Worship Teaching, October 31, 2009

Living Each Day Like It’s Halloween
Teaching Summary from October 31
My relationship with Halloween has been evolving over the years, just like everything else is evolving in my life.  I loved dressing up as a cowboy, fireman or policeman and going door-to-door to get candy as a kid.  Somewhere in my college or young adult years, I came under conviction that Halloween should be a holiday that good Christians avoided due to its glorification of the dark side and playful interaction with occult practices.  I’ve noticed that Christians of certain persuasions have attempted to “redeem” the Halloween season by trying to scare the “hell” out of people by hosting “Judgment Houses” at their churches where they lead people through an end-time version of a haunted house where they see the lost being sent to everlasting punishment. 
But if you know me at all and are aware of my warped mind, it probably won’t surprise you that now I’m convinced that our world would be a better place if we started living every day as if it was Halloween.  Before you find a priest to do an exorcism on your computer, give me a chance to explain. 
Halloween’s roots are traced to a harvest festival practiced in the Celtic tradition.  The Celts believed that there was boundary between mortal humans and immortal spirits.  But at this time of year, they believed the boundary became so thin that the spirits could enter into the domain of humans.  This, therefore, became a day of high anticipation and great dread.  Anticipation–because people believed that their ancestors would come and visit their homes; so they prepared their home for their arrival.  Dread–because evil spirits could also come to them; so they put skulls on window sills and dressed up and put on scary masks to make the evil spirits believe that the humans, too, were evil spirits and would leave them alone.
So this holiday is rooted in this sense of the supernatural visiting the natural; of ultimate good and ultimate evil breaking into everyday life.  For the celebrants, it was a day to be highly aware that there were forces out there beyond their grasp, beyond their understanding and beyond their control.  Obviously, it is a good thing for people to move beyond pagan superstition into a more rational, scientific approach to life.  But by doing so, one can throw the baby out with the bath water.  Because even though your dead cousins aren’t going to show up at your house and ghosts, ghouls and zombies aren’t going to try to steal your soul, there are forces out there of which one should be aware.  See, today, we live in a society where we prefer to not have to think about ultimate realities and things beyond our control.  We like to think that we can manage things ourselves.  We also don’t like to think about good and evil being realities in our world, or if we do, we only like to think of them in relation to us–we’re good, other people and other situations are evil.  We’d rather rationalize what we do or don’t do based upon our circumstances at the time without assigning a moral equivalency to our action or inaction.  But what could change if we returned to an understanding and appreciation that there are things beyond our control?  What if we understood that there was a greater cosmic reality than just what happens in our little sphere of life?  What if we began to see things, even things in our own lives, as good or evil? 
If God is real and we understand him as real, some things would change.  If evil, and its personification, the devil, is real, we might begin to realize that there is something trying to destroy us.
First, what would change if people understood that the Spirit of God was all around them, among them and within them?  When Paul visited Athens, he said to the philosophers, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28, NIV).  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,’ or `There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17.20, 21, NIV).  The powerful truth that Jesus revealed to the world was that God was not someone separate, apart or distant.  He was close, very close.  Not just pagans, but even Jewish religion had a misinformed or ignorant understanding of God.  They saw God’s presence on earth limited to the inner “box” of the temple in Jerusalem.  When Jesus died on the cross, the earth shook and the curtain that separated the inner box from the rest of the temple was torn apart, speaking to the truth that God was not and never was contained by that box.  He was everywhere, with everyone and at work in everyone.  God is not a being that we must try to convince to enter our lives–he’s already here.  And he is full of love, grace and mercy.  He has adopted us as his sons and daughters.  He is as present in our lives as the air we breathe.  This knowledge can and will change our lives.  Check out 1 John 4.13-18, NIV:

    We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Knowing that we live in God and he in us is a stabilizing and empowering force for our lives.  We rely on his love.  We’re freed by his love.  And notice, there is no fear of judgment when we know we live in his love.  Fear is driven out by love.  Therefore, an awareness of good and evil means we don’t have to fear whether we’ll be good enough or if our “house is in order” to be accepted by God.  And, we don’t have to fear what evil may try to do to us because good triumphs over evil.  In fact, we are encouraged by Paul in Ephesians 6.10-18:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powersof this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

In light of the goodness and love of God, we need to confront the evils that mess up our lives, mess up relationships with others and mess up our communities.  We need to be willing to look at our passion-less marriages and the lack of passion (not our spouse) as evil and gear up to overthrow that evil and restore health and romance into our relationship.  We need to call our casual neglect of our kids what it is–evil–and march into that evil and engage our children again.  We need to call living on credit a most dastardly practice, worthy of our greatest loathing, and wage war on our debt.  In our communities, where there is poverty, it is a call to arms.  Where there is prejudice and separation, it is a mandate for militant, loving action.  Where there are addictions, it is time to storm the prison and free people from their captivity.  Evil must be vanquished.

To stay mindful of God’s true presence among us and to stay alert to driving evil out, we need the support of each other.  Two choice pieces of counsel:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, NIV

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  Hebrews 3.12-14, NIV

The most communal day in my neighborhood is Halloween night when everybody’s outside either taking their kids around the neighborhood or setting up hot chocolate, popcorn and cookie tables in their driveways to attract the families to their homes.  If you want to get to know people in our neighborhood, you better be out and about on Halloween.  What if we lived our lives in the recognition that we become more aware of the supernatural, both good and evil, when we face life together?  We would help each other stay firmly anchored in the knowledge that we are immersed in the loving Spirit of God and we would help each other stay motivated, and, at times, team up to overthrow evil and replace it with good.  Community is a must for staying in the awareness of God’s presence and for maintaining courage for the battles to come.

Happy Halloween!

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