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A number of years ago now, the African-American comedian Flip Wilson created the character,

Geraldine. Flip as Geraldine was loud, brash and outspoken. “She” talked about her boy friend,

Killer, if I remember right, and was always talking about how the devil made her do things. She went

into the store and bought way too much, and to explain her behavior she’d get this sly grin on her face

and say, “The Devil made me do it.” Geraldine wasn’t responsible. It wasn’t her fault she bought too

much or flirted with the good looking waiter, or did what she knew she wasn’t supposed to do. She

wasn’t to blame. “The Devil made me do it.”

I think of Geraldine when I read this morning’s text about the “power of darkness.” When we read

that passage, when we read about powers, it may be that we think of the Devil that caused Geraldine

to do what she probably really wanted to do any way. We may not take the power of evil, the power

of darkness personified in Satan all that seriously. We may not think all that much about the power of

darkness. When Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor

angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor

anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our

Lord,”1 if we think about the powers, we may simply think about our modern idea of the devil

personified in Geraldine’s devil. It’s the devil making us do what we don’t want to do, know we

shouldn’t do, but do anyway because we kind of want to do what we know we shouldn’t.

That, of course, wasn’t how the people of Jesus’ day would’ve thought. “The readers of this letter to

the Colossians lived in a world under the grip of something called ‘the powers.’ Their world was run

by invisible forces quite beyond their control. The gods of the sea determined the success or failure of

sea voyages. If you were fighting a war, you had better offer a sacrifice to the god Mars, god of war.

The principalities and powers were not far away. They were behind, or above, every single event in

1 1. Romans 8:38 [Bolding mine]


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the visible world and controlled the destinies of humanity.”2

It’s easy for us today to dismiss this kind of thinking. “We’re beyond that,” we say to ourselves. We

don’t believe there are “gods” in the heaven controlling what we do on earth. Many today, even

Christians, don’t believe in any power of darkness – some dark, evil force, certainly not in our picture

of the devil holding some pitch fork and stoking the fires of hell.

Yet before we stray too far, think back to downtown Chico during Halloweens, another place where

we seem to run into costumed “devils.” Think of the behavior, the fights, the stabbings, the attempted

rapes, the riot or near riot. Do we blame all that on alcohol and drugs? While those things certainly

play a part, I would argue there’s more involved than drinking.

Another example. Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a

World of Domination, writes: “Think...of a riot at a soccer game, in which, for a few frenzied minutes,

people who in their ordinary lives behave quite decently on the whole suddenly find themselves

bludgeoning and even killing opponents whose only sin was rooting for the other team. Afterwards

people often act bewildered, and wonder what could have possessed them.”3

Or, Wink writes: “Visitors to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s spoke of the palpable evil in the ‘air,’ of

a pervading ‘atmosphere’ that hung over the entire land, full of foreboding and menace. Those who

leave South Africa (this book was written before the fall of apartheid) remark on the sense of an

enormous weight of anxiety and tension that drops off their shoulders as the plane leaves South

African airspace. People who remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will still

recall a feeling of darkness over the face of the nation that lasted for days. These ‘spirits’,” Wink

writes, “are real, but they are not independent operatives from on high; they are the actual spirituality
2 2. Willimon, William H., “Fight the Powers,” November 25, 2007, Pulpit Resource,
Vol. 35, No. 4; Year C & A; October, November, December 2007, p. 42.

3 3. Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of


Domination, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1992, p. 9.
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of the nations involved, and the sheer intensity of evil renders them, for a brief time, almost visible.”4

We’re not talking here about personal beings, devils in the sky, so to speak. We’re not talking about

some “Riot Demon” that leaped down from the sky upon the soccer crowd and caused the riot, and

then rocketed back up into the heavens. Rather we’re talking about “something intrinsic to the social

situation: a ‘spirituality’ that crystallized suddenly, precipitated by the conjunction of an outer

permissiveness, heavy drinking, a violent ethos, a triggering incident, and the inner violence of the

fans.” We’re talking about a spirituality, an evil spirituality, that simply dissipates as the crowd

scatters, is subdued or is arrested.5

Just because we don’t talk about the power of darkness doesn’t mean this power doesn’t exist. Just

because we laugh at the character of the devil in his red cape doesn’t mean that evil isn’t alive and

well as much today as ever. Wink suggests that the power of darkness is wrapped up in the violence

of our time. He writes, “Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world.

It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to

death. . . Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the

last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and

on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives. It secured us forty-five years of a

balance of terror. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.”6 Wink calls this the myth of

Redemptive Violence.

This system of Redemptive Violence came out of the Babylonian religion’s creation myth from around

1250 B.C.E., though the tradition is considerably older. I don’t have time this morning to go through

the myth of the male Apsu, and the female Tiamat, but in the Babylonian’s creation story, all creation

4 4. Wink, p. 8.

5 5. Wink, p. 9.

6 6. Wink, p. 13.
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came out of the corpse of Tiamat, came out of violence. This story of creation out of violence spread

as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, and India. 7 “For these cultures,

humanity is created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our

blood. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates

it....Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence; order must continually be

imposed upon us from on high”8 – which is the task of earthly rulers and kings. Do we have any doubt

that we live in a world dominated by a system of violence, a system that can act for the benefit of

humanity at times, but where still the powerful rule over the weak, the rich over the poor, men over

women, whites over other races? We live in a world controlled by the power of darkness which acts

through this system of violence. “[Again], before you dismiss this talk about principalities and

powers, ask the question, ‘Who runs our world?’ The politicians who parade about on the evening

news? We think of them as powerful people. But they say that they are victims of ‘forces beyond our

control.’ When we complain about the fix we’re in, we’re told ‘The economy’ is to blame. What is

that? Ever seen ‘the economy?’ It is the power that determines our well being, pulls our string, gives

us happiness or misery, even though you can’t see it. That’s the language we use. We can’t touch and

see the ‘economy’ or ‘capital trends,’ we can’t touch ‘terrorism’ or the ‘global market’ but these

‘powers’ call the shots.”9 Is the world any different from that of the Colossians to whom Paul wrote? I

don’t think so.

So it’s more than good news when we read, “He [God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and

transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of

sins.” According to the creation account in Genesis, everything was created good – not out of

7 7. Wink, pp. 14-15.

8 8. Wink, p. 15.

9 9. Willimon, p. 42.
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violence as the Babylonian myth teaches. The world and all that was in it – including humanity – was

good. But we abandoned our obedience to God. We gave in to the powers of the world. We gave in

to the myth that violence is the only solution to all the problems we face.

Paul reminds us that this isn’t God’s desire for us. Jesus came, took on the principalities and powers

and to defeated them. “Jesus lived and taught a way of being human which challenged the powers.

The powers said: ‘Live and die for the almighty dollar!’ Jesus said you can’t serve God and mammon.

The powers said get a big gun and use it; that’s the only way to get things done. Jesus said that those

who take the sword perish by the sword. The powers said that Caesar was the most powerful ruler in

the world. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God. The powers whipped us into line by threat of military

force, Jesus ruled as a bleeding lamb upon a throne.”10

And the power of darkness rose up and captured Jesus in the garden, took him before the religious

leaders and the government leaders, condemned him to death, nailed him to a cross until he died,

buried him in a tomb and thought it was done with him, thought it was victorious. The system of

violence had won in appeared. Nothing can beat the power of darkness, the power of violence.

But NO. Those powers of darkness did not win. The cross was not the symbol of victory for those

powers, but is the symbol of victory of Jesus over death. It’s the symbol of the victory of Jesus’ defeat

of the powers of lust and greed and fear and all the rest. The powers of darkness – go along to get

along, get a gun, get a fat bank account, the end justifies the means – these powers were defeated on

the cross. They have no power over me, and no power over you.

And every time we bow our heads in prayer to the Lord our God, we are saying in great joy and with

great defiance, Jesus Christ is Lord, and the “power of darkness” is not. Every time we bow our head

and say a blessing before our meal, we’re saying that the food that we eat is a gift of God, and not an

achievement of our savvy economic mastery. Every time we gather together to worship in this place
10 10. Willimon, pp. 42-43.
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or any other place, we are celebrating the victory of Jesus Christ over the power of darkness, and are

proclaiming to the world that Christ is victorious.11

This is our calling as Christians – to proclaim to the world that there are indeed powers of darkness in

the world today, powers of darkness that we ignore or disbelieve at a terrible cost. It’s our calling as

Christians to proclaim the truth of the power of Violence that lives in the world, but even more, to

proclaim that Jesus Christ has defeated that power. We’re to proclaim to the world that “God has

rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in

whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Thanks be to God.

11 11. Willimon, p. 43.


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