1 Kings 1:19-15a
Rising global tensions and almost striking Iran. Mass deportations planned. Tragic accidents. Migrants fleeing. Children held by our government in despicable conditions. Political clashes, lies, illness and personal loss. With a week like this, with a life like this, remember Elijah.
Elijah ran for dear life into the wilderness. Queen Jezebel was trying to kill him. In a cave on the mountain, God compassionately asks: What are you doing here, Elijah? What brings you here? What is on your heart? Elijah is honest: I’ve done my best for you, but the people refuse. The rulers destroyed everything. They killed all my companions, and now they’re trying to kill me.
Have you been there? Been zealous. But now run down. Run after. Alone and afraid. Ready for it all to end? Have you at the same time longed to be seen, to be heard, to be loved? How have you reached out to receive it? Perhaps you have invested time and travel, even a great distance, to be with a safe, trustworthy person, with whom you can be honest.
Have you fled and found yourself like a deer longing for water, seeking one who will really listen, who will witness without judging or fixing? Sometimes after fleeing, we find we were actually running to God.
Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. A mountain-splitting wind, an earthquake, fire, but the Lord was not in them. The Lord comes in a sound of sheer silence. Not in forceful blowing, quaking or burning, but in the absence of action, in silence.
For how long? Elijah senses the Lord in it, wraps his face and moves out of the cave. How long was that sheer silence?
Long enough to make Elijah stop? Long enough to make him listen? Long enough to awaken awareness? Awareness of the blowing, quaking, and burning inside himself?
God, who with all power could come in any form, surprises us in silence. We, too, are caught off guard because it is contrary from the force and pride we are accustomed to in the use of power. Silence is contrary to the cascading words and noise of our daily life. Instead, silence invites us to stop and listen deeply to what is in us and in others.
We Brothers, and our guests, find silence helps us in slowing down, restoring sleep, savoring food, and being attentive to self and God. It is a “healing gift” we intentionally give and receive.[i]Compared to the cacophony of the world, silence keeps catching us off guard, inviting wonder at God loving us so much.
Our gospel lessons also catches us by surprise. When Jesus and his disciples arrive in the Gerasenes, they find confusion and chaos. A man seized by demons, naked, shouting, uncontrollable, living in the tombs, possessed. Jesus commands the demons to leave, but, at first, they do not. Jesus remains, listens to the shouting, witnesses one unable to ask for help. Jesus stays to work personally in the complexity.[ii]Rather than rebuking, Jesus asks: What is your name? The Gerasene, or the demons within, answer: Legion. Jesus lets the demons enter a herd of swine who then rush into the lake and drown. Neighbors gather to find the man healed, clothed, and in his right mind.
Right before this passage, Jesus and the disciples cross the lake. A windstorm rises up, the boat fills with water, and they are in danger. The disciples cry: Master, we are perishing![iii]Do you care?[iv]The Gerasene shows binding sickness. He is unable to change or to say: I am perishing! Do you care?[v]Elijah runs to the mountain with the cry: They killed my companions. Now they seek to kill me. I am perishing! Do you care?
Jesus woke in the boat, rebuked the wind and waves, and there was a calm. Jesus healed by casting out possessive, evil forces. God listened and came in sheer silence.
In a week like ours and in world like ours, what prompts fear, anger, or grief? How are you or we sick or bound? For what do you cry: We are perishing! Do you care?
The good news is God cares for you and for the whole world. God sees the perishing and comes to save. God hears us in the midst of our fear whether on a mountain or in a boat. Jesus comes, remains, and heals in the complexity where we are possessed before we can cry for help.
Jesus also comes and heals through us. Who are your neighbors to whom you can say: What are you doing here? What is on your heart? Listen with compassion, without judgment or fixing. Healing does not always require talking about the hurt or loss. For a devastated community, professionals and talk-therapy can be helpful, but what is often most effective is normal family, neighborhood, and faith community relationships.[vi]Be with each other so that no one feels alone. One does not have to talk about it. Keep ordinary connections. Rather than whirling words, give the gift of shared silent presence.
God told Elijah to return to Damascus. Jesus told the Gerasene to remain with his neighbors. There is hope for you where you are right now, even if you cannot see it or ask for it. God sees you. God sees all who are perishing. God is saving and healing. Jesus sends us, by the power of the Spirit, to help seek and save the lost, to end oppression and possession, to bring hope and wholeness for all humankind.[vii]
[ii]Sonia E. Waters (2019) Addiction and Pastoral Care. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p114.
[iv]Mark 4:38: “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
[vi]https://www.ictg.org/blog/therapy-beyond-only-talkingThe Institute for Communal Trauma and Growth provides
leaders with restorative strategies for personal and group growth after collective loss.
[vii]The last phrase comes from the last stanza of today’s closing hymn: “O Christ, the healer” by Fred Pratt Green, #772 in Wonder, Love, and Praise.
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