Are You Fully Alive
Epiphany of Christ Sunday • January 6, 2019
Scripture Lesson: 1 Kings 19:1-13
(adapted from The Message)
Rev. Jeff Wells
The story about Elijah in this scripture lesson will sound familiar to those of you who worship regularly at the Church of the Village. I used this passage only six weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Advent. At that time, I focused on the part of the story showing Elijah running away from the challenges in his life as an example of our temptation to despair.
Elijah’s story is appropriate for today as well, as we are beginning our new worship series called “showing up” and today, specifically, delving into the theme of “being fully alive.” Elijah certainly demonstrated the ability to be fully alive in a big way. He was not generally one to do things small. You remember he challenged all the priests of Ba’al to get their statue God to spontaneously make fire. They couldn’t, but Yahweh did. So Elijah won.
In this story, Elijah showed up to himself by having the courage to respond to God’s call and take on the lonely and dangerous role of a prophet. He showed up for God in making this commitment to single-handedly fight for the faithfulness and spiritual well-being of his people, at the risk of his own life. And he showed up for his community, for his people, in taking on the false prophets of Ba’al, even when he did not have much support even among the Israelites themselves.
Elijah showed up – but then…he failed to “show up.” He got tired, he lost his nerve, he become focused on his own security and safety, and he ran away. He ran away and hid in a cave. And when God challenged him, Elijah retorted, “I am the only prophet left in Israel and the people have abandoned me. I’ve had enough of this, God.”
Have you noticed that, when showing up for our lives becomes a little too much for us, we have a tendency to want to back off, escape into the wilderness, and hide out in our metaphorical caves – like Elijah? This is surely not an uncommon pattern for us human beings – to discover our calling, to hear our voice, the access our courage, to take a determined stand, and then to run up against a brick wall and say, “I’ve had enough” or “I can’t do this” and back away. I have certainly experienced that myself at times. When I have felt like I was struggling alone or not seeing any fruit from my labors or when I felt called to some new pathway that I knew would be difficult for me, I have resisted, put it off, or tried run away. I have even tried to run away from God, like Jonah. You remember Jonah. God gave him a distasteful assignment – he asked him to go tell the Ninevites to repent. But Jonah despised the Ninevites as sworn enemies of his own people. So he said, “No way! I know how you are – if they do repent, you are going to forgive them and I can’t stand the thought of that. I want you to destroy them instead.” So Jonah took the first and fastest ship he could find in the opposite direction. But he discovered it’s not so easy to run away from God. He ended up back where he started and doing just what God asked him to do in the first place, however reluctantly. I don’t know about you, but I have lived that storyline myself.
Think about people you admire who you think have “shown up” and lived full and abundant lives. I am sure that in a few minutes we could create together a very substantial list of “heroes of showing up.” For me, I think of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Malcolm X, Archbishop Oscar Romero. They showed up. The had purpose. They answered the call. They shaped their lives to have significance. Yet, if you look carefully behind the myths, each of these heroes had periods of doubt, of insecurity, of hesitancy, of fear, of now showing up for God, for themselves, or for others. I recall, for example, that Martin Luther King Jr. originally tried to be a philosophy professor, until he could no longer resist the call to ministry. When he was hired as the senior minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, he had no intention of becoming a fiery civil rights leader. He was thrust into that position when he was only 26 years old. And during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when he began to receive regular death threats, he had a moment when he wanted to give up and run away from the fight. Agitated, awake in the middle of the night, and sitting at his kitchen table, King prayed to God:
“I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid…. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
And he got an immediate response from God.
“I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before,” he wrote. “It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
So part of what I am trying to say is, if you have or are now struggling with showing up in the midst of the difficulties, disappointments, and challenges of your life, you’re not alone. All of your “heroes” have gone through the same thing. Just don’t let hiding in the cave be your end point – don’t let that be the last thing said about your life. Let God’s leading and the loving support of family, friends, and community help you build up the reserves and resources within you to live your life fully present, abundantly alive, and full of purpose.
One of my favorite churchy quotes comes from Irenaeus of Lyon, a bishop of the church in the second century. Irenaeus was all about establishing church doctrine and fighting what he perceived as heretical views among Christians. Now, when it comes to church doctrine, theology, and politics, I usually stand with the heretics, outcasts, free-thinkers, and left-wingers, so I am not a huge fan of Irenaeus’s theological and ecclesiological stance. However, here is the thing Irenaeus said that I love and that applies to our conversation today: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” This rings true to me and I hear in it a very close echo of what Jesus himself says in the Gospel of John: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  God’s deepest desire is that we show up and experience life to the fullest, no matter what our circumstances.
Are you living your life fully alive? Or, are you just getting by? Are you letting life happen to you and around you, but not really showing up in all the ways you might? If we are going to really show up, we have to have a certain level of determination to be fully present in every moment of our lives. We have to strive to make every day count. We have to put our whole selves into whatever cause, purpose, work, or ministry we feel is calling us. We have to invest ourselves in our relationships and working hard at our own growth as well as facilitating the growth of those around us. And finally, and very importantly, we have to participating fully in the community in which we participate – not just to gain the support, love, nurture, for ourselves, but to give of ourselves in mutual love and support and working for the common good. We are called to show up for ourselves, for God, in our relationships, and in community together.
I believe God created us to live our lives to the fullest. As poet Mary Oliver posed it, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” God had given you this precious gift of life – are you making the most of it? We all have ways in which we are challenged and ways that we are gifted. Yet, because of the way the world is organized and the ways human beings harm and take advantage of one another, life is definitely not fair. There are surely issues of justice when we talk about making the most of life. Some people are more advantaged or disadvantaged, some experience privileged and power, while others experience prejudice and powerlessness. But no matter what our individual circumstances and social locations, God calls each of us to show up and live our lives to the fullest. That requires taking risks and being willing to make mistakes, to fail, to embarrass ourselves. But in doing so, we each have the opportunity, within our personal and social situations, to make the most of every lived experience, to be grateful for the goodness and angry about the hardness of our lives, to have a positive impact on others, to fight for what is good and right and loving, to live this one precious life with meaning and purpose. As Jesus put it, we each have potential and the choice to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and spirit and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We don’t have to be “heroes” to experience living fully and abundantly. We do not need to do things that are going to show up in the history books or get us a write-up in Wikipedia. Showing up can mean being the best spouse, parent, friend, or caregiver that we can be. Showing up can mean doing what is necessary to extract oneself from a destructive relationship or to find the support and put in the hard work needed to escape a life-sucking addiction. Showing up means caring for those around us – in fact, it is a paradox that showing up for ourselves and for God actually often involves focusing more on other’s needs than our own.
It’s hard to sustain a high level of being “fully alive.” A lot of people use meditation and mindfulness practices to training themselves to stay alive and alert and to try to live fully in each moment. But most of us are like Elijah. Sometimes we show up and other times we are not quite all there. But we have a super role model for showing up – that Jesus. Jesus is my favorite “showing up hero.” He really showed up, didn’t he? Perhaps more than anyone else who has ever lived, Jesus was fully alive to every lived experience, to every person he encounter, in every relationship he built with others. He was more fully conscious of the deep meaning of his life, but also valued more the lives of those around him. He was surely more fully connected with God than any of us and also more fully invested in community with others. Yet, Jesus was very human and even he had his moment of hesitation and questioning. Remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene? – “This is really hard. God, is there is any other way, please take this cup from me.”
So, here we are together – in community – and our raison d’etre – our reason for being together – is to build mutually loving, compassionate, and justice-seeking community together. So, I want to end with this emphasis. We are called to show up for each other in community. In fact, I think the highest expression of our call to show up and live fully alive is our coming together, in response to God’s call, to build mutually affirming relationships in loving community together. God wants each of us to become the best persons we can be, not by focusing on our self-actualization, but by focusing on others and promoting the well-being of all. So I encourage us in this new year to show up for one another in the Church of the Village. Let’s show up together and in mutuality for this expression of beloved community. I commit to you that I will be fully in this journey with you. Let’s invest ourselves abundantly in our mutual growth, affirmation, and love. I am so grateful to be in community and in ministry with each one of you. May God bless the work of our hearts, minds, and hands.
 John 10:10
Copyright © 2018 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.