Renounce and Sanctify--Another Sermon in the Aftermath of Massacre)

The readings for today can be found here

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Renounce and Sanctify


The service of baptism in the Episcopal Church includes what is known as the “examination” during which the individual being baptized (or parents and godparents on behalf of an infant or child being baptized) answers a series of questions, the first three of these are as follows:

Question
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer
I renounce them.


Question
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer
I renounce them.


Question
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
from the love of God?
Answer
I renounce them.




And, each and every time I engage in baptismal preparations with a family we get to this portion of the service and I explain that the first three of these questions are about what we are turning away from in baptism. And, that, as a church and as human beings we need language in order to attempt to understand very abstract concepts. And, so, the language about Satan is representative of this specific need—a need to be able to put a name to those things in the world which destroy and pervert the loving intention of our Creator and the unity of all people. 

So, we name evil Satan. And, there is power in having a name for evil. That’s part of what is going on in today’s Gospel—Jesus’ request for the demon’s name is a demonstration of power over this evil force. In the cultural context of the Gospel, knowing the name for the evil is power over the evil. 

Evil answers to many, many names.

 And, to know the name of the evil is to have power over it. 

Unnamed, evil thrives in the shadows and grows in strength. Eventually, the evil emerges, strengthened by the complacency of silence.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood

“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.”

Evil does not want to be seen.

But, part of naming the evil is seeing the evil. This requires confrontation and truth-telling. This requires strength. This requires looking closely into the things and the people we’d rather not see, and to ask challenging questions, of the structures and systems which have created a climate in which evil can grow unchallenged and unhindered. So by naming those evils, with names like, "complacency"; "racism"; and "homophobia", we begin the process by which those evils are overthrown. 

I see you, you have no power over me. And, in answer to the questions that have been posed—you are renounced! 

The answer to these questions about Satan and those forces which divide and destroy us is a public renunciation.  To renounce in this way is to refuse to recognize these powers, to refuse to support them, to literally turn away and cast aside. And having been named and without a willing audience to participate in the perpetration of evil, the evil consumes itself…

“the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank and was drowned”.

While this passage reflects a context in which the destruction of the swine is meant as a critique of Roman order in the region (and hence a particularly powerful political act in which an oppressive and feared government is challenged), it also demonstrates an understanding that evil can and will destroy itself when faced with true seeing. 

I renounce them.

I renounce them.

I renounce them.

Uttered three times, the renouncing becomes a sanctification of sorts. And, to sanctify is to make whole and holy. To sanctify is to claim something for God. To sanctify is to transform.

And renouncing becomes healing and from the place of renouncing we commit ourselves to the wholeness of God’s love.

Question
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your
Savior?
Answer
I do.


Question
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer
I do.

Having named evil, seen it, renounced it…we turn to a way of freely given grace and love and we answer, I do.

In the sermons I preach about baptism I usually emphasize the future commitment of the individual and the community—the “we will” about how we will strive to be moving forward. This is one of two places in the prayer book where the phrase “I do” appears. And, it is a statement of truth for the here and the now. I do trust Christ’s strength and love. I do turn to this new way.

I do.

And, in this trust, in this turning we are gifted strength…and in times like this I need strength. I need to know that I am not alone. I need to know that all of you stand with me.  And, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we all need these things. And, not only do we need them, all those who are hurting in this world need the same thing—there is a reason that God’s response to the despairing and afraid Elijah is to feed him—to strengthen him for the next part of his story. 

So, I hope today we will receive the gift of food, the gift of strength in the face of the evil that would rather we curl up under the broom tree and die. Those forces of evil need to know that we will not stand for it, we see them and name them and renounce them. This is our covenant, our promise to God and the world that we will allow nothing, no one, no law, no act to define us apart from the love and grace of God for all of humanity. 

And so I wish to encourage us all to draw upon this strength and be made brave by the freely given gift of grace and love.  I call upon us to see in the Gospel that continued and named truth that there is evil AND evil will lose! 

So, let’s be brave and continue to renounce evil, continue to name it and proclaim a different way. We cannot afford to tolerate those forces which deny the full humanity of all of God’s creatures because those are the very forces which destroy the creatures of God.

And so, in the aftermath of yet another massacre, are we brave enough to publically renounce evil, to point to those places where it cowers and proclaim love and light? Are we willing to make public the commitment we’ve made to God and another way?

A way of Christ, the way that calls us to to honor the dignity of every human being and seek and serve Christ in all persons. Amen. 

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For remembrance in prayer and for inspiration to justice.  

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 
And, because Jesus asks us to pray for those who persecute...
Omar Mateen


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