Our attention this week has been focused on the horrific mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub. News and social media have been dominated by reactions to the shooting, most of them to the extreme and fueled with anger and its frequent companion, fear. Fear of the “other,” fear of the world, fear of the future. There has also been violence, loss of life, and unrest in the Mobile community, as there has been throughout the world.
In times like these, our first response as Christians is, appropriately, prayer. Many voices now are calling for more, calling for action of one sort or another. No doubt action is necessary in order to help create a world that can accommodate the human flourishing that God intends in creation, but first there must be civil (in every sense of the word) conversation and work carried out in community.
I have agreed to be a part of a city-wide prayer service to be held on Monday, June 20, from noon to 12:30 p.m. at Government Street Presbyterian Church. Religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities will read from texts in their traditions and offer prayers for wisdom for public officials, safety for those who serve and protect, and peace for all people. There will be no political position-taking, no religious ideology promoting-simply readings, prayers, and a few songs. Mayor Stimpson will be present, and representatives of city and county government and local law enforcement will be there, as well. I hope that many of you can be present, and if you cannot, please keep our community, nation, and world in your personal prayers, asking that this may be the beginning of a time of joining together rather than standing in opposition.
On Sunday (or any other day), you will not hear me advocate any particular response or political position. You will hear me, I hope, attempt a faithful account of what scripture and our tradition offer us as guidance and strength in times like these.
This Sunday will continue our reading about the experiences of the prophet Elijah. This week, word comes to Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, about Elijah’s violence against the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatens similar violence against Elijah, who then flees in fear until he comes to Beer-sheba, in the very south of the northern kingdom at the border of the Judean desert. Elijah goes into the wilderness, hoping to die and thus avoid ignominy and bloodshed. But the Lord nourishes him and sends him on in a long journey to Mt. Sinai. There, in the same place Moses stood to meet the God of Israel, Elijah stands to hear God speak. The usual devices for divine revelation-whirlwind, fire, earthquake-don’t reveal God this time. Instead, God’s voice comes from the sheer silence, in a whisper. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answers that he has been zealous for God, performing God’s commands, for which his life is being sought. And God tells him to return. There is more work for him to do.
We will also continue our reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This week’s reading focuses on the effects of baptism: we are incorporated into Christ, abolishing all distinctions among us and uniting us to each other through our being “clothed with Christ.”
The gospel lesson this week is the vivid story of Jesus’ casting out the “Legion” demons of the possessed man at Gerasa, in central Transjordan, where the population was largely non-Jewish. As Jesus approaches this violent man, the demons recognize his true identity; Jesus also recognizes them and compels them to give him their name, a source of power over them. They recognize his power to send them to the “abyss,” where they can be confined and controlled by God. Jesus orders them out and, following their request, into the herd of swine nearby. They leave the man, enter the swine, and carry them off a steep bank to drown in a lake. News of these events travels quickly via the swineherds, and a crowd gathers to see what has happened. The man is in his right mind, and the crowd is afraid of Jesus’ power. They ask him to leave. The healed man goes his way, telling news not just of God, but of the power of Jesus.
The Word recognizes evil and is recognized by it. The Word casts out evil. The Word, and its perfect love, also casts out fear. For us, as Christians, Christ’s presence, carried into the world, will bring the defeat of darkness. We cannot be afraid.
Thoughts for Connecting Lessons to Living
1.) What does God’s response to Elijah indicate about how God would have him (and us) respond to fear?
2.) Being “clothed with Christ” eliminates all social, cultural, and gender distinctions, according to Paul. What does this tell us about how Christians are to relate and respond to each other? Does this extend beyond the immediate Christian community? How far?
3.) We no longer consider demons, as they are depicted in the gospel, to be part of the usual (or “normal”) course of lived experience. How might we understand “demons” in our own day, and how does Jesus still have power to “cast them out”?