Sermon preached for the twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
1 Kings 17:7-16
After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land.
The Lord’s word came to Elijah: Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. This is what Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days.The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as the Lord spoke through Elijah.
1 Corinthians 12:12-20
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
I was reminded this week of a beautiful word from the South African community. It was a word espoused by Nelson Mandela and brought to the Christian world by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The word is Ubuntu. As always, there’s no simple translation into English, but in general, the word means something like “I am because we are.”
I am because we are. I exist how I do because I am part of a community that shapes me. I would not be me without you.
It’s a beautiful concept, beautiful and true. The company we keep, the relationships in our lives, influence us deeply. And conversely, we change each community we are a part of, simply by bringing our gifts, our thoughts, our presence.
As a church, there would be no us without each of you. But each of you are who you are, in some real if intangible sense, because of us.
When I speak to people who are considering joining the church, I always ask the question: why do you think God is calling you to Crescent Springs Presbyterian?
Because it is a calling. God has put this church together, drawn these people here. This collection of people is not a random happenstance. Each of you are here because God called you here, because God knew we needed your presence, your wisdom, your gifts.
In one of the most famous metaphors for the church, Paul called the church a body. A physical body, a human body—the kind of body Christ had. Just like the parts of the body, each of us are different—and necessary. Part of being a mature adult, and a mature Christian, is learning to love people for how they are not like you. Loving them for the gifts they have that you don’t, the choices they make that you wouldn’t, the thoughts they have that would never cross your mind.
Over the last two years and change, it’s been my delight to get to know this body of Christ, to find out the different gifts and skills and passions each of you has. To figure out how this body works, how it moves, how it thinks, where it’s strong and where it needs strengthening.
God called the church into being to be Christ’s body on earth. So it is one of our core missions, one of our primary purposes, to be that body. To take care of ourselves the way you take care of your own body. To wash ourselves—in Christ’s forgiveness. To feed ourselves—with God’s grace. To take in deep breaths—of the Spirit’s courage.
This congregation is not an accident. To keep this body of Christ strong and healthy and able to serve in the world, it takes our attention. Our nurture. Our love. Our energy and time.
As a church, we currently have about 80 members—but that doesn’t mean we only have 80 people in this community. When you count children and unconfirmed youth and beloved, faithfully active friends, our community blossoms to about 116 people—people God has given to each other, for support and challenge and comfort.
I did a little bit of math this week to figure out how many relationships that is—how many paths of connection there are between each of us. The result blew me away—within this community, this church, there are over 6000 possible individual relationships. 6000 relationships, the majority of which would not exist without this church. 6000 relationships that shape and influence the people that we are, the ways we think, the things we do, the choices we make. It’s astounding.
But when you take it down, what that means is that Ginny watches out for Patty; that Tim can count on Bob; that Madeline can go to Meaghan for help; that Betty and Betty can bring each other dinner when they’re sick; that Rob can be a mentor for Aidan. The relationships that we form within this church create a vast network, a web of support, a net to catch us when we fall.
These relationships don’t come from nowhere. They don’t form just by sitting in the sanctuary together. They happen over years of potlucks and coffee hours, book clubs and Happy Traveler lunches, scavenger hunts and games, prayers and conversations. Every time we eat together, every time we laugh together, every time we greet each other, we are laying the groundworks for relationships that strengthen the body of Christ.
Fellowship is like exercise. It keeps the body of Christ strong and healthy.
(Remember that the next time you see a tray of brownies at a potluck.)
Our faith tells of us a God that values relationships with humans above all else. Of a God who loves us deeply, who speaks to us in words we can understand, who came out of heaven just so we could touch his hand and hear his voice.
And in each relationship we have, each hand we touch during the passing of the peace, each voice that tells us good morning as we come in those sanctuary doors, we can catch a glimpse of our God, our God who loves and welcomes us. God is with us through each relationship in this church.
Much of what we do in fellowship in the church feels lighthearted. Fun and joyful, and that is important all on its own. Joy is a fruit of the spirit.
But what all the potlucks and fourth of july parades and Christmas parties do is lay the groundwork for deeper relationships, the kind of relationships that can save our life when everything falls apart.
Because eventually, each of us faces that day. That day when the ground shifts under us, when there is a death, or a diagnosis, or a sea change, and suddenly we need every hand we ever touched to hold us up.
I have always loved the story of Elijah and the widow. It is such an amazing, intimate portrait of one person caring for another. A miniature of what a faithful relationship looks like. The mighty prophet of God, asking for help from a widow, who has the gift of faith. Who trusts God enough to share what she has with the stranger on her door.
It is the story of a potluck that saved a life. Saved three lives.
Fellowship is a high and holy calling. Sometimes it looks like laughter at a party. Sometimes it looks like holding each other while we cry. Sometimes it looks like conversations that let us know we’re not alone. Sometimes it looks like someone to hold your hand before surgery. Sometimes it looks like the very presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
Last year, we spent a little over thirty thousand dollars on our relationships here at the church—most of that to provide a gathering room where we can eat and chat, and to pay for my time to visit our homebound members and sit in hospitals and meet you all for lunch. That’s how important we have decided this church and these relationships are.
And I truly believe they are so important.
A few months after my arrival, you may remember that my grandfather died. And I remember thinking, can I cry during the service? Can I lay my grief on these people? Can I trust them to handle what I’m thinking and feeling?
And because I had eaten with you, and laughed with you, and sang with you, and played games with you—because even after a few months, I knew you—I knew the answer could be yes.
I pray that each of you knows that you have a network of support at this church. That there are 200 hands here just waiting to reach out to you, to hold you up when you start to sink. That there are 100 hearts ready to lift prayers on your behalf. That there are 100 people God has sent to you, to show you how much God loves you.
When we give our money to this church, we are investing in our ability to love each other—not buying love, but providing a space for it to grow, to strengthen, to spread.
We are the body of Christ. We are the prophet Elijah, needing help. We are the widow of Zarephath, with faith to share what we have in the hope it will be enough.
We are the people of Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church, called together because God knew that we would be stronger together.
Thanks be to God.