(1 Kings 19:8-13 and Mark 5:1-20)
The two stories from the Bible that we have this morning, are powerful stories and difficult stories, strange and amazing.
We have the story of the prophet Elijah on a holy mountain encountering a mysterious humming stillness that leads to God, but only after he encountered a series of violent forces that do not lead to God. This whole episode takes place when Elijah is basically locked in a blood feud against King Ahab and Queen Jezebel over what’s the true God and what’s an idol. They’re literally killing each other over this. Elijah is fleeing for his life, and he himself has blood on his hands.
And on the holy mountain he encounters the true God, but not in the forces of terror and violence, but in the force of stillness, the silence that speaks to us.
And then we have the story of Jesus encountering a man who is himself possessed by violent forces, terrifying forces, he’s tearing himself apart and he’s terrorizing everyone else. These forces that possess him are understood to be a demon, that names itself, or themselves, Legion. “Legion” here is a direct reference to Roman Legions, who had been busy terrorizing and traumatizing the people in this area. That’s the key to understanding this story, I think – it has everything to do with what we’d call trauma, which has a profound spiritual dimension.
Jesus confronts this demon with the strength of his inner peace, and he heals the man, he frees him from the violent effects of this Legion and leaves him at peace and in his right mind. And this man is so overjoyed that he goes all around sharing his story about how Jesus helped him with God’s mercy.
Both of these stories, about Elijah and Jesus, in their own ways are about how people can encounter God, the true God of mercy, in the midst of violence.
And here we are this week, again in the midst of violence.
This time it is because an individual glorifying in the hate that possessed him, took a tool engineered to kill many people very quickly, and used it to kill many people very quickly: four dozen precious people enjoying life in a place they thought was safe for them to be themselves.
Four dozen precious people whom this killer targeted because he hated how it is and who it is that God had created them to love.
His hate was also a tool engineered, engineered by religious teachings that teach that our hate is God’s hate, and our violent power is God’s violent power.
Many different religious institutions teach this, in the Christian world, as well as in the Muslim world and Jewish world and Hindu world and Buddhist world and so on. So I need to be very clear. This kind of teaching is idolatry, whoever is making it. This is worshipping false gods. And when we worship false gods, we can easily become possessed with demonic forces, and we find ourselves hurting other people and hurting ourselves. These forces, these demonic forces of violence, can be very contagious and very sneaky too – it can say, oh we’re not being hateful we’re not being violent, “love the sinner and hate the sin” kind of thing. So we have to be clear:
The true God is a God of mercy.
This true God has not created anybody to be an abomination, but has created everybody to be beloved.
The fact is that that God has created humanity with a diversity of sexual orientations and a diversity of gender orientations, and that is a good thing. We are all created to be beloved.
In these times of violence, we encounter the true God of mercy by turning away from the dramatic idols of hate and violence and embracing that voice that hums in the silence, and letting that power embrace us, like Jesus embraced those he healed with his spirit of peace. So let us embrace one another as God has created us to be, beloved.
Delivered June 19, 2016
First Congregational Church of Walla Walla
Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg
Image: “The Passion of Matthew Shepherd” Icon by William McNichols, S.J.