June 19, 2016
1 Kings 19:1-17 (selected); Luke 8:26-39
What is going on in the world?! 49 people, mostly queers (which is how many in the LGBTQ community refer to themselves), are shot and killed at the Pulse, a night club in Orlando; a singer from the popular TV show The Voice is shot and killed; a young woman is brutally raped while she is passed out, her life is changed forever, and the assailant may spend 3 months in jail. And those are just a very few stories we’ve heard recently. Stories that break God’s heart.
Then there’s the 100s of thousands of people—mostly young, mostly female—who are sold and used as sex slaves every year, in the U.S. and in other parts of the world; 100s of thousands of refugees who are starving, who are burying their children and elderly and people of all ages, really, and who have little hope of a better life.
Have you ever wondered “What is going on in the world?!” What is God doing? “Where is God? Or, perhaps you’ve wondered, like the Psalmist does in so many places, “How long, O God, must we wait?”
Ever thought anything like that?
I have. I do.
That’s exactly what Elijah was thinking when he said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life . . .”
The demoniacs question to Jesus, that we heard earlier, is very similar: “What business do you have messing with me, anyway?”
Does any of this sound familiar? I’m guessing that I’m not the only one that can relate.
It’s not difficult to understand Elijah. After all, he’d challenged the prophets of the King’s court to a duel, so to speak, of sending down fire to consume a sacrifice. Then, he proceeded to not only win, but humiliate the prophets in front of many people. The king and queen were not happy.
So, Elijah ran. He ran for his life. He left what had been the security of home.
When he finally stopped from exhaustion and sleeps, an angel wakes him up with food provided by God. Not once, but twice. It’s after Elijah has been nourished that God asks him, “What are you doing here?”
The truth is, Elijah was hoping to hide from God and God’s call on his life. But Elijah answers, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life . . .” And he goes on to whine about how no one else in all of Israel is following God; that it’s all been left up to poor Elijah. So, he just wants to die. He can’t do it anymore.
Even after God speaks to him in that still, small voice, and asks him again why he’s there, Elijah responds with the complaint that no one knows the trouble he’s seen.
God doesn’t buy it. God gives Elijah instructions to return to Israel and to anoint Elisha as his successor after he anoints the kings—one from the north kingdom and one from the south.
Elijah was told to go back the way he had come; to go back home; back to the place where people were who wanted to kill him.
And he went.
Just ask the man in the graveyard, the one who had been controlled for so long by the demons and now sat at Jesus’ feet “in his right mind.” He had been living a life of death, living in a graveyard, naked, on his own, outside of the community. A community that didn’t want him. He, like Elijah, was away from the security of home. Then, Jesus said to back home. And, as far as we know, he went.
Going back home, though, isn’t always easy. Elijah’s life had been threatened back home; and the man in the graveyard had to wonder if anyone could ever believe that he had been transformed by this man, Jesus.
But, God went with them. The same God that Elijah was trying to run away from went with Elijah back to Israel, back into the danger. Elijah was not alone, even though he had said that he was. And that same God, was in the power of Jesus Christ, the one who had healed the man. Both knew they had been changed by the power of God.
Part of the reason I think both felt the power of God was because God came to them where they were. God accepted them as they were. God came to Elijah when Elijah was running away, not only from those who would bring him death, but also from God. And then, God came to Elijah in an unexpected way, a still, small voice. And Elijah heard and believed.
Jesus came to the man in the graveyard where he was: in a graveyard, naked, out of his mind. This man was considered unclean in almost every way possible, yet Jesus came to him where he was. Jesus, too was beyond the security of his home. He was in Gentile territory, away from the security of home. He’s in a place where no sensible, God-fearing Jewish man would go—in a graveyard near a naked man who is possessed. All of that, and so much more in this story, was considered unclean by the Jews. But there’s Jesus.
Someone has said that in this story we see “a power loose in the world even greater than the powers of death and confusion.” It’s the same power we saw throughout Elijah’s story.
A power greater than the powers of death and confusion. I love that phrase.
But do we believe there is such a power? I mean really believe it? A bet-your-life-on-it type of belief.
Do we believe it when we hear about 50 people being gunned down just because they are different? Or when a 22-year-old young woman is shot and killed by an obsessed fan? Or when a young woman is assaulted and raped and the person in power does not think it is important enough for the assailant to get more than 3 months jail time?
Do we really believe that God’s power is stronger than the power of those people who buy and sell other people as sex slaves? Or those who have forced families to live in refugee camps? Is God’s power really stronger than that?
What do you think?
One thing that I think is that we forget about God’s power. All the time. We think it’s somehow up to us to fix things. We think it all depends on our deeds. We take on God’s work.
Read Galatians 3:25, 28-29:
“Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the law. . . . There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
We are related to God through faith in Jesus Christ, not our deeds, our achievements; but by the grace of God. Not by law, but by God’s promise. Not by our faithfulness, but by God’s faithfulness.
Paul knew that; Jesus knew that; the man in the graveyard believed it; and even Elijah believed it. Do we?
Sure we do. Since we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, we have made a choice. A choice to believe in the God of all creation. That God is in power and will have the final say. God’s “yes” is stronger than the world’s “no.” God’s “life” is stronger than the world’s “death.”
Now that faith has come, we, too, walk with God. We too choose to walk out of the life of fear that so easily controls us, and into the life of “all life”—God’s life of love and hope through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And now that faith has come, we—like Elijah and the man in the graveyard—go back to where God is calling us, to where we can share the healing message of life, love and hope to all of God’s creation.
So Be It. Amen.