Year C — The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

Commentary for June 23, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
It’s an old saw, but there is some important truth in it: “Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles.”

Elijah, fresh from the slaughter at Mt. Carmel, gets spooked by the word of Queen Jezebel. Evidently, she was not a woman to be trifled with.

So, he spends some time in the wilderness, eventually deciding that he had had enough of the lifestyle of the prophet. He tells God he’d just as soon go on and die, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.

I am intrigued by the “therapy” the Lord provides — first, some attention to real, physical needs. “Get up and eat.” Then, a rigorous journey up the highest mountain in Israel. Finally, time to meditate in a cave, where he is asked twice by God: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Not just “here” — in the cave. “Here” — in your life. With your call. With your purpose and intent. With your desire to just hang it up and be done with it. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

In the end, after the pyrotechnics and awesome displays of nature’s power and such, Elijah sits in the “sheer silence.” Yeah, we have very few opportunities for that in our world anymore. But, after looking as deeply as one can into oneself, I suppose, Elijah is commissioned to “keep on keeping on.” 

The story ends a bit curiously, as we don’t hear God assuring Elijah that he is not alone. Perhaps we are supposed to sit with the stark reality that for each of us — and all of us — it really does come down to God and me. My life is not anyone else’s responsibility.

What are you doing here?

Psalm 42 and 43
This psalm reading preserves the Hebrew tradition, in which Psalms 42 and 43 are one psalm.

The writer reflects on feeling forgotten by God — appropriate to the Elijah story (above.) But we all have the opportunity to think about the disquieting feeling in our souls that comes along from time to time. 

The source for hope in God is well-stated in 42:8: “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at nigh his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

Isaiah 65:1-9
Isaiah’s vivid language makes for a pointed accompaniment to today’s gospel passage. We get a real sense of the “demoniac’s” plight as we sit inside tombs and eat swine’s flesh boiled in abominable broth.

Notice, also, that it is God’s good intention to be found, even by those who have not asked or sought. God’s call — to all nations, I believe — is always, “Here I am; here I am.”

Psalm 22:19-28
Psalm 22 famously begins, “My God…why have you forsaken me?” and is thus positioned as the first of the Messianic psalms according to the reading of the Christian church. Of course, when Jesus quotes the opening of the psalm from the cross, he is actually invoking the entirety of its message, which is not about being forsaken. Rather, it is an affirmation of God’s saving help for God’s people.

Again, note that God’s deliverance is designed for “all the ends of the earth…” and “all the families of the nations.” 

Galatians 3:23-29
The binding effect of the law — pictured here as a disciplinarian, or a schoolmaster — once served a helpful purpose in our lives, Paul says. It probably still does.

However, compared with the grace that has been revealed in Christ through faith, it seems a bit de rigueur

I wonder how long Paul’s list in v. 28 would be if he were writing it today?

Luke 8:26-39
There are troubled people in the world. 

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the world is filled with people who are more or less troubled all the time. We may point at the “demoniacs” among us and say, “Oh, boy! There but for the grace of God go I.”

And isn’t that exactly why Jesus came — to bring the grace of God into the most graceless of situations? 

I know that there are those moments — involving those people — that scare the bejeebers out of me. I am prone to encountering situations that seem so hopeless!

The gospel calls us to trust in the presence of the One who brings peace from chaos, hope from torment — who allows us all to sit “clothed and in our right minds.”

May it be so, Lord.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Did you hear the story about the Lutheran pastor who was visiting a very sick parishioner in the hospital? She sat by the bedside, talking about life and love, and God’s mysterious will and Jesus’ loving ways. After a while, she took out her old and battered Occasional Services book and communion kit and celebrated a bedside Eucharist. Almost absent-mindedly, she finished the service by anointing the patients head with oil and praying a prayer for healing.
Suddenly the patient sat up straight, the color returned to his face, the electric monitors in the room beeped and whirred and spun like crazy; doctors and nurses ran into the room as the man started shouting, “I’m healed, I feel great, thank you Jesus!” The pastor had dropped her book and communion kit and stood plastered against the wall in the midst of all this excitement.
Finally, the doctors finished examining the shouting and crying patient and declared him healed; shaking their heads in amazement. The pastor came forward, hugged the parishioner and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. She gathered her things and walked out of the room and down the hall and went down the elevator and to the lobby and then went to the hospital chapel and looked around carefully to make sure no one was there; then she looked up at the ceiling and hissed, “Don’t you ever do that to me again! You scared me to death!”
8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
I was with an ecumenical group of ministers this week and a Pentecostal pastor asked me, quite politely and with a genuine interest in knowing, “How do Lutherans feel about Jesus’ ministry of healing and casting out of demons?” I answered, just as politely and with a genuine interest in telling the truth, “That stuff scares most of us to death and we ignore it as much as possible.”
What are we to make of stories like this? There is, of course, the option of taking it at face value. The man was possessed by demons, who held a conversation with Jesus, asked to be cast into swine, and when Jesus granted their request, the demons propelled the swine into the seas. Meanwhile, the healed one was tired and dazed, but basically okay and sane again. As I say, there is the option of taking it literally – with all the confusing details – and praising God and Jesus for being able to heal us of all our ills; physical, mental, or emotional.
But many of us are simply unable to accept this story on those terms. While we may be willing to admit the possibility that something happened in the life and ministry of Jesus that involved an emotionally disturbed person and a herd of swine; that’s about as far as we can go in the facticity department. Fortunately for us, we can still benefit from this story without having to take it literally.
The very oddness of the story is helpful. Most of us live our lives in the pragmatic, humdrum, natural world. 99.9% of the things that happen in our everyday existence have a “this world”, direct cause and effect explanation. But not everything. Even the most scientifically-minded amongst us has to admit that mysterious and inexplicable things happen; frequently in fact.
While I am not a believer in the “God of the gaps” theory; i.e. “God exists because science can’t explain everything;” the existence of the mysterious helps keep me humble about my attempts to limit God’s actions to things I can predict or explain or control. As the priest said to the small young man who wanted to play football for Notre Dame in the movie Rudy; “So, I’ve been a priest for 40 years and I only know two things for certain, “There is a God, and I’m not him.”

An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know about God and what God can or will do.
The strangeness of the story also reminds us of the very important fact that, as one of my church council members frequently reminds us, “that was then and this is now.” Mission stays the same, methods change with the times. We are the body of Christ in the world and we are called to continue Christ’s ministry of healing, including the healing of those “possessed by demons.” But, we are not limited to following his methods.
Of course we pray for healing. But we also take action. From the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world.
Jesus’ bizarre act of casting the demons into the swine reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the worlds demons of illness and division and hunger and exploitation and war and, and, and, and . . .
The world is full of demons that possess and oppress God’s beloved children, and it is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and into the battle, delivering our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces which keep them separated from us, from God and from each other.
Amen and amen.


One thought on “Year C — The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

  1. Pingback: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7, Lectionary 12) | The Lectionary Lab

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