March 5, 2017: Wrestling with Evil

Posted on : Mar 2nd, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

On Monday of this week, I sent you a devotional that was written by Rev. Donn Crail, one of the former directors of our Lazarus Project. The Lazarus Project was one of the most controversial ministries in the Presbyterian Church. It was simply a ministry of education and advocacy on behalf of and for gay and lesbian Christians.

At one time, our little ministry became so controversial it almost forced our Synod into bankruptcy. At the time, the Synod was funding the project a few thousand dollars a year. It sure wasn’t much and we sure needed much more funding. But the very fact that our then denominational partner, known as the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, funded this controversial ministry enraged some of the anti-gay pastors and churches in the Presbyterian Church. One of those who was enraged just happened to be the largest, wealthiest, and largest mission giving church in the Synod. After years of fighting us – and fighting our funding – this large church finally decided if they couldn’t win on the merits of their anti-gay argument, they would just stop giving any money to the Synod. This truly caused a financial crisis in the Synod. Money speaks. Just ask Jesus.

Our Scripture lesson for this Sunday is one of the most powerful and human stories in all of scripture. It’s the story of Jesus having to wrestle with his own self-image and his own self-identity. It also focuses us squarely on the human lure to be famous, wealthy, and all-powerful. The story is set in the context of three conversations Jesus has with “the Devil.”

It’s no surprise to anyone that I am not a biblical literalist. I don’t believe in “a devil” or “the devil,” especially not as a person. But I sure do believe in evil and the power of evil. So, for me, the devil in this story becomes a way of talking about our human interaction with the forces of evil that sometimes even leads to self-destruction. The powerful lure or “temptation” to be all powerful, all knowing, even God-like is as real today as it was two thousand years ago when Jesus wrestled with these same issues. Maybe it’s even more so today.

If you don’t think this story is relevant to our life and faith today, think again. Since January there have been over 100 bomb threats made against Jewish Community Centers.   JCCs, like YMCAs, have a lot of preschool and day care programs. Parents and people of all ages are terrified for their own children’s well being and that of those they love. This huge rise in anti-Semitism in our country has taken almost everyone off guard. Where is it coming from?

Then, this week in Los Angeles, an undocumented father and his wife were driving their two daughters, ages 12 and 13 to school. Romulo, the father, has lived in the US for nearly 30 years. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) intentionally stopped their car a block away from the school at which they dropped of their 13-year old daughter. Everyone – all the kids and Romulo’s two daughters and wife – saw him being arrested. Just for the record, Romulo likely had a prior deportation order resulting from what seemed to be an encounter with an unscrupulous lawyer who represented him a few years ago. He also apparently has one prior DUI from nearly a decade ago and two driving infractions. But the sole purpose of this action was to create fear in the kids and to intimidate children and their parents. It was staged. And it was as evil as Jesus’ encounter in the wilderness.

The only way these kinds of evil can be stopped is for people to stand up and speak up against them. Elie Wiesel, the renowned Jewish historian of the holocaust who died just last year, offered these words wherever he taught. They were originally written by Edmund Burke:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil

is for good people to do nothing.”

Blessings to you this Lenten Season and may we come out of the wilderness stronger and more loving,



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 4: 1-11

Jesus is tempted by the Devil

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Having fasted forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Child of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written,

            ‘One shall not live by bread alone,

            But by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said, “If you are the Child of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

            ‘God will give the angels charge of you,’


            ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

            Lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to the devil, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Sovereign your God.’”

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, and showed him all the nations of the world and the glory of them; and the devil said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

            ‘You shall worship the Sovereign your God,

            And God only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came and ministered to him.


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