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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: I Kings 19:1-15, Psalm 42:1-11 & 43:1-5, Isaiah 65:1-9, Psalm 22:19-28, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

Scripture is full of people who cry out to God in frustration, loneliness, and despair, whether it is personal or social or political. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, some of us have sung. Elijah did it. The Psalmist did it. The prophets did it. Even Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem ignoring the ways of peace.

In the back story for this week’s reading from I Kings, Elijah gathers the people and wants to know “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (vs. I Kings 18:21) He feels put upon: “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty.” (vs. 22) Four hundred and fifty to one. It’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. These were Israelites, Elijah’s and Yahweh’s own people, who were chasing after Baal, a god of materialism and hedonism. Which will it be? Even today those who follow the ways of peace and justice are easily drawn into the ways of power and greed. The story, full of drama and mystery, ends up with the death of Baal’s 450 prophets.

When we move on to this week’s reading from I Kings 19, Ahab and Jezebel, the royal couple presiding over this state of affairs (who have already identified Elijah as their enemy), hear what has happened. (vs. 1) Jezebel lets Elijah know that she is going to get him, so he runs for his life. (vss. 2-3) Elijah finally sits alone under a broom tree wishing he were dead. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” (vs. 4) He moves on to a cave (vss. 5-9), still complaining. “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (vs. 10) Earthquake, wind, and fire shake the mountains as Elijah stands in the entrance of the cave looking on, hoping to hear the voice of God. (vss. 11-12) It is only when “a sound of sheer silence” returns that the conversation resumes. Many sermons have been preached on the importance of meeting God in the silence. It’s a message we need to hear and take seriously when life is getting us down and we feel overwhelmed. Maybe we need to take a time out.

Elijah just starts complaining again. “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (vs. 14) God doesn’t seem to be very sympathetic. He simply tells Elijah to get up and go back to work. (vs. 15) Sometimes that’s what it takes. Stop feeling sorry for ourselves and notice that there is still work for us to do, a place where our lives make a difference. A couple of verses later, God tells Elijah that, if he bothers to notice, he will find 7000 who have not bowed to Baal. (vs. 18) Elijah is not quite as alone as he thought. We usually aren’t. In this age of Internet communication, it’s amazing how many people find common connection.

The point I want to underline, though, is that it’s okay to cry out in our frustration. The Psalmist did it. “My soul thirsts for God . . . When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night . . .” (Psalm 42:2-3) I remember when times were better but now “my soul is cast down within me . . . Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk mournfully . . .?” (vss. 4-9)

The prophets were often overcome when they saw the unfaithfulness and abuse that seemed rampant around them. Isaiah expresses the Lord’s (and his own?) frustration with “a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good . . . a people who provoke me to my face continually.” (Isaiah 65:2-3) Like Elijah, he wants to lash out and destroy, but the message is finally one of mercy. If only we could realize that mercy in our own being, perhaps we would be raised from our funk and look toward a future full of promise.

The alternative reading from the Psalms—chapter 22, verses 19-29—moves to something more upbeat and promising. While beginning with a cry for help and deliverance (vss. 19-21), the Psalm ends with a vision of hope for the afflicted and poor (vss. 24 -28). At their best, it is such a vision that kept the Psalmist, and the prophets, and God’s people in every age, going. May it sustain and draw us forward when life gets us down and we feel all alone. There are thousands, even millions, who are drawn by such a vision. Let’s all reach out and touch one another and we will no longer be alone.

Footnotes on the other readings: Galatians 3:23-29 offers more on Paul’s understanding of law and faith/grace. We’ll not get into the doctrinal complexity. It is sufficient to see another message of mercy. Life comes to us as a gift, a gift in which there is the power of change, power which can lift us out of the doldrums and move us along, as if we were now “clothed . . . with Christ.” (vss. 26-27) Galatians also offers us another vision/promise that is part of that prophetic stream helping us to see possibilities beyond hiding in a cave, beyond abuse of power, greed, and injustice. It is a vision of a world in which all barriers are broken down, the walls and perceptions and judgments that divide, so that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 28)

Finally, the Gospel lesson from Luke, chapter eight, is the story of a man possessed by demons. Jesus casts them out, and they enter a herd of pigs who rush into a lake and are drowned. (vss. 27-33) As in other stories, there is an impact on the local economy (pigs). People are upset and want Jesus to leave. (vs. 37) Does this story parallel, in a way, the story about Baal? Pigs were considered unclean. Is this a story about “cleaning up the mess?” The man who has regained his sanity wants to stay with Jesus, to remain close to this one with the power to restore him. Similar to what happened in the story of Elijah, though, Jesus simply sends him on his way with a task to do.

Tying this story in with this week’s larger theme, perhaps we can see a parallel between the demons and the inner agony of those in the earlier readings. Elijah was, in a sense, wrestling with his own inner demons. Don’t we all? What are the demons eating away at our inner being—or at our culture, for that matter? Whatever they are, today’s lessons call us to get up and get dressed and move one. The vision—a great and inspiring vision—is still out there (and within?) calling us onward. There’s still work to be done and there’s still hope.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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