By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Kings 19:9-18
When I go grocery shopping, I am often frustrated by things that I want being out of reach. It’s as if the grocery store managers know what I want to buy and, just to mess with me, they put it all on the top shelf. So, from time to time, I will climb the shelves… which I probably shouldn’t be doing anymore at my age. Other times, I will find another shopper to help me. Even when I’m climbing shelves, quite often people will hurry toward me to offer assistance. It’s annoying to be so short at the grocery store; to not have the height that I need. But it’s also a good and humbling reminder; we all need help. No matter who we are or what we do; we all need help.
Perhaps to compensate for being a short child, sometimes I can be fiercely independent and, often, that’s not such a good trait. In recent years, I’ve begun to notice that many people want to be helpful. In fact, my prior church was pretty large and, from time to time, people would drift away from the congregation. When I noticed, I would follow up with them. And here is what I often heard: “I just don’t feel like I have anything to contribute. I’ve been here – fill in the blank – years and no one has ever asked me to help with anything.” Now, what I wanted to say was, “What do you think those announcements I make every week are about?” But that would have been a rude response; so I kept that in my head. Still, it taught me that people need to be personally asked to help with something; that we all need help and we all need to be helpers.
This morning’s Bible story is a famous story about Israel’s greatest prophet: Elijah who, great though he was, desperately needed a helper and a partner.
Now, it’s important to know what precedes this story; to know the context. Israel is being ruled by King Ahab, who is a terrible king. He marries a foreigner named Jezebel and, when Jezebel moves into the palace, she brings her idols with her. And, with Jezebel’s prompting, King Ahab leads all of Israel to worship the false god, Ba’al, an ancient Canaanite storm god. Israel’s God, Yahweh, doesn’t appreciate this and so God imposes a drought upon Israel for their sin of betraying the one who delivered from enslavement in Egypt and brought them into a good land flowing with milk and honey. Elijah is the one who delivers this message of impending doom to Ahab, so he’s not in very good stead with the king. He is forced to go on the lam and hide out in a foreign country. After three years, God decides to end the drought and sends Elijah back home to, once again, deliver God’s message. And this leads to the famous story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. They agree to a contest in which the god who rains down fire from the heavens to consume a sacrificial bull on an altar will be acknowledged and worshiped as the one true God. Everything is set up and the prophets of Ba’al go first. They cry out in desperation to their god for hours, engaging in something akin to self-flagellation. They’re pathetic; yet nothing comes of it. Then, Elijah takes his turn. First he asks that the bull and altar be saturated in water. And then, as soon as Elijah prays to God, fire comes down from the heavens, consuming the bull, the altar, and even the water puddling around it. Yay for God and Elijah, right? All’s well that ends well, right?
But, maybe not. The prophets of the false god Ba’al are then executed and Jezebel is furious. She is determined to execute Elijah and so, before he even has time to unpack his suitcase, Elijah is on the run yet again. And he is discouraged. Who would blame him. In fact, he’s more than discouraged and despairing. Some bible scholars point out that Elijah sounds downright suicidal. However, it’s also important to point out that, in the genre of biblical lament, the lamenter nearly always dramatically exaggerates their condition and their mental distress.
Nevertheless, that is where this morning’s scripture reading began. God encounters the thoroughly defeated, exhausted, and hopeless Elijah on the holy mountain of Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai. And here is what I find most interesting in this story. God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” and Elijah pours out his lament. Then, there is this remarkable revelation of God’s power and presence and at the end of that, God repeats the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and Elijah gives the exact same response. What? How can that be? There’s been this hurricane force wind and an earthquake and fire and then, the sound of sheer silence. Yet Elijah has not been moved or changed one iota. God put on quite the show for him. But Elijah is still in the same mental and spiritual space.
So what does God do next? God renews his call upon Elijah AND – and this is a really important part – God gives him a partner and identifies others who are part of God’s divine plan. God reminds Elijah that he’s not alone and he sends him down off the mountain to go find Elisha and anoint him. And that is the very next thing to happen in the biblical narrative. In the very next section, Elisha becomes Elijah’s protégé, partner and eventual successor. Elijah felt like the last man standing. He felt so alone; so God gives him a helper.
Friends, this morning marks the conclusion of stewardship month here at Trinity. This year, we have particularly highlighted some of our ministries and their leaders, both paid staff and volunteers. We are blessed at Trinity to have some exceptional leaders. I want you to know that, between 2014 and 2021, Trinity’s staffing costs increased only $10,500. In fact, if you remove the cost of my health insurance – and, let’s face it, health insurance is out of control everywhere – our increase for all of our church staff has been less than $1,000/year.
… With one exception: because of estate gifts and our Program Endowment, we have been able to provide a focus on growing our young adult demographic by creating a half-time position that Pastor Monica fills for Young Adult Outreach. Because of the financial faithfulness of those who have gone before us, the saints triumphant like those we’ll celebrate next Sunday, we are able to support a strategic mission focus without impacting our operating budget and plate giving.
We were blessed to have Melissa with us for five years as she focused on children and youth, even pursuing a Masters degree in Family Ministry. When Melissa moved, we were blessed to have Pastors Mack and Monica assume Melissa’s duties at the same compensation rate as Melissa. We have obtained exceptional leadership through creative and careful staffing and strategizing as we’ve been guided by Trinity’s mission of Growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
In January, 2020, before the pandemic struck, a small group of leaders – staff, board members, and ministry team leaders – met together to vision. In that time together, we identified – as we’d discussed on multiple prior occasions – our need to have staff that could manage our Care Fund well. Trinity has long had a care fund that provides much needed financial support to those who are struggling. But a number of years ago, leadership here at the church voiced a desire to provide more than financial support. We wanted to build relationships and knew that – in order to do that – we would need to grow more comfortable discussing our own challenges in life AND would need someone with more in-depth experience with social services. We developed story groups to learn to share our own experiences and struggles with one another, recognizing that every single one of us have messy, icky stuff in our lives. Several of us traveled to Broadway Church in Indy; we engaged in other learning activities to figure out how to be a more economically and socially diverse congregation. During the pandemic, when Pastor Amber resigned, we were able to bring on Pastor Suzanne, who has experience and knowledge with regards to social services. At only fifteen hours/ week, Pastor Suzanne has led us in meeting our goal of transitioning from a Care Fund to a Caring Ministry
Just this August, our Governing Board met to consider how we have been impacted by the pandemic and where we need to invest our limited energy, money, and time. We identified and prioritized as a team. That is my role as your senior pastor: helping to keep all of us moving in the same direction and able to articulate our vision and our strategy. If you ever have questions about those things, please ask me any questions you have because, for Trinity to be effective in carrying out our God-given vision, we need to be working together. We need to help one another. If Trinity’s paid staff were the only folks doing ministry, reaching out, inviting others, and demonstrating care, then Trinity would lose members faster than it could grow. It takes all of us. I’m not too proud to say, “I need your help”… and not just to reach the top shelf at the grocery store. I need your help for us to achieve our vision of “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.” All of us can – and should – be doing something. We all have gifts to share and support to give. If you are not financially supporting the church to the best of your ability, then, guess what, the church is going to be limited in the ministry we’re able to do. If you are not volunteering to the best of your ability, then, guess what, the church is going to be very limited in the ministry we’re able to do. If you are not engaging in ministry to the best of your ability, then, guess what, the church is going to be very limited in the ministry we’re able to do. We’re all different. Some of us can give more money. Others can give more time. Others have a particular talent that is desperately needed in our context.
I think I speak on behalf of all of your ministry leaders when I say that – although I’ve never felt as desperate as Elijah – there have been times when I have been weary and tired and discouraged. I need your help. Pastor Monica needs your help to grow our young adult outreach. Pastor Suzanne needs your help to grow our caring ministry. Susie Riley needs your help to grow our transportation ministry. Dinah Dalder needs your help to make our church a place of safety and welcome.
Do you realize that, for nearly half of the people who attend Fusion each month, Fusion is their primary connection to this congregation? We need your help, especially with serving the meal. We need your help promoting Trinity Connect, our Sunday morning online service. I could go on and on. But, instead, I’m going to move among you and pass out sheets of paper that I hand out to those who are new to Trinity. They list so many different ways to get connected and engage in ministry at Trinity. They list so many ways that you can help.
Friends: Elijah wouldn’t have been able to do the ministry God called him to do on his own. It was just too much for him and God knew that. So God blessed him with a partner, Elisha. Same thing with Moses; he couldn’t do it all himself. He tried managing the Israelites on his own and it about killed him. His father-in-law Jethroe was the one to point it out and say: “save the big stuff for yourself; but delegate the less complicated stuff.” Even Jesus sent out his disciples to share in his ministry. In the limits of a human body, Jesus couldn’t cover as much territory as his disciples could spread out and cover. Jesus, the Son of God, needed help. When we read the letters of the apostle Paul, it’s very obvious that Paul had lots of help in his ministry. People traveled and worked alongside him for a while and then they ministered on their own. They watched, they learned, they did and then they led; young and old; man and woman; Jew and Gentile.
From the first pages of our scripture, it’s made clear. It wasn’t good when the man was by himself. He needed a partner. We all need partners, helpers, and supporters. We can only get by with a little help from our friends.
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