1 Kings 19.1-8; Luke 8.26-33
Two stories of salvation …
A prophet wild and wonderful …
A man of the tombs, lost and violent …
The work of God.
Have you ever thought about how hard it must be to be God?
Years ago, reading a book about God …
Pondering the many stories of the Bible.
How hard it is to be God.
For the first time in my life, I wept for God.
The burdens God carries.
The sorrows of God’s heart.
Because God took a chance creating us.
The flowers and the trees are all good, and give delight to the heart of God.
The soaring mountains and the roaring sea are a pleasure for the eyes of God.
The whole of the universe … billions of years old … distances so vast we cannot comprehend them …
All of it good, all of it pleasing to God.
And, then, there’s us - the strangest of all God’s creatures … we are dirt and dust, like everything else, and unlike everything else, we are the breath of God.
The Psalmist says: We are created just a little less than the angels.
And speaking of angels, I have often thought of them watching God create the heavens and earth, cheering God on, smiling and celebrating the glories of God’s majesty and the wonders of creation.
And then God said: Let us create humankind in our image.
Did the angels hold their breath?
Wondering about the final drama of creation?
Did the angels offer a word of caution to God?
O God, it won’t work.
Are you sure about this?
Combing dirt and divinity?
What a strange amalgam we are.
The breath of God wrapped up in flesh and bone.
We’re full of will and energy.
We’re finite and mortal, with longings for eternity.
We dream and desire, yet we’re given to death.
The breath of God within us, yet dust to dust we are.
Created by God to care for the Garden.
Yet so easily misled by the Serpent.
God gave us everything in the Garden.
With the exception of one tree … the Tree of final knowledge, the knowledge of good, and evil.
A tree that belongs exclusively to God.
A tree only God can tend.
But Adam and Eve weren’t satisfied.
They wanted to be like God; they wanted final knowledge.
This one tree.
This luscious fruit.
So Adam and Eve took the fruit, to be like God, and in that desperate moment, the very nature of creation was changed.
Where there was light, there is darkness now.
Where there was hope, there is despair.
Where there was life, there is fear.
Where there was love, there is hatred and blame, scheming and greed, violence and murder and war …
As the story unfolds in the Book of Genesis, we learn that God had second thoughts about everything, and like the song from the musical, South Pacific:
Gonna wash this man right outa my hair …
Don’t try to patch it up.
Tear it up, tear it up!
Wash him out, dry him out.
Push him out, fly him out.
Cancel and let him go.
I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair
The flood, the earth destroyed, but for an ark.
Noah and his family, the animals, two-by-two … saved for another day … when the flood is over, Noah and his family start all over … but it doesn’t take long for the whole thing to fall apart, all over again … the flood created a mess, and it didn’t solve the problem.
Now, what am to do? asks God.
What am I to do?
From the prophet Hosea, these very words:
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
It’s not easy being God.
And though we often say to ourselves, If I were God, here’s what I would do.
But we’re not God, though a little bit like God.
We have wild souls.
We are given to all sorts of dark thoughts and mean deeds.
Put us in a mob, and it’s a mess.
The mob cries for death and war.
Crucify him, crucify him, the mob cries.
What is God to do?
The story of Elijah has alway intrigued me.
Elijah, the prophet of God.
Impetuous, impatient, given to violence.
He loves fire and blood.
And sees to the death of all the false prophets: 450 prophets of Baal; 400 prophets Ashera … all killed, dead and gone.
Victory turns unexpectedly to fear.
Queen Jezebel issues a death sentence for Elijah, and Elijah flees for his life into the wilderness, there to be fed by an angle, to find a cave, and there to hide … Elijah no longer the victor, but now the hunted; he’s bitter, full of self-pity: I’m the only one left, he says … the only one who is faithful. Nobody cares but me.
God pays Elijah a visit … No Elijah, you’re not the only one … I have faithful people all over the place … so get a hold of yourself, take a deep breath, and pay attention.
There was a great wind, so strong it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks, but God wasn’t in the wind.
Then an earthquake, and God wasn’t in earthquake, either.
Then a fire, and God wasn’t in the fire.
Then, after all that noise, all that violence, all that raw power … there was silence … sheer silence, unnerving, disturbing … a deep quiet … and therein was God.
Elijah wrapped his mantle around his face … humbled and saved … his wild soul tamed.
By the cave, in the wilderness, Elijah learns something about life: violence leads nowhere, blood spilled, even in the name of God, is not the way to life … the way of the sword is the way of death … Jesus himself said: those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Elijah was tamed that day by the great love of God, tempered a bit, revived and commissioned again … because work needed to be done … his wild soul needed to be tamed.
The second tale we tell is the man of the tombs, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee … and why Jesus is there at that moment, only God knows for sure, but this much we know, it’s the love of God at work … in a man wild and willful, full of demons … a legion of demons, cursing and screaming.
The man rushes to Jesus and cries out in protest … with mercy and kindness, Jesus sets the man free … to return to his home, no longer a wild man, but a man restored to his senses … with a story to tell of Jesus and his goodness … a story to tell to the nations.
Across the pages of Scripture, dramatic stories to highlight the plight of humanity - and the mercy of God …
To keep the story going … the story of life, hope and goodness … there is work to be done, but not the work of a sword, but the work of mercy and peace.
It’s never easy to do the work of God … and in Christ we see the final outworking of what that means … not a sword, but a cross … Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world, the sorrows of humankind, not by violence, but with mercy.
All of us here today are beneficiaries of that story … here we are, creatures of dirt and divinity … each us, by the Holy Spirit, souls tamed by the love of God, brought close to Christ and close to one another in the great fellowship of faith.
Elijah was recommissioned that day with work to be done … the man of the tombs was sent back home to share his story.
Souls tamed by the mercy of God.
I doubt if any of us here are quite as wild as Elijah … I’m quite sure none of us here are as the man of the tombs.
But each of us in our way has a soul given to the darker side of things … in each of us, there is something of Elijah, in each of us, something of the man of the tombs.
The Holy Spirit comes to us, with the love of Christ, gently and purposefully, to tame our souls, that we might tame the world.
To the glory of God, and for the healing of the nations. Hallelujah and Amen!