In the late 60s and 70s, there were three black comedians who ruled all things funny. This was long before Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Steve Harvey. If you’re over 50, take a guess before you read the next sentence.
You got it, good for you! Your pop culture memory for all things trivial remains in tact. The answer of course is Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and my personal favourite, Flip Wilson. (Yes, there is an argument to be made for Redd Foxx, but he never really cracked the race divide the way the other three were able to.)
I loved Flip Wilson partly because my Mom would let me stay up late to watch his show. We got two channels on the old black and white, and God love us Flip was on one of them.
Part of the attraction was that every show he would dress up in drag and talk about some kind of trouble he got himself into. And then he’d yell out the disclaimer that made him famous.
“The devil made me do it!"
The audience would erupt, as did those present in our living room. It was as hilarious to a 10 year old as it was to my Mom and Dad. No matter what kind of debauched thing you do, you can always just blame it on the devil. Outrageous!
Great comedy is always based on some kind of life truth. That’s what makes it funny. People can in some real way relate to it. So when Flip Wilson delivers the tag-line, there’s a part of each one of us that knows what it’s like to have the devil inside of you. You know what it’s like having something inside that is capable of pushing you over the edge. It’s equal parts hysterical and deeply profound.
So here's the thing. Christian people do believe in the devil. A biblical synonym for devil is the word "evil". And, we do believe that the devil makes us do certain things. It’s clearly laid out in the bible. It’s presented so simply that when we read it we think “Yup, that’s true of me. Like it or not, that’s a part of who I am.”
And that goes for all people. The words are universally recognized. Not just by those from a Christian value set, but anybody, from any religion, background, or race. Rich and poor, men and women, vegans or meat eaters, Leafs fans and Leaf haters. It runs the gamet. We all know who this devil is, and how close she is to you. (Oh sorry, I though you wanted me to use the feminine pronoun on occasion instead of always “he”) OK then, how close “he” is to you. Take your pick.
Let me ask you this. It is easy or hard to find evil around you? There are things we can all point to and say "That's just not right. There's no good in that." We all know that poverty is real. We see children who are caught in war. We see racism that just seems relentless. I remember reading an article a couple of years ago about the sex trade in Thailand. Businessmen from the west go over just for that purpose, the child sex trade. Today, we know that same trade is flourishing in Canada. No more having to travel, it's right in your back yard.
And you think “There are things in this world that just aren’t what they should be. What is the power behind that?"
Evil is recognized to be real in the Bible. Jesus certainly believed evil to be real. He taught his followers to pray “Deliver us from evil.” And so, we wonder, what is the source of evil, and, how do we deal with it? The larger question is “Can we do anything about evil? Do we have the power to stop evil?" If so, it would be good to know how that works.
So, here’s the most important aspect of evil outlined in the bible. This is what all people recognize as being true. And this is what all people recognize as being the source of the vast majority of the afore mentioned evil in the world.
It's from Galatians chapter 5 in the New Testament. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and the like.
Is there anyone reading this that hasn't experienced most of those things, if not all of them? Who doesn’t know what it’s like to feel lust? Or selfish ambition? Or envy? Or greed? Of course we do. Is there anyone who doesn’t know how easy it is to hate instead of love? Anyone who struggles with sharing what they have instead of keeping what they have for themselves?
The 80s band INXS was no bastion of purity or wisdom, but they were dead on when they sang “Devil inside, devil inside, every single one of us, got the devil inside.”
Of course, this isn’t the end of the message. The Good News is, Galatians 5 ends with the other side of the coin. The things the Spirit of God brings are the complete opposite. Goodness. Gentleness. Kindness. Self control. And Love.
For Jesus, the devil can’t make you do anything. It’s up to you to decide. There are two roads to walk. The narrow and the wide. One’s harder to walk on, but it leads to Life. It’s your choice.
Please know that Jesus himself lived with the same struggle. He heard the same voice we do that tempted him to take the other road. Please know that the same power that helped Jesus will help you.
Jesus called this power the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes up alongside you and is your Helper. The Spirit is your Comforter and your Counsellor. The Holy Spirit is God with us.
That’s why we, along with every church around the world, leave the gathering with these words growing inside of us.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Spirit shine down upon you, and abide in you, and bring you Peace.
Both now and forever. AMEN