11/11/2018 Sermon

Deborah Fortel
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
November 11, 2018

“It’s Us, It’s All of Us”
I Kings 17:8-16
Commitment Sunday

Introduction to the scripture reading

This morning we have a story from the ancient past, a story that is probably at least as much legend as history. We might hear it as an affirmation of trust in God. It’s set in the time of Ahab, Israel’s worst king, and his queen, Jezebel, who has a reputation even more hair-raising than his. By the report of the editors of I Kings, Ahab and Jezebel were selfish, greedy, and power-crazy. If such a thing had been invented then, they would have had gold-plated escalators in all their hotels, umm, palaces. All of that was bad enough, but the worst evil they did was to build their power on distorted religion. They worshipped Baal and Asherah, a fertility god and goddess that Jezebel had worshipped in her home country of Sidon, which was near the present-day nation of Lebanon. Ahab and Jezebel foolishly, recklessly thought that they could ensure their power and prosperity by participating in the rituals of Baal and Asherah.  For that reason, the editors of I Kings wrote this: “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (I Kings 16:33). That’s saying a lot! When you look at the list of the kings of Israel, you could say that they went from bad to Ahab.

I Kings 17:8-16

The whole country suffered from the drought that Elijah called down as punishment for Ahab’s wickedness. That included Elijah. After a time, God sent Elijah from Israel to Zarephath, a city in Sidon. He would find a widow there who would feed him, God said. When Elijah got there, he found a widow, sure enough, but she hadn’t gotten the same memo. Feeding him was the last thing on her mind. She didn’t have enough to feed herself and her son. She was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel to get enough flour to mix with a little oil to make some bread. She really had nothing left except one more meager meal and then the stark reality of death by starvation. But Elijah said what God’s messengers have said many times since:  “Do not be afraid.” Just this: “Do not be afraid.”

And that shifted everything for her. She chose to stop focusing on scarcity, on how little she had, and chose instead to trust and share what she had. We can speculate about why she trusted the stranger who showed up expecting her to feed him. But the narrative is not interested in what went on inside her. The point is what she did. She honored the requirements of hospitality. She responded to his request. She was generous beyond any expectation. What she shared with Elijah was what she believed was all she had. And remarkably, it was enough. Enough to provide food for three people. Enough, as it turned out, to last as long as it had to last, until the drought was over. As they waited through the time of famine and drought, she and her son and Elijah became a small community, sharing what they had.

In a lot of ways, this is a problematic text: weren’t there other hungry people in Israel and Sidon? Did they have enough to eat? But this isn’t a story that intends to give us the answer to solving hunger and poverty and oppression. It’s a story about setting aside fear and anxiety to move forward in confident trust. It’s a story about giving what we have even when it seems like it’s not enough and feels like nothing. It’s a story about discovering abundance where we expected only fear and scarcity. And in that way, it seems to me, it’s a story for us here at Crescent Hill Church.

It hasn’t been easy for us, at least not lately. You know all the reasons: Jane’s retirement, her illness, the decision not to renew Elisa’s contract and the mixed responses among us in this congregation to that decision. And all of it happening in the context of an especially difficult time in our nation with emotions running high because of the mid-term elections, hateful rhetoric, and the escalating pace of gun violence in way too many places, not to mention terrible fires and destructive storms, and upheaval on the international scene.

Yet here we are, and Elijah’s words to the widow are words for us, too. “Do not be afraid.” Do not fear. Do what you can, trusting that even if you think what you can do or what can give is too little, there will be others doing their part.

That’s how it is with us. Like the widow who shared what she had, we each do what we can. That’s the way it is in community. No one person can or should do it all. Everyone can do something.

This is the second Sunday of our experiment in a new way of being church. It feels daunting. It is complicated. A whole lot of things have to be done in different ways by different people. We worry that some things may fall between the cracks.

At the same time, many of us are continuing to do the important work for and with the congregation that we have been doing all along. And some of us are taking on responsibilities during this transition time for things that are usually a part of the pastor’s responsibility, and will be again. Some things are different, and some things are just the same.

As Debbie Dierks said several weeks ago, look around. We are here in worship. Singers are prepared to gather in the choir. Paul and Jennifer Kepler coordinate faith formation. Caring adults are in the pray-ground or the nursery with the children. Debbie is at the piano. Connie prepared the bulletins and did a thousand other things all week long. Deacons are responding to needs in the congregation. The building is clean and ready for us. Sunday school teachers teach kids and adults. Elders are providing leadership for us all. Our Parish Associates, Gary Cook and Mary Love, are doing a million and one things. The Pastor Nominating Committee is hard at work. Ushers and greeters met us at the door to the sanctuary. Others will collect the offering, and count it, and keep track of it and use it to follow the directions of the session in paying salaries and paying bills and giving generously to mission. Patti is managing the sound board for this morning’s service. And there’re so many more of you, of us, doing your part in the congregation. In fact, raise your hand if you give your time and energy to Crescent Hill – and then raise your hand if you participate in one of the many ways that CHPC members are serving other people: ELL, UCHM, the Grannies, and more. If you’ve ever said hello to a visitor, raise your hand. If you’re part of the Presbyterian Women, if you lead a Bible study, if you teach a class, if you lead Taize worship; if you go to the youth group; i you are sitting on the pray-ground; if you said hello to someone today, raise your hand.  If you’ve ever made a lunch for the youth group, raise your hand. If you serve on a council, if you substitute in the church office, if you take time to connect with other people in the congregation, raise your hand. If you pray for the session, for the deacons, for the staff, for members and friends who are ill or grieving or dealing with difficulty, raise your hand. If you bring food to share at potlucks or take food to people who are ill. Raise your hand. And if I’ve forgotten someone or something, please forgive me.

And now stop. Look around. Look at us! Look at all the hands that are raised! Just look! In fact, if you can comfortably, stand up, yes, all of you, and take a bow. Applaud yourselves!

You are amazing. You give yourself. You give your time. You give your energy. You care about other people and you find ways to make a difference even when it isn’t easy or convenient or high on your list of fun-stuff to do. Thank you for making this community what it is. It isn’t any one or two or twelve of us. It’s all of us. Like Elijah and the widow and her son, we are a community, looking out for each other. And like her, we give generously!

That doesn’t mean this time is or will be easy. We know that life together, whether in families or in churches, is challenging. By definition. A lot of us learned that for the first time when we were little kids at the family Thanksgiving gathering and not only got to play with our favorite cousins and eat a lot of special food, we also had to be polite to strange old Uncle Albert and accept kisses from great-grandmothers and take care of the little kids who wanted to play games that bored us. And we did it because it was family and that was what we did.

It’s like that in faith communities, too, of course. Sometimes we do things we’d rather not do. Sometimes we get disappointed or cranky. Sometimes we do easy things, like taking time to be sure that the bulletins are picked up from the pews and put in the recycle baskets. We keep doing our part to contribute to the life and well-being of our congregation.

We make a commitment to give financially, too, for the very same reasons. Because we’re a community. Because it needs to be done. Because even when we aren’t sure it’s possible, we are generous. Because generosity is good for us. But mostly because we are part of this community and being here, being together, matters to us. Because God has called us together. All of us.

About a year and a half ago a group of us were meeting to discuss some follow-up to the Vision 20/20 gatherings. Jane had just announced her retirement and although it wasn’t really a surprise, we hadn’t known before her announcement exactly when she would retire. The evening of that meeting all of us knew how much we would miss Jane and we were just beginning to see clearly how much we depended on her. There was a pause in the conversation. Then someone looked up and asked the question all of us had in our minds: “Who will fill Jane’s shoes? Who can possibly do that?” And without missing a beat, Laura Proctor said, “It’s us! It’s all of us!”

She was right, of course. “It is us. It’s all of us.” And it’s going to keep on being us. All of us. Sometimes that won’t be easy. Maybe it already isn’t easy. Sometimes some of us will need to take a break from giving and let others give to us. That’s okay. But through it all as we move day by day and week by week, as we take turns taking care of each other and reaching out in mission to other people with other needs, as we welcome newcomers to our community and as we prepare to call and welcome a new pastor, we will keep discovering again and again how to give, even if it feels like there’s nothing much to give. We know and we will learn more deeply how to be community together, like that little community of Elijah and the widow and her son. We will keep learning how to be the people of God, a community of care and faith and mission, giving our time and our energy and our skills. Yes, and our money. And it will continue to be true that it takes all of us to be this community of faith.

– Deborah Fortel is a retired Presbyterian minister who is part of the congregation of CHPC. She served both as installed and interim pastor in congregations of a variety of sizes and as part of the General Assembly staff. She currently works part time as a coach for pastors and consults with congregations.