The attention of the world is once again on horrific violence and mass murder that occurs weekly, and almost daily, across the United States. We are bombarded with differing ideologies, political philosophies and varying interpretations of constitutional intent and the law. We hear about the perpetrator’s life, and second guesses about his connections & motives; questioning of decisions made by employers, FBI, and law enforcement.
I think it safe to say that most of us are distraught by these events and the unwillingness of our leaders and our society to find common ground that could begin to reduce these occurrences locally and nationally.
Instead we have ongoing debates and bloodletting – name calling, we watch the development of conspiracy theories and accusations on all sides.
In my father’s pharmacy there was a set of posters showing the development of modern medicine. One of them was about that curious treatment of sickness called blood-letting. I asked a doctor friend of my father about this practice. He commented on this 18 & 19th century medical practice. “It wasn’t really effective”, he told me, “but it focused the patient’s attention on something other than their ailment until they either got better or they died.”
That, I believe, is where we are in the United States. We are not working together to find a way forward towards the kind of society we want – instead we are engaged in aggressive debate, and accusations which take up our time and energy blaming others and leaving us tired and distraught.
In Sundays first reading Elijah is also tired and distraught. He has been threatened with death by Jezebel the powerful queen. His fear is so great that he has fled to the wilderness and hoped to die peacefully under the tree. Elijah had given up because he did not see a future – he only saw threats and a painful death.
He spends a long time going to the mountain; a place where one could find God. He wanted to find where God was, in all this distress. Elijah ends up hiding in a cave where the word of the Lord came to him asking “Where are you Elijah?”
Elijah in response unloads all of his stress and frustration telling God of everything that has brought him to hide in that cave. The Lord very simply tells Elijah to leave the safety of the cave and go outside where God will pass by/will meet him. Outside Elijah encounters a strong wind that breaks the rocks, and then an earthquake, and fire. There Elijah discovers that God is not apart of these powerful and frightening events. Then follows a sheer silence and God was present in the silence. Again the questions is asked “What are you doing here Elijah? Again Elijah repeats his history. And God says “Go. Return on your way…” In other words – go home, get back to work. Elijah has a job to do – people with whom he needs to share the word of the Lord as God’s prophet. In doing his job faithfully and well even in the face of threat and murder he is helping to recreate the world to be more as God would have it become.
Psalm 42 also reflects a longing, a desire for God in the midst of trouble – describes a heaviness within when we lose sight of God’s presence and a questioning wonderment as to whether God has forgotten us.
In the letter to Galatians Paul makes that wonderful affirmation that in Christ there are no divisions or distinctions: No longer Jew or Greek; slave or free; male or female; all are one in Christ… We are all one as God’s children by adoption and grace. That is the world Jesus worked for – that is the world as God created it to be and as we are commissioned by baptism to create.
At Garazene in the Gospel reading Jesus encounters one who in our parlance would be called mentally ill. That community had seized him many times it tells us, kept him chained in shackles, and now he lives among the tombs . But Jesus simply asks his name – the man’s reply is a window into understanding. “Legion” he says – perhaps dealing with what we now call PTSD or tht he has many (a legion of) deep problems.
We do not know what happened after that question and introduction but later the people of the city alerted by the swineherds found Jesus conversing with this man. The man was fully clothed and “in his right mind”. The Garasenes were frightened of Jesus and asked him to leave! They valued the pigs more than they valued the healing of the man. The citizens were uncomfortable with Jesus ability to help restore him to a new wholeness. They preferred the former reality of binding the man and forcing him out of the city to live among the remnants of death. They preferred not to hear the voice of God nor see his work among them.
We believe that we can hear that voice of God as Elijah heard it. It may come to us in our silence, in the stillness of our hearts or though the events that swirl around us. But w3e know it will not be a voice that tells us to be afraid, to threaten, or to bind people with labels or other shackles. It is a voice that will tell us to “Go. To return on our way to do the work we have been given to do.”
For some it may be that we are to be the voice for sanity and change to reduce the prevalence of violence in our communities and nation. To hold our leaders accountable for working together for the common good rather than for political ideologies that only serve to divide and to sustain the current distrust & disunity.
The voice may be to tell us to continue to work for a society where there is no Jew or Greek, Muslim or Christian, no gay or straight or transgender, where we will truly all be one in God bound by our common humanity and not pre-judged by the labels other place upon us.
But we should know that ALL of us are commissioned by our baptism:
to seek and serve Christ in ALL people
to strive for justice and peace among all people
and to respect the dignity of every human being. No exceptions!