1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:10-14,23-29’ Luke 8:26-39

Proper 7 (12) Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 7C / Ordinary 12C / Pentecost +4 June 20, 2010
Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Last week’s episode in the Elijah saga I likened to a Shakespearean tragedy. This week’s episode really requires the special effects of the Dreamworks studio and the direction of Stephen Spielberg to do it justice. The most disturbing thing about this and most of our other Sunday readings is that so many still read them as literal historical narrative – they think these events actually happened!

Let’s assume for a moment that this is a literal account, what does the story tell us? A prophet, that is one filled with the God’s word, goes around killing all the other prophets – a sort of genocide of competitors.
He runs away, hides and goes to sleep. Then an Angel (one of God’s messengers) bakes some cakes and serves them to him on hot stones along with a jar of water. Having filled himself he then walks for forty days – no more food, climbs a mountain and finds a cave to sleep in.
In the cave he has a conversation with God who tells him to go out of the cave and look for God who is going to pass by.

First there is the wind that splits mountains and breaks rocks into pieces (that’s why we need the special effects), next an earthquake, and then fire. It appears that he didn’t see any of these, for only when there was sheer silence did he go out and stand at the entrance of the cave. Brave man! And as God passes by, so he has another conversation with God.

These stories, sacred texts, have been told and retold for generations. Most who have heard them have believed in their reality. I cannot comprehend such a hearing! Read that way it is nothing but drivel. Sacred texts are not meant to be documentaries, even though they are often constructed around real historical events and situated in actual socio/political contexts. They are more like those delightful Disney films that operate on one level that appeals to primary, even pre-primary children, and then on another level they provide a more profound thread that captures a more mature audience.

The Eastern Orthodox Church employed icons as a visual way of leading the listener into the story that lies beyond that actual text. The Western – our church, the Roman Church, stayed primarily with stained glass windows which more often than not underlined and illustrated only the actual text. A simple example is the window at the back above the font - a scene from Mark’s gospel where John the Baptist baptises Jesus and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. It’s all in the window, we don’t need to read the story and when these windows were very popular people couldn’t read so that’s how they got the story. Go into a Greek or Eastern Orthodox church and look at the icons, like the Rublev’s icon of the Trinity – three people sitting at a table tells the story of the visitors Abraham and Sarah, but it’s actually an icon of the Trinity, it’s an image of God, that takes us beyond the text.

So if we read 1 Kings again as an ‘icon’ and allow it to lead us, in the present moment, into the sacred space of the Divine Word, then we can perhaps glimpse some of our own life movement in the Elijah saga. As we see it as an icon it invites us, it calls to us, who are the figures of Ahab and Jezebel in my world and/or in our world? Become aware of them. What actions of the authorities do we seek to work against? That’s a pretty easy one when you’ve got someone like Kevin Rudd in power, isn’t it! The authority of Government, the authority of parent, the authority of priest, the authority of law - they are all obvious authorities; but look deeper and what we can see that every relationship has some authorship of our lives, and so some authority. We can look for the characters of Ahab and Jezebel in the relationships we have in our lives, and be aware that others will see us in those same figures.

What voice do I seek to “kill with the sword”? This is a convenient anagram of ‘kills with the word’, so maybe it is easier for those of us without swords, to consider what voice do we seek to overcome with our voice. What voice do I seek to overcome with my voice?

Elijah was afraid; so are we. However, do we acknowledge and confront our fears, or do we also hide, run away, and seek solace in sleep? He fled for his life. Maybe this is harder for us to imagine in our comfortable world, but not so for the millions of refugees who know the reality of Elijah in this moment, for they too have fled for their lives. And as we contemplate their reality, can we glimpse ourselves as cast in the role of Ahab and Jezebel?

The reading and the whole Elijah saga is an iconic story. It has many parallels with the story of Moses, and the actions take place in the same setting. It was on Mount Sinai (here called “Horeb the mount of God”) that God revealed the Law to Moses, and a quick extract from Exodus illustrates the same action of God passing by:

Exodus 33:
17 The Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, "The Lord'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Elijah after he has been fed by an angel, goes without food and drinks and walks for forty days. In Exodus 34:28 it tells us that Moses “was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water”. Even the cakes, delightfully served by the angels on hot stones, baked and brought from an angel from heaven seem to parallel the Divine “bread of Heaven’ that sustained the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Elijah’s story is another telling of the story that is told through the character of Moses, and we are another telling of the same story. We are not reading about Elijah, this story that seems very similar to Moses’, we are reading our life story. We are looking into an icon of ourselves, seeking to find the Divine, not in Elijah not in some person in the past, but rather within ourselves. These are stories to be heard by our souls, to be contemplated for is beyond the text; they are eternal stories, for they are icons of the eternal, stories of life that is lived beyond the confines of birth and death. If we live between birth and death we exist just as grass exists and trees exist. If we live beyond those confines, then we touch eternal life.

Elijah, as a life story has to undertake different journeys in response to God’s word. His life changes direction. It is not a comfortable movement, as it is filled with the reality of fear, and yet faith in the Divine Word not only overcomes that fear, but enables an encounter with the Divine in the very movement and moment of life. We do not have to die to meet God! That’s an old fashioned way of looking at the world when we thought the world was flat and that when we died our spirit would rise up into the heavens until we banged on God’s door which is up there somewhere. It makes no sense. These stories speak of an encounter with God in the very moment of life.

If we had read one more verse we would also see the overall orientation of today’s episode; “15 Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.” It is a future orientation, and it tells of a life that will change the authority of the world….. “you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram…. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel”. A life that changes a ruler and the kingship of the world. It’s an orientation that also provides an ongoing unfolding that reaches beyond Elijah’s own life: “and you shall anoint Elisha…. as prophet in your place.” That says that your work will continue; it is not over in the present moment, I haven’t done it, it’s a movement and it’s a movement that continues as life unfolds.

When we wonder what our place in life is about – usually over a cup of coffee somewhere, when we sit with newspapers half-opened and debate the direction of the world, or when we dumb our very minds just watching some teams kicking a ball around a field, we can often feel that we are so insignificant in the whole scheme of things. These stories, these icons for contemplation are Divine gifts that say something quite different. We are not spectators in life’s unfolding, we are participants in it – and our words and actions DO change the direction of creation’s unfolding. Tomorrow is of our making. It might look like it’s someone else’s; it isn’t – our words our actions participate in the unfolding of creation. What a delightful icon to have this morning as we prepare for our AGM and look to a future orientation of St Paul’s.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris