Two women met walking down the street. One had a brown paper bag under her arm. The other asked, "What do you have in the bag?" "A bottle of scotch. I got it for my husband." "Good trade!"
It’s Fathers’ Day, so I hope all you folks will treat your fathers and husbands with extra care and love. Fathering these days is not an easy role to play.
We don’t know if the men in our scriptures are dads – they could be. (Some might say that the fact that both of them are at their wits’ end would be a good sign….) In Luke, Jesus pulls his boat up on shore and encounters a very disturbed man. He came from the city, but now he is completely alienated from society – the story tells us that all the usual signs of living in community are absent from this poor man’s life: he doesn’t wear clothes, he lives in a graveyard, he thrashes about and scares people, he breaks loose from any attempts to shackle him. He is a wild man, and he is possessed by evil spirits – demons, and lots of them.
Some of us men today may feel a secret kinship with this fellow – we are trying to live up to expectations in a highly ordered, demanding world, and we’re not sure we are up to it. Our sense of alienation – of not fitting in – may be on the inside rather than the outside…. We may feel shackled in less obvious ways than this guy, but shackled nonetheless – by jobs and mortgages and lawns and commutes and inlaws and tuition and quotas to meet and soccer to coach….
So how does Jesus relate to this man? First, Jesus has to deal with the evil spirits. In fact, they recognize Jesus as a danger and they address him. Jesus demands to know their name (an assertion of his authority over them). They confess their name is “Legion,” for they are many. The demons know they are beaten; they ask to be released into a nearby herd of pigs, and Jesus permits this. The pigs indicate this is not Jewish territory. Jesus is freeing people from outside his own religious tradition – and the demons are responding!
Somehow, knowing the presence of God in Jesus sets this man aright. After his liberation, the man is restored to his humanity, his dignity – he is clothed, sitting quietly, in his right mind. Jesus has given him a second chance, a new life, a fresh start. What a gift! How will he use this gift? What will his new life look like? Jesus asks only, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Aha! So he has a home to return to – maybe a spouse, and maybe some children who need their dad, who missed him in his craziness. Jesus only asks that God be praised for this transformation…because the source of all our transformations from death to life is from God.
Elijah is the other troubled man in our lessons today. We know him as a tough, gruff prophet of Yahweh, who battles the drift in his society, in Israel, away from Yahweh toward worshipping other Gods – Baal in particular. Elijah has just had a big success defeating all the prophets of Baal – there was lots of drama, fire, and then victory. And yet, he has sunk into despair. Queen Jezebel promises to kill Elijah within 24 hours. Elijah runs scared. Then, stepping out of time, Elijah has a “Moses moment” with God. All the Moses signs are there: forty days in the wilderness, a journey up a mountain, and finally, meeting God.
And how does he meet God? Not in a dramatic, showy moment…emphatically not. We’re told there was a great wind, but no God. There was an earthquake, but no God. There was a fire, but no God. Finally, there was “a sound of sheer silence,” or in a better-known translation, “a still, small voice.” And when Elijah heard that, when he settled down and listened, there was God. God was present. Elijah’s fears were swallowed up in God’s greatness. His despair was overshadowed by God’s faithfulness. His anger was overcome by God’s love and peace. God gave Elijah a second chance, a new life, a fresh start. What a gift!
Elijah continued his life faithful to God, but more grounded in God’s love and peace. He would, in the end, have the special honor of being swept up into heaven on a chariot of fire! Not a bad way to go!
What can we take away from these stories?
Being a man has never been easy, and it isn’t easy today. No matter what our situation may be, in terms of family, work, lifestyle, we face many demons that can pull us off course – especially if we are trying to follow the path of Jesus. Elijah was attracted to the way of violence; in the end that path proved to be a dead end. Only the whisper of God could restore him. The man with demons may have sought his salvation by running away from home and community; he found nothing but frustration and alienation. He was freed by the healing touch, the loving embrace of Jesus. Knowing that God was with them; that made all the difference.
So let us pray for all our dads and father-figures, trying to do their best in a changing world, sometimes overwhelmed and crazed by its demands. May they still hold fast to that which is good: our God-given values of reverence for God, and love of neighbor, of peace. I’ve come to accept and honor my own dad more and more, not because he was perfect or was a hero in some way, but because he kept trying, kept loving, kept engaging – even when at times he suffered from some pretty destructive demons.
For myself, I try to be a dad who’s loving and dependable, who celebrates what my children are and what they seek to do in life, and who holds up values of love, mercy, and compassion. I try not to endorse the world’s values – money, prestige, winning at all costs – with Maggie and Colin. At times I fail miserably in this.
Friday at lunch, Leslie and I had a waiter whom Leslie has gotten to know. Kenny proudly announced that he and his girlfriend had their baby two weeks ago. Many photos were shared of the tiny blonde, Laura Mae. Kenny said he thought it was time to get married, and I inwardly rejoiced that a stable new family would be formed for that little blonde girl. Here’s a new dad, working as a waiter, suffering from lack of sleep, and yet overjoyed to have the opportunity to share in God’s creative work as a dad.
May God bless Kenny in his new vocation as a dad, and all of us who are fathers, and all our dads, who have loved and struggled with their demons as we do with ours. May we know the presence of God in our lives, and find our rest in Jesus, in that still, small voice of calm. AMEN.