Old Testament: 1 Kings (19:1-16)
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
The Response: Psalm 42
1 As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, *
while all day long they say to me,
“Where now is your God?”
4 I pour out my soul when I think on these things: *
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,
5 With the voice of praise and thanksgiving, *
among those who keep holy-day.
6 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
7 Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
8 My soul is heavy within me; *
therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan,
and from the peak of Mizar among the heights of Hermon.
9 One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts; *
all your rapids and floods have gone over me.
10 The Lord grants his loving-kindness in the daytime; *
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
11 I will say to the God of my strength,
“Why have you forgotten me? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?”
12 While my bones are being broken, *
my enemies mock me to my face;
13 All day long they mock me *
and say to me, “Where now is your God?”
14 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
15 Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
The New Testament: Galatians (3:23-29)
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The Gospel: Luke (8:26-39)
[Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
There is probably not a more mysterious, powerful, and imposing figure in the entire bible than the prophet Elijah. He appears out of nowhere and is then portrayed as playing a central role in the tumultuous events that took place in Israel in the early to mid-ninth century BCE.
He boldly confronted and proclaimed God’s judgment on the most powerful people of his time. He challenged the actions of King Ahab and his viciously ruthless queen, Jezebel. He pronounced God’s judgment on them for Jezebel’s role in ordering the murder of an innocent man, whose property Ahab wanted to seize. In his most dramatic stand, he took his place on Mt. Carmel and set himself in a definitive contest against 800 priests of the Canaanite god Baal and, by implication, against the queen herself. After God, at Elijah’s request, sent down fire from heaven to assert the divine primacy over Baal, Elijah earned Jezebel’s fierce wrath by having all of her pagan priests put to death.
At the end of Elijah’s life, Second Kings asserts that he did not die but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Later generations expanded his reputation with additional stories and roles for Elijah, especially in events related to the coming of a Messiah and of the reign of God. These appear in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, and the rabbinic writings. For all those in the Abrahamic religions, Elijah’s is a commanding presence.
Yet, at the time of today’s first reading, we find Elijah at his weakest and most vulnerable point. In response to his monumental victory over the priests of Baal, Jezebel solemnly swore that she would have him killed. Elijah, understandably afraid and thoroughly exhausted from his struggles, fled into the wilderness. He had had enough. He lay down by himself and told God, “I’m done. I’m finished with this. I’m not doing this prophet-thing any longer. So just kill me here and now, because I’m not going back!”
God apparently decided, not that Elijah shouldn’t have run away, but that, at this point, he hadn’t run away nearly far enough. So God’s messenger appeared to him with food and water, insisting that he eat and drink so that he could continue his flight away from those who were seeking his life. And so Elijah continued his journey all the way to Mt. Horeb: another name for Mt. Sinai.
God met him there and asked him “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And the prophet, who by now had been pushed to his absolute limit, exploded at God and fired back: “What do mean ‘What am I doing here?’ I have done everything you wanted me to do. I have gone way beyond, over and above. But your people have refused to listen. They have torn down your altars. They have killed all the rest of your prophets. And now Jezebel has strictly ordered them to kill me, too. Why do you think I’m here?”
Then God instructed him to come out of the cave in which he was hiding and go stand outside on the mountain. But Elijah stayed put. He waited in the cave as a great wind, an earthquake, and a raging fire erupted around him. But when he heard “a sound of sheer silence,” he emerged from his hiding place to stand in the presence of God.
God asked him again why he was there; and Elijah, undeterred, answered in the same way as before. But God was undeterred, too. In letting him vent his frustration and his anger and his fear, God had apparently begun in him an inner healing.
God then sent him on a different journey, not back to Ahab and Jezebel in Samaria, but to Damascus. And God instructed him to anoint two new kings and one new prophet to carry on the work that he had begun. And Elijah, having vented his frustration and his anger, and having had some time away from the fray, having spent some time in the presence of God, found himself refreshed and renewed and ready for the next phase in his life and service.
While I am sure that none of us have lives nearly as drama-filled as Elijah’s, we, too, need time away. We need time to step back, to stand silently in the presence of God, to allow that “sound of sheer silence” to speak to us in the depths of our being. That essentially is what prayer is all about and what prayer is for.
Prayer can sometimes be a time of asking for what we need, or what we think that we need. But, at a much deeper level, it is simply an opportunity to quiet ourselves and to allow God to touch us and to work within us.
Prayer is for times of crisis, for times that we feel completely overwhelmed. It is for times when everything seems to be going wrong and there appears to be no way out. It is OK to complain to God about God’s apparent absence when we need God the most, like the psalmist (Ps. 22:1) and like Jesus himself did (Mk. 15:34): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s really OK to yell and scream at God, like Elijah did and like Jeremiah did and like the various psalmists did. There’s a long biblical tradition there.
Prayer is also for times when we need to sort things out inside us, maybe to talk a bit with ourselves, allowing God to guide that interior conversation. That’s what the author of today’s psalm (42:14-15) did.
And prayer is also for times of joy and gratitude, for those points in life when we recognize and are ready to acknowledge and celebrate the many blessings that we have received, the love that we have been given, the abundance of life that has filled us.
In short, prayer means consciously putting away for a time all the distractions with which we fill our lives and placing ourselves consciously in the presence of the Eternal, of the Ultimate Reality of the Universe. Or, as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (The Sign and the Sacrifice, p. 93) has put it: “Prayer is most deeply allowing God to happen in us, the Spirit bringing Christ alive in us.” For us as human beings, it is a vitally important part of each and every day.