Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:1–15 | Psalm 42, 43 | Galatians 3:23–29 | Luke 8:26–39
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39).
Our Scripture readings today from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Luke may not seem all that similar, but in some key ways they are deeply connected… like two sides of a coin, they bear different images, but share a common theme: the stories of people whose lives were turned around by the Living God, only to be sent out again in unexpected directions.
In 1 Kings we jump right into the middle of the story of Elijah: the passionate and powerful prophet of Yahweh, the Living God, who had the audacity to confront Israel’s unfaithful King, Ahab, who with his wife Jezebel, had led God’s people to worship and serve Baal, a Canaanite deity.
Just before our reading today, Elijah had called for a dramatic duel, a showdown on Mt. Carmel before all the people of Israel between Yahweh, the LORD, and the popular prophets of Baal… to prove once and for all who was truly God Almighty.
1 Kings 18:21 says that “Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.” What follows this call to wholehearted faithfulness was a dramatic display of Yahweh’s unrivaled power. I’ll leave it to you to read over 1 Kings Chapter 18 this week to get all the details, but the pastor and scholar Peter Leithart summarizes the outcome well: “Yahweh wins a decisive victory over Baal at Carmel, and the people who bowed to golden calves and kissed the Baals fall on their faces to declare, “Yahweh is God! Yahweh is God!”” It seems that Israel had finally turned back to the Living God for good, and Leithart goes on to capture what must have been the faithful prophet’s dream come true: “Yahweh’s victory over Baal is so public that the people obey Elijah’s command to slaughter the prophets of Baal, none of whom return from Carmel… It seems possible that Ahab will follow Elijah as his lead prophet, that Elijah will shape the future of Israel from a position of prominence. The covenant renewed, Israel is back on the right track.
It is not to be.”
Instead, Queen Jezebel seeks to strike back… and instead of leading God’s people back to their LORD, Elijah becomes Israel’s most wanted. Despondent, he heads south, to Mt. Sinai, also called Horeb, where God had once met with Moses long ago… leaving behind the people he once sought to save, who he now felt had all abandoned him.
Along the way, we hear how the LORD had provided for and sustained his faithful prophet, but Elijah could only see tragedy, loss, and utter failure: “It is enough;” he prays, “now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Leithart points out that “Elijah wishes to die, but this is not simple despair. He realizes that he is no more effective than his prophetic fathers in calling Israel back to the covenant. Israel’s renewal is not going to take place, at least not the way that Elijah envisions.” His great hopes and dreams for his people were shattered, and it’s more than he thinks he can bare. And so when he finally arrives and Mt. Sinai, he brings this complaint: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10).
Perhaps we can relate to Elijah sometimes: When our hopes and dreams fall apart. When the good work we pour ourselves into seems wasted. When we see those we love heading for disaster, and feel helpless to turn things around. When we feel like no one is there for us… like it’s just us against the world.
Everything Elijah had worked for, and risked his life for, seems to have come to nothing. Elijah was at the end of his rope, and ready to give it all up.
But God had not given up on Elijah. Or for that matter, on His people. So Yahweh sends Elijah back out into the world on an unexpected mission: 1 Kings 19:15-18, “Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Despite how things seemed, Elijah was not alone. The LORD still had thousands who had remained faithful to Him, and the enemies seeking Elijah’s life would be delt with in God’s due time. Though in his own eyes, there had been no hope left, no future worth fighting for, the LORD told Elijah to go… and invite others to share in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Turning now to our reading from the Gospel of Luke, and the strange story of a man rescued from the powers of darkness… and pigs drowned in the sea.
We know very little about this man, aside from the ways his life had become a symbol of devastation. Driven into the wild by demonic forces, naked and living among the dead in the tombs… unable to be restrained… this man’s life had been completely overwhelmed by forces far beyond his, or anyone else’s control. In this state, he had no hope, no future. He was all alone with the darkness.
But then, a boat pulls onto the shore, and Jesus of Nazareth steps out. And immediately, this man falls at His feet, and the demons within start to panic: Luke 8:28, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” This man no one could master now cowered in fear… and for good reason. The unclean spirits understood all too well that they were in the presence power.
In short order, Jesus casts out the legion of demons, who enter into the nearby heard of pigs, and who then drive themselves to destruction, drowned in the sea. The neighbours nearby, and witnesses of this dramatic display of spiritual authority and power beg Jesus to go away. To get back into His boat, and leave them (and their pigs) alone.
And our Lord doesn’t argue with them. He doesn’t demand they let Him and His disciples stay. He doesn’t get drawn into debates, and force His way into their lives. Even though He had travelled all that way to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom with them, Jesus does not use His great power to coerce anyone to accept Him. His power brings freedom, and wholeness, and life, but we can refuse to receive this gracious gift. And that’s what they do: they turn away Jesus.
But even as He prepares to leave, Jesus does not turn away from them. Instead, He sends out someone else to share the Good News with them.
Luke tells us the man who had now been freed from the demons begged to remain with Jesus… to stay close to the One who had given him back his life. Now this seems like a totally reasonable request, as N.T. Wright points out: “The man, quite understandably, wants to be allowed to stay with Jesus. Not only is he now bonded to him by the astonishing rescue he has experienced; he may well assume that things would not be easy back in his home territory, where everyone knew the tragic tale of his recent life. There might be considerable reluctance to accept him again as a member of a family or a village.”  In that moment, moving on and following Jesus must have seemed like the most obvious option.
But even so, Jesus had another important mission in mind: Luke tells us Christ “sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:38-39). He’s sent away not because Christ doesn’t care about the man. No, he is sent back so that those in his neighbourhood could see in him a living sign of God’s life-giving, saving power up close and personal. In other words, Christ was inviting this man to share in the work of God’s kingdom. As N.T. Wright puts it “Having experienced the good news in action, he must now tell it himself.” 
His life turned upside down by the grace and power of God, this man follows Jesus’ word to him… going about telling all his neighbours all that Jesus had done for him, and inviting them to believe the Good News that had transformed his story for good.
Today we heard two stories of people whose lives were changed by encountering the Living God and experiencing His power… and were both sent out again to invite others to turn to God too.
Elijah came in search of the LORD, despairing and ready to give up on himself and his people, but God sent him back knowing he was not alone, to help others join in God’s work in the world.
The man freed from demonic forces came to Jesus full of gratitude and hope, seeking simply to be close to the One who had rescued him, but Jesus sent him back to show all those nearby what God’s kingdom really looks like, and to invite them to believe, and experience it for themselves.
Maybe we are coming to God today discouraged, convinced that we are all alone, and that we cannot make a difference. Maybe we’re coming to God with gratitude and hope in our hearts… eager to be in His presence and to experience His life-giving power.
However we’re coming to the Living God today, are we willing to go where He wants to send us? Even if it is surprising, unexpected… or not what we asked for?
Our readings today remind us that though God’s ways are often not what we imagined, His life-giving, sustaining, saving power remains at work in us His people. God sends us out into our world, but He also goes with us always. Empowering us by His Holy Spirit to carry out whatever He asks of us.
So may we take heart, and go… sharing with others all that Jesus has done for us, and inviting them also to turn to the Living God and share in His good Kingdom. Amen.
 Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 138.
 Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 140–141.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101–102.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101–102.