A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gospel for the Gerasenes

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7
22 June 2013
Year C

On the morning I was going to be ordained my younger brother left this post on my facebook page:

Disappointed and concerned… my brother is being ordained today… he has no exorcism training… no anti-vampire or werewolf training. You can forget Zombie apocalypse training… Looks like I’ll be on point today identifying potential ‘Daywalker threats’!!!

Now to be sure he did end his post with “…In all seriousness though, I’m proud of you Steve.” He was joking. But he raises a good question, how does one know if they are ready for ministry? So when Father Mark asked if I’d like to preach today, on stories full of demons, I was glad for the opportunity to reflect on this question. In response I would like us to consider together three corresponding points. First, we need a strong foundation that readies us for action, second, we need to remember that ministry is a community effort, and third, our communities are called to be about kingdom work. First we will discuss our need of a strong foundation that readies us for action.

This is made clear in the Collect for today (a collect is a prayer that helps gather the people of God together):

O LORD, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is a simple truth but one that can evade us. “… you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness.” What is our foundation? We are set upon the sure foundation of God’s loving-kindness in Christ Jesus. In fact, Jesus is the loving-kindness of God in action. How is Jesus Christ our foundation and how are we readied for ministry? You are probably familiar with this great hymn of the Church:

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, she is His new creation by water and the Word. - Words by Samuel J. Stone, Music by Samuel S. Wesley

Jesus is made our sure foundation through belief in Jesus as the incarnate Word of God and through the waters of baptism. In baptism we are made members of Christ’s Body, the community of all faithful believers, and gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry.

 Next, it is important to remember that ministry is a community effort. In the first reading, we hear about Elijah and some of the troubles he was facing. He had committed murder and rightly fears for his life. He pulls, what some would term, a ‘geographic’, thinking that he can leave his troubles behind. Unfortunately, our troubles have a tendency of following us. Eventually, we have to face them. Facing our difficulties can be made easier if we are part of a community.

Perhaps some of Elijah’s problems were due to his poor mental state. It is important for the Church to talk about mental health issues from time to time and help reduce the stigma and fear often associated with mental illness. Was Elijah suffering from severe depression or some other kind of mental distress or illness? The following early warning signs of mental illness are combined with what the text tells us about Elijah’s behavior and feelings:

·      Eating or sleeping too much or too little – Elijah had trouble sleeping under the broom tree, after the messenger brought him food he went back to sleep again; then he went without food for 40 days.

·      Pulling away from people and usual activities – he left the city, everyone he knew, and isolated in the wilderness.

·      Feeling numb or like nothing matters – Elijah wanted to die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

·      Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head – Elijah replayed the same tape in his head over and over again, he could not think of anything else.

·         Feeling helpless or hopeless – Elijah saw no solution to his problems. He felt abandoned.

Nb. Information gathered from Health and Human Services new website on mental health - MentalHealth.gov

 God did not abandon Elijah, but appeared to him in the sheer silence. Elijah was given a job to do for the good of the people and his own good. He later returns and anoints new and better King’s over Israel and Aram. He found a companion to share in his work and eventually to take up his mantle of leadership after he was gone. He learned that he was not alone. He learned that ministry is a community effort. He found improved mental health through connecting with others and helping others build up the kingdom.

We are also called to participate in building up of the kingdom. It is God’s desire that we live an abundant life, one of health and wholeness, which is what the Hebrew’s called shalom. Yet we know people that are troubled by demons, past trauma or abuse, face biological factors, or have a family history of mental health problems. The Gospel story is about healing and mental health.

Mark Allan Powell’s book, Introducing the New Testament, helps place stories about demons in perspective. Powell states, “Healing stories overlap considerably with accounts of exorcism. In the Bible, possession by an evil spirit does not cause a person to become sinful or immoral; rather, it causes the person to become blind or deaf, to have seizures or be crippled, or to experience some other sort of physical or emotional distress.”

There was a man who once lived in the city among family, friends, and neighbors. How he came to be plagued by demons we are not told. What we do know is that his poor mental health caused him to live in isolation. He became homeless. He may even have tried to hurt himself. He feared God was against him. When asked his name all he could talk about was the legion of problems in which he felt trapped.

Jesus healed him. The word Luke uses here for healing can also mean “salvation.” Healing is a sign of God’s salvation. Salvation is at the heart of Luke’s Gospel. After meeting Jesus the man was restored – to relationship with God, with himself, and with his community. Even though some in his community were a little uncomfortable with someone who had been plagued by mental health problems, Jesus asked him to return home. Now clothed in his right mind he was filled with gratitude and told everyone who would listen about what Jesus had done for him.

          Both Elijah and the man from the country of the Gerasenes had their share of problems. God’s loving-kindness served as their foundation. In community they found an end to their isolation. They found companionship. They found greater peace. They were asked to participate in the building up of the kingdom. May we also find our home, our foundation in God’s loving-kindness, and answer God’s call to participate in the building up of the kingdom, for our own good and the good of all people.

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