O God, My God

O God, My God

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Jane Shelton, TRE; June 19, 2022

First Presbyterian Valdosta

What a story!

Picture it – maybe you want to close your eyes and picture it – but picture this….

You are the man possessed with demons, you are naked.  You are dirty and cold.

You have broken your shackles and chains and come out of the tomb.

You’ve escaped the guards and you see the boat approaching the shore.

In the boat is a man in white.  He’s standing in the boat as it moves towards the shore.

Coming out of the dark tomb, the light is bright, you raise your arms and try to shield the sun from your eyes.  You squint and blink…then blink again.

Are you really seeing the man in the boat?

Is the boat really coming to shore?

You race down the hill to meet this man; you sense there is something different about him.

You sense that he can help you.

Just as the man steps out of the boat onto land, you meet him.

And to your surprise, like other people you meet, he doesn’t run the other way, he doesn’t get back in the boat and have his disciples paddle away as fast as they can.

No, he stands there, and meets you where you are in the condition you are in – naked and afraid.

It’s as if he has been waiting for you.

You don’t know what to expect – is he going to strike you down, put you back in chains and shackles?  That’s what all the other people do.  They bind you and keep you in a dark place.

But this man is different.  http://mangos-falmouth.co.uk/product/telecide/ THIS man called Jesus.

Then demons…the legion of demons…inside me speak to him.  They are afraid.

They beg not to be sent back to the abyss….back to the regions of hell, that deep, dark bottomless space separating them from people.

This legion, being crafty and thinking quickly, devise a plan that they be allowed to enter the swine.

Jesus permits this, and the next thing you see are the swine racing down the steep embankment, and landing in the lake where they drown.

Suddenly, you feel different.  You see yourself for the first time…. and you are standing face to face to this man, Jesus, looking into his eyes when someone approaches you with clothes, clean clothes.  You gratefully accept and put on these clean clothes as you have an awareness for the first time that you have been naked.  No one has ever approached you before unless they were coming to put you back in shackles and chains.  It’s new, it’s different, and if feels good.  You feel whole, like a person of worth.

Your mind is clear, and you can even think of pleasant things.  You are at peace and consumed with joy and disbelief!

You sit down at Jesus’ feet and you listen to him speak to you.  You are so grateful to be in another’s company, to be out in the light of the day…it’s so warm on your skin, and the air is fresh.  The breeze is gentle on your face, and you are calm.  You’ve never felt such peace, and you understand what Jesus is saying to you, and you continue to eagerly listen to him.

Then other people start coming near to see what you are doing.  You don’t know these people, and for some reason they are afraid.  They tell Jesus, inquisitorially YOUR healer, to leave.  But you don’t want him to go.  You love him and what he has done for you.  He doesn’t frighten http://hkbookkeeping.com/author/monal/ YOU because you know who he is, and he knows you!

You want to go with him, you beg him to please let you go with him, but he tells you that you must stay and tell others your story, tell others what God has done for you…how he has healed you, loved you, and made you whole.  So being so grateful, you obey, and do what he has told you to do, you declare all these wonderful things to the people in the city so they will know God’s healing power, and God’s amazing love…

WOW!  WHAT A STORY!

But let’s back up a minute.  Why are the people afraid?

Did they not understand the good that had been done?

Were they more concerned with the swine that had been lost than this man who had been healed?  Maybe the swine was their food supply for a month….maybe they thought their grains may be spoiled next.  Maybe they were so concerned for their own well-being they didn’t acknowledge the sacrifice that needed to be made to heal this man that lived in the tomb and was possessed by demons.

Were they afraid because they didn’t know the heart of Jesus?  Did they think Jesus was going to send them down the steep embankment into the lake?

Reading the story, I don’t know about you, but I’m left shaking my head.  How is it possible that these people could be seized with great fear?

And as I began to ponder this very thing, I began to realize, isn’t it our very human nature to fear the unknown.

Maybe even sometimes we fear the very good thing we see before us.  To their credit, they didn’t know Jesus the way we do, and well, we humans, we are such creatures of habit and perceived control we think we have, that are we not also blinded when something changes.  Even when it changes for the good of all, we fear it rather than rejoice and embrace it.

We fear because we don’t understand.

We fear when we can’t comprehend.  We fear because we don’t have faith in our God to deliver us.

We fear when things happen beyond our control.  How many times do we miss the opportunity to look Jesus in the eyes, and sit as his feet because our fear paralyzes us?

Just as the man was “seized” with demons, the people were seized with fear.  So is fear a demon itself?

I believe it can be.  When we allow fear to control us to the point we become paralyzed, and we can’t see our way to Jesus then, yes, I believe it is a demon.

What is causing us fear today?  How do we let go?  How do we break free?

Our fear causes us to enter a dark place, a tomb if you will, and unless we can break out of those chains and the things that hold us immobile, we cannot grow.  We have to reach to the place where Jesus waits, reach out of the darkness into the light…it’s there, in the warm light, not in the darkness of a tomb, that Jesus waits for us to listen to his word.  He desires to be present with us, to teach us, to guide us, and to love us when we cannot love ourselves.

When we step out of the darkness, when we can break free of the burdens that seize us, like the Psalmist, we say, “O send us your light and your truth.  Let them lead me.  Let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the harp, O God, MY God.”

In her book, “Return to the Root,” Joyce Rupp writes a chapter titled, “Breaking the Chains.”  It’s only three pages, and I would like to share it with you.

Breaking the Chains

Some sat in darkness and in gloom,

prisoners in misery and in irons….

They cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and [God] saved them from their distress, [God] brought them out of darkness and gloom,

and broke their bonds asunder.

~ Psalm 107:10, 13-14

I spent most of a week walking for hours each day on the magnifi­ cent Oregon coast. One morning I noticed how much delight I felt. I also observed this in others: a father and daughter screamed in false fright as they held hands and leapt into the incoming waves; a blonde-haired girl in a bright blue party dress laughed at the water circling her feet; people of all sizes and ages smiled as they stooped over to pick up shells and other objects capturing their curiosity; a middle-aged woman lay flat-bellied on her surfboard and erupted with triumphant shouts as the waves lifted her to shore. Everywhere slivers of enjoyment appeared, sounding in the voices of children building sandcastles and in the joined hands of elderly companions as they strolled the sandy beach.

As I walked along, I thought, This place draws forth joy. It seemed to me that the rhythm of the ocean allowed each person there to temporarily leave behind the stress and strain that clog our lives and that people drag around every day. The usual tumbles and turns wrenching away the delight of life and the pressured schedules that clamp down on simple pleasures temporarily halted.

After returning home I wondered if it might be possible to retain the quiet satisfaction that readily took over my spirit at the ocean. The answer came when I joined other women for our Tuesday

morning prayer. Our facilitator that day chose a theme from The Cup of Our Life: “Recognizing Resistances.” The chapter opens with a quote from Macrina Wiederkehr: “I am entirely ready to have the

chains that keep me bound be broken. I am entirely ready for the walls I’ve built around myself to be torn down. I am entirely ready to give up my need to control every situation. I am entirely ready to let go of my resentments. I am entirely ready to grow up.”

As I heard this, I realized, That’s it. If I could live that kind of “read­iness” regarding my dairy tasks and the unwanted aspects, joy would find a more lasting home inside of me. Resisting what is, fighting off what I do not want, trying to force everything to turn out positively, forgetting how the Holy One guides and directs, throwing mental tantrums when life gets messy or painful-yes, all of this and more, are bound to keep the kind of happiness experienced on the shores of the Pacific Ocean from residing in my being.

When I face obstacles, I have a variety of options for how to respond. Some choices de-energize me and shut out joy; others re-energize and enhance joy. When I pause to listen closely, I am most often led to a freeing decision rather than to one that increases the heaviness manacling me to the concrete floor of my ego-the part of me that always wants what it wants when it wants it and throws a hissy-fit when it cannot have it.

When I face these kinds of choices, I know I need to turn to a power greater than myself for assistance to move beyond the restraints. As Psalm 107 indicates, there’s a moment when I find myself crying out to the Holy One that I may have wisdom and strength to break what binds my peace and joy. When this happens, I feel like Peter imprisoned in chains, the angel coming in the dark of night, breaking those restraints and leading the disciple to free­ dom (see Acts 12:3-19).

Nature often teaches me about moving from obstacles to free­ dom from them. When I brought overseas visitors to the area of the Black Hills in South Dakota, I arose early one morning and went by myself to walk the loop around a nearby lake. It was early April, and I missed the sign about possible ice on the path. Not long after I started walking, I faced an unwelcome sight: huge boulders and the path between them filled with a grim layer of ice. I looked ahead and saw more of the same. I had no hiking boots. I knew I could fall and break a bone, which would ruin the trip for my friends. I paused. What to do? In that silence, ever so softly I sensed where I might go.

I turned around, and after a short jaunt, I found a way to walk into the woods. A path there took me on soft pine needles among evergreen trees to a place above the icy boulders where I could look out onto immense pillars of sandstone and beyond to the beautiful valley. In this place I found a small open space among the stones where I could sit, put my head back on the rocks, and rest my feet in front of me on a flat stone. I felt held by those ancient parts of earth and cradled by the One who led me beyond the blockage to that surprising embrace of pleasure.

Sometimes turning away from an obstacle is not easy to do. And sometimes it will not bring immediate relief as the new path did for me. But if we turn inward when something or someone blocks the way ahead, when we pray through a difficult situation, eventually we turn the corner and discover a peace-filled place within ourselves.

The flow of life will not always be upbeat. There will be periods when pain of body, mind, or spirit temporarily thrusts joy aside. This is to be expected. I will not always feel content, but inner peace can remain constant. That is, if my resistances cease and I am ready to have the chains broken. (Rupp, 2021 pg. 58-60)

As we take time this morning for silent reflection, I invite you to consider…by what demons are you seized?  Be it fear, lack of enthusiasm, depression, silence, gossip, not taking care of yourself….whatever your demon might be, I invite you to meet Jesus as the shore, run out of that dark, damp tomb into the warm, bright light, be filled with joy, and declare ALL that God has done for you!

*Cover Art via churchart.com, used by subscription

Rupp, J.  (2021). Breaking the Chains. Return to the Root (pg 58-60). Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.