Summary: Is there really evil in the world? Are we ready to resist evil?
Some questions are hard to answer. And they should be hard.
As a minister I stand before a bride and groom and ask, “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forth, as long as you both shall live?” Then I ask the groom a similar question.
There are couples who respond with joy and eagerness. They have been waiting for a long time to be able to publicly say YES to that question.
There are couples who respond with tears and quivering voices, because they know what is being asked of them.
There are couples who are so afraid of the question that they want to re-write their marriage vows, replacing a single word – ‘live’ becomes ‘love’ – and they simply promise to have and to hold as long as they both shall love.
So that when things get difficult and there is sickness and poverty and pain – one person can say to the other, “I don’t love you anymore,” and walk away.
Sometimes we want to water down our answers.
Sometimes we want to avoid answering the question.
It was President Clinton who came out with that memorable line, when asked a question he said, “It depends on what the definition of “is” is.
Whenever we do a baptism, we ask certain questions of the family.
The first question we ask is this -- "Do you renounce evil, and its power in the world, which defies God’s righteousness and love?"
I was with another minister recently and he said that this question embarrassed him.
“Why,” I asked. “Don’t you believe in evil?”
It was not acknowledging the existence of evil or the renouncing of evil’s power that made my friend feel uncomfortable. What embarrassed him was how easily people answer that question.
People should be answering that question the way couples answer their wedding vows. Some should do so with joy and eagerness, because they have waited so long for the opportunity to renounce evil.
Others should be answering with tears and quivering voices because they are aware of how serious this question is.
But we tend to answer with a quick, “We do.”
There is nothing serious happening here – but there should be.
This and the other baptism questions come from the earliest years of the Christian church’s history. In the early days the way the church would conduct the baptism service would be to go to the river, or lake, and stand at one end and answer these questions. Then they would move into the water for the baptism.
And when they answered that first question, "Do you renounce evil, and its power in the world, which defies God’s righteousness and love?" --the people coming for baptism would not only answer by saying, "I renounce them!"
They would also spit --- literally and physically. They would spit, as if spitting at Satan.
Now that strikes me as a frightening thing for these people to do -- to spit at Satan, because they believed so literally in the power and existence of Satan, that they firmly believed that if he wanted to, Satan could spit fire back at them.
But today, it is different.
We are sophisticated folks. And the question about renouncing evil and its power in the world now raises within us, not fear, but apathy – or at best – amused embarrassment.
It is not a very sophisticated philosophy to think of evil as a very real presence in the world, or as Satan as an actual being, or as demons as real creatures.
As children, most of us had no problem with this article of faith. We knew there was evil in the world. For most of us, evil was the monster that lived under our own bed, or the closet.
As teenagers, however, we grew more sophisticated and looked at evil as a source of entertainment. Stephen King books can make our hair stand on end. The Ring, the Saw, the good and gory scary movies can make us jump out of our seats and a murder flick with its gore and blood is still a popular type of video to rent for late Friday night viewing.
Then as adults, our view of evil became even more sophisticated and took on the view of superstition. To believe in evil is to believe in superstition, and no one wants to believe in anything superstitious.
But biblically speaking, evil does exist in the world, and there is an evil presence out there that needs to be renounced.
In our Old Testament Lesson, we read a behind the scenes account of why Job suffers. Job never learns what we learn in the opening chapter of his story.
The angels of heaven gather to present themselves before God, and with them is Satan. When God asks where he has come from, Satan answers, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."