June 19, 2016

5th Sunday of Pentecost
‘THE PERSISTENT GOD’

BIBLE READINGS
1 Kings 19:1-15
Psalm 42:1-3, 5-11

Luke 8:26-39

REFLECTION

Mental health issue is one issue that we often sweep under the rug because we don’t really want to talk about it. But we can’t ignore it. 1 in 6 people in Australia will experience depression at some stages in their lives and 45% of people will have a mental health issue in their lifetime.[1] Earlier in April this year, we are shocked by the news about eight young people from here in Rockingham to Harvey that took their own lives since December last year. Amongst them were three friends who killed themselves within four weeks, one after another.[2]

I remember one person saying that having a suicidal thought is like swimming in a pool teeming with leeches. You try to pull the leeches off your body, but for each leech that you pull off, you have ten more coming. In the end of the day, you just get too tired and feel like giving up.

Friends life pressures can indeed make us feel as if we were already dead or, worse, feel that it is better for us to die than to live. Indeed our problems can become like the demons that chained the man in our reading today in Luke’s Gospel. They can drive us to live in metaphorical ‘caves’, hiding from other people around us.

The man in Gerasa, in our Gospel readings, seemed to have ‘given up’. His ‘demons’ had completely overwhelmed him. Even the chains that the people in his village used to inhumanely keep him were no match for the demons’ power.

So he pushed himself away from everyone else. He even pushed away the only person who could help him: Jesus. When he met Jesus, he pushed him back saying, “What do you want with me, Son of the Most High?” The demons within him knew that Jesus could heal the man, but they didn’t want him to be healed.

But Jesus was persistent. The man may have given up, but Jesus did not. Jesus commanded the demons to leave the man at once and they obeyed. They went to the pigs, resulting in the drowning of the pigs.

Now some of you may ask, “Why did Jesus let the demons go to the pigs?” “Why did the pigs have to die?” “Was not there another way that would not involve the death of these animals?”

Whether or not Jesus could have asked the demons to go somewhere else is another matter to discuss some other time. The main issue for us today is this: the man is healed after his encounter with Jesus. His life had completely changed. Indeed he finally found peace and he calmly sat at Jesus’ feet. And this time, speaking in his right mind, he didn’t ask Jesus to leave him alone; this time it was the opposite: he wanted to follow Jesus.

Indeed, friends, our God is a persistent God. Our world can suddenly turn into a ‘mad’ place to live. A significant problem may suddenly appear in our life and turn our life completely upside down. But today we are reminded that, even in a graveyard, the land of the dead, the ‘mad’ man in Luke’s Gospel met Christ and his life was restored.

We see this also in Elijah’s life. Previously in the first book of the Kings, Elijah was at the ‘height’ of his career as a prophet. He had clinched victory over his enemies, the prophets of Baal.

But, he soon faced a problem. Queen Jezebel, a worshiper of Baal, had vowed to kill Elijah. Fear took control over Elijah and he responded by running away to the wilderness, leaving everything and everyone behind. It seemed that the threat had become the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. He lost all his energy and zest for life. “It’s too much,” he said, “Dying is better than living.” So he was hoping to die out of hunger or thirst, which was, perhaps, for him was better than to die at the hands of Queen Jezebel.

Yet, just like with the ‘mad’ man in Gerasa, God was not giving up on him. First, God sent an angel to help him, giving Elijah enough strength to travel to Mount Sinai, the place where it was believed that Moses spoke with God face to face.[3]

Yet, even in such a holy place where God was believed to reside, Elijah couldn’t get rid of his depression and lethargy; to use our modern term: he was completely burnt out. Two times God asked, “ Elijah, what are you doing here?” two times Elijah responded with complaints. His role as a prophet had become too much of a burden for him and he wanted to quit.

Yet God wasn’t going to let Elijah go easily. God didn’t say to Elijah, “You’re right. It’s too hard for you. You may leave your responsibility.” No, God was giving Elijah a tough love. Indeed God was not going to let Elijah indulging in self-pity. God let Elijah to take a break from his responsibility. God let Elijah to complain about his troubles. But God was not letting Elijah get away from his calling. Through a “soft whisper of a voice (GNT)”, God restored Elijah and ordered him to continue on with his calling.

This event reminds me of a scene in a movie about Precious an African-American teenager who grew up in a flat in Harlem, New York. Her mother is a dysfunctional, unemployed, abusive woman who uses her status as Precious’s guardian to get welfare money from the government. Precious late father abused her sexually since she was three years old and, when she is a teenage girl, she has two children from him.

Even though she has attended school, Precious cannot properly read or write so she goes to a special school run by an inspiring teacher Ms. Blu Rain There, under the tutelage of Ms. Rain, Precious learns how to properly read and write. But, most of all, in that school, she learns about self-worth and love for the first time in her life

The scene I’m going to play now is taken from the movie. It shows the moment after Precious has just found out that she has contracted HIV virus from her dad. She is in her classroom, with her teacher and classmates, when she breaks the news. And a double warning for you: there will be some swear words in this scene and the subtitle is in French.

Watch the video on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMQSrZIR1_A

It’s inspiring to see Ms. Rain’s determination in pushing Precious to write despite of what she was going through. It is not shown in this clip, but the scene actually ends with Ms. Rain telling Precious, once again, to write.

Friends, I believe that God is like Ms. Rain. When problems hit us so hard, we may want to quit. But our God is not a quitter. We may have problems and issues in our life that are persistent, like a monkey on our back that we just can’t shake off, but our God is even more persistent. Indeed a persistent trouble will find an even more persistent God.

Friends, sometimes we do need to take a break and rest. That’s all right. Indeed, try to hold a glass of water for half-an-hour or an-hour without resting. Soon the glass of water will become unbearably heavy. So rest. It’s important. But don’t quit, because as long as God is ‘fighting’ with and alongside us, we have every chance of overcoming the ‘demons’ in our life.

Amen.

 Rev. Toby Keva

[1] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts

[2] Hayley Goddard, Jessica Page, and Nick Butterly, Call for Action over Teen Suicide Crisis, on https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/31335437/call-for-action-over-teen-suicide-crisis/ (Updated: April 13, 2016, 12:20 am)

[3] See Exodus 19