Hearing the Call of God
These three passages of scripture are well known to most Christians. One speaks of Elijah’s wilderness journey, during which he hears the voice of God in the stillness and silence of the moment. A second passage expresses the sense of oneness that is found in the waters of baptism, so that in Christ our differences are set aside and we become one. Finally, we come upon this intriguing text that describes the liberation of the demoniac from the control of "Legion." How do we find a common thread in these passages that have been set aside by the lectionary? What word are we to hear?
Elijah’s story is a complicated one. He’s on the run, having faced down the prophets of Ba’al, all of whom were now dead. Rather than convincing Ahab that Yahweh was Lord of the realm, Ahab allows Jezebel to send her forces off after the prophet, forcing him to flee to the safety of the wilderness. Having fasted for forty days and nights, Elijah has a vision, in which he hears the voice of God – not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the silence. Elijah felt alone and abandoned. He’d done God’s bidding, but he felt alone, his work having had no real effect. Even after hearing the voice of God, the complaints don’t stop, but he does continue his journey, perhaps sensing that God would be with him.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus travels across the lake to a Gentile region and encounters a man cursed with demons – a community of oppression that carries the name of "Legion," a name that stands, perhaps, as a reminder that the Roman Armies controlled the lives of the people in a way that was experienced as demonic. For most residents of the region, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful. It was experienced as oppression. But, as the story goes, the man is freed, liberated from "Legion’s" control, even if it decimated a herd of pigs and upset the herders (but, at least for a Jewish audience, that would have added a bit of humor to the story).
Again, as with the first story, there is a mixed blessing. The demoniac is healed. He’s set free. He’s able to get his life back. But, at the same time, the people are afraid. They want Jesus to leave – to take his "magic" elsewhere. The man wants to go with Jesus, to join Jesus in his work, but Jesus has other plans. He wants the man to stay and give witness to what has happened? Why? Perhaps so that this fear that is experienced by the people might be addressed. He has been set free from the bonds that bound him, perhaps his freedom might lead to freedom from their fears.
I end with Paul’s brief word to the Galatian church. I don’t do this because Paul has priority over Luke (though it does predate Luke’s account), but I’d like for us to consider the ways in which God is calling us. In the Elijah story, God calls the prophet through dreams, visions, and finally the silence itself. In Luke’s account, Jesus heals a man, freeing him from his bondage to "Legion." It is a bondage that separated this man from the country of the Gerasenes from his own people. Once free, he wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus said stay home, make known this word of liberation among your own people, who since they were swine herders likely were Gentiles. It is a reminder that the message of God’s healing grace is available to all who desire it – something Elijah didn’t always appreciate.
Thus, we come to this passage from the Galatian letter. Can we as we listen to this text hear God’s call through baptism to enter into a new way of living, one where the things that so often separate us from each other are set aside? Gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, they do not divide us. They may be part of who we are, but as we stand before God, they don’t define our status. Yes, in Christ we are all one.
As Disciples we are being called to live together as an Anti-Racist, Pro-Reconciling Church. This can only happen if we allow Christ to set us free from the bonds that keep us from experiencing the oneness that is Christ.
In baptism we experience the circumcision of the heart that allows us to claim our inheritance as children of the living God, children called to be a blessing to the peoples of the world. May we hear this calling in the stillness of the moment.
Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor of Sharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord's Prayer due out in November. Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blog Ponderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blog Theolog.