No one promised this loving God and God’s creation – being a follower - thing was going to be easy. Just ask Elijah! This man of God and ordinary human being was no stranger to the rollercoaster ride of being a prophetic voice to God’s stiff-necked, yet beloved people. The work of the Hebrew Scripture prophet seems never to be done: reviving a widow’s only son, saving them both from starving during a time of famine, calling again and again for God’s people to repent and turn, and in this passage running for his life from Queen Jezebel.
Granted, he may have gone just a tad bit too far in his zeal for God; after winning a dramatic showdown against the prophets of Baal, he has them all be slaughtered. In return, Jezebel vows to do the same to him. The ups and downs of ministry — for both the everyday Christian and those called to vocational ministry — remain much the same today (although our slaughtering tends to be more metaphorical). Although the face of ministry has changed, the counterpoint feelings of elation and despair still follow a familiar tune. Elijah is so distressed that he runs for his life into the wilderness.
Elijah is ready to pack it all in and die, but our God had other plans. The Lord of the Universe meets this sinner/saint at his place of need with bread for the journey and water to quench a weary soul. He even speaks to Elijah in a still, small, and surprising voice. God speaks to us today and meets us at our point of need. Even when we make monumental messes and fail fabulously, God is still there guiding, coaching, and putting us back into faithful play in new and exciting ways. The call is to listen.
An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know; that is to say, what we don’t know about God and about what God can or cannot do. Many who come to the faith through an event seem to believe that it is a once only happening. They seem to think at that moment they have all the truth that is our God and know God’s mind despite any other evidence. Often they rely on knowledge from flawed interpretation of the scriptures we use as our guiding light. Scriptures that were written down by humans, written with a particular context or cultural avenue to push and been altered deliberately in places over time.
But back to the strangeness of this story in Luke 8 this week that reminds us of the very important fact that, to put it in the modern vernacular: “that was then and this is now.” For the church, the mission stays the same. Methods change with the times. We are the body of Christ in the world, and we are called to continue Christ’s ministry of healing, care, loving and compassion. But — and this thankfully, perhaps — we are not limited to following his methods. Of course we are to pray for healing, love and compassion. But we also are to take action, from the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world.
Jesus’ bizarre act of casting the demons into the swine reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the world’s demons of illness and division and hunger—to stand against exploitation and war and, and, and . . . the list goes on and on.
Here’s another thought. Have you ever thought about the way Jesus communicates through parables, stories, aphorism (I’ll leave you to look that one up) and often deeply obscure riddles. An example of the last is: Many are called but few are chosen. Please note that this methodology is not pleasing to systematic thinkers, a style or way my teachers of theology tried to instil in me. If I had truly communicated as Jesus did when I was training then what I wrote would have been open to misunderstanding, false interpretations and even possibly heresy – somewhat like the teachings of Jesus really. Maybe that is why I struggled to produce the academic papers that were required by my trainers as it was more natural for me to use story, parable etc. to help communicate the person of Jesus.
In Luke there was an occasion when Jesus was addressing a crowd and what he said sounds to me like some Zen-master but very apt when we approach the things of God. In response to the crowd’s question; “when will the Kingdom of God come,” Jesus tells them that ultimate reality is not here and not there which takes away from us our typical attachment to time. The ultimate reality is within you. Don’t forget it is always now and here where God acts and we are called to leave the naked now of our desires and demons for our God.
The world is full of demons/events and behaviours that possess and oppress God’s beloved children. It is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and into the field of pain and difficulty, thus supporting and seeking to deliver our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces that keep them separated from us, from God, and from each other. Note that love and compassion used inclusively are the key.