1 Kings 19.1-4
One day the zoo keeper noticed that the orangutang was reading two books, in one hand he held Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and in the other he held the Bible.
Naturally surprised, the keeper asked the orangutang, “Why are you reading both of those books?”
“Well,” said the orangutang, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”
Of course it is quite possible to be both, and scientific information about how life evolved does not contradict a religious view of what life is for, and vice versa.
The Bible is an extraordinary book, or rather a collection of books. It contains everything from ancient myths to erotic poetry, from the first recorded novel to a collection of wise sayings, from an hymn book to some letters. It contains material written in circumstances varying from triumph to despair. From a secure land to refugees in exile. All human life is here, and this morning’s eclectic selection of readings illustrate that perfectly.
You may or may not be aware that I don’t choose the readings, they are chosen by a committee and printed in a lectionary that is shared by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and United Reformed Churches (with a few local variations). Most mainstream Christian Churches in the world are looking at these texts today.
So what are the texts that the Church has given us today?
Our first reading, from the 1st book of Kings, continues the story of the prophet Elijah, we focussed on that a few weeks ago when we heard how he was saved from starvation by the hospitality of the poor widow. In our latest instalment Elijah is in despair, he is being hunted by Jezebel’s followers, hiding in the wilderness, and just longing to give up and die.
It’s a cliffhanger ending, and we will return to Elijah in a few weeks time…
Then our Gospel reading is equally dramatic, and features a dramatic exorcism. As a fan of horror movies, this is one of the best and most referenced stories in popular horror culture.
We have the great privilege of Ethan’s baptism in todays service, and as I told Ethan’s parents, Robbie and Anna, here at the Ascension we use the New Zealand Baptism service as it leaves out the line on the English Prayer Book about rejecting the Devil. Most of us no longer believe in a literal being called the Devil who is out to get us, but we use the devil as a metaphor for all that corrupting, life-denying, abusive, selfish and cruel.
Jesus turned people’s lives around, and still does today. Not by saving us from a being with horns and hoofs, but by finding the goodness and godliness that exists in us all and bringing it to the surface.
I don’t chose the readings, but if I did the one we had from Galatians would be read every few weeks, it is one of the foundational texts for Inclusive Christianity.
St Paul was writhing to a divided church:
- the Church was divided by race and religious background – some of the Jewish Christians who followed the Jewish Law felt that you had to convert to Judaism as part of being a Christian, some Gentile Christians (including St. Paul) thought that all that was needed was to follow Christ.
- the Church was divided by social status – the Church contained members from the educated, wealthy elite, and also slaves and outcasts, people on the edge of society.
- the Church was divided by gender – Jesus gave women key roles in his ministry, reading between the lines we can see than the males are trying to reassert truadional roles of authority.
The Church today is divided by theology and politics, and the early church was just the same, and into all these divisions St Paul throws an outrageous, revolutionary and for many an unthinkable text:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
The truth at the heart of Christianity is that God loves every one of us – every human being alive. And that how we judge our differences – of age or gender or race or sexuality or social status do not matter at all to God.
There is an old saying from the Baptist Church I attended at my youth – the pastor used to say “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Meaning that we all stand on the same level – in our encounter with God the poor have the same status as the rich, the uneducated with the educated, the outcast and the respectable…
In our church, in our lives, in our dealings with others let us try and live out this message and show true Christian love…
* * *
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19.1-4
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
2nd Reading: Galatians 3.23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Gospel Reading: Luke 8.26-39
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.