In Your Right Mind 2nd Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-15a Luke 8:26-39
Have you ever had experiences in which you felt like a stranger in a strange land? Where maybe you wondered if you were in a dream? Where things didn’t make sense as much as they normally do? A time when you might say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!”?
I spent a summer in Georgia when I was 19, and the weather and the local attitudes and the strange speech all made me feel kind of “alien.” A few years later, I did a year of graduate study in Scotland—another opportunity to stretch and grow in appreciation of a different culture. Then I transferred to Princeton, New Jersey. I felt more alien there than I had anywhere! People were rude, their speech was hurried, their driving was insane—and it got even worse whenever I left the campus!
Today, I would like for you to remember your experiences of feeling “alien” as we look at our Scriptures. They both refer to events that happened when God’s servants ventured into strange territory—strange both geographically and otherwise. Let’s take a look.
Our passage from 1 Kings shows us Elijah heading out into the Wilderness. You might call this chapter in his life “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!” He had just triumphed over the prophets of Baal in an epic showdown of the Gods—and Yahweh showed up in a powerful way. That was the triumph. But then Jezebel (the queen who had imported Baal worship) found out that her prophets had been destroyed, and she held Elijah responsible for it. She swore that she would have him KILLED! And Elijah ran for his life. That was the defeat.
After he had gone a day’s journey, he was ready to give up. He prayed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” An angel came to him two times, bringing bread and water—to give him strength for his journey. And after 40 days and nights he came to a cave at Mount Horeb.
And it is there that God spoke to Elijah.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” It seems that he had been asking himself the same question all along his journey. His response to God seems a little rehearsed: “I’ve done everything I can to serve the Lord, but everyone has gone to the dogs and they’re trying to kill me.”
God speaks again.
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” A great wind blew up, and then an earthquake hit, and then there was fire. But the Lord was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire. Then came the sound of sheer silence, and Elijah went to the mouth of the cave. The Lord spoke again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he gave the same LAME response. And the Lord told him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
What we see here is a time of weakness and questioning for Elijah—a time of hesitation. We are privileged to see a snapshot of one chapter in the spiritual journey of this amazing Prophet of God. It gives us a reassurance that being on the journey is a good thing. There are “highs” in our Christian adventure—and there are certainly “lows,” and it’s all part of the journey. Next week, we’ll get to see another part of Elijah’s journey of faith—a strong, victorious, and glorious moment!
In our Gospel reading, Jesus goes to the Decapolis, a region of ten cities east of the Sea of Galilee. This is a predominantly GENTILE region, although there would have been Jews living there. This would have been an excursion of “a stranger into a strange land.” I suspect the Disciples were a little nervous to be there. But I can see two reasons why Jesus took them there:
- There were Jews in the area, and they needed to meet the One who was the fulfillment of their messianic hope;
- Jesus wanted to show his Disciples that God cares for Gentiles!
When they crossed the Sea of Galilee, they encountered a man (Jew? Gentile?) who was possessed by demons. He wore no clothes; and he lived among the tombs. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him, and he fell down before Jesus and shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?!” Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” The answer: “Legion,” meaning that many demons were possessing him. (I’m sure the Disciples were in unfamiliar territory at this point!)
Jesus sent the demons out of the man, into a herd of pigs, and they rushed down the hill into the lake and drowned.
The people from the city came, upset that the pigs had been destroyed. They saw the man who had formerly been possessed by demons, and he was sitting at the feet of Jesus. He was clothed, and he was in his right mind. And the people from the city were AFRAID. People came from the surrounding territory, heard what had happened, and THEY WERE AFRAID! They all asked Jesus to leave themL
So Jesus got into the boat to leave, and the man begged that he might stay with Jesus—sounds like he wanted to be a Disciple! But Jesus gave him a mission: “Go, return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
By the way–we know that his mission was a success, because when Jesus returned to the area, people were excited to hear him. The fear was gone. One of the “feeding the multitudes” events happened in this Gentile territory, and Jesus healed many people!
These are examples of people of God heading into strange territory. It’s actually a tradition in our story of faith! God takes us to places that are strange, even frightening, and God’s purposes are fulfilled in us.
When the captives were taken from Judea and hauled off to Babylon, they were dismayed. Psalm 137 commemorates that event: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?!” This question is answered by our texts for today!
- Elijah goes to foreign territory when his boldness has melted into craven fear. (This is very atypical for Elijah!) He is in a physically alien land with wind, earthquake, fire. But the still, small voice of God is with him there!
- Jesus goes to the Decapolis where he is interacting with folks, most of whom have no background understanding of our faith story. He leaves when requested to do so, but not before giving a commission to a man he has healed—a man who prepared the way of the Lord before he returned to the area.
- When Jesus told this man to stay in his home territory and tell everyone what God had done for him, he was, in a way, being sent into foreign territory. The geography was familiar, but his new perspective made him a stranger in his own land.
Friends, sometimes God sends us into foreign territory. It might be far away, and it might be right in our own backyard! It’s quite possible that we will feel strange and “out of place.” It might be a time when we feel weakness, hesitancy, doubt.
But we can choose to “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land!” Perhaps we’ll be like Elijah who had an existential crisis—and God sent him further along into the wilderness in order to bless him.
Or perhaps God will send us on a more short-term mission into “foreign territory” in order to plant some good seeds. It could be the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru; it could be a “foreign” place right here in our community, maybe the place where we live or work—commissioned by Christ to plant some good seeds.
Whether we are at home or in a distant land, you and I can always be “in our right minds” when we make God our Center; when we choose to let God use us for God’s purposes; when we intentionally deny our fear and put our trust in God.