Aug. 23, 2009
Rev. Nadine Cotton
Open your Bible
Lead Me, Lord
Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?
Evil and false things are absolutely opposed to good and true things because
evil and false things are demonic and hellish, while good and true things are
divine and heavenly. On first hearing, everyone will admit that evil and
good are opposites, and that the distortions of evil are opposite to the
truth of what is good. However, the whole feeling and consequent sense
of people who are engaged in evil pursuits is that evil is good. Evil gratifies
their senses, especially sight and hearing, and therefore it also gratifies
their thoughts and consequently their perceptions. Because of this,
while they do recognize that evil and good are opposites, as long as they
are engaged in evil they call evil good and good evil because of their
I passed a church sign the other day which read: Baptist Church presents "Heaven's Gates or Hell's Flames." Free admission!
Humans struggle with evil. I have had a hard time with people that claim they don’t believe in evil. I don’t care if they call it an absence of positive energy or give it another name, evil exists. Evil is caused by people shutting down from or turning away from love and goodness and wisdom – or from God. If you have lived in this world for any length of time, I bet you have cried out in despair at some evil that has transpired in the world. Senseless drive by shootings? How about robberies and murders for nothing more than a pair of tennis shoes? Evil is in the news every day. Humans struggle with evil.
Swedenborg had much to say about seeing evils, rejecting them, and abstaining from them as sins against the Lord, and that in proportion as one shuns evils, one can do good. But we need to see the evil and definitely not deny its existence.
Thoreau once said- "He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with evil." we must not be content with shunning personal evil. We have a responsibility for social evil as well. We may not be causing evil directly, but we need to do our part to end it. For Thoreau, civil disobedience--that is, refusing to obey a law that is unjust--would be the same as shunning evils.
Evil is not evil just because it is against the law or because it is morally, ethically, and civilly unjust. It is evil because it separates us from God--which means that it also separates us from the best in ourselves. Our actions have consequences, and it is these consequences that make the difference between good and evil.
There is a little more to it than that, though. Our actions have consequences in two basic directions--inward and outward. The outward is how it affects another or others. The inward consequence is that we shut off or close down and remove ourselves from God’s presence.
With these thoughts about evil in mind, I want to share with you about a problem in Florida, in our backyard area of Immokalee. The agricultural industry in Florida is, unfortunately and to our nation’s shame, filled with abuse of the migratory workers that pick the crops of tomatoes and oranges. The abuse and lack of rights for these people is so bad that there is also the evil of slavery happening! Slavery in the US of A. Abe Lincoln must be crying over this. All his hard work and it is here again! 7 convicted court cases of slavery since 1997
The 13th amendment, added to the constitution in 1865 forever abolished slavery in the USA, it is a crime to hold slaves, to force people to do another’s bidding against their will. This was a long hard fought battle of civil war, it tore our nation apart and it took many decades for those affected to recover from this tragedy of evil. And yet even with all of this, slavery continues in our nation! And it continues in the world – an estimated 27million are enslaved.
What is this evil that possesses humans to want to control, use and abuse other people? This evil is a perversion of our natural love to want to have an impact, an effect on others. It is in the most basic love of needing attention from others to live. The love of dominion is talked about a lot by Swedenborg.
Arcana Celestia 10814 - Love of dominion from the Lord and heaven uses that love to teach and guide others with how they ought to live, does good for them, and as far as they can, gives them of their own. There is the dominion of love towards the neighbor, among those who are wise from faith in and love to God; for these, love the neighbor.
But then there is the love of dominion from a selfish place, from self-love, that shuts off God’s good intentions. Usually there is a struggle within us; we want to do good things and we don’t want our selfishness or our need for control over others to be dominant in our actions.
This struggle against the love of dominion (from self-love), against evil or from the shutting off of God’s good intentions--is a universally human struggle. You and I are daily struggling with it. We naturally want to have others serve our wants and goals. We want to be in control of our little world. Sometimes, this takes the common form of wanting what we want when we want it. It is the hell of domineering against God's ideal of serving others.
We may not always overcome the attacks of the hell of domineering. And obviously there are some here in Immokalee who are living in this hell and victimizing and creating a living hell for the ones they have enslaved.
The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a particularly powerful story. "Let my people go" from Exodus has been the watchword of the enslaved, the voice of deep longings for freedom. The exodus story has much to tell us about our inner spiritual lives, also. It tells us how we can become enslaved to selfish desires and stay too long in a place that once fed us. This place eventually becomes a snare to us and to the growth in loving and wise directions that we need for our spirit. It takes the hand of God to break us free from that place.
Humans struggle with evil. It is much easier to be righteous from a distance or when we are the ones oppressed than when we have gained power over others. In fact, if we follow the biblical story long enough, we find the prophets berated their own people for oppressing the poor, the widows, and the orphans. The once enslaved Israelites had become the enslavers.
Evil ensnares us through our loves. I don’t believe most people set out to hurt, oppress or do evil to others. Evil becomes the product of listening to those thoughts in our heads that discount the needs of others; the thoughts that proclaim our rights for what we want. When confronted with the abusive treatment of the migratory workers and the need to better their conditions, an agricultural farm industry owner replied that the tractor should not tell the farmer how to run their fields! He dehumanized the workers, in his mind, to separate himself from their plight.
Humans struggle with evil. But the good news is that we have the Lord to lean on and the Lord always overcame evil. He defeated the hells that threatened our very free choice. And now his victories can be ours, too. If we turn to God’s help when we are faced with our own evils. God will comfort you, if you turn to God in your struggles and temptations.
One Sunday after church a Mom asked her very young daughter what the Sunday school lesson was about. Her daughter answered "Don't be scared, you'll get your quilts." Needless to say, this mom was very perplexed. Later in the day, the Sunday school teacher called, about something coming up in a few weeks. Mom asked her what that morning's Sunday school lesson was about. She said "Be not afraid, thy comforter is coming."
Jesus could deal with evil because he knew what it destroyed. His actions were never negative, never simply reacting to something that had already happened, and that could therefore not be changed. There was always a goal in mind, a good to be attained.
This provides us with a genuinely helpful guideline in our own dealings with evil, both in ourselves and in our world. In our world and especially I hope within our back yards, With prayer and action, we should do what we can to stop evil from continuing, and especially not deny that evil even exists. With as much love and wisdom as possible we need to confront evil actions, stop it as we are able, and help all (including the perpretrator of hurt towards others) to find a way to live without the shame of the evil.
In our inner worlds, we need to ask for God’s help to shun evil actions and intentions, and cast away our evil thoughts – As Jesus said: “Satan, get thee behind me.” - When we do this, our opposition to the evil is both more resolute and wiser, and our sight is both clearer and more compassionate for ourselves and for others.
Humans struggle with evil. God knows that it takes more than civil laws for humans to stop hurting others and themselves. It takes a true intention from us and guidance from God to stop evil and to build up God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?
Is anything worth more than your soul? Amen. AHO.