I don’t normally enjoy watching horror type movies.
“Horror” is not my film genre of choice.
And so when scary parts of a movie I’m watching unexpectedly come up – as they sometimes do – I typically turn down the volume, sink back in my chair and watch the scene with both my hands covering my line of vision.
That’s just me.
And so last week when I was watching with my eldest daughter the second movie of the “Maze Runner” series, “Scorched Trials”, and all of a sudden, these gruesome zombie-like creatures start popping up and chasing down the main characters, I was not a happy camper.
I just have a hard time understanding people’s fascination with death-wielding, nightmarish, gruesome, supernatural creatures in horror, sci-fi films.
But regardless of personal tastes in movies …
… Probably nowhere else in the Bible do we encounter something as close to a nightmarish, horrific scene, than in today’s text from Luke’s Gospel.
We meet a man who, Luke’s Gospel tells us, lives alone, half naked, among the tombstones, in a cemetery of all places.
He’s considered by the locals to be “demon-possessed.”
The Gospel of Mark gives us a few more details:
No one has the strength to restrain this man.
He seems to have this superhuman strength, strong enough even to wrench the chains with which others have attempted to shackle him.
This man howls and cries outloud night and day, cutting himself with stones, rattling his chains, wandering the cemetery at night.
What a horrific picture!
I don’t imagine many of us wanting to get anywhere close to that cemetery, or that man.
Except of course, Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t stay away.
He actually goes there, intentionally making the trip across Lake Galilee, to Gentile territory which Jews typically already stayed away from.
But Jesus goes directly to the cemetery, to that place of fear, horror and death, where no one else will go.
Jesus – our Teacher, Master, our God and Lord, the one we pray to, praise, look up to with admiration and awe, the One whom we set up as a the ultimate example for us to follow in our daily lives….
… this Jesus goes there.
Do we follow him in “going there”?
Elijah, the prophet of God we read about in the Old Testament this morning, was gripped in fear, and a troubling, scary circumstance…. having a ‘kill order’ placed on him by King Ahab and Jezebel.
Elijah wanted nothing more to do but run away as far as possible from his dangerous, fearful situation.
He ends up running so far away into the dessert that he ends up at Mount Sinai, where he hides away in a cave.
But what does God say to Elijah?
Go back! Go back to where you need to be, back to the hornet’s nest of Samaria, challenging King Ahab and Jezebel, being and doing what a prophet of God is supposed to be being and doing.
Yes, while on Mount Sinai hiding in the cave, Elijah did have his quiet, restful moment with God, in which he feels God’s abiding presence in the “sound of sheer silence.”
We all need quiet moments… to regain perspective, restore strength, find rest for our bodies, minds and souls.
But that is not where Elijah stays forever … soaking up the sun, relaxed and hidden away in repose and retirement on Mount Sinai for the rest of his life.
No. God sends Elijah back into action, back to Samaria, to “go back there” into that scary, dangerous place, and continue pushing on and persisting in his work as a prophet of God.
Martin Luther King Jr. some fifty years ago, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail said this about the typical behaviour of mainline, white, Protestant churches – (describes us today).
King expressed disappointment that while churches may be holding good attitudes and expressing the right words in prayers and teaching and so on, they lacked “persistent and determined action.”
In other words, they didn’t extend themselves to translate their words about God’s love, peace and right relationships among all people, into concrete, specific actions, actions which were persistent and deliberate over the long term.
Speaking out against violence and hatred against minorities.
Making those phone calls, or writing that letter or card to someone needing encouragement.
Reaching out with words of care and concern.
Writing your MP.
Joining a group that plants a community garden, visits the lonely and hospitalized, or provides food, shelter or clothing to those in need.
These are all “persistent and determined actions” that God calls us to do, that God called Elijah to do.
To actually “go there.”
Same with the strange man wandering the tombs in today’s Gospel text.
When Jesus heals this man, returning him to right mind, Jesus calls him to action. He says, Go return to your family, and tell them of all the good things God has done for you!
And the man goes … enthusiastically telling not only his family, as the text reveals, but also the whole city.
Yes, we might be scared, in fact terrified of what God might be calling us to do.
But God isn’t scared.
And maybe just knowing that… knowing that God isn’t scared … can help us walk back to those places, knowing that we go not alone, but always with the ever-living, almighty and deeply loving God at our side, close to us, in our breath, in our heartbeat.
God is there.
We go courageously, into the cemeteries, hospitals, bars, back alleyways, and government legislature buildings, meeting all kinds of different people.
And we do this not because we’re no longer afraid, but because we know that our almighty and gracious God is there even in the midst of our fear.
If God can use a scary, half-naked, troubled man wandering the tombstones, and turn him into a preacher of Good News;
If God can use a narcissistic, self-pitying, and self-doubting prophet who wants nothing more than just give up and go AWOL…..
… so God can certainly use you and me – scary and insecure though we may be….
… to nudge us out to “get out there”, to go back into the fray of ordinary life and world, and there, to speak a good word.
God never gives up on us, and calls even fearful, nervous and self-doubting people like you and I, to “go there” and act in ways that advance the Reign of God, where relationships among all people are healed, and restored.