The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 23 June 2019

Track One:
I Kings 19:1-4 [5-7] 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43

Track Two:
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27

Galatians 3:23-29
St. Luke 8:16-39

Background: Jezebel

This queen of Israel and wife of King Ahab, Jezebel embodies all that was problematic in the Northern Kingdom, and that was the grist for Elijah’s prophetic mill. She was the daughter of Ithobaal I of Sidon and given her name and her father’s name (ending in “bel” and “baal” we begin to see the problem. She imported her devotion to Ba’al, and to Asherah (his consort) into the religious life is Israel. Her name means “where is the prince”, a reference to the seasons of the year when the prince (Ba’al) was in the underworld. The marriage gives us a picture of a prosperous northern kingdom, and the dalliance with Canaanite or Phoenician religion was not uncommon. This straying from the worship of YHWH was the common rant of the prophets.

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."] He got up and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but theLord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."

The initial sentence sets the scene so well, framing the animosity that the royal couple will have for the prophet. I hope you will include the optional verses in the reading (5 – 7) in that they more fully develop the humanity of the character Elijah. It’s not easy being a prophet not only because of the royal anger focused against him but also because of his own doubts and fears. This humanity is contrasted with the majesty of God seen in the “sound of sheer silence.” With all the noise of our cities, towns, and homes – profound silence can indeed be awe inspiring. It leaves room for God and for the divine. 

If we look earlier in the reading, and remember Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Ba’al, we can see how grandiose demonstrations of power may not do all that we think that they might do. The contest does not convince. Yet the sheer silence of God does pierce the heart of the prophet. He is convinced of his mandate even in the midst of loneliness, “I alone am left.” 

Breaking open I Kings:
1.    What is your argument for God?
2.    Who has animosity toward you because of your religion?
3.    How do you respond?

Psalm 42 Quemadmodum

     As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.
     My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
     My tears have been my food day and night, *
while all day long they say to me,
"Where now is your God?"
     I pour out my soul when I think on these things: *
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,
     With the voice of praise and thanksgiving, *
among those who keep holy-day.
     Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
     Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
     My soul is heavy within me; *
therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan,
and from the peak of Mizar among the heights of Hermon.
     One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts; *
all your rapids and floods have gone over me.
10    The Lord grants his loving-kindness in the daytime; *
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
11    I will say to the God of my strength,
"Why have you forgotten me? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?"
12    While my bones are being broken, *
my enemies mock me to my face;
13    All day long they mock me *
and say to me, "Where now is your God?"
14    Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
15    Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

This psalm seems to speak from the heart of loneliness (see comments on the first reading above.) There is a picture of longing humanity in this psalm that is really quite eloquent. The loneliness of this psalm is set in a need for God. What our translation has as “so longs my soul for you, O God”, and in the second verse, “My soul is athirst for God.” The use of the word “soul” limits the intent of the psalm. A more powerful understanding might be had in the realization that the psalmist indicates his “whole being and essence” in the word nafshi. The theme of thirst continues in the unusual phrase, “my tears have become food.”

The psalmist continues to give examples of his yearning, and the depth of it. Some of it is emotional, and others express the sweep in geographical terms. Time expresses this need, and his very bones as well. The deep question, and one with which we too might relate is, “Where, now, is your God?” Despite the enemy’s taunt, the psalmist is certain of God’s presence.


Psalm 43 Judica me, Deus

     Give judgment for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people; *
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.
     For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?
     Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, *
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;
     That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness; *
and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
     Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
     Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Scholars think that Psalm 43, is actually a continuation of Psalm 42, and thus its inclusion here. Readers will find repeated verses from Psalm 42.

Breaking open Psalm 42 and 43:
1.    When have you been lonely?
2.    Have you ever felt a loneliness from God?
3.    What do you long for from God?

Track 2:

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here I am, here I am,"
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine's flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you."
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors' iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
Thus, says the Lord:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, "Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,"
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

Some commentators see this pericope, at least up to verse 7, as a separate composition placed here to answer the issues described in 63:7-64:11. You may want to visit there and see how the accusations in the first part of the reading are framed by the anxieties of the prophet and of the people. There is a delineation that is being made here, contrasting the judgment that God wishes to make against those who rebel against God, and a promise of salvation to those who are faithful. It is an old story and an old pattern. What is truly interesting is the question about the peoples’ sin being attributed to God’s silence. (A not uncommon attitude in our own time as well.) Within the context of the readings of Track 1 and Track 2 then we have God’s silence as troubling and God’s silence as majesty (see Track 1, First Reading). 

The other interesting aspect is the attitude of the rebellious people – “do not come near me for I am too holy for you.”It is not only a commentary that describes the prophet’s dilemma, but also one that describes our condition. We all too often, no matter which side of the political or religious question we stand on, find ourselves to be more righteous and holy than those who see the situation differently.

The point here is that God is still God, and that God is the arbiter. Both might be recipients of God’s grace. Or, as the prophet sees it, “as the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it, so will I do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all.” This makes for a very preachable moment for our time.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.    When do you feel better than others?
2.    Whom is that you have difficulty with?
3.    Where do you find reconciliation?

Psalm 22:18-27 Deus, Deus meus

18    Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.
19    Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.
20    Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
21    I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
22    Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.
23    For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
24    My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
25    The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"
26    All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27    For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.

This psalm is so tied to the Triduum that it is difficult to be heard in the lives of other than the experience of Jesus. Yet, the psalm was described well before Jesus and seems to match the attitudes in the latter Isaiah. There are two people – those who hate God (my enemies) and the righteous. Like Isaiah the psalmist describes the enemies in dire terms (see verse 17). Robert Alter, in his translation, sharpens the denigration, “For the curs came all around me, a pack of the evil encircled me,”[1]On the other side (our reading for today) are described those who follow God and are faithful to God and how God is indiscriminate in the choosing. “My praise is of him in the great assembly.” It is well of us that we ask and inquire as to who is in “the great assembly”. The psalm answers our question, “those who seek”, “the poor”, “all the ends of the earth,” and “the families of the nations.” In the last and final analysis, it is God who designates, who chooses.

Breaking open Psalm 22:
1.    Who are your enemies?
2.    How do you describe them?
3.    Why is there animosity between you?

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized 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 Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

In my library, I have a commentary on Galatians by Saint John Chrysostom. As I read through it I heard themes first heard in his Paschal Homily. If you are unfamiliar with it, you may want to go there and be edified. I am moved to quote him completely here as a commentator on this reading.

“See what an insatiable soul! For having said, “We are all made children of God through Faith,” he does not stop there, but tries to find something more exact, which may serve to convey a still closer oneness with Christ. Having said, ‘ye have put on Christ,’ even this does not suffice Him, but by way of penetrating more deeply into this union, he comments on it thus: ‘Ye are all One in Christ Jesus.’ That is, ye have all one form and one mould, even Christ’s. What can be more awful than these words! He that was a Greek, or Jew, or bond-man yesterday, carries about with him the form, not of an Angel or Archangel, but the Lord of all, yea displays in his own person the Christ.”[2]

Breaking open Galatians:
1.    Whom do you have your doubts about as a Christian?
2.    Why?
3.    How might you think better of this person?

The Gospel: St. Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

So many things might be addressed here, but the one that comes immediately to mind is the theme of community. It is the context which at first is denied the demoniac, but later it is the context to which Jesus sends the man – in ministry. The portrait of the man that Luke paints here bears resemblance to Isaiah’s rendering of those who rebel against God, living in tombs and filled with evil.  Luke gives us here a story that is not only about healing, but about restoration and being sent as well. He sees this man as surrounded by fear – initially because of his mental condition, and later because he has been healed by a man, Jesus, whom the community sends away. Thus the portrait of the community is as unsettling as that of the demoniac. “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” Luke usually characterizes people’s reaction as one of amazement or astonishment, code words for belief. It is sobering to realize that sometimes even healing and restoration can induce fear.

This healing takes place amongst the Gerasenes, not Jews – hence the herd of pigs. With this Luke again asks us to reconsider the community and what it is made up of. The healed man wants to go with Jesus to be in community with him. Jesus, however, has another idea, that the man should return and declare. He should return to his own community, and declare what has happened to him, what Jesus (whom they had sent away) had done for him. Community, or the idea of community can have a warm feeling about it. Here, however, Luke shows all the complications of community. In a pericope that precedes this one, Jesus talks about the community we know as family (8:19ff). Luke, in his structuring of this story, is describing the difficulties of community and ministry in community. What might we learn from this?

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What are your communities?
2.     Which are the ones that you love?
3.     What do you give them, or they give you?

Central Idea:               Who is the enemy, and how are we healed?

Notion 1:                     Elijah and the Foreign Queen (First Reading, Track 1)

                                      Isaiah’s vision of those who follow and those who rebel (First Reading, Track 2)

Notion 2:                     Chrysostom joins with Paul in welcoming all, even the last (Second Reading)

Notion 3:                     Ministry sometimes separates and divides us (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

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 loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 2190.
[2]     Chrysostom, J. Commentary on Galatians, 3:28


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