Reflection on 1 Kings 19:1-15a, Luke 8:26-39, Galatians 3:23-29
Sermon “Out of the Hole”
There is a parable that goes, “There once was a man who fell into a hole, a pit. He tried to climb out but the sides were slick so he kept falling back more tired than before. A traveler, who was passing by, told the man that he needed to meditate for suffering was simply an illusion. The man meditated but he was still in the hole. Another traveler came by and told the man to perform good deeds and even though he would still die in the hole, he might come back as something magnificent. A third traveler told the man to pray and follow certain commands and if he was good enough then God might lift him from the hole. The man did all he was told but he was losing strength. Then one day another man came and asked him if he wanted to be free. The man in the hole answered yes. This traveler lowered himself into the hole and carried him out of the darkness and into the light.” (Based on “A Man Fell In A Hole” - Bluefish TV)
In the readings this morning, all three deal with salvation from the “hole”. In Kings, Elijah finds himself in the pit of despair. To one degree or another, we all can find ourselves in this pit after we have given all that we have and nothing seems to change. Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal to a “winner take all” contest which revealed God's power to all the people. The prophets were killed and surely the people would now return to God but they didn't. Instead, a price was put on Elijah's head and evil seemed to be even more powerful than before. Elijah gave up and went of into the desert to die. God sent an angel into that pit of despair and nourished Elijah back to health sending him to the mountains to talk with God. God asked Elijah why he was there and Elijah described the wonders he had done in the name of God. God responded by show Elijah that God is in the silence before, during, and after the wonders are over. God is not simply on the mountain top but is in the pit with us if we listen to the sheer sound of silence. We are never alone, forgotten, or abandoned. Salvation does not depend on what we do or who we impress but depends solely upon God's grace and goodness.
God's grace is why the demons within the man chained at the tombs wanted Jesus to leave. The very presence of God's love causes Legion to tremble. This man whom Jesus encountered on the east bank of the Galilee was an outcast in his community. By all indications, he was not Jewish given the herd of pigs nor was he a Gentile believer. He was simply a man in the pit of torment and darkness. When Jesus walked among the tombs and talked to the man, he entered into the pit with the man. Jesus' power and compassion freed the man not only from the demons but from the darkness. Instead of making him a disciple of a Jewish rabbi, Jesus told him to be a witness of God's power and compassion to the Gentiles. It is often said that the definition of “Church” is where one beggar tells another beggar where to get food. While some are called to learn and understand the revelation of Jesus, all are called to witness to the power and compassion of Jesus in their lives. This experience of grace transcends cultural and religious distinctions.
This message of universal salvation for a world trapped in the pit of sin is the message Paul was conveying to the Galatians. Sometimes, the hole we are in is so big that we are unaware that we are trapped. We may establish societies, rules, and even traditions to tell us how to live in the hole but we are still in a dark hole. Paul argues that the Law is given to show us that we are in a hole. The problem is that once we realize that we are in a hole, we become like Elijah feeling trapped in the pit of despair. The Law soon becomes a chain that binds to the tombs of sin or as Paul says, our disciplinarian. Christ, however, provides a way for everyone to leave the pit not just the followers of the Law. Salvation is given to all in the hole including Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female. The Law reveals the hole and creates the desire to leave the hole but only Christ can enter the hole and carry us out into the light. Only Christ can break the chains that bind us to the tombs of life and only Christ can whisper that word in the darkness of despair that brings light and hope. Jesus frees us from the pit of sin so that we might live an abundant life in the Spirit surrounded by the light and goodness of God.