St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Trinity
August 11, 2019
“O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us.”
OUR FAVORITE PRAYER asks God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. Orthodox Christians add the word “one” to evil, delivering us from the ‘evil one.’ We may wish to extend that beyond the fallen angel who stalks us. Other beings are stalking us too. And nature itself may not be our friend at all times.
Last November 8th, Butte County got a huge dose of impersonal evil. The fire that raged up from Concow into Paradise, Butte Creek Canyon and Magalia had what I described as a personality, charging into neighborhoods with a pocket full of addresses. It visited most addresses with unspeakable destruction, and in the end, who might we blame for the 14,000 homes gone? PG&E? God? Town planners? Forestry managers? It was a fire, and fire is a very unreasonable opponent. A wall of flame coming at 2000 degrees does not permit an argument. You just run. Deliver us from evil may be simply that: an admission that bad things happen and we must apply to God for His protection. He may not always save us from every bad thing, either.
It’s been a week of bad things in the nation. Two mass shootings, first in El Paso, then in Dayton, Ohio, left 29 dead and many wounded, adding to the 17 mass shootings and 51 dead in the nation this year. Many in the aftermath are calling for the prohibition of guns. That wouldn’t have done a thing. No mass shooting incident was ever stopped by laws. The shooters in all of these were breaking some very serious laws, murder being the chiefest. They already decided to ignore law.
Even God has attempted to curtail human iniquity by law. He did so, not ignorant of the failed result, but knowing we needed the lesson. When He applied the law through Moses, God only identified our problem. He didn’t cure it. Free will still left us quite able to hate Him, deny Him worship, murder, steal, cheat and lie. Which we did, and stayed on the wrong side from our Creator. Law didn’t make people good. It made them guilty.
In the year 2017, 17,000 people in America died by homicide. 70% of those murdered died by the use of firearms. But as in the third mass killing of last week, a knife showed itself quite capable of homicide, and four more died by stabbing in southern California by week’s end. In London, the murder rate is soaring, though gun control there is far more than anywhere in our nation. Most of their slain are stabbed. We don’t solve a problem by making more things illegal.
And we don’t stop people dying either. About 2 million people die each year in the US. Of these, 2/3 of a million are from heart disease. 600,000 are from cancer. Accidents of various kinds are the cause of 169,000 deaths, and what law prevents these? And there has always been a law against suicide, yet 47,000 took their own lives. Mass shootings don’t compare with that sad number. We have a problem, and it’s not our weapons. We’ll find a way, if we’ve stopped caring what happens to ourselves.
The former Sheriff of Milwaukee County told a crowd I was in that we ask too much of law enforcement. The lessons the people in our land should have learned in their homes, what should have been taught in school, or could have been inculcated at church have too often been missed by the burgeoning mass of angry, maladjusted individuals. When they haven’t gotten the lesson on how to be good human beings in these institutions, we ask the police to solve the inevitable results. Cops don’t have sufficient tools to accomplish the making of good people through force. They only have weapons and arrest powers. And then the courts too often let the criminals go.
King David pleaded with God: “Don't let my brutal enemies be glad because of me. They hate me for no reason. Don't let them wink behind my back. They say hurtful things, and they lie to people who want to live in peace… You see everything, LORD! Please don't keep silent or stay so far away.” Ps 35 Hurtful things are often not things. As with the best things in life, hurtful things can simply be what others think and say about us. We may be hurt by a rumor, or by a lie, or by the truth about us spoken in an attempt to discredit all that we’ve done well. The media is filled with innuendos, half-truths, created stories and opinion stated as fact. It almost makes me want to Tweet.
Our prayers for God to deliver us from evil may mean evil people, or the evil that people who are set against us may in their heart and mind intend. It’s not so much a thing in this culture but in many lands the curse of an enemy, the ill will felt and shown by someone, can make someone else sick, or even die. We have powers beyond weaponry that we don’t know much about, but hatred alone may have a devastating effect on others. Like the opposite of prayers for the healing of a loved one, curses too may affect an outcome. We rightly pray for God to shield us from what others spiritually or psychically shoot at us. The devil is not the only bowman among those we might call our enemy.
Walt Kelley’s Pogo, a cartoon character from my childhood, said memorably, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The first defense against “the evil one” we pray against is to have God’s ownership of our souls. The battlefront may be closer than your heartbeat. When we imagine that all our problems come from others, we are usually leaving one scoundrel unwatched, unguarded – you know who. In all the political mayhem streaming from our capitols in an election season, every voice screams of others’ faults and failures. Would it not be refreshing for someone, anyone, to take some of the blame and say he or she is sorry? Once? I’d rather trust that one than hear a thousand accusations, or watch the fireballs and spitballs launched across the aisle.
Mental illness, disquiet, emotional trauma and internal psychic pain constitute the greatest medical arena in our nation and culture today. Far beyond heart health or cancer, more people are seeking help in these disciplines and more money is spent to be cured of heartaches and pains lodged in the mind than for any other disorder. Hurtful things, which are not things, have just as effectively hurt us as bodily diseases. Worse, numerically, than bullets are the hard words said in anger, the absent parents whose missing love left wounds in their kids, abuse of children and spouses by ill-bred and ill-equipped husbands or wives, and just plain mental illness have crippled a greater number of our population than we can imagine. Almost half of adults will experience a mental illness at some time. 5% of all adults are in mental crisis each year. And yet only 41% of those seriously suffering these get any professional care.
It used to be more the office of church and clergy to help people deal with their broken hearts and thoughts. It certainly would be a healthier world if the real cure for our evil ways was more commonly held high and sought after. No one but Christians have true miracle stories. We should be shouting from the rooftops when our lives are cured of the sickness that sin and disbelief cause. Just as in cancer gone into remission, we ought to sing the praise of God when our sins are remitted. Do we? We should.
David, again, sang, “…See if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” PS 139:24 Stuff hurts. We can hurt each other too easily. Every shooter who has reached his limit and sought to end his pain with the death of others, and himself, already got hurt along the way. These aren’t happy people. Hurt people hurt people.
The Chico Police held live shooter scenarios at PV and Chico High earlier this month. They were playing the game, but for real. Familiarization with the terrain, buildings, obstacles, likely hiding places, as well as escape routes and protocols for transporting school children away to safety were drilled and redrilled so that, should the unthinkable occur, they will be ready. It’s hard to think such a story should come out of our city. It was just as unthinkable coming from the cities already fading into statistics. But it wasn’t the guns in the hands of those twisted people that turned their hearts dark.
A movie titled The Hunt was pulled off its scheduled release this September by Universal Pictures this week. This R-rated film starts with 12 strangers, resembling average Americans from “fly-over country”, waking up in a clearing, only to discover they are being hunted for sport. It’s beyond bad taste. It’s creating a taste for murder of innocent people, dispensable people, “deplorables”, and it goes along with Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of photo-realistic-simulation killing games meant for adult entertainment, but used by children. The game gets into the gamer. These games make their companies billions of dollars and fulfill St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, saying, “…they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” 1 Tim 6:9 But Hollywood knows it’s easier and more profitable to make an explosion than create beauty or a good script.
Put away from us all hurtful things. We ask it of God. Can we ask it of ourselves? A few more locks on liquor cabinets, gun safes, and language that dehumanizes our nearest and dearest might be in order. Not to outlaw the means of harm, but regulate our lives by the light of God’s order and what we know to be right and wrong. We still hold the key to those locks when force is the only possible answer. We still have responsible men and women who bear the sword, and not in vain. I am around armed people all the time and in their company I always feel safer. They are disciplined, power in check, sworn to protect me and you. We should both honor and pray for them, as we will this Wednesday evening. They are holding a very shaky thin blue line against that evil we pray God keeps from our doors.
False prophets may come in shepherd coats, attempting to make a herd out of us and leading us to our doom. We must use discretion and the Holy Spirit to discern what their real motives are, and then denounce them. And we must not become captive to the forces that seek to tunnel under us, remove our spiritual foundation, return us to fleshy thoughts and worldly values, calling our lower nature and seeking to devour us. We’re better people than that, as we live according to God’s Spirit in us.
Cry Abba, Father. We have met the enemy in ourselves, but have associated our souls with the Holy One. No matter what happens to our bodies, our earthly lives, that bond will see us to safe shores. And while we’re here, let us keep up the prayers for ourselves, and more important, for those who don’t know they really do need our prayers.