Sunday, June 23, 2013

Breaking the Bonds in Silence


The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 8 and 10:30am Eucharist Services, Church of the Ascension

  1. Scripture Text: 1 Kings 19:1-15a, Psalm 42,Galatians
  1. 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
RCL Proper 7 Year C 6/23/2013

Sermon Text:
The Bible is well known for many firsts.
The first marriage is recorded there,
as well as the first instance of sibling rivalry.
In Jesus time we see the first instance of someone
saving the best wine for the end of the party.
And today we see the first time Jesus gives us a recipe
for picnic food.
Yes, yes, if you're groaning already,
you know I'm going to tell you this gospel reading,
records the first time anyone made deviled ham.
Ok, that joke was probably not necessary,
or even very funny
but I really was excited about getting to preach on this
passage because I heard that one a long time ago.

But I'm not just excited about that,
The whole scope of scripture we have today is so rich,
so full of wonderful things to talk about.
I don't know how I'll get through all of it.
But don't worry, I'll try to focus on just one or two things.

Let's start with the old testament.
It includes one of my favorite passages
and a favorite for all who have experienced God in contemplative prayer.

Before we get to that part though
we start right off with Elijah being afraid,
and literally running for his life.
Someone said to me that they really don't see Elijah
as being a fearful person.
And in fact he wasn't.
He did a number of very daring things,
and was known for his boldness.
But this is the time when his boldness got him in trouble,
and he was afraid of Jezebel,
who we know from last week
was prone to murdering people
who were adversaries,
or even people who just didn’t do
what she or her husband wanted
and who wielded great power,
as the wife of King Ahab.

God doesn't leave Elijah alone in his fear.
God provides for Elijah's needs,
sending an angel to feed him,
and then revealing Godsself to him on the mountain.

And this is a telling story about that confusing notion of what it means to fear the Lord,
for when God tells Elijah God is about to pass by
on the mountain.
First there is a great wind,
so powerful that the rocks and mountains are broken,
imagine that huge tornado that destroyed
Moore Oklahoma a few weeks ago and you may get the sense of power and fear.
But the Lord was not in the wind storm.
Then there is an earthquake, and you know how terrifying it can be when the very ground shakes and rumbles,
imagine being in a cave when that happens.
But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
And then there was a fire,
imagine a great fire like the one that burned
so many hundreds of homes in Colorado this week.
Powerful, and terrifying.
But the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire came a sound of sheer silence.
The King James Version famously translates this,
as a still small voice.
While I like that translation,
I think the sound of sheer silence
is a little more impressive.
We read, that Elijah heard the sound of sheer silence,
and then, then alone did he wrap his face
and go out for he knew he was about to see God.
That's why Centering Prayers love this passage.
For we have all experienced the way God can be met,
in the midst of sheer silence.

Elijah was afraid, of the power of an evil woman,
and experienced the terror
of all of those natural occurrences.
But when he went to see God,
that he heard in the sound of sheer silence,
he was not afraid, he was in awe,
and respect, and knew it best to cover his face lest he be overwhelmed and die from the presence of God.
But he did not run away from God.
And God promised to go with him, if he would but return.
He was called to trust in God,
over against all the things that terrified him.
And we read that same command
over and over in the psalm.
Put your trust in God.
I love that Psalm to, and read it over and over
when I'm afraid, or sad, or worried.
But I am not going to talk about that in depth now.

I am going to talk about what happens when Jesus encounters the man possessed by many demons.
This man, totally naked, and probably dirty and all cut up,
comes to Jesus, completely out of his mind,
for he is caught up in the power of many demons.
We see this kind of possession most often today,
in people who are strung out and addicted to drugs.
For the addiction controls them and possesses them
much like an evil force, and it is so hard to overcome.

The people of this man’s community
had tried to control him,
presumably to keep him from hurting himself,
or at least to keep him from hurting others.
They tried to control him the only way they knew how,
by binding him with chains and shackles.
But under the power of the demons he
would break those bonds
while remaining in their deeper bondage
and the man was driven into the wilderness,
where he lived among the dead, in the tombs.

Jesus has compassion on this man,
recognizing that chains are not going to free him from bondage, and he casts out the demons from him.
The demons are afraid of Jesus,
for they know he has the power to destroy them,
to send them back into hell.
But Jesus is so loving, he even acquiesces to the demons'
request and sends them into a herd of pigs.
Which then runs into the water and drowns so the demons
end up damned anyway, but that's not the point.
The man Jesus heals of this possession, is found
sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind,
in other words peaceful, free and no longer afraid.

And the response of the people in his community is fear.
One might think that they were afraid because
they recognized that they were
in the presence of a powerful man.
Or they might have doubted that the man who was healed,
was really better,
that he might go crazy any moment and hurt them.
But we hear that when the witnesses
described what happened
Their fear seized them,
in a way, they became possessed themselves,
controlled by fear.
So rather than being grateful to Jesus for healing this man,
who had tormented them for so long,
they ask Jesus to leave.
Now why would they do that?

Well if any of them were swineherds,
or the owners of the pigs,
which was very likely,
they just lost a lot of money,
maybe everything they had,
when the herd of pigs was destroyed.
Maybe the villagers were afraid of what
other economic damage Jesus would do in their community.
What if he found them to have slaves,
which were common enough in that time,
and set them free?
Who would do all the work,
how were they going to survive and get all those pigs back?
What if he releases other people who were in bondage,
like our women, or foreigners?
He's going to destroy the order we have in this town,
that we've worked so hard to put in place.
And what will happen to our home values if crazy people
start coming here looking for healing?
Ok, maybe they weren't worried about home values.
But these are just some thoughts about
the fear that seized them.
I don't think their fear was that awe-filled, fear of the Lord,
kind of thing, but more of a fear of change.

This man would break the bonds,
that the people put on him,
when they were trying to control him,
to protect themselves
but that did not free him,
only God could break the bonds
that really held him captive,
only Jesus could set him free,
and faced with their own lack of control compared to God,
The people ask Jesus to leave.

And so he does.
He returns to his own people,
who were not quite so quick to reject him,
but eventually, faced with the power of love,
and the way Jesus' ministry threatened
to change the status quo,
and to unseat the holders of power,
the ones who put people in bondage,
Jesus would eventually be killed by the same kind of fear.

Only to rise after three days and show that
no bonds can hold back love,
not even death can conquer the love
that wants to set us free.
But we have to put our trust in God,
and set aside our own agendas
and give up our own control
if we are going to see trusting God as good.

Look at the good news expressed by Paul
to the Galatians today!
”Before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.”
But now that faith has come,
now that we know we can trust Jesus,
we're not in bondage but set free to be children of God.
And what is the result?
what good news:
the differences between us don't matter,
there is no longer Jew or Greek.
No longer does it matter which people
you belong to, who is in or out,
who has the power and who doesn’t.
There is no longer slave or free.
All are set free in Christ.

But to be truly free, we must also become free from fear.
And that is truly only possible with God.
This is the God who shows us that his presence,
is seen in the sound of sheer silence.
As the world around us gets more and more frenetic,
louder and busier,
it seems that those in power in the world,
would like us to believe that the chains of noise,
and the chains of entertainment,
and the chains of distraction,
are going to protect us from hurting ourselves or others.
When really we know that,
“in returning and rest we shall be saved,
in quietness and confidence is our strength.”
We say that in our collect every week
in our healing service, by the way.
The world around us seems to reinforce
the fear of silence, the fear we have of confronting,
our own inner demons,
and so it drowns out the silence,
and tries to chain the demons of our inner selves,
with noise and distraction.
But that will not set us free.
Only Jesus can set us free,
whether it is from addiction,
or self-doubt, pursuit of the wrong goals,
or deceiving ourselves and others,
Sometimes we can try to break the chains
of noise and distraction on our own,
and escape from everything
but then we find ourselves even more isolated.
It is only in the community of Christians,
with Jesus in our midst,
that we can be set free, to love each other and God,
and to find out how God
can be found in the sound of sheer silence.
The world is afraid of silence,
because in silence the hidden truth about ourselves
might be revealed,
but Jesus is our truth, and in him
any dark truth we discover about ourselves can be healed.

So in the midst of all the hectic pace of life,
make time to be in silence with God,
approach Jesus and let him set you free.
The same Jesus who set the man free in this story,
is at work today, freeing people from all kinds of
oppression and addiction,
but we have to be quiet to hear his voice,
that still small voice,
the sound of sheer silence.
Amen