Readings for (Proper 7)Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 24 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Third Sunday after Pentecost Proper 7C / Ordinary 12C / Pentecost +4 Textweek


I Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

I thought today that I would preach on the Collect because when I first read it I thought everything from the readings had been pulled altogether in the Collect and it’s a stunningly affirming contemplation. The place and the purpose of the Collect – it’s a prayer that seeks to bring us together, collect us into the word of God and you’ll notice at the bottom it’s got ‘adapted from the A Prayer Book of Australia’, and it’s adapted so that we might just move beyond the dominant rote of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ constantly, and in moving beyond that, so also move beyond a childish appreciation of the divine. So that’s where I started, I thought, yeah, I’ll preach on the Collect, it brings us into the word of God, and then I thought, well we’ve got to go and look at the word of God first so we’ve got to work our way through the readings to come to the Collect!

The Old Testament - week by week we discover stories and the wisdom of stories from the Old Testament, many different stories, many different people, many different styles. And the interesting thing is that week by week we find ourselves in the stories and we find the stories in us. Elijah gives us a stunning insight into the perils of the Christian journey, into the perils of the spiritual journey, the journey of the deer longing for the divine. Elijah is like a really good Anglican – he does what is right and he worships God. Ahab and Jezebel, the Coalition of the Willing, have killed all the prophets with the sword: Elijah is alone. Elijah therefore, for us today, Elijah is the Church, alone. Not the Church of dwindling numbers, not the Church of cultural irrelevance, but the Church alone, unheard.

And in the person of Elijah what we find is a reference point for us to reclaim our voice, to reclaim the voice of the Church. Elijah was fed by angels: perhaps we should become aware of the angels that visit us in our sleep, the angels of the unconscious, rather than the angels of the conscious mind, become aware of them and the food that they provide. Be strong; Elijah was fed by angels that he might have strength. Be strong for the time that you will stay alone, alone in the wilderness, not your own personal good old Christian wilderness, but the wilderness of the Church alone, the unheard voice. Forty days and forty nights we hear, and as an aside, it’s interesting just to note, you can’t help notice, it’s like an echo; you hear forty days and forty nights and you think of the flood. What’s Elijah got to do with the flood? You think of Jesus spending his time in the wilderness, forty days and forty nights. What I wonder is, if those who read the Bible literally really do believe that in olden days everything operated on a forty day clock? It is clearly, clearly a symbolic time. Stay in the wilderness for the forty days and forty nights of your own life and in the wilderness; the purpose of staying there and holding on to the strength that we’re given through the food of angels is to seek an encounter with the divine. Stay in the wilderness until you hear the silence. We’ve got plenty of options: we’ve got John Howard, 96FM, Channels 7, 9, 10, The West Australian; we’ve got the Dons of Oxford; we’ve got the Dali Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope. These are all possible voices to be heard. They’re all options; they’re all distractions as well, all of them. God can be found in the silence of our souls, abiding in us. ‘As the deer longs for the flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.’ That is an inward longing for that which is to be found within.

In Galatians, Elijah gives way to Paul; there’s a beautiful link in the last line: ‘The Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.’ We are almost asked to pick up Paul’s journey and see it as a continuation of Elijah’s journey and what we find in Paul’s writing is, Christ redeems us, frees us from the law. Interestingly enough when we get that, we find ourselves even more alone. The law we received as children from our parents, as we grow we abrogate that to the law of the land and the state. We hand it on – from investing it in our parents we hand it on to Ahab and Jezebel.
Christ asks us to know our aloneness, in order that we may know the blessing of Abraham. Don’t look to the law, don’t look to the laws of Ahab and Jezebel, rather look to the sheer silence. The law is invested in us, it’s not a matter of us giving that away, it’s a matter of us finding where is that truth within that will bring life to the world. And only when we find our aloneness, can we know our oneness with all, because it’s when we find that place exists outside of the law, then we let go of our childlike and our tribal insecurities, for we know ourselves at one, an integral and a complicit part of the whole, and so participators in wholeness.

Galatians, if we just read the last part, ‘Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed’: there is a way of living to be imprisoned by the law and that’s a way of living before faith. ‘Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came’ - this doesn’t mean until Christ landed on the planet back in history, this is talking about the coming of Christ to our place of silence in the wilderness – ‘so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.’ There’s a shift, the reference points of life are shifted: ‘For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.’ All children of God through faith - we find ourselves as one. ‘As many of you as were baptised 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.’ There is no longer male and female: yesterday I signed a petition to be presented to parliament for the equal honouring of same sex unions and as I read this last night I thought, that’s so stunningly biblically based. The Christian Right denies that we are all one in Christ; it denies that it seeks to divide the sheep and the goats and in so doing, the Christian Right denies the blessing of Abraham.

The Gospel continues to evidence and illustrate this same process that began with Elijah, the process of ourselves becoming into Christ, the process of becoming fully alive and finding and realising the fullness of humanity. Jesus comes to the place of the naked man who lives in the tomb. This is the very same place that we find Elijah, running away stripped of everything, the only prophet left in the land. And I would argue that it’s the same place that we find the church in the modern world, naked and living amongst the dead. When Jesus comes to that place - the place didn’t have to go to Jesus - he didn’t kill the demons, what he does is he changes the locus of power. There’s a shift; now we see that in a story of pigs running off and jumping off a cliff. If we stay though with what’s actually told in that story, the power shifts. And one of the things we quite often do with this story is we get caught up with looking at the demoniac. Keep the focus, keep your eye on the ball with this story, keep your eye on Jesus in the story: it’s interesting to see what happens, for when the people saw the shift in power that was occasioned by Jesus’ healing power, they were afraid, they were afraid. And as we realise Christ’s healing power in us and as we make that manifest in the world, so too we will find ourselves, like Christ, taking leave of those who live in fear, taking leave of those who are imprisoned by the law, taking leave of those who live by the ways of the world.

Those readings - they look seamless, they look like one story - are then brought together into the Collect. This is the ask of the Collect. This is us drawing ourselves together to realise the word of God that we’ve heard:

Pour out upon us, O God,
the power and wisdom of your Spirit,
so that we who have been baptised into Christ
and made your children through faith,
may know your Divine power to heal,
and being made one in Christ,
may overcome all barriers that divide us.

May this be our contemplation as we rise in the morning. And may it also be our prayer as we seek food from the angels at night.

Peter Humphris