Written By Gordon Barbosa, Lay Leader
Based on 1 Kings 19:1-15 and Luke 8:26-39
I’m going to begin with a little historical background for today’s reading from 1st Kings. The events of today’s reading take place after the division of the kingdom of Israel after King Solomon’s death. At this time there is the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah where Jerusalem and the Temple are located. The stories of the prophets Elijah and then Elisha take place in the northern kingdom, while in the south we have the stories of Isaiah and King Hezekiah.
Today we are focused on Elijah in the northern kingdom. Elijah has just defeated and killed the prophets of Baal – one of the many gods of the original people of the land – the Canaanites. Although Israel now controlled the land there were remnants of the Canaanites who still lived among the Hebrews and these other religions began to influence the religious practices of the Hebrews.
Ahab became the King of Israel in Samaria and reigned for twenty-two years. Scripture says Ahab did more evil in the site of the Lord than all who were before him. He was a bad dude!
Ahab married an outsider – Jezebel – and began worshiping her god, Baal. Sexual fertility rites and human sacrifice were a part of Baal worship. This is the setting of today’s story which takes place about 2,900 years ago.
When Yhwh – the one true God of Israel – had just given Elijah this massive victory over the prophets of Baal – Queen Jezebel takes out a contract on Elijah and warns him that he has one day to live.
Elijah panics and flees for his life by going as far south as he can to Beersheba in the southern kingdom of Judah. He leaves his servant there and continues to travel further into the desert alone.
He’s depressed, probably a little embarrassed and feels alone in his worship of Yhwh. He asks God to take his life,… then lays down under the broom tree to have a pity party - waiting for the end to come.
However, notice that God ignores Elijah’s plea to take him. Instead, God sends an angel to take care of Elijah and once he regains some strength he sends him to Mount Horeb, or as we call it Mount Sinai.
It took him 40-days and nights to reach Mount Horeb where Elijah experiences some parallel similarities with that of Moses, so the author is comparing Elijah with Moses – remember, Moses was on the mountain 40 days. This mountain is holy ground! It is a place where the presence of God resides. Scripture tells us, God literally laid down the law on stone tablets made from this mountain!
So the Lord appears to Elijah and it sounds like he wasn’t expecting him to be there because the first words out of his mouth are not, “Well, look what the cat drug in! Come on up the mountain and stay awhile!” No, instead he asks, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
Elijah goes into the same story that he told him 40-days earlier when the Lord stops him and tells him to go stand on the mountain because God is about to pass by. Elijah goes on out and the wind starts blowing so hard that rocks started falling – but God’s not there. Then the earth starts shaking, but God is not in the earthquake. Soon flames start shooting out of the earth and there’s fire all around him – but still God is nowhere to be found.
After this there is a stillness and Elijah can start to feel a presence and with a whisper God again asks, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
Elijah had forgotten the big picture. He was God’s messenger to his people. He was in a war between his one true God and the Canaanite fertility god Baal. And his God was winning the battles! But Elijah was tired. And he wasn’t seeing the results that he thought he should be seeing.
God reassures him that he has heard Elijah’s prayers and that he is not alone and that there are 7,000 followers who have not bowed to or worship Baal.
I don’t know if it was because he was perturbed at Elijah or if it was his sense of humor, but God tells Elijah to return on his way to Damascus. Remember, he’s currently on Mount Horeb and he has to go to Damascus – about 300 miles. He’s got some walkin’ to do because he went the opposite direction from where God wanted him to be!
Now, let’s look at our Gospel reading for today. Here we are told of a man who is possessed with demons. Today, we might call such a person mentally disabled – perhaps with a multiple personality disorder.
The town where this takes place is a gentile town, Gerasa. Plutarco Bonilla, a Retired Dean and Professor at the University of Costa Rica, informs us that Gerasa had been under Roman control for nearly 100 years. By Luke’s use of the name “Legion” for the demons, he is referencing a term shared by the Roman military, signaling the presence of the foreign, the oppressive, and the destructive. Just as the Roman legions conquered and took possession of non-Roman territories, so the legion of demons had taken possession of that man.
Bonilla suggests that the man represents the condition of Gerasa under Roman control and perhaps the condition of all humanity under sin. But let’s assume the story is about a man.
Take a moment to put yourself in his place – his reality. People find you so disturbing that your own family, friends and neighbors want nothing to do with you. When you were younger and even today – people have and still mistreat you. You may hear voices telling you to hurt yourself or others. You have probably seen a homeless person like this in our own town – but today there are at least some resources available to them.
However, in Jesus time there was nothing for people like this man. He was kept in chains but would escape and run naked in the wilderness. In the Gospel of Mark it says he lived in the graveyard – among the dead. Think about what it must be like to be isolated and abandoned by your community.
So is it any wonder why some of the first words out of this man would be, “I beg you, do not torment me.”? The passage says it was the demons pleading with Jesus, but I think that plea was the man talking.
Lutheran Pastor, Mary Anderson tells us that Jesus has a way of finding people who have been separated from the community – the woman with the hemorrhages, the woman at the well, tax collectors like Matthew and a man living naked in a graveyard. Jesus – who isn’t afraid of becoming an outcast – reaches out to those on the margins of society – lepers, beggars, sinners and he offers them a way of restoration so that they can return to the community.
Jesus heals the man of his problems, clothes him and treats him with the dignity that all people should have. When the local people fearfully come to Jesus and ask him to leave – the man naturally asks to go with him. What does Jesus say? It’s the same answer he gives to most of the people he has ministered to. “Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you.” Jesus knew that if the man traveled with him his story would have lost its impact. Everyone in Gerasa had probably heard of this man, so his story would have a powerful impact on them when they heard what God had done. So, like the woman at the well, this former outcast does as he is told by his Savior and becomes an evangelist, preaching about the good news of Jesus.
In her article about this encounter, Pastor Mary Anderson writes, “Our God, who is constantly in the process of reshaping the community, issues a variety of calls in a variety of places. No matter where we are sent or what we are called to do, each of us is a disciple of Christ and equal member of the one body. When we are called, where we are called and how we are called are part of God’s great design.”
So, God asks us this question.… What are you doing here? Have you made this building into a reclusive cave like Elijah’s when God is telling you to go forth out into the world seeking others to join his community? Or is he telling you to stay in this community like the Gerasene and share the good news about what God has done for you? What are you doing here?
As we go into God's world, know that the One who has invited you into the holy presence goes with you to share grace and peace with all creation. Amen.
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;