June 19, 2022 The Second Sunday After Pentecost

June 19, 2022

The Second Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: I Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
From the Gospel according to Luke, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the
Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them: for they were seized with great fear.” I speak to you in the
Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Fear is an amazing emotion. It can spur us to action or inaction. When something frightens us,
we might rush towards it with a big stick or rock or run away as fast as we can. I am told that
when frightened, the Ostrich will bury its head in the sand thinking that as long as it cannot see the
danger, then that danger doesn’t exist. History tells us that left to fester, fear can take on a life of
its own and become such a part of our culture that it defines who we are as a people, as a
community. During the Great Depression, fear created by the constant threat of poverty and
scarcity had become such a powerful influence in society that during his Inaugural Speech in 1933,
President Roosevelt was led to proclaim, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Our
readings today have a lot to say about fear and how people of faith should respond to it.
Elijah, second only to Moses the Lawgiver, is one of the greatest prophets in Israel and yet, in
today’s reading from I Kings he is cowering in fear and hiding in a cave lest he be caught and killed
by the army of Israel that is hunting him down. I think that in similar life-threatening
circumstances we, too, might be tempted to hide like Elijah. I know I would. But then God arrives
and invites Elijah to set his fear aside and step out of that cave. Elijah steps forward and watches
as all those traditional symbols for God – earthquake, wind, and fire – unfold before him fully
expecting God to appear in them. And yet God is not found to be present in any of them. Instead,
God was found in total silence. As much as we like the poetry of God’s “still small voice”, a literal
translation of this text describes not a still, small voice, but rather, “the sound that had no sound”
or another way of putting it, “a silence like no other silence.” Whatever it was, Elijah knew he was
in the presence of God. God had done something unexpected, something new, and rather than let
that create fear in his heart, and even though Elijah continued to lament his circumstances, it was
through this new encounter with God that he was strengthened to move forward and more fully
embrace the ministry to which he was called.
This story tells us something very important about God. It reveals that while we might look for
God in traditional places, we must never presume that God can only be found in such places or that
such is the only way to meet or encounter God. God will be wherever God chooses to be. God will
reveal God’s self however God chooses to do so. The question for us is how we respond when we
encounter God in an unexpected way. Do we run away in fear, or by faith turn and embrace it?
The early Church was rife with a fear that they weren’t doing things just right, that they hadn’t
crossed all their “t’s” and dotted their “I’s” theologically, that they just weren’t following all rules to
the letter, and that God might condemn them for it. There were those in the church – and they
were in the majority - who insisted that in order to become a Christian one had to first convert to
Judaism, adopt all its laws and ritual practices, before ever being considered worthy of the
promises of God. After all, scripture was very clear that the Children of Abraham, the Jews, were
the sole heirs of God’s covenant with Abraham. Everyone else was outside that Covenant grace of
God. In his letter to the Galatian Church, Paul writes, “Not so fast folks!” He affirms that under the
old covenant everyone had to follow the Law of Moses and do so to the letter. Yet just like he did in
his letter to the Romans, Paul affirms that the Law has done exactly what it was designed to do: it
was designed to teach us that it is impossible to keep the Law. ALL have sinned and fallen short of
the glory of God. So no matter how hard we try, we will fail somehow or at something because we
are human beings prone to sin. We cannot save ourselves, and neither can the Law. See, the Law
points to our need for the grace and mercy of God. And by the grace and mercy God, Paul says,
God has done something new, and it is good news! We are not justified by the Law of Moses, but
rather, justified by our faith, and if you have faith in Jesus Christ, Paul says, you are part of the
body of Christ. And if you are part of the Body of Christ, then you are children of Abraham and a
welcomed part of the Covenant. (3:27) Paul tells the church that in Jesus Christ the old divisions of
Jew and Gentile are gone. In Jesus Christ, God has done something completely new that changes
how we live and identify as a people of God: a people no longer distinguished by race and origin,
nor a people divided and separated by gender or station in life. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor
Gentile, male or female, slave or free. All of us are heirs of Christ” and, therefore, equal members
as people of God. Now that is incredibly good news!
And yet, there were those in the Church who responded to it with great fear because what Paul
was saying meant they have to share their pew with someone whom they considered unclean –
you know - a Gentile. Or they might, God forbid, have to sit at the same table. (Oh, they have such
terrible manners.) Paul says, “No more distinctions! You think you’re assured of salvation because
you are a male and not female. Wrong!” Salvation is through faith in Christ, not our selves. And
our faith in Christ makes us one and the same people in Christ. Our sins have been forgiven by
God’s grace in Christ and Christ alone. Therefore, Paul says if we have been forgiven because of
God’s grace then we need to start forgiving others, too, and it starts with turning away from fear of
the stranger or those different among us and instead, foster unity by welcoming them as our equal
brothers and sisters in Christ.
Luke tells a miraculous story in today’s Gospel reading. In great detail, he describes a young
man who is demon possessed. The townspeople were afraid of him and tried to keep him out of
sight by chaining him up and forcing him to live in the cemetery – on the other side of the tracks
as it were. This way they can ignore him. Out of sight: out of mind. But God had different plans.
Jesus commands the demons to leave, and the young man is restored to health and wholeness.
Luke tells us that when the townspeople gathered, “They found the young man sitting at the feet of
Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” How wonderful! But people respond to this miracle with fear.
God has done the unexpected, and they don’t like it. The man they once chose to ignore, to shut
out, will now become a part of their community where he will live and serve as an ever-present
reminder of not only their former dehumanizing disdain for him, but also a reminder of the
transforming power of God. Luke says the people were so afraid of God’s new work in their midst
they asked Jesus to leave. And Jesus did leave.
Whenever I read this story, I wonder what things would have been like for the Gerasenes if
they, like Elijah, had stepped out of their caves of fear and embraced God’s new work unfolding in
their midst. Or, if like the Galatian Church saw one another and their neighbors as equals, saw
Christ in them. What if they had welcomed Jesus to stay and not leave? What other blessings might
they have experienced? We really don’t know. All we know is that fear got the best of them, and
they chose their own way.
These are challenging times in our communities, states, and nation. Rising gun violence – a
violence now experienced by an Episcopal Church in Alabama this past Thursday evening, has
added to existing fears for one’s safety when going to the store, the mall, to school, to a park, to a
club, to a church, synagogue, or mosque. Such fear gives rise to calls for churches to bar their
doors, or hire armed guards, or, in the case of the pandemic, require proof of vaccination and so
on. Fear begets even more fear and steps taken to prevent this or that, will only become even
more arduous and restrictive as time goes on. Such new fears combine with existing fears of those
who are different from us: different nationality or origin, different race, or sexual orientation;
different language, different color, different religious faith. Our lessons this morning beg the
question, how should we respond to not only our own fears, but the fear festering around us.
Should we like the Gerasenes let fear rule our lives and in the process ask Jesus to leave just in
case something happens, or might we look to God for another way forward. That is something for
us to explore and discern as a welcoming community of faith.
I don’t know what the result of this mutual discernment will unfold, but these things I do know:
Our lessons today tell us that the only thing people of faith have to fear is fear itself. And, my dear
friends, God’s perfect love casts out all fear. So maybe fully embracing God’s perfect love might be
a good place for us to start. Amen.