The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7
June 19, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright. This is Not My Beautiful Life by Victoria Fedden. The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard. These are some of the books that make up lists of the best summer reads of 2016. Since relaxing on the beach, in the mountains, or even in the city seems better with a good book at hand – literary recommendations are easy to find.
Unfortunately, I doubt that the lessons just read this morning would make it on anyone’s list of best summer reads. These aren’t the kind of stories you want to curl up with next to the sunscreen and a beach towel.
Our first reading presents the prophet Elijah as a portrait of despair set against a backdrop of murder and violence. Consumed with fear and loneliness; hounded by his enemies; dreading what lies ahead. Elijah has simply had enough. There is more here than just a touch of suicidal ideation. He pleads for God to take his life right then and there and to be done with it.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is confronted by a man possessed. Possessed by demons/unclean spirits. So this man comes before Jesus naked. Ostracized, he lives in the town cemetery; sleeps among the dead. He greets Jesus and his disciples screaming at the top of his lungs. Here is a man from whom the description despair is an understatement.
No, none of this makes for light summer reading.
We can no more escape these readings this morning than we can shut out the troubling news that surrounds us.
What more can be said about the horror in Orlando. What words appropriate given the latest tally in the long litany of those maimed, disfigured, and lost due to gun violence.
This week we also honor World Refugee Day. Here at St. Paul’s this has so much special meaning because of the ministry of the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. Each weekday more than 200 guests come here to a place that is safe, affirming. More than 200 lives and families displaced because of violence and war.
The news from today’s Scripture and from the world is not dissimilar.
Like Elijah and that man possessed, we too live in the midst of violence and distrust. In the tension between fear and courage. Dread and hope.
While talk of demons and possession sound strange to our modern minds. In the fuller sense, we can understand all too well the larger meaning. Demons are those forces that can capture us, enslave us, prevent us from becoming what God intends for us. Certainly that is an apt description for our addiction to violence… for the tenacious grip of prejudice and bigotry that divides people from one another… for the power of fear which can drive us to be so much less than what we are called to be…
We come together to worship because we believe that we are not lost in the grip of those forces that shackle us to hopelessness and the endless circle of violence and hatred.
Transformation is possible. It is why we pray. Why we sing. Why we share the bread and the wine; the body and the blood.
We do these things not to escape temporarily from the world as it is. But to proclaim that we can live in hope in spite of those forces that can so easily bind us to death and despair…
We proclaim that God does make himself known to us. Often in unexpected ways. Like the experience of Elijah – where God is heard not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire but in the silence.
This is the faith we proclaim. This is the faith we share. A faith, a hope especially powerful when the readings, the world, and our lives are not what we would select.
A young woman with a small child had the shock of her life during a routine medical examination. She was diagnosed with cancer. Her prospects were not good. She had to face the unthinkable – her own death.
Out of her long struggle, she wrote this:
Cancer is so limited….
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot erode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot kill friendships.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot take away the promise of the Resurrection.
The forces that can chain us to fear and hopelessness are many. They are, to use Luke’s word in today’s Gospel, legion. They are evident in the world in which we live – in the continuing tally of lives lost and displaced due to violence, hatred, and war.
They are evident in the struggles we all endure as people. Who contend with those things that can pull us away from who we were created to be and become.
This morning we affirm the power of hope over despair. The possibility of transformation even in the face of fear and doubt.
As people of God, who lay claim to that faith, may we truly become what we pray to be in today’s Prayers of the People – ‘instruments of God’s peace’.