A Reading from the First Book of 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.
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.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the 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 Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (8:26-39)
Then they 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
The story told in today’s first reading actually comes two chapters before the one that we heard last week. I’m not sure why the folks who put together the Lectionary did that, unless they saw today’s passage as a preparation for next week’s reading, in which the prophetic mantle is passed from Elijah to Elisha. Whatever the reason, it is another great narrative from the collection of great narratives that we have been hearing the past few weeks about the great prophet, Elijah.
Today, however, Elijah doesn’t sound quite so great, certainly not like he did in the other readings. Essentially, by this time, he had had enough of being God’s prophet. He had struggled for years with the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel and with the corruption and downright wickedness of the infamous royal couple, Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah was ready to quit. In fact, Elijah was ready to die.
Jezebel had sworn an oath to have him killed, and he had been fleeing for his life. He traveled south through Israel and through all of Judah, making his way through the wilderness only with the help of a messenger from God, who fed him and brought him water and who urged him on. After forty days and forty nights, he arrived at Mt. Horeb or Sinai and spent the night there in a cave.
The next day, God called to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” This prophet who had had enough snapped back: “What do you think I’m doing here? I’ve given all that I have to do your work and to turn the people around, but they “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.” God replied simply, “Elijah, we need to talk. Come out of the cave and stand on the mountain, because I am going to pass by.”
Elijah went out onto the side of the mountain, and God gave him traditional signs of the divine presence: a powerful, rock-breaking wind, a strong earthquake, and a raging fire. Then, in the silence that followed, God asked him a second time, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Unmoved by any of these powerful displays of God’s awesome presence, Elijah answered exactly the same way that he had answered before. He was not about to back down. Better to die here on the sacred mountain at the hand of God than to be the latest victim of Jezebel’s murders.
But God didn’t back down either. God didn’t let him off the hook. Elijah was still God’s chosen prophet: the one called by God to confront a rebellious nation with God’s word. But neither did God send him back to continue doing the same things that he had been doing. They had worked for a time, at least to a limited extent. But that time had gone.
Instead, God re-commissioned the prophet, giving him new instructions. He was to go back, but to a different place. And his work now was to prepare his people and their world for a transition to new leadership, for a new direction. He was to anoint a new king to overthrow the ruling couple in Israel; a new king to overthrow the king of Syria, Israel’s neighbor and sometimes enemy; and finally, a new prophet: a successor for himself. Elijah’s work was coming to an end, but God’s work was not. Elijah’s role as God’s prophet was not complete until he had prepared the way to the future.
Doing God’s work in the church and in the world can sometimes get frustrating, even if we do not have prominent roles like that of Elijah. We don’t face the outright persecution that Elijah faced, or that many of our fellow Christians in other parts of the world face today – thank God! But we do get tired. We do get frustrated. We do see that things are not the way they were years ago, when attendance at churches in general was much higher and when most people participated in the life of a church, at least a few times a year. Especially for those of us who have reached a (let’s call it) “more mature age,” those changes can be discouraging. And, at least for some of us, the temptation is simply to cut back or even to drop out. Like Elijah, we are tempted to think that we have done our part and that we are now finished.
But maybe God is not yet finished with us. Maybe, like Elijah standing there on Mt. Horeb, maybe we are still being called by God to do God’s work in our time – just not the same way that we used to do. Maybe this is the time of life in which God is re-commissioning us, just as God re-commissioned the great prophet long ago. Maybe God is sending us, not just to sit back and nostalgically recall the past, but to help prepare the church for its future, to help it explore new ways of carrying on God’s work in the world, to help to raise up new leadership for the work that must now be done.
Over the next couple of months, we will be preparing to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the beginning of St. Mark’s Church. Its first service took place on September 25, 1938. Our over-arching theme will be “The Community in St. Mark’s Church and St. Mark’s Church in the Community.” This special occasion provides us with a time to explore in new ways who we have been, who we are now, and who we aspire to be in the future.
We have already begun that work. Our Time and Talent forms, which have been in the pews for the past month, are an important part of our anniversary observance. If you have not yet filled out one or more of them, please do so; we need them. They are helping us to understand more clearly how the members of St. Mark’s today are carrying on and living out the heritage of those who have gone before us, serving the world in God’s name. And, at the same time, they are helping us prepare for the future: helping us to gain insights into the work that God is opening up to us in the years ahead.
Elijah once found himself tired and discouraged. He ran off to the desert and went and hid in a cave. But God refused to leave him there. God called him to come out of that cave and stand on the mountain so the he might be re-commissioned for the new work that God had for him to do.
Like Elijah, we sometimes think that we have accomplished the work that God has given us to do, or at least all of that work that we can do or are willing to do. Like Elijah, we sometimes try to run off to our mental and emotional and spiritual caves.
But God will not leave us there. God calls us to come out of those caves and to stand outside on the mountain as God reveals God’s self to us in new ways, in ways that we had never imagined.
Like Elijah, we sometimes find ourselves re-commissioned by God for new service to God’s people and God’s world. That is true, not only of us as individuals, but also of us as a church.
And now, as St. Mark’s prepares to celebrate 75 years of doing God’s work in the world, God may now be re-commissioning us as a parish for new and exciting work during the years and decades ahead. It’s time to come out of the caves in which we have hidden: to come out and stand on the mountain to hear and listen to the voice of God.