Sunday, 7 September 2014

Challenging Sin

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
7th September 2014, 11.00am

Matthew 18:15-20   "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.  16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

Romans 13:8-14  Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.  11 ¶ Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;  12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;  13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


A few months ago, we were fortunate, here at Bloomsbury,
            to host a special showing of the film Beyond Forgiving.[1]
And we were joined by the director of the film,
            who joined in a discussion afterwards about the nature of forgiveness.

The film depicts the journey of two South Africans
            to bring healing and reconciliation to their country post-Apartheid.

Letlapa and Ginn form an unlikely pair:
            a black atheist man and a white Christian woman.

In 1993, during the post Apartheid years, Letlapa,
            then director of operations for the military wing
                        of the Pan-Africanist Congress,
            ordered reprisal massacres
                        in response to the killing of black school children.
Ginn lost her only daughter in one of these.
            And many years later she met and came to forgive Letlapa.

We’re going to watch a couple of clips from the film now,
            as a way into our consideration of today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel.

Beyond Forgiving Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inghPuBNSEE

Beyond Forgiving clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=texHUizgwMw

I don’t know how the idea of Ginn forgiving Letlapa makes you feel,
            but in me it stirs mixed emotions.
On the one hand I’m deeply moved
            by the transformation that her actions have brought about;
            not only in her life, or indeed his life,
                        but in the lives of so many others who they have affected
                                    as they have learned to work together,
                        telling the story of their journey
                                    towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

But on the other hand I find myself feeling unaccountably angry,
            because it seems as if, somehow, the rules of justice have been violated.
‘Where is the righteous anger?’ I want to cry.
            ‘Why should he be free and laughing,
            while her daughter is long dead by his command?’

And therein lies the complexity
            of forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is never straightforward, it is never comfortable, it is never easy.

And yet, still, somehow, we have to learn to live with conflict,
            we have to learn to live with anger, hatred, and betrayal.
We have to learn to live with emotions
            that demand revenge in the name of justice,
and we have to learn to live with logic
            that demands justice in the name revenge.

There is a tendency to divide conflict into two categories;
            on the one hand we have conflict at a community level,
                        which encompasses everything from a riot to a war,
                        and where the people involved have little or no personal knowledge
                        of those they are in conflict with;
            and on the other hand we have conflict at a personal level,
                        which involves particular disagreements
                        between people know each other well.

Only some of us will ever have direct experience of community-level conflict,
            but my suspicion is that all of us are well acquainted
            with conflict that occurs at a personal level.

We all know the difficulties involved
            in maintaining relationships over the long term,
                        whether within a marriage, or a friendship group,
                        or an intentional community such as a church.
It is all-too-easy for people to find themselves in conflict
            with those whom they see regularly.

The interesting thing about the story of Ginn and Letlapa, of course,
            is that what started out as a community conflict between strangers,
            evolved into a personal conflict between two individuals,
            as part of its journey towards reconciliation:
                        The communal became individual.
            But I think the same can also apply the other way:
                        because individual conflicts never occur in an isolation bubble.
            A sin against the one, is a sin against the many.

And so we come to our passage from Matthew’s gospel,
            which seems, on the surface at least,
            to simply offer a practical mechanism
                        for dealing with conflict when it arrives.

If another member of the church sins against you…” Jesus begins,
            and the subtext here, of course, is that ‘if’ really means ‘when’…
I’m afraid there is no such a thing as the conflict-free church,
            and even if there was, as the old adage goes:
            ‘if you find it, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it’.

The reality is that at some point, someone who you share worship with,
            someone who you break bread and share wine with,
is going to say something or do something
            which will give you cause for grievance.
It’s going to happen.
            The question is, what to do about it?

One route might be to have a massive row,
            to stand up for ourselves,
            to fight back, bite back, make them see how wrong they are.

Tempting… but, perhaps, not very ‘Christian’?

Much more likely, we will ‘take it on the chin’,
            or ‘turn the other cheek’, to misquote the sermon on the mount.
Much more likely, we will take the anger into ourselves,
            seething quietly within,
            whilst never letting slip our well-practiced ‘Christian smile’.
Much more likely, if we are strategic and careful,
            we will find ways of distancing ourselves from the person,
                        walking away from groups where we will encounter them,
                        maybe even to the extent of leaving the fellowship altogether.

Well, says Jesus in our reading today, neither of these are the right approach.
            And so we get his famous and oh-so-practical solution:
Firstly, try at the earliest opportunity to resolve the difficulty one-to-one.
If that doesn’t work, the second step is to take a couple of others,
            to engage in mediation with a view to restoring the broken relationship.
Only finally, if neither of these work, does it become a public matter,
            with the community becoming involved in the discussion.

Simples, no?

Well, no, and, yes.

The thing is, if we try to apply Jesus’ advice in a mechanical way,
            it can too quickly become just another mechanism for social control.
Comply, or you’re out.
            If the pastor comes to see you, and you don’t conform,
            before you know it, everyone knows, and you’re persona non grata.

From the ‘shunning’ practices of the Anabaptists,
            to the Excommunication of the Catholics,
this teaching has been used down the centuries
            to both require and enforce compliance.

Which is, I think, a long way from its origins.

The community that Jesus is speaking to here
            is a community seeking to hold together great diversity and complexity.
It is a community that is struggling to be inclusive
            of those whom others would never tolerate.

And the insight that come to us,[2]
            is that if we are to be a community of genuine inclusivity,
                        encompassing not just the strong but the weak,
                        not just the powerful but the vulnerable,
            then we cannot afford to overlook the sin that seeks to take hold in our midst,
                        because if we do, it has the capacity to destroy
                        the good which is coming into being among us.

The confronting of sin, and the challenging the person trapped in it,
            is not about enforcing compliance,
                        but is rather about offering compassion.
The threat of making a person ‘like a tax collector or a gentile’
            is not about shunning or excommunicating them,
                        it is not about throwing them out of the church,
            rather, it is the issuing of a stark call to them
                        to return home,
                        and to be reconciled to the community that they have wounded.

Whether or not we have the resolve and courage to seek reconciliation
            with the one who has sinned against us,
            is therefore a mark of the kind of community we are.

To put it another way:
            Do we love each other so intensely,
                        that we refuse to risk ignoring the one who is going astray?
            Do we refuse to harbour resentment,
                        seeking instead the more difficult path of reconciliation?

This is not about eliminating conflict,
            or suppressing it, or ignoring it, or denying it.
It’s about dealing with it,
            because the community that it threatens to destroy
            is too precious to us to abandon to the destructive power of sin.

Christians must take seriously what it means to confront their enemies well,
            because this is the only way in which the damage already done,
                        stands any chance of moving towards healing.
It is the only way in which the vulnerable
            will ever receive justice,
and it is the only way in which the perpetrator
            can be restored to their proper place within the community.

Too often, when we talk of forgiveness,
            we think of it in terms of ‘papering over the cracks’,
too often we define forgiveness in terms of ‘forgive and forget’,
            as saying to the perpetrator of hurt
            that it doesn’t matter, that it’s forgotten.
But this is not what Christian forgiveness is about.
            Because sin and hurt, and pain and wrong, do matter,
                        and they cannot always be forgotten.
But they can be addressed,
            carefully, and with good process.
And from that process, there is the possibility
                        that genuine forgiveness can emerge,
            which has the potential to liberate those entangled in the mess of sin
                        from the chains that bind them to hurt and pain.

Only through such process can the path to peace emerge.
            And the peace that Jesus offers,
                        is not simply the peace that emerges from the absence of violent response.
            The peace that Jesus offers is not the peace of the capitulator,
                        nor is it the peace of the person so bullied and coerced
                        that they have lost their capacity to fight back.
            Rather, the peace of Jesus
                        is nonviolent because it is based on truth,
                                    and on the telling of truth.

As Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela discovered in South Africa,
            with the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Only truth has the capacity to effectively counter violence.
            Only truth can un-spin the web of deceit which ensnares the unwary
                        in its violent embrace.

Even love, if it is love without truth, can be as dangerous
            as any open hostility.

If peace between the brothers and sisters of Jesus
            is to be real, it must be peace without illusion.
Truth is key to reconciliation,
            which is why Jesus instructs the person who has been wronged
                        to take with them ‘one or two’,
            so that together they form the ‘two or three’ witnesses
                        stipulated by the book of Deuteronomy (19.15)
                        as necessary for the establishment of truthful testimony.

Truth-telling in the face of conflict,
            is a gift that the community of Christ’s people can offer to the world.
If we can learn to model it between ourselves,
            and learn what it is to inhabit the peace of Christ,
then we become equipped and prepared to live that peace into being
            in all areas and spheres of our lives.

How can the world be changed?
            How can we make any difference to the conflicts that divide humanity?
Well, says Jesus, it begins with us, here and now.
            It begins with those who follow him,
                        as we learn what it means to relate in new ways,
            as we see relationships transformed,
                        and healing brought through truth to those who are divided.

And yet, the truth is often the last thing
            most of us want to know about ourselves!
We may say that the truth saves us,
            but in fact we know that any truth,
                        particularly the truth that is in Jesus,
            is as disturbing, as it is fulfilling.

How will we react,
            if someone comes to us,
            to point out to us the error of our own ways?
How will we respond,
            when someone tells us how much we have hurt them?
Self-righteousness is only ever a small step away,
            as the shutters come down,
            and we retreat to our world of illusion
                        where we are the stars of our own little universe
                        with everyone else playing merely supporting roles.

And even those who take seriously the journey towards truth,
            those who take Jesus at his word when he says
            that ‘the truth shall set you free’(Jn 8.32),
will find that the truth is often painful,
            and that the revelation of our own inner capacity to harm others,
                        and to engage in acts of destruction
                        against those we love, as well as those we hate,
            is a truth that comes only by great effort,
                        and by the grace of God.

But this is why Jesus insists that those who would follow him
            cannot let sins go unchallenged.
If we fail to challenge one another in our sins,
            we in fact abandon one another to our sins.
We show how little we love each another,
            when we refuse to engage in the hard work of reconciliation.

And yet, says Jesus, we cannot afford to ignore this,
            because our actions here today have eternal consequences.

When we loose someone from the chains of sin,
            when we cut the bonds of behaviours
            that bind people into destructive patterns,
then we loose them for eternity.

When we cut someone free from the web of deceit
            with the sharp edged sword of truth,
            they are free indeed.

The kingdom of Heaven breaks into our midst
            when people take decisive action to bind the Satan’s power
                        to deceive, distort, and demean.
And Heaven and earth collide
            when people find release to the new life
            that is theirs in Christ Jesus




[1] http://www.uk.iofc.org/Films-to-watch/Post-Apartheid-Beyond-Forgiving
[2] What follows draws on Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, SCM Theological Commentary, pp. 165-166.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Satan

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
31st August 2014, 11.00am

You can listen to this sermon here:

Matthew 16.21-28  From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you."  23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?  27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.  28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." 

Romans 12.9-21  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  14 ¶ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.



Have you ever noticed that good people
            can do terrible things with the best of intentions?
Not everybody who does an evil deed is an evil person,
            and sometimes the worst of deeds
            emerge from a heart heavy with good intentions.
We have a proverb to this effect, don’t we?
            ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’, we sometimes say,
                        unconsciously quoting the twelfth century Cistercian monk
                        Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), who said it first.

I can honestly say that most of the people I’ve ever met
            have seemed to me to be good people.
Sometimes they might have been very damaged due to past trauma, yes;
            and sometimes they might struggle with mental illnesses
                        that impair their judgment;
but on the whole, I think it is true
            that most of the people we encounter in this world
                        are normal, everyday people,
            trying to live relatively good and moral lives,
                        not seeking to cause harm or hurt to others.

And yet, there is so much evil in the world,
            as twenty minutes in front of the evening news will easily demonstrate.
It seems that the capacity for human beings
            to harm and hurt others is almost without end.
The abuse of power,
            the recourse to violence,
                        and the dehumanising of the other,
dominate the interactions between individuals
            in ways that shock and dismay us.

So where does this evil come from?

There is a strong tradition within Christianity
            to assign the existence of such evil to an external agency,
                        to some kind of supernatural entity that acts upon humans
                        and causes them to behave in ways that are contrary to their true nature.
Sometimes this entity is given a name,
            such as the Hebrew word satan which means ‘adversary’,
            or the Greek word daibolos which we usually translate as ‘devil’.

Perhaps it is the case, we tell ourselves,
            that the origin of evil lies beyond the human heart,
                        coming to us from somewhere else, from someone or something else.
Maybe this is why good people can do such terrible things,
            even with the best of intentions?
Maybe this is why some people seem to end up
            so consumed by the darkness of dark deeds
                        that it can be hard to discern the flickering embers
                        of the humanity they share with the rest of us.
Maybe it’s all Satan’s fault,
            maybe the devil made them do it?

In some ways this can be a comforting theology,
            as it removes the ultimate responsibility for evil from humanity.
Evil is just out there, seeking its moment to strike.
            All we need to do to avoid it is to be vigilant, to resist temptation,
            to observe whatever practices we have come to believe will ward off the evil one.

So from prayer and holiness, to superstition and sorcery,
            many people, both within and beyond the Christian faith,
            take such daily actions to keep Satan at bay from their lives.

But of course this can also be a terrifying place to live.
            Because what if we get it wrong? What if we let our guard down?
            What if Satan gets in? Would we even know?
I have met people who have spent many years
            petrified that they have let the Devil into their lives;
whether through some misguided action,
            or simply through a profound lack of self worth,
            there are many whose daily routine is paralysed by fear of the evil one.

And here, in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel,
            we meet Jesus using the word Satan to describe his close friend Peter.
Only a few moments earlier,
            Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (16.16),
                        and Jesus has responded by declaring Peter to be the rock
                                    on which the church will be built,
                        which not even the gates of Hades will overcome.
So it is something of a shock to find Jesus calling Peter ‘Satan’.

Particularly so if our understanding of what is meant by ‘Satan’
            is determined by the Christian tradition I’ve just been describing,
                        in terms of an external, personified, spiritual being
            that seeks to take over the lives of the unwary
                        and lead them into deeds of terrible darkness.

So let’s spend a few moments now unpacking something of the history of satan,
            before returning to our passage from Matthew
            and considering why it might be that Jesus uses this term of Peter.[1]

I’ve already said that satan is the Hebrew word for ‘adversary’;
            and the Old Testament speaks in three places of a personified adversary, or satan.

In Job (chs 1-2) and Zechariah (ch. 3)
            we find visionary descriptions of the heavenly throne room,
            which is pictured in terms similar to the throne room
                        of an ancient near eastern ruler
            – with God sat in the place of the king, surrounded by his advisors.
One of these advisors takes the role of ‘the satan’, or ‘the accuser’,
            and seem to have a function similar to a prosecuting counsel
                        in a contemporary courtroom
            – his job is to put the other side,
                        to test the integrity and righteousness of the person on trial.
Here, the satan is not a personal name,
            but a role that one of the members of the divine court fulfils.

The third reference to satan in the Old Testament is found in 1 Chronicles (21.1),
            and it refers to a human being who provokes David
            to take a census of Israel, against the will of God.

In the New Testament, the word ‘satan’ appears rather more often,
            with 36 references in total, all of them to a character referred to as ‘the satan’.

And again, as in the Old Testament,
            the job of ‘the satan’ is to test human piety
                        – to put the opposing view.
The word is still not a proper name
                        – our pew Bibles get it wrong when they capitalise it.
            It’s a description of a role, rather than the name of a person.
It is always ‘the satan’
            in the same way as one might say ‘the prosecutor’ or ‘the adversary’.
It is never just ‘Satan’ the personified being.
            That comes later in the Christian tradition,
                        with the mythology surrounding Satan developing through the centuries.

In the early church, authors like
            Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Iraenaeus, and Origen,
            conflated other biblical characters with the idea of ‘satan’
                        to flesh out the idea of the adversary as a personified divine being.
So, the serpent of Genesis 3,
            the defeated ‘morning star’ of Isaiah 14,
                        and the disgraced king of Tyre from Ezekiel 28,
            all ended up being more closely associated with the construct of Satan,
                        than the actual satan passages themselves!

The identification of Satan with the serpent associated him with original sin;
            the Latin for ‘morning star’, ‘Lucifer’, gave Satan one of his nicknames;
                        and the idea that Satan led a revolution in heaven
                                    before the creation of humanity
                        came into being when the story of the fall of the king of Tyre in Ezekiel
                                    combined with a saying of Jesus in Luke’s gospel
                        to form yet another strand to the emerging mythology of Satan
                                    as a divine character (Ezek. 28.12-19, Lk. 10.18).

Moving well beyond the New Testament for a moment,
            the Faust legend of the middle ages contributed the idea
                        that an ambitious person can make a ‘deal with the devil’ to achieve success,
            while Dante’s Divine Comedy from the early fourteenth century (1308-1321)
                        depicted Satan as large and frightful, but ultimately impotent.
In contrast, Milton’s Paradise Lost from the seventeenth century (1667)
                        created a new era in the mythology of Satan,
            giving him a heroic and sympathetic reading,
                        despite casting him as the incarnation of evil
                        whose agenda is to overthrow God.
While Milton may have portrayed Satan as a flawed hero
            in order to highlight the grandeur of God’s victory over him,
many other more recent writers and artists
            have been inspired to take further this idea of a powerful Satan,
                        to the extent that in the popular imagination
                        Satan has become a kind of evil counterpart to God,
            battling for the control of the cosmos
                        and for the ownership of human souls.

All of which is a very long way from the biblical picture
            of an adversary whose role is to test human piety.
And if we are to understand what is going on
            when Jesus turns to his friend Peter,
                        and says to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’,
            we need to set aside our inherited Satan mythology,
            and we need to set aside our inherited idea
                        that personified evil lurks round the next corner,
                        waiting to take control of us if we let our guard down.

The picture that emerges from Jesus’ encounter with Peter
            is exactly the opposite of this.
What we come to realise from this story
            is that evil is not an embodied being awaiting his opportunity,
                        but rather evil is something that can originate
                        from within even the most pious of human hearts.
Evil takes hold in the world whenever and wherever
            people enact a way of being that is contrary to the way of God
                        as revealed through Christ.
Even Peter can take on the role of the satan.

In Jesus, we encounter the one in whom the way of God is made flesh.
            And what we meet in Jesus is one whose life was dedicated
                         to the overcoming of evil in all its forms.

I’ve said before that I think the root cause of all human sin is idolatry,
            and what I mean by this is that whenever God is displaced
                        from the centre of a person’s life,
            the path to hell opens before them.
I think that we each have the capacity to create hell on earth
            when we follow any way of being
                        that is contrary to the way of God.
And we do this whenever we give allegiance to any power
            other than the will of God as revealed in and through Christ Jesus.

This is what Peter does in our passage from Matthew’s gospel,
            and this is why Jesus calls him the satan.
Jesus has just been telling Peter and the other disciples
            that he must now go to Jerusalem to be killed.
He has been making it clear to them that his path is the way of the cross,
            and that the only way to overcome evil
                        is to submit to its power over life
                        in order to defeat it with resurrection.

The Christ-like route to true life
            runs through the valley of the shadow of death.

And Peter, it seems, is right on board with the battle to defeat evil,
            Peter is totally committed to the path of overthrowing the powers-that-be
                        in the name of the coming kingdom of Christ Jesus.
But for him, this doesn’t look like the cross,
            it looks like armed insurrection.
It looks like throwing the Romans out of the city
            and expelling them from the land.
It looks like Jesus seated on David’s throne in the holy city of Jerusalem,
            with his disciples by his side.
It looks like the heavenly throne-room made real on the earth,
            as through Jesus, the reign of God begins.

And suddenly, without meaning to,
            Peter finds himself in the position of the satan,
                        the advisor who tests the resolve of the king,
            the one who argues the alternative path
                        to that which has been chosen.
Jesus is taking the difficult, costly, painful path to the cross,
            and Peter offers him a far more enticing alternative.

Jesus has met this temptation before, of course,
            in his wilderness wanderings,
when his own internal battle with the satan
            held before him the prospect of the kingdom without the cross.
And Peter offers him that same temptation,
            and so encounters the same title.

And it is such a tempting temptation, isn’t it?

To do righteous battle with the forces of evil in the world,
            boldly proclaiming the lordship of Christ over the earth,
                        taking decisive action to make it real in our midst.
It is the path of godly glory,
            it is the path of those who get things done,
it is the path of the activist, the campaigner,
            the revolutionary, the crusader,
                        the freedom fighter, the terrorist…

And that is why good people end up committing acts of great evil
            with the very best of intentions.

As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans,
            ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (12.21).

The way of Christ is not tit for tat, it is the way of the cross.
            It is not the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Mt. 5.38),
                        it is the way of the cross.
            It is not the path of proportionate and considered tactical strikes,
                        it is the way of the cross.
            It is not military superiority from the air but no boots on the ground,
                        it is the way of the cross.

‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’

The horrific truth is that evil simply compounds evil,
            even when it originates from the best of intentions.
The insight that Jesus grasped,
            which Paul so clearly expressed,
                        and which Peter struggled so hard to understand,
is that evil can only be defeated by good.

In many ways, this is the ultimate choice,
            it is the definitive temptation.
Which path will we choose?
            Which path will Peter choose?

Do we, like Peter, feel the compulsion to take the opportunity
            to do good things by earthy means
            when the opportunity presents itself?
Do we long to use our power, influence, and money
            to transform the world in line with the kingdom of God?
Or can we instead hear the quiet call to join Jesus
            in rejecting all such attempts to make the Kingdom real in our midst,
                        taking instead the costly and sacrificial path of the cross?

The temptation to use coercive means
            to achieve our ‘right’ ends is always before us.
Whether at a personal or international level,
            whether within our families or between nations,
            we need to hear the voice of Jesus calling us to account:

‘If any want to become my followers,
            let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit them
            if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
Or what will they give in return for their life?’ (16.24-26).

The way of Jesus is the path of overcoming evil with good.

It is the way of salvation
            from the hellish and satanic outworkings of human violence.

Jesus did not come to save people from a violent God
            who is looking to cast them to the depths of hell
                        if they fail to comply with his will.
Neither did Jesus come to save people
            from Satan’s attempts to steal their souls for eternity.

Rather, Jesus came to save people from something far more real:
            he saves us from the violence that lurks within each human heart.
He comes to deliver us from evil,
            to save us from satan,
and to lead us through death to life eternal.




[1] See the article ‘Satan’ in Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture, eds M.A. Beavis and M.J. Gilmour, p. 468. See also Satan, A Biography, by Henry Ansgar Kelly, 2006.