Father Philip Sang: God’s Presence in Stillness and Silence

Happy Fathers’ Day! Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, June 19, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalms 42-43; Galatians 3.23-29; St. Luke 8.26-39.

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why is it that sometimes Jesus asks obvious questions? like to blind Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?”—Mark 10. And sometimes he just acts?

“What have you to do with me, Jesus?” This question was asked after Jesus started to work. That’s kind of curious, don’t you think? The demons knew who Jesus was and what he could do. Indeed, Jesus had already spoken and told them to come out. But they played dumb, they recognize Jesus, but they don’t really want to obey him. They want to argue with him or negotiate with him.

Living with brokenness, living with hatred, living in fear doesn’t make any sense. Not to Jesus. He decided not to ask any questions at first; he was just trying to get rid of the problem, until when the negotiation started.

Jesus knows what we need, but is always willing to let us self-determine, even if our choices make things worse. Jesus was going to send the demons out of the mad man; but they chose or determined to ride the pigs. I know, I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor.

Demons can be a slippery subject for any of us. But it is somewhat ironic that the legion or rather the demons asks for a ride on the pigs instead of being sent to the abyss. Except that as soon as they get on the pigs, they end up in the abyss. The very thing they wanted to avoid becomes their fate—their self-determined fate. And Jesus lets them because they asked. Just like Jesus left because the villagers asked. After that miracle of driving demons out of the man, the villagers asked Jesus to leave their village. It was fear that caused them to send Jesus away. Luke says coming and finding the one they knew to be crazy now clothed and in his right mind scared them. It was a change that unsettled them. That’s kind of scary. So, they got together and stirred up their fears and all went to Jesus and asked him to leave. So, they could be safe, and feel great again. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus?” That’s our question too. “What changes will you effect in our lives? What growth will you seek? What effort will you require?”

“What have you to do with me” becomes a man who begged to be with him. The fear that was pushing away becomes a love that desires to move closer. He wanted to be with him, now clothed and in his right mind, all he could think to do was to stay with Jesus.

Reading from the Gospel, the man didn’t stay with Jesus in the way he probably imagined when he made his request. Instead, like us, he stayed with Jesus by telling his story to everyone he met. He chose, having been rescued from a life of despair, to live a life of hope and of joy, sharing the love of Jesus with all he encountered. He was now in his right mind, Luke says, clothed and in his right mind. And that mind was focused on the mind of Christ as Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 2:5). But what was that mind? It was a right mind, a mind of longing and of serving and of hoping and of following. It is a mind of discipleship. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that making process is one of transformation as well. We are being transformed, even as we seek to transform the world. We say here at St. Augustines “we are changed by God to make a difference for God”. To be a follower of Christ, is to be other-centered, outward-focused; it is to see other people, even before seeing self.

To get there, we have to be quiet. We have to set ourselves aside and listen to a profound silence. From our OT reading Elijah had come to the end of himself—the end of his strength, the end of his wisdom. And it is only in the strength of God’s presence that he could hope to continue his life’s journey. He was ready to give up. You’ve been there, maybe not to the degree of wanting to die. Or maybe you have. Maybe someone you love or know has been there. It’s a place of despair, of surrender. It is not a place for condemnation, or shame, but of silence.

We see God leads prophet Elijah to the mountain and let him experience a rock-shattering wind, then a mountain-shaking earthquake, and then fire. At this moment Elijah felt, abandoned and alone, persecuted, hunted and hounded by his enemies of course Jezebel and her team and Elijah was at the end of his strength.

But the text says God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. In the loudness of this terrifying world, God is not in the destructive forces that beset us when we’re at our worst. So, where was God? The text says God was in the silence.

Come to think of it, what is happening on that mountain is hard to imagine. It sounds like God sends Elijah to the mountain; yet at the same time, it sounds like God doesn’t want him there. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Maybe God is asking for the prophet to do an identity check, or to present his to-do list. But maybe we should read it as “Why are you still here?” Elijah’s rebuttal is that he’s doing his best. And sometimes it feels as if he is the only one doing any work here, the only one putting his life at risk, the only one who represents the true God of Israel. Does his complaint include God? “I alone am left,” says Elijah, which might be another way of saying, “Where have you been?”

So, what is it with the silence versus the madness of the destructive forces of nature? Could it be that God is announcing God’s presence in ways that often get overlooked? We want the big show; we want lightning and thunder to announce God’s presence. We want it to be so obvious that it would be hard to doubt. And there have been those moments, to be sure. But here in this moment, God announces that God works in quieter ways, obscure ways, ways that seem natural, like in the everyday decisions that we make all the time. God is at work in and through what happens around us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. God is present, even when it feels like absence. God is acting, even when it feels like stillness.

The man in the cemetery in the country of the Gerasenes was a force of nature who became a stillness. He moved from the earthquake of his madness to the silence of his right mind, a mind set on following Christ. Elijah was running for his life, so afraid of being killed that he wanted to die; then he encountered the silence and found the God he was longing for. He moved from despair to hope, fear to mission, and got back to work for the God he served. It is my prayer that in the madness, turmoil and craziness of this world that we may be still, and feel the presence of God in the silence and be hopeful and allow God to change us to make a difference for Him. If he did it for the man in the country of Gerasenes and for Elijah he can do it for us.

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.