Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC
5th Sunday after Pentecost, 19 June 2016
Proper 7 Year C RCL: 1 Kings 19: 1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Fear possesses Elijah as he flees to the wilderness.
Demons possess the man among the tombs.
Both live isolated from family, friends,
& their communities.
|What does this mean? Read on!|
Each man could say the repeated verses [6 & 14] in our Psalm: “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
And why are you so disquieted within me?”
It takes God's intervention for each to be able to say (later) the other repeated verses [7 & 15]:
“Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, & my God.”
Both men are made in the image of God. You & I are made in God's image. They – we – are made for community. The Holy Trinity shows us how to live in holy community / holy relationship. Yet, like Elijah & the demoniac in our Gospel, we experience times of brokenness, times of isolation.
We can take comfort when we read scriptures like today's that show people who are scared, isolated, who have a heap of trouble, whose lives are a mess for whatever reason. These are ordinary people.
Yes, Elijah is a big famous, zealous prophet, who speaks truth to power & is responsible for the slaughter of 450 prophets of Ba'-al1 – that's Jezebel's God. He slaughters Jezebel's home team. Jezebel is out for revenge.
Big famous Elijah is human like us. He's scared & running for his life. He wants to die – just not at Jezebel's hands! He wants God to end his life. God would kill him mercifully. Jezebel will make him suffer.
As one Bible commentator says about this lesson: “This same prophet who boldly (confronts) kings is now (at) his lowest point...(This) man of God is still a mere man....(O)nly when the prophet is in this weak state (can) he...hear God in the stillness (& not in)...wind, earthquake & (fire)...God is there”2 in the stillness.
You may recall the pyrotechnics & water battle in Chapter 18 during Elijah's face off with the prophets of Ba'-al. Elijah has been God's man to show God's power in spectacular ways. Now, God's interaction shifts to subtlety. As Bible professor & commentator Jon Levenson says, “Elijah must learn to heed the almost imperceptible signal within & not to rely on...(God's) dramatic intervention...”3
As another Bible commentator says, “We see the prophet in his humanity like never before...(in) extreme fear, severe depression...4 At this low point, God asks: 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' He says: 'I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, & killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, & they are seeking my life, to take it away.'"
God has Elijah experience great wind, earthquake & fire – natural elements with which Elijah has demonstrated God's power, yet these elements do not hold God's spirit5. After the fire comes “a sound of sheer silence”.
In awe, Elijah wraps his face in his mantle, goes out of the cave where he's hiding, stands at the entrance & hears a voice repeat God's question: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Again Elijah answers as he did before, using the exact words when he was in despair.
Elijah gives the same answer after he hears God in the stillness because his tough situation is the same. What has changed is Elijah. Now he knows God is with him6. He can go forward.
Like Elijah, the man in our Gospel can go forward after his encounter with Jesus. Before this he is like Elijah: running scared in the wilderness of the tombs – alone, isolated. This man is possessed by a Legion of demons.
Perhaps we hear the name Legion differently than do Jesus' followers, who are well acquainted with the many men of the Roman Legion who occupy their land. They know what it feels like to be possessed by a Legion, to be controlled by invaders so strong that no matter what you do – chains & shackles of a peace treaty, taxes & bribes – won't stop them, won't free you from the Legions' control. Only God's power can do that.
God's grace can free us. God can free us no matter what “Legion” oppresses or possesses us:
abuse, physical & mental illnesses, finances, unemployment, alcohol, drugs, broken relationships.7
God's power, God's grace, can renew & restore us to fuller life, to renewed relationship through Jesus, God's Living Word.
Do we want to be free? Do we want this new, fuller life God offers us? Living in new ways is scary. Look at how the people react when they see the man in his right mind, renewed, clothed: Fear seizes them! Why? Why do they ask Jesus to leave? Go away! Jesus, Go Away!
Jesus honors their request. Jesus will leave you alone if you ask. And he's likely to send someone you will listen to who is less scary. Jesus doesn't give up on us. He gives us work to do. He lovingly tells the man who had been demon-possessed to return to his people & share the Good News. His people are in the depths of fear where is it is hard to hear God. The fearful can hear their healed brother.
Sometimes we have to get to a really low point before we can hear God. Sometimes all the human efforts – like chaining & shackling the demoniac – do not free us. Healing, wholeness, freedom come from Jesus' strong, loving voice – whose ever voice Jesus uses. Often Jesus speaks through us.
However God speaks through you, however God speaks to you, know this: God loves you.
All are welcome into God's love.
Here is a spelling test8 for some of the attributes we can develop to hear God & to be the voice that speaks' God's love to our Brothers & Sisters:
Helpful Engaging Ready Attentive Forgiving Teacher
[Helpers, can you arrange them to spell a special word for today?]
God our attentive Father in Heaven,
God the Son Jesus, who forgives us,
God the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things,
God the Holy Trinity is our Helpful, Engaging, Ready, Attentive,
Forgiving, Teacher, who entrusts us & guides us in God's work of reconciling all people to God.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
“Give Me an F”. http://www.sermons4kids.com/givemeanF.html Accessed: 16 June 2016.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. Inc. 2001.
Nam, Roger. “Commentary on 1 Kings 19:1-4[5-7]8-15a”. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1719.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger.
Rogness, Michael. “Commentary on Luke 8:26-39”. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1719.
1 New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. P. 446.
2 Nam, Roger. “Commentary on 1 Kings 19: 1-4, (5-7), 8-15a”. The Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1719.
3 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. P. 90.
4 Ibid. Nam.
5 Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. P. 57.
6 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. P. 717.
7 Idea from: If we define “demons” as those forces which have captured us and prevented us from becoming what God intends us to be, we are as surrounded by -- yes, possessed by -- as many demons as those whom Jesus encountered. Our demons can be of many kinds: mental illnesses, schizophrenia, paranoia, addictions, obsessions, destructive habits, and so on.” Rogness, Michael. “Commentary on Luke 8:26-39.” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1719.