I Kings 19:1-15
Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
But you may be feeling a little heavy right now, after hearing the texts for today. We talked about that as we were reading through these texts at Bible exploration on Tuesday. We noted that Elijah is the definition of desperate. And, though we didn’t read it this morning, know that the psalmist repeatedly begs God to come to her aid. This man of the Gerasenes is tormented by demons and abandoned by his community.
And this is a little confusing, because recently, it was Easter, and more recently Pentecost, and so we’re all joyously resurrected and we’re empowered by the fire of the Holy Spirit! Right!? But sometimes it can feel like that sort of…wears off after a while. And so in these stories, we get a look at what life looks like when we’re in need of resurrection and in need of the Holy Spirit’s cleansing fire. When we just get stuck in the stuff of life. When we feel so low, or so broken, or so outcast. When there’s just a rut we can’t quite get out of. When the responsibilities of everyday life just feel like chaos. When we feel we’ve exhausted all the possibilities and there’s just no energy to continue.
In our story from I Kings, Elijah has just run out into the desert, fleeing for his life, and feels like all is lost and that he just could not possibly go any further. But God has a different idea about that. God nourishes Elijah and sends him out to a new city to do a new thing. And we’re hip to that this year! It’s the ELCA’s year of Always Being Made New. In everything that we’re doing this year (and every year) God is making all things new. God is taking the exhaustion of our lives and restoring us to the whole, full people that God created us to be.
But it’s not so simple. For this man among the Gerasenes, whose demons have caused him to be chained and shackled and left in the darkest corner of his community, “always being made new” seems far from reality. He is constantly tormented by the legion of demons in his mind, and by the rejection he’s received from the people around him.
They fear him. And he probably fears himself. His anguish is so overpowering that he breaks the chains that the people have bound him in. He lives in the tombs, among the dead, the furthest from his society it is possible to be. They have, essentially, left him for dead. So it is not just him, but also them, who need to be healed and restored to wholeness. Most human communities are guilty of relegating some group to the outskirts.
This is not specific to the Gerasenes, nor is it specific to the Galatians. This portion of Paul’s letter includes some of his more famous words. It is written that we are no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are one in the body of Christ. Paul would not have written this if the community at Galatia was a model of inclusivity. Clearly, they’re struggling with the desire to use the law to exclude people from the Christian community. In this new community, the only law is radical love—everyone is welcome to the table.
Theologian and author Jim Rice has put the words right in my mouth. He writes, “Christ has rendered obsolete the practice of separating and judging on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious lineage, gender, economic status, or class. The human tendency to divide and denigrate is deeply ingrained, but God's way of equality and unity is the new order of things. The consequences of that profound revelation are still unfolding.”
And that could not be more true. There are ills that plague us as individuals and as communities. And we have a problem not only with the original divisions but with the solutions to the divisions! We have found ever-deeper ways to alienate one another, with divisions that are not from God but are of human creation and human misunderstanding.
And so like this man, we need not only to be healed of our demons and restored to the community of care that surrounds us, but also like the Gerasenes as a whole, our communities need to be made aware of the profound ways in which we separate ourselves from one another, and we need to be reconciled and restored.
Proclaiming that the radically equalizing love of God in Jesus the Christ has the power to heal us, first implies that we are in desperate need of healing. We need to be healed of our own, deep, personal maladies. Our feelings of inadequacy. Our fears of isolation and abandonment. Our addictions. Our traumas of abuse or of neglect. Our scars of betrayal and distrust.
We need to be healed of our destructive compulsions. We need to be healed of our shameful silence. We need to be healed of the ways we try to stifle our pain and heal ourselves through different, damaging behaviors. We need to be healed of the shame we feel from that which has excluded us and relegated us to the fringes of our communities -- whether it is mental illness, physical disability, gender identity, citizenship status -- or a perceived social ill like our history of abuse or our divorce or our criminal record. Or our sin so painful, we have never been able even to speak it aloud.
Of all these things, we need to be healed. And we will not be healed by the wave of a wand or the snap of fingers. We will not be healed by our will alone. We will not, either, be healed solely by the power of someone other than us. We will be healed by the radical love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, of that much we can be certain – and we must claim that we are broken in order to be made whole. We can begin to be healed by acknowledging that we are in deep need.
This will take time. And this will take tears. But through the depths of our despair -- through the wind, the fire, the earthquake, the sound and the fury of the chaos that surrounds us! Through it all, God will be alongside us in the sound of sheer silence. God will speak to us in that still, small voice.
That still small voice that, when we could not get out of bed to face the troubles of our own souls, said, "get up!"
That still small voice that, when were debilitated by our anxiety and our fear into the paralysis of isolation, said, "do not be afraid, I am with you."
That still small voice that, when we thought all hope was lost, when all options had been exhausted, when there was nowhere left to go, said, "follow me."
It will be that still small voice that offers us encouragement when no one else will. It will be that still, small voice that calms the storms that rage around us. It will be that still, small voice.
And once we have heard that still small voice, we will be able to use our own. We will be able to speak from the depths of our hearts about the need for healing in our world. Because we have seen that we need healing not just on individual levels but on the corporate level. We need to be healed from our predisposition toward hating one another and fearing one another. We need to be healed from our insatiable thirst for violence.
We need to be healed from the infectious diseases of systemic and institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, xenophobia. We need to be healed of the military-industrial complex and of the prison-industrial complex. We need to be healed of the scourge of the failure of the war on drugs and with it of the mass incarceration of people of color. We need to be healed of the epidemic of gun violence in our classrooms and in our suburban shopping malls, yes, but also on the forgotten streets of our ghettos.
We need to be healed from our destructive desire to consume whatever is in our path, no matter the economic or environmental consequence. We need to be healed of the consequences of authoritarian dictators who have ravaged their countries and torn their people apart.
It all starts with a still, small voice. A still, small voice that reminds us that, under the new law of Christ, we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, woman or man, black or white, citizen or immigrant, republican or democrat -- we are all one in the body of Christ.
And while our differences should be celebrated as we work together to be that body of Christ in this world, it is imperative that we recognize that our invaluable contributions are just that -- no more valuable than the contributions of any other, and certainly no less. We as a people bring so many gifts to this table, all of which are welcome. And we also bring all of our hurt to this table, all of which is welcome. This is what we mean when we say all are welcome. This is what we mean when we say come as you are.
Come to this table of grace, to be celebrated and to be healed and to be restored and to be loved. And leave this table to celebrate and to heal and to restore and to love. Return to your home and tell everyone what God has done for you.