1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 23, 2019 –Second Sunday After Pentecost
To sum this sermon up in a phrase: No good deed goes unpunished. So what are you going to do about it?
Elijah is chased from the Promised Land for defeating the enemies of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus is asked to leave Gerasa for restoring their demoniac to his right mind.
Both of them did what no one thought was possible, but once they had, their own friends were happy to keep the benefits, but chased them away lest they be asked to pay the price for it.
Elijah has just challenged the prophets of Baal…the apostles of a false belief system…to a show of power. They are to sacrifice a bull without lighting a fire. They have to roast the bull to make a sacrifice of him. They go first and fail.
Then Elijah stacks up wood, waters it down and prays. The Lord sends fire and accepts the sacrifice. Then the people of Israel slay the 400 prophets of Baal.
It is a bad day for Baal, but the Promised Land is free of false prophets pleading Baal’s case. Their queen, Jezebel, however, is not amused and she orders Elijsh killed.
He has been in full flight for 40 days by the time we find him this morning. He lays down exhausted and an angel brings him food and drink to sustain him in his flight…
But the people have done nothing to protect their prophet. The have not spoken up, stood up or showed up. They feast upon the fruits of their prophet’s labors, but then they disregard him and he is forced to face the consequences alone.
Jesus comes to Gerasa and finds a man possessed by demons…a Jewish man…tending pigs. It must have been a shame to the village to have that man out there along the road telling all who pass by that they are keepers of pigs and at least some of them are out of their minds. Their Chamber of Commerce must have been appalled.
Since Jews abhorred pork…like the Chick Filet cows tell us all to eat more chicken…the Gerasene demoniac was probably tending pigs for Gentiles in the area. Probably Romans. Probably Roman troops.
Those troops are going to be disappointed at what has come of their favorite source of protein. The villagers may have been afraid of what else Jesus could do with this extraordinary power.
They must have been afraid of what the Romans would think and do. To take him in or show him thanks would have made them complicit in his actions.
They were Jews who resented having the pigs just outside their town. “So let the Romans do whatever they want to do to this Jesus…if they ever find him…and let us be spared.”
Thank you, Jesus, and get out.
It’s like the guy who was headed for a meeting downtown and he was late. He prayed for a parking spot near the building his meeting was at.
If God would give him that parking spot he would go to church every Sunday, tithe, and say grace before each meal and every night at bedtime.
Just then he comes around the corner and there…right in front of the door to the building he was meeting at…was a parking spot. “Never mind,” he says, “I’ve got one!”
We root for the hero in the movie, but we might never do such a thing ourselves. We are not willing to claim such valor and we are not willing to risk the consequences of a random act of courage or the cost of a random act of kindness.
We cannot afford it, we think, in either terms of money or time. And besides that, someone else has already done it.
Abraham Lincoln saw this chink in our armor long ago. He noted that, for lawyers at least, once a service is rendered, it has no further value to the client. And why should a person pay for what they already have…and were always entitled to?
But he also said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” Somewhere between those two ideas is the place I want to talk about this morning.
We live and breathe and have our being there…between being safe and comfortable on the one hand …and stepping out of our comfort zone to make the world a better place…standing up for what is right.
One of my favorite movies…and certainly my favorite Gary Cooper movie…is High Noon. He’s Will Kane – the best sheriff the little town of Haleyville has ever had, and it is his wedding day.
But the man he arrested and got sentenced to hang has been released from prison and he’s coming back on the noon train. The sheriff has just retired and is planning to leave.
He and Grace Kelly race out onto the prairie in a buckboard, but a mile or so out of town he realizes that he will have face Frank Miller and his gang sooner or later, and he might as well face him back in town when he gets off the train.
His chances are better there and he will have to take his chances sooner or later. You know…that’s the moment we are always in.
We can face it here and now or we find ourselves confronted by it at another time and place. But the people for whom he has been the best sheriff ever for wishes that the moment of truth would come at another time and place instead of at their place at high noon.
No one will help him. They tell him it is his own fault for staying and facing the trouble they have all had with Frank Miller. Not even his own wife understands and she abandons him early in the story, too, just as everyone abandoned Christ on the day he was crucified.
The sheriff stays and defeats the whole Frank Miller gang, one at a time, with clear thinking and honest courage…not because he has to… but because someone has to…so that goodness can see another day.
Because Elijah faced the prophets of Baal…because Jesus restored the demoniac and cleansed Gerasa of its sin…because some people are willing to do the hard things knowing that they will not be thanked by anyone but their own clear conscience…civilization… civil-i-zation can go on and humanity can continue to be the crowning glory of creation.
Our letter from Paul speaks to this upward call today. “The Law controlled us and kept us under its power until the time came when we would have faith.”
The law assures us that there is a right and a wrong…that we and our neighbor will have the same expectations what we will and will not do in that relationship.
It shapes us with its compulsion. If we or they don’t obey the law there will be consequences. That is why the rule of law is so central to our way of life. We surrender some of our options so that we can enjoy the benefits of civilization.
But then along comes Jesus and he doesn’t just say ‘obey the law.’ He says love your neighbor. Don’t just avoid doing wrong. Do right.
Prophets do this, from Moses to Elijah to Jesus. They are willing to make sacrifices…even the supreme sacrifice…for the good of the community…to make sure that the benefits of a free society are available to everyone…so the community can live without fear.
A church does that for a community, taking action to heal, to bring together, to stand against fear and hunger…the common foes of the community…to give each other assurances of mutual support and mutual good will.
When a community is broken, then, like the village of Gerasa was, like the nation of Israel was, like the town of Hadleyville was, things need to be set right.
Sometimes the people can do it, but sometimes it takes a sacrificial effort from one or two or three people.
Sometimes it requires a great effort from thousands, as it did of the Greatest Generation in World War II.
So long as we remember why we are together and who we follow, the outcome will draw us away from darkness and into light…away from fear toward hope…out of ourselves and into community.
It isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. We know that, deep in our spiritual being. Sometimes we fall short or hesitate when the right course is clear.
That is why Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”
That is also why we celebrate our heroes and honor those who make sacrifices for the good of the community. We see a little bit of Jesus in them just as we see the greatness of God in Jesus.
It is not the easy way but the right way. We don’t just want what is comforting to us, but what is good for the community…not just in our own time, but for all time.
That is why the things this church has been doing these last two years has given new hope to people in our community. That is why we have summoned the ability to satisfy a long-standing debt with a great outpouring of faith and hope.
The people didn’t object when Queen Jezebel forced Elijah to flee Israel, but they celebrated his work after he was gone…calling him the greatest prophet of the nation’s history.
They even asked Jesus to leave after he had given them a man in his right mind who had once been a demoniac. But we celebrate Jesus today because of what he did, there and elsewhere.
We may never even have heard of Elijah if it had not been for Jesus, or Hadleyville if it had not bee for the character of Will Kane. Will Kane could not have been conceived by the writer of High Noon, Carl Foreman, if it had not been for the story of great prophets of old.
Paul would never have been converted by anything less than the power of Jesus Christ, and our little village would not have a new spark of hope if it were not for this community of faith.
One of you told a friend what church you attend and they said, “Oh that’s the church that is doing everything.” That person told me we should call ourselves “the little church that could.”
So let us keep faith alive, and let us steer our ship with hope, leaving fear astern, so that we might do all that we can to make this place a community of light and love.
Dear Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.