Readings are HERE.
I am off to the Bondurant BBQ tomorrow - no pigs, unfortunately. I am leaning more to preaching on that drama queen Elijah - oh poor me, no one to help, it is all up to me, Jezebel is after me (with good reason having killed off all her prophets), I did all you asked of me, God, and now every one hates me. wah, wah, wah -- finally he shuts up long enough for God to get a word in edgewise (still and small). Thunder and lightning and wind would have just increased his anxiety. God sends him back to find all the leaders God has been busy calling out while Elijah has been away.
All the readings have lessons of how we imprison ourselves in reaction to the blows that life brings. Elijah is a faithful prophet doing what he believes God is asking of him. In the scene before his escape into the desert he has a contest with the priests of Baal, the bulls are piled high to be consumed by holy fire. Sort of like an early day Bondurant BBQ!! The priests of Baal dance and perform their rituals but nothing - sort of like how we feel when we try to light wet wood with paper matches and no kindling. Then Elijah steps up and pours water all over the sacrifice, ensuring that they will know it is not his doing. Then "whoooompf" all goes up in smoke. Not content with this demonstration of the power of God - he kills all the priests of Baal. Jezebel is not "amused." She sends her soldiers to kill Elijah. This is where we pick up the story today.
He is exhausted, he feels alone - even though God has been providing for him all during his journey. The thunder cracks, the lightning flashes, the wind roars but none speak to him. Finally in the silence and darkness he hears God say "return."
Return to your work, return to yourself, return to God.
The man afflicted by demons, who we hear about in the Gospel is another example of someone being called back into "his right mind." He has become crazed by the oppression of The Legion - the Roman army. He has been chained and driven out of community to rave, naked, among the tombs. When he encounters Jesus he experiences a freedom of mind and spirit that brings him back to himself - the person he was born to be, created in the image of God. In this story - it is not the man who can't hear God speaking but the community. They become even more afraid of the man - they could deal with him as he was - raving and naked. Now he sits calmly at Jesus feet but terrifying to them. Think about the community under the rule of the Romans, not wanting to rock the boat and bring the wrath of Rome down upon them. A person in his right mind who refuses to be a victim causes the whole system great anxiety and reaction.
We see this in family systems where there is alcoholism. If you have been involved in the healing of AA or Al Anon - you know how distressed everyone gets when one family member steps out of their role and starts behaving in new healthier ways. We see it in churches when there has been abuse by clergy (sexual or financial or whatever). Everyone participates in keeping the secret and not rocking the boat. When one person speaks out against whatever is going on - he or she becomes the outcast - the bad guy. When we allow Jesus to bring his healing presence into our families and churches it is not always sweetness and pleasantness. Change, even healing change, can be painful - like a healing wound is painful but necessary.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes about being freed from our imprisonments. Much of his letter has been about the pains that the Galatian community has suffered but today we see the rewards - that in baptism we are no longer stuck in the prisons of social construction - class, race, ethnicity, even gender - and the church has been shaking in terror of his meaning down to this very day. Freedom in Christ is wonderful and terrifying.
We long for this relationship with God - as the Psalmist says:
As the deer longs for the waterbrooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is a athirst for the living God
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
It seems to be a case of be careful what you pray for! The destination is grand but the journey may have its hard parts - potholes and wild beasts, falls and terrors. The great thing is that Jesus is the beginning and the end, and our companion through it all - if we but hold out our hands.
There is a painting that often hangs in Sunday School rooms of Jesus outside the door - in the painting there is no keyhole or handle on the side where Jesus stands waiting - on our side we have the handle - will we open the doors of our locked hearts to Jesus - the Christ? Will we take the incredible liberating presence of God into ourselves and in our churches? Will we risk it? Can we hear the small still voice in the midst of the clamor of life? Say yes with Elijah and the man who was oppressed? Move out from the shuttered, locked up lives of our own making and move out to live the life in Christ?