1 Kings 19:1-15a; Luke 8:26-39
Do you know who you are? Sometimes we become so caught up in our troubles that we forget who we are.
In the story about Elijah, Queen Jezebel has had enough of his meddling in his affairs. She threatens to have him killed, and he flees for his life. He leaves Jerusalem and heads south, far south into what is now known as the Negev Desert and the Sinai Peninsula.
He leaves his servant in Beersheba and heads out into the wilderness, a day’s journey. Finding a little bit of shade, he sits down under a large shrub. As he sits, he holds a pity party for himself. He is so frustrated, he wants to die, instead of live in fear another minute.
He falls asleep, and an angel or messenger taps him to wake him up. There is food and water there, and he eats and drinks and goes back to sleep. This happens again. By now, Elijah is refreshed enough to move on, as the messenger/angel directs. He travels far south, to Mount Horeb – which is another name for Mount Sinai.
He finds a cave, and goes to sleep. In the morning, he hears a voice asking, “Elijah, why are you here?” Elijah vents out all of his frustration. “I’m here because I’m fed up with trying to help your people. They have turned away from you, and refuse to listen to me. Now, they want to kill me. You ask me why I’m here? That’s why I’m here!”
The voice says, “Go stand outside the cave. The Lord will pass by.” As Elijah stands at the mouth of the cave, he experiences the power of the Divine. There is a strong wind; an earthquake; and fire. These are all ways in which God’s people have thought of God before. But this time, God isn’t in those events. God is actually present in the silence that is left afterwards.
After this stillness, the voice speaks again. “Elijah, why are you here?” And Elijah responds again, more quietly this time, “I’m here because I’m fed up with trying to help your people. They have turned away from you, and refuse to listen to me. Now, they want to kill me. You ask me why I’m here? That’s why I’m here!”
Elijah has worked so hard confronting Jezebel and the evil that flowed from her that he has lost his sense of self. He has forgotten that he is a prophet of the Lord and that the Lord has his back – his 6, as they say in the military.
After the experience of God’s power, Elijah remembers that the Lord is a God of power. God is also a God of invisible presence. He remembers who he is in the eyes of God. In the end, he is ready for whatever God has for him to do next.
… The story from the Gospel of Luke takes place in Gerasa, the land of the Gerasenes, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which Luke calls Lake Gennesaret, which is its name today. Jesus and the disciples have traveled across the lake and entered into Gentile territory.
The demon-possessed man is out of control. In an effort to keep him from hurting others as well as himself, he is shackled in the cemetery caves. He suffers from convulsions and rantings, and no one wants to be near him. He has lost his community as well as his physical and mental health.
And, he has lost his sense of self. He calls himself Legion, the name of a large military unit of about 6,000 soldiers. We say he is possessed; using his military language, he is occupied. He has no control over any part of himself anymore; everything he is and does relates to the demons which possess, or occupy, him. He doesn’t even use his name. He is no longer Larry (for example); he is Legion.
Jesus has a conversation with the demons. The demons have no problem with identity. They know who and whose they are, and they do not wish to be sent back into the arms of the abyss. They have no problem being sent into the nearby herd of pigs. The demons end up in the pigs, and then into the abyss, since the pigs then drown in the sea.
The man is healed and soon finds himself dressed and having a conversation with Jesus. “Thank you so much for giving me back my self. I’d like to go with you and learn more from you.” Jesus instructs him to remain in Gerasa and tell the folks there about what Jesus did for him.
… We wonder today what kind of brain disorder this man had, to so totally overtake his body. What kind of drugs or surgery might we perform to fix him? Demons for us are chemical or psychological imbalances.
Demons can be any of a number of obsessions in our lives. Drugs and alcohol, money, weight, work, fear of failure, fear of losing control, and many more issues may all go beyond the normal rage and become obsessions. We then lose ourselves to these factors, and become what the factors make of us.
We become addicts, and forget about everything else in our lives and focus on obtaining the product we need to ease our hunger. We become greedy, needing to have as much money as possible. We become anorexic in our need to control our body’s shape. We think work will solve all of our problems so we become whatever pays the bills – a lawyer, doctor, carpenter, soldier, business owner, etc. – and ignore our family. We become controllers, micromanaging every detail to ensure that we will not fail and neither will any of our projects.
We become a cancer patient, instead of Mary, who happens to have cancer. We become a homeless person, instead of Greg, who can no longer afford to have a house. We become an old person, instead of Joanne, who happens to be 95 years old.
We become as possessed by these needs and situations or conditions as the man in Gerasa was possessed by spiritual demons. The healing Jesus offers for these demons is, first, to help us recognize we have lost ourselves to the demons, and, second, to help us rid ourselves of them.
When we realize we are possessed by some sort of demon, and make a decision to rid ourselves of it, it helps to remember who and whose we are. We are God’s children. We are Jesus’ sisters and brothers. We are armed with God’s power – the power of wind, earthquake, and fire, and the power of the thin, silent sound of God’s presence. We are baptized, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Please pray with me. As we pray, I invite you to remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross on your forehead or body. + Feel in your fingers the power of God within and all around you. Listen in the silence for God’s whisper: … “You are my beloved child. I am more powerful than any demon. I love you more than life itself, and I’m here to help you.” Amen