A sermon by the Rev John Robison
Proper 14 (19), August 16, 2017
1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Let me be perfectly clear: white supremacy is idolatry, and those who claim to be Christian while holding these beliefs are formal heretics. They deny one or more of the foundational, Creedal doctrines of the Church. Others worship powers, such as their very egos, that make the ancient Ba’als look tame. There is a deep nihilism in their ideology that makes the normal Capitalist/Socialist paradigm look like a game of Candy Land. It is Evil – with a capital E.
I know it is unfashionable to talk about Evil as if it were an Objective fact. Surely white supremacists do not see themselves as evil. That is sort of the point, most people consumed by the void of Evil don’t see themselves as such. This is not helped by our calling merely “naughty,” or “bad” behavior “evil.” If you have to ask, “Aren’t I evil?” chances are your just pitching in the minors.
Evil is, fundamentally, a devouring force. It consumes and burns. It cannot build anything lasting. It is the “privation of the Good” in that it seeks to destroy the very fabric of creation, which God called “good.” It pulls and pushes apart. The word “diabolic” even comes from the Latin to pull apart. It is not some ephemeral shadow, as it has an ontological reality. Most importantly for what we are looking at right now, it is personal. Evil does not compel, it seduces.
JRR Tolkien shows throughout the Lord of the Rings how evil can slowly steal over a person and slowly corrupt them. “Let’s use the Ring AGAINST Sauron.” That seems perfectly reasonable. And that is how evil enters the heart, in the disguise of a good idea. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, often very bad acts done for all the right reasons. That is, in part, why we pray “lead me not into temptation.”
Once it gets its hooks into a person, or a culture, Evil hangs on. It is not just a psychological condition or a sociological problem. Evil, and its nihilistic source, is a spiritual issue. It requires fasting and prayer on the part of the Church for it to be exposed, let alone rooted out. The trick is that, because of sin, we must be aware lest we become Monsters ourselves. Evil thrives best at the foot of the altar, unless we are as a community on guard against it. Remember: evil divides, and often looks like a search for purity. Even when facing the forces of the Neo-Nazis we must avoid those impulses that cause us to be just as dehumanizing and dehumanized as they are.
The reaction to this is often to have violent push back. In Charlottesville the clergy who knelt in prayer in the shadow of an anonymous militia had soda cans full of cement thrown at them. The night before the Neo-Nazis disrupted a prayer meeting by surrounding St Paul’s Church and chanted hideous slogans, born of perverting Evil. Evil will always push back.
The lectionary has given us Peter, poor old Peter, walking on the water. What, if anything does that have to do with the Evil of the riots, terrorism, and Murder in Charlottesville? Take a good look at the text. Jesus, walking on the waves of the storm, is confused with the spirits of the Dead who are coming to drag them down to a watery death. Fear can do that: We often can confuse things when gripped by fear. Then, Jesus calls out. Instead of taking some refuge in Jesus presence, or at least that he’s not a ghost, Peter, poor precocious Peter, calls out: “If it is you, and you are who you say you are, I can walk on the water too.”
“Sure thing,” says Jesus, and out pops Peter.
Things are going great, until Peter realizes he’s not where he should be. And he sinks, in spite of the reality of Jesus.
Peter’s lack of faith was not so much loosing track of Jesus and being consumed by fear, but rather getting out of the boat. He belonged with the rest of the disciples, pulling against the wind, not trying to be some sort of spiritual super hero. The answer to Evil is not individual fortitude alone, but community. Evil pulls us apart, Righteousness pulls us together. Evil nitpicks about flaws, Grace corrects and heals them. We are called together, not to float alone in a sea of our own strength. This communal thought is, indeed, alien to our culture. The economic paradigm of Capitalist/Socialist thought sees us as individual economic units first and last. White Supremacy throws questionable issues of Race into the mix, but is just as reductionist. That a person, that all people have value regardless of economic ability or racial/ethnic membership is alien to our world as it is practically lived out. I’ve gotten push back to the idea of human value qua humanity from the Left and the Right.
We must pull together, and in particular we must pull together as a Church, as face what is, in the end, a Spiritual one: racism. It is a sin against the Image of God. It is blasphemy. It is evil, but we will not be able to face it unless we name it, and come together in prayer and action against it. Jesus says in another passage that some spirits only come out through prayer and fasting. That is where we, the Church, must start, and then carry the light we have out into the world.
In the name of God: Source of All Being, the Word Made Flesh, and the Holy Spirit