate, and so much to enjoy.

Because of Christ, even in the face of death, there is life. Even in dark times, there is light.

Even in the face of loss, there are new things to discover. Even though others may leave, we are never left alone.

And though our days do eventually end, the love of Christ does not.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Gift of Generosity; Sermon on Acts 2:1-14

Rev. George Miller
June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1-14

One of my favorite books as a youth was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

What I recall most was the author’s comment that because she grew up poor she had no idea that the Depression was taking place, and that she was raised in a community in which no one was turned away if they came to your home during dinner.

It didn’t matter how much or how little there was to eat, didn’t matter if you were black or white, a stranger or a somebody, you were welcome to the table.

This sense of generosity has shaped my view of southern living more than anything else.

Last week I attended a party given by dear friends in which they served the finest ribs I’ve ever had. Later that night, feeling ever-thankful, I complimented the host on the event and asked where the ribs came from.

He shared the place, and because we’re close, he shared the price. I was humbled beyond words and said he shouldn’t have.

His response was “But you are my friends and we love you.”

On Wednesday was the Mass for Jerry Million, which included Proverbs 3: 3-10. It said-

“Trust in the Lord with all you heart…Honor the Lord with your substance…then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

How true this was for Jerry and his wife, Elli. Because if you know anything about the Millions, you know they are generous people, people who have worked hard for every cent they have, who joyfully shared their substance.

Elli would never boast, but I can say that she and Jerry have freely given to so many people and organizations, but it is also so clear that everything they have released, God has given back in some way and form.

Generosity.

I think of what I’ve personally experienced. When my car acted-up, the number of people who offered me their automobile or a ride to the repair shop.

When my family came to town the number of you who offered me their air mattresses, sheets, cots, pillows, and use of their pool.

How the Coins for Kids jar was already half-filled on its first day.

When Judy Vekasy felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to have a new sign made for the Feed My Sheep Jeep, she contacted Ken Hamlin, who wrote-

“I am always amazed at the giving and ideas that people come up with to help The Shepherds Pantry.”

Generosity.

Our own resident Buddhist Monk, the Venerable Rev. David Astor shared with me his own theological belief that all things stem from generosity.

If I recall correctly, he taught me that it is not our faith that makes us more generous, it is not our compassion for others that makes us generous, it is not our love that makes us generous.

It is the act of generosity that everything else flows out of.

That the more generous one is, the more one grows in faith, grows in compassion, and grows in love.

Rev. Astor did not define generosity as money spent, but being generous in time, gifts, intentionality, presence, and actions.

I don’t know if I fully agree with Rev. Astor, but I look at the way folks like Maya Angelou and the Millions have lived, and I can’t help but to wonder if generosity is indeed the key to living a real, authentic life, in which you are present and you are HERE.

It is with this generous spirit radiating out from Proverbs 3 and folks like Judy and Ken and you, the congregation, that my eyes were opened to today’s scripture in a way they have never been opened before.

Yes, today’s scripture is about the beginning of the Christian Church. Yes, it is about the Holy Spirit breaking into the world to do a whole new thing.

But it is also about generosity- God’s generosity.

It is 50 days after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It’s the festival of Pentecost which means men from all over the ancient world have gathered in Jerusalem to recall God giving the gift of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

On this day, at 9 am in the morning, as the disciples are gathered inside, the Holy Spirit falls down upon them like a fire.

Filled to capacity, they can’t contain themselves, causing folk from all around to come to where they are, thinking they must be drunk off of Boones Farm or Alize.

But no, explains Peter, they are not drunk- God has poured out God’s Spirit upon them, and God will also pour it out upon all flesh, old and young, sons and daughters, enslaved and free.

In other words, God is generous.

God has once again defied all expectations and has gone against the ways of the world, giving freely to all people a gift, a gift that is meant to be shared.

Pentecost is a day for us to celebrate and give thanks for just how generous God is.

God has been generous before.

God was generous when bursting forth with creation, filling the universe with stars and planets, oxygen and hydrogen, placing upon Earth people and plants and a multitude of life forms.

Creation was an act of God’s generosity.

Since then, God found numerous ways to be generous:

Giving a son to a childless couple.

Giving the commandments on Mt. Sinai.

Giving the exiles a chance to return.

Giving the gift of Jesus Christ.

Think of the Christmas story- what an act of generosity that truly was; that God would give Godself in the form of a child.

No wonder the magi felt compelled to respond with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The generosity of God is truly outstanding.

The generous gift of the baptismal waters. The generous gift of the Lord’s Supper.

The generous gift of Jesus’ time with the outcasts, healing of the sick, and sharing stories of salvation.

All of these things are signs of a generous God.

How did we respond? We denied, we lied, we crucified.

And yet- that did not stop God from being generous.

Because 50 days later God poured out the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and God did not do it sparingly- God did so generously.

God was so generous in giving the Holy Spirit it did not matter if folk were inside or outside the building to experience the gift.

God was so generous in giving the Holy Spirit that it did not matter if the recipients were Jews, gentiles or in-between.

God’s generosity didn’t care if they were locals or foreigners.

God’s generosity didn’t care if it was 9 am.

This- this story is about the generosity of God that goes beyond time, beyond nation of origin or immigrant status, beyond faith group, and beyond physical space.

This is about the generosity of God that goes beyond social status, beyond gender, beyond age.

This is generosity that goes beyond language and understanding.

This is a story about the Generosity of Radical Inclusion.

Acts 2 not only shows us the generous giving of the Holy Spirit but it is a testimony that no matter how much God gives, God is never, ever depleted.

God gave the world, God gave God’s Son, and God gave the Holy Spirit.

God gives and gives and gives, because God is generous.

Perhaps Rev. Astor is right. Perhaps generosity is the way of being from which everything else emanates.

Perhaps Maya Angelou was raised in the best way possible, in which no one is turned away.

Perhaps folks like Jerry have learned that the key to happiness is to share and to give away.

Ken was certainly right when he stated “I am always amazed at the giving and ideas that people come up with to help…”

Today we are not just reminded of the Church’s beginnings or the breaking in of the Holy Spirit but-

That the love of the Lord is not limited.

The compassion of Christ is not conditional.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not finite.

God is good, God is great, and God is generous. Amen and amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Does the Devil Exist? 2 Peter 5:6-11

Rev. George Miller
May 28, 2017
2 Peter 5:6-11

Wednesday was the Day of Demons.

Not for me, but for my cats.

It started with the Horrible Hoover, a menacing machine deemed to destroy all the dirt that dared to pass its path.

From the moment that demon whirred into life, Sterling hid from its horror, galloping past like it like a horse caught in a house-a-fire, hiding from its satanic suction.

The Day of Demons continued when the Sky Spirit opened up, raging down rain and ripping across the yard with roaring thunder.

From the moment that demon boomed into battle, Jesse ran for the kitchen, prying open the cabinet door so he could cave away until the rains ceased.

Then there was the Satanic Sneeze, in which an unstoppable “achoo!” from me sent both of the cats scattering away.

Of course, one creature’s demon is another creature’s escape from dust and dirt. One life form’s fear of loud noises is another’s song of celebration that the rains have finally fallen.

And then…there is the reality of what took place Monday in Manchester, as a suicide bomber caused numerous deaths, many of them young, many of them girls, who had simply, innocently gathered to enjoy a night of song and celebration.

It makes one wonder why there are acts of evil in the world; makes one wonder if the devil truly does exist.

Today’s scripture talks about the devil, giving it the attributes of a prowling lion, ravenous, looking for someone to devour.

Biblically speaking, the concept of the devil is fascinating. In the Old Testament satan is scantly referred to in just 4 books, portrayed as a courtroom adversary; a slick lawyer who is there on the opposing side.

The idea of demons entering into humans to do bad deeds does not appear until the New Testament and is more an influence of Greek mythology and pop-culture’s fascination with monsters and dragons.

It was centuries later, through the work of artists like Dante and Milton that hell and satan captured folk’s imagination. (The above 3 paragraphs are adapted from Lesson 10 of “Living the Questions” Bible Study. For further reading go to www.livingthequestions.com )

The devil appears throughout the New Testament, but scholars, theologians, and people of faith are asked to wonder if it is as an entity or an idea, a man or a metaphor.

Shirley Guthrie, in his classic book “Christian Doctrine” goes into great detail about the Doctrine of Providence and the Doctrine of Evil. (2nd edition, 1994, pp166-191)

It goes like this- if God’s desire is to give us every good thing, why are there things like cancer, dementia, orphaned children, suicide bombings, viruses and injustices of every kind?

Is it because God is loving and just but powerless, or is God powerful but not loving and just enough to do anything about it?

In our world, there are different levels of evil- what we can call “natural evil”, like earthquakes and illnesses, and “moral evil”, which comes from humans and institutions.

We deal with evil in different ways. We may ignore it, or say that bad things happen now for something good to happen later. Or we place blame- “you must have done something wrong.” Or we Monday-morning quarterback and say “if we had known we could’ve been prepared.”

Yet, humans are finite. We are not meant to live forever. Somehow, someway we are all going to die, be it by a bus, a bullfight, or a burst blood vessel.

Yet, we live in a world of free will, in which not just humans have free will, but it can be argued that so do animals, viruses, and weather-patterns.

Then there is what we experienced Monday in Manchester, which is evil that is more than sin, evil that is steeped in darkness, seeming to lurk about like a lion.

How does that kind of evil come about?

For some, that answer comes in the form of an entity called the devil. The reasoning is this-“evil cannot come from God, for what God wills and does is good.” (pg. 179)

So, evil must come from another source- satan, the anti-advocate who puts evil desires into our body, mind and soul, inciting us to go against God and challenge Christ.

2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 hint at the devil being a rebellious angel, but can’t explain how or why he came about.

But how can a creature of God rebel against God if all that God creates is good?

So what do we do with scripture like today and the faith of those who say the devil is a real entity?

Shirley Guthrie has 3 points (pp179-181)-

Christians don’t say that we “believe” in the devil. We confess our faith in only God the Father, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit. We do not profess our faith in satan or hell.

In other words, even if we think the devil is real, we don’t believe in the darkness; we believe in God’s power against the darkness.

Second, our focus on the devil should not become central to our faith and more important “than the reality of God.”

Scriptures tell again and again how Jesus has already opposed and defeated the demonic and that it’s forever limited by the resurrected Christ.

Third- pay attention to who Jesus refers to as satanic- it’s not the prostitutes, tax collectors, outcasts, or the aliens.

Jesus calls the overly-righteous religious leaders the sons of satan; he calls his close friends, Peter, satan.

This indicates that what is perhaps most dangerous are those who disguise themselves as better than others, or try to use their faith for their own power and prosperity.

Still, we are left to wonder- why do bad things happen, and how does evil exist?

To that, I cannot give you an answer that I could stand by 100% or stake my life upon.

Though I’ve experienced great evil, and have felt demonic presences in my life, I personally do not think that a supernatural being called the devil exists.

Here’s what I can say- evil is that which tries to separate us from the love of God, and evil is that which tries to make us think that our Shepherd is not good.

In the darkness of the devilish, there is always a light that burns.

It is the light we see so clearly when things appear to be going right, but when tragedy occurs we wonder if that light was real or just a mirage.

When that occurs, it helps for us to remember. To recall the stories we were told, the stories of how God’s desire is to give us every good thing.

To recall all that God has done in the past- the creation, the covenants, the land, the children, the parted waters, the bread from heaven, the journeys done in stages.

As Christians, we are challenged not to recoil in the horrors of the world, but to recall the wonders and ways in which God protected, liberated, and saved again and again and again.

We could dote on the devil or we could recall what God has done in the past.

See how Christ is in the present.

And hope for how the Holy Spirit will advocate, comfort, and cheer us on in the future.

Even when the utter godlessness of others threatens to rip the world apart, we can embrace the godliness that dwells within us.

That’s how the earliest Christians survived and thrived. Those who originally received this letter experienced the devil every day.

They dealt with Roman occupation. They dealt with religious persecution. They dealt with living in strange lands amongst strange customs.

They lived each day in the shadow and the threat of the cross.

But they did not place their belief in the devil, they placed their belief in God made known through Jesus Christ.

They remembered who Jesus was and how he lived. The remembered how he healed the sick and fed the sheep. They recalled how he defended the poor and called for compassion.

Yes, they recalled Jesus’ death, but they also recalled God’s power to raise him from the tomb.

They recalled that the Christ “who was the victim of evil is also the victor over evil.” (pg. 186)

That every Sunday is an Easter Sunday in which God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom. (pg 186 and Col. 1:13)

How could events like Manchester take place? Why is there evil in the world? Does the devil exist?

We can certainly keep asking ourselves those questions. But I also hope we remind ourselves again and again

-that the Holy Spirit dwells amongst us, advocating for us, giving us comfort and cheering us on.

-that the Spirit of the Living Christ dwells within us, calling us to continue on our stages upon the way, doing what is pleasing to God.

-that the Spirit of the Still Speaking God continues to invite us to do justice, love kindness, walk with humility and recall how God’s desire is to give us every good thing.

No prince of darkness can be greater than the Prince of Peace. No spirit of evil can be more powerful than the Paraklete, and no entity can be mightier than the hand of God.

And no amount of hate is stronger than the love of our Creator.

For that, let us say “Amen and amen.”