Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 June 2022.
• First Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-15a (Elijah’s escape from Jezebel)
• Epistle: Galatians 3: 23-29 (No Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female)
• Gospel: Luke 8: 26-39 (A demon-possessed man, exorcized and restored, sent home)
I am not sure that you would call it all plain sailing, but up to the spring of 2020 the various issues and crises around us seemed to be manageable.
They might have been uncomfortable but there was at least a way of working through them. Then came the coronavirus and the national shut-down. And as we were recovering from this, war broke out in Europe and with it came an enormous increase in costs in general and the cost of living in particular. And none of these present issues seems to have an obvious solution.
The steady life of the church was disrupted and it lurched from one matter to another.
It is this sense of turbulence that makes our lessons look very up to date.
First there was the escape of Elijah, running from the scene of his greatest triumph, now in utter fear and terror. He was running for his life and with good reason for Queen Jezebel had it in for him and if caught life prospects were not good.
And so he came to a place of collapse – lying down and hoping to die. All desire even for survival had left him and he was empty – drained and utterly demoralized.
Many of us grew up under the ‘pull-yourself-together’ school of therapy, when sympathy for any such sign of weakness was almost wholly lacking and if the unfit did not survive, then too bad.
For Elijah however there were no lectures – only a first encouragement to rest and take nourishment. And even then when he had come to Horeb, there were no lectures about standing around and feeling sorry for himself.
Instead, God visited him and heard him as Elijah poured it all out. Only then did God give Elijah new heart and new hope.
There was still work to be done and Elijah was finally sent back for the further purposes of God. Yes, he had been reduced to despair but God had met him within it, without trivializing it but through it all Elijah had also been able to learn that whatever his trials and resources, those of God were far greater than even his imagination.
Even when Elijah was despairing of life, God was not defeated and could and would lead him in new paths.
When Jesus met the demonized man amid the tombs of the Gerasenes, again there was a man destroyed by life. Whatever his story, he had been reduced to nakedness and terrifying displays of strength and violence.
He had terrorized those around him, he was alienated from his home and community, and left at the mercy of his memories and emotions. This was a living hell, made worse by the reality of spiritual abandonment to whatever forces of darkness and alienation might stalk the land and him in it.
This too is a situation we might recognize as we contemplate the social exclusion and the chemical destruction wrought by alcohol and drugs in our own land and cities.
And add to this the obvious wealth and prosperity of those who are employed and live in glamourous lifestyles, and there is a toxic mix for any and every social and economic tormentor who stalks the land with their own quack remedies for social and economic progress or even ‘freedom’.
But again Jesus is not put out. He lets the man talk, give his name, tell his story. He might even revisit the terrors of the past and of his own nightmares.
This time Jesus takes authority – over the man’s personal and inner torments and over the spiritual darkness that assailed him. He is never beyond hope and whatever lay in the past, Jesus has a new kind of future for him.
And so he also is restored to the man God intended him to be and to become. He also was sent back – this time to his own home and family, his village and community with the story of his own healing and restoration.
Far from being imprisoned by his own darkness, he had been given a new lease of and of light.
Then there is Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul has a lot to say to them but in this passage there is a simple reassurance.
Whatever their understanding of law and morality, Jesus had more for them.
Even living under the Jewish moral and ceremonial law, where understanding was partial and reduced to a sterile legalism, Jesus had new dimensions of life and holy living for them without having to be prisoners to their own guilts and memories.
What Jesus had to offer was Himself, His life, His permanent presence as the Holy Spirit came among them to give life in place of legalism and guilt-mongering.
Now the simplest members of the church were made anew – children of God through their personal faith in Jesus and their incorporation into Him.
Now they would be able to live in Him without being thrown onto the meagreness of their own resources. Now they could encourage one another to a new kind of hope and a new authority in confronting life.
And all of this is true for us now and today. Whatever the battering we have had to face personally and as a church, the Lord still has a new plan and a new purpose for us.
Something for today and today’s needs. A word in today’s discouragements and disappointments.
A word in season and a purpose for today’s needs.