Community Matters: a Sermon on 1 Kings 19 and Galatians 3

I have just returned from a one week trip in the North Georgia mountains celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It was really nice for Jason and I to have a time of rest together. A time to unplug from the chaos and troubles of the world and reconnect to ourselves, each other and God. But we also spent a lot of time celebrating. Because living together as a married couple for 20 years and still liking each other much less being in love is a big deal. Jason and I laughed many times on the trip about how although we have lived in relative harmony for 20 years we are quite different. As we visited a winery in North Georgia, he liked the dry red wines; I liked the sweet whites. He liked to sit in the sun outside the cabin while I picked shady spots to play in the creek. He got up early every morning, I slept. He ran everyday. I don’t run unless I’m being chased. You get the point, we are a yin and yang couple in many ways yet we have been able to live in community with one another for these many years. Don’t get me wrong. There have been tough times, but we have persevered. I guess there is something bigger than our differences that keeps us together. Now we went away to the mountains to rest in celebration, but we see Elijah this morning going to the mountain for a very different reason. He is exhausted. He has been having it out with King Ahab and Jezebel who have turned the nation Israel away from God and is now running for his life. He has done BIG work trying to lead them back to God and what he got after all his efforts was a death sentence. So he flees. And then he crashes. Elijah is at this point what I would call bone tired. So tired and worn thin all he wants to do is lay down and die. So he lies under a broom tree and sleeps. An angel comes to him and brings bread and drink. He eats and drinks and falls right back to sleep. Not even angel food can rouse him from his exhaustion and despair. The angel comes and second time to feed him and sets him off on his journey to Mount Horeb to meet God. Now we learn a lot about Elijah from his conversation with God on Mt Horeb. When God asks Elijah what he is doing on the mountain, Elijah answers thusly, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.” You catch the drama here. I have been zealous. They have been bad. Now they want to kill me. I don’t know if I am more struck by Elijah’s tattling nature or his egocentric belief that he is the only one left in the world that is following God. That everyone else is out to get him. It gets like this in bad times. My husband is a therapist and he talks about all these studies that show how stress not only narrows our vision, focusing us on the bad and blocking out the good around us. But it can also be quite isolating. Elijah believed he was entirely alone in the world. That is a bad feeling indeed. Now how does God answer him? “Poor Elijah, I shall smite all those meanies for you. It’s going to be okay? Or, “You are right Elijah, this is awful. You best just give up and die.” No, what God does is give him a very special gift. The gift of experiencing God’s presence directly. Then God tells Elijah to go back. Go back to your nation, your people, your community. Stop focusing so much on your problems with your enemies and focus more on living in community with those who can support you in living out your call. God tells Elijah to seek out allies like Jehu and Hazael. To let them do the fighting. Then he tells him to pair up with Elisha and let Elisha partner with him. You can’t do it all by yourself Elijah. Let others help you.Then he throws in a mention of the seven thousand people in Israel who have not bowed to Ba’al. Hmm. Looks like Elijah wasn’t so alone after all. Just worn out and at the end of himself. But the gift of being at the end of ourself is that is forces us to be open to letting others help us. To embrace community and let the community aid us. For God did create us to be alone but in community. Adam and Eve. Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God’s mark is all over community. I was going to talk about the Geresene demoniac and pontificate about how Jesus sent him back to his community after being healed, but my husband and children said if I preached on three Scripture passages we’d be here all day. And after the events of the past couple of weeks the passage from Galatians began to really resonate with my heart. So let’s turn to Galatians. For if we have any doubt about the importance of community for us as Christians and for all humans really, look to our passage from Galatians. The church in Galatia was one of the new Christian communities that Paul helped start. But after he left them it seems they turned to fighting. Yes, church squabbles are as old as Christianity itself. Some people were more focused on works and some more focused on faith in Christ. In last week’s lection Paul wrote them to tell them, “same coin, two sides”, faith and works go hand in hand. But then Paul goes on to talk about the nature of Christian community itself. This is the famous, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female passage.” Man, I don’t know about you but this passage speaks to me as loud today as ever.

Just tag on there is no longer democrat nor republican, gay or straight and you could make it a Facebook meme.

We are in a time of deep division in our nation, churches and even world. We live in a time when people are quick to draw lines of differences. To claim that they have the right way to live, to govern, to kill and die. But Christ came to tell us that HE WAS THE WAY. Not that following him was the WAY, but being him was the way. In Galatians Paul talks about us clothing ourselves with Christ. He also says “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” Think about that for a minute. If I hold to this as truth it means, I am no longer Dena Hobbs. I am not Episcopal or Southern or female or white or straight or a mom or a citizen of the USA. All that is gone. It is not the most important or true thing about me. What is the most important and true thing about me is that I am filled with Christ’s Spirit. Christ himself lives within me. Moves through me, speaks through me. And the same is true for all of us. For the most important thing about us in not what divides us, it it is what unites us. The most important thing about us is not our race or nationality or political party or whether we like red or blue carpet in a church or hardwood. The most important thing about is that we are all saved by the grace of Christ and filled with God’s own Spirit. That commonality is so big, so important, it leaves all the other details in the dust. We are meant to be in community. And like Jason and I we will all have our differences and we will have our ups and downs. But what unites us is far greater than any of our differences. So reach out to one another. Let others help when you are tired. Embrace the outsider who needs people to be with to be made whole. Always remember the truest thing that holds you together when all else fails. We are Christ’s. We are saved by Christ and filled by Christ. Christ lives in us! If we can do this and be a witness to others of unity in the Spirit, there will be hope for the church and our world yet. So let us be one in Christ, and let us always bear witness to God’s salvation, healing and love. Amen.  ]]>

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