Based on Psalm 42, 1Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
I have always been introverted – a strong “I” on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. Now, this might surprise some of you because I have to be very outgoing and engaging in my position as your Pastor. However, the “Introvert” in the Myers-Briggs system is not about being a shy “wall flower” or avoiding people, it is about how I go about recharging my psychological batteries. I have found that it is about how I recharge my spiritual batteries as well. I do this best through prayer in calm, stillness and silence.
I learned to appreciate calm and silence from my earliest days. My family of origin was pretty quiet – mom and dad were book readers and we kids just naturally took after their example. We didn’t have a lot of money to do things, so we spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s homes – both of whom had land to explore. My paternal grandmother lived on a non-working farm that had a stream and lots of acreage to investigate. I would spend all weekend climbing trees and wandering around observing nature. It set the tone for my life. When I had something bothering me, or needed to decide something, I would usually end up walking in nature alone. This worked fine until I went off to college in the metropolis of Minneapolis – and an urban campus. I became lost in the swirl of all the choices and competing temptations and the chaos of life in the city – I became spiritually disoriented and lost. Our scriptures today teach us about the counter cultural nature of God. While the tempests of the world threaten to blow us here and there, God is in the eye of the storm – in the stillness reminding us to whom we belong and what we are to do. The silence of God calms the chaos of our lives and frees us for a fulfilling life lived in and with God. Let us go to God in thanksgiving that God is always there to liberate us by calming the chaos in our lives…
Paul is writing to the problem-children in the Galatian congregations in our Epistle reading for today. They have been acting out and the Apostle is attempting to set them straight. In the snippet of the letter which was read today, Paul is explaining how the Law of Moses was actually like handcuffs – imprisoning the people under the weight of rules, consequences and “the power of sin”. We were like children being kept safe by the “helicopter parent” of the Mosaic Law until such time as a mediator (i.e., the Christ) could come and set us free in faith. Because God became Incarnate in Jesus, to a devout Jew (under the law) – Jesus was able to redeem us and make us into adopted children who grew to maturity as heirs to all that God had promised. Our omnipresent God had fulfilled the promises of freedom made to our religious ancestors, a promise made before all the legal restrictions.
Both the Gospel and Hebrew Bible readings for today show how God’s ever present love can free us from the situations in which we find ourselves. In the case of Elijah, he was running for his life from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Jezebel had killed off all the other prophets of the LORD and promises Elijah the same fate. Elijah runs into the silent wilderness to die, but God saves him and brings him to the holy mountain, Horeb. The LORD questions the prophet about what he is doing in such a place and the prophet tells God that Jezebel has sworn to kill him as she has done to all God’s prophets. Elijah is told to stand at the mouth of the cave as the LORD will pass by. In the sheer silence, God arrives and the prophet senses this and covers his face. God comes to Elijah and tells the prophet what to do next. No matter how abandoned by God the prophet felt in the chaos of the King’s court, He discovered in the silence of the wilderness that God had never left him.
Similarly, the Gospel story from Luke tells of Jesus’ visit to the gentile region of the Gerasenes across the Sea of Galilee. Here he meets a man who has been living in a spiritual maelstrom, imprisoned by a huge number of demons – a Legion of them. In first century Palestine, a Roman Legion contained upwards of 5000 soldiers – thus a Legion of demons was a significant infestation. He was shunned by the local village and lived in the wilderness isolated and alone – constantly tormented by these spirits. Jesus’ peaceful and calm love freed the man from his possession and the villagers were astounded to not only find all the pigs floating in the Sea, but equally to see this fearsome man in his right mind. They drove Jesus away, and the formerly possessed man desired to go with Him, but Jesus told him to stay and spread the gospel of what God had done for him. Our omnipresent God frees us from the Legion of distractions which hold us prisoner and places us on the path that God has in mind for us.
How do we understand these scriptures in light of the world around us? I found myself, in this time between General Conference and Annual Conference like the psalmist who longs for God in the face of adversaries who question whether there is a God at all. The waters of life submerged me and my soul was cast down; I felt forgotten by God. Yet, in the depths, God reminded me that in God there is always hope – so praise God for that. Elijah and the demon-possessed gentile man both find themselves in the wilderness; yet both are tormented until God intervenes and shows them the way. For Elijah, the noisy distractions of Ahab’s Court have to go away before he can know God in the sheer silence. For the demon-possessed man, the demons have to be silenced in order for him to be able to recognize God in Jesus. In all cases, God tells these men to get up from their meeting and go to work for God. God has liberated them from their worldly distractions and has provided them with their life’s purpose.
The eminent theologian and spiritual writer Howard Thurman offers this perspective on how silence allows us to discern God’s will. He writes, “…In the quiet time I may seek to discover the will of God for my own life….” He says that people seek in God’s will a life purpose that is “comprehensive, significant and good”. He states, “…When there is assurance that such a structure has been found, then the sense of being adrift, of living a meaningless life disappears….” He teaches that it is often the case, as we see in our scriptures today, that God’s will for us only becomes clear when we have “exhausted all our plans and schemes for doing certain things or achieving certain results with our lives”. This is what all our writers are trying to teach us today. God is not in all the busyness that we create trying to do what we think God wants. God is not in the new programs or the next wave of church revitalization theory or in the divisiveness of persons claiming that they alone know the will of God for a subset of God’s children. Scripture, reason, experience and church tradition teach us that God is in the sheer silence of our spiritually naked selves when we have exhausted our ineffective plans and fall to our knees our souls longing for God’s presence. We find God’s will for us, our God-given purpose when we prayerfully look around our world to see where God is already at work and then ask humbly if we can join in.
When we return to God in silence and humility, earnestly seeking God’s presence – there we will find God. I know this because this is where I find God and where I return when I am at my spiritual best; it is what happened for me between General Conference and Annual Conference. It is where I got my spiritual batteries recharged and my sense of purpose and direction renewed. I believe it is where we need to return as a people – every one of us. Prayerful silence before God is not easy nor is it comfortable at first for most people. When you are silent before God, you are beset by the demons in your mind – the distractions of your “to-do” lists, the desire to be moving, the need to look at an electronic device because of the worldly-induced sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) or needing to be needed. It takes time and a guide to help you beat back these elements of chaos so that you can become a human be-ing instead of a human do-ing. All of us need to be involved – youngest to eldest. It is time for us to seek God’s will together to find our comprehensive life purpose so that we are no longer adrift. It is time for all of us to experience the liberation of God, found in the sheer silence of prayer. Amen and amen!