Second Sunday After Pentecost

During Easter we talked quite a bit about the already and coming kingdom of God. We look ahead to it as the ideal, as the hopeful vision of the future, but yet we live according to that kingdom now. Paul in Galatians gives us an example of the social ethics that guide the community that has found hope and salvation in Jesus. As we are all “children of God through faith” there is now “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male of female” all are one in Christ.” For those who claim allegiance to Christ, that is, the church, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Keeping in mind that Paul is not blind and he recognizes gender and ethnicity, I think it is fascinating that he chooses those three pairs to say that we are one in Christ. Those three pairs are what separated those who were a part of the community and those who were other. In Paul’s world, if you were a Greek you were less than a Jew. Those who were not a part of the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, the gentiles, were, in a way, unclean. If you were a slave you were less than a free person. If you were a slave you were the property of the one who owned you, and nothing more. If you were a woman you were less than a man. You were the property of the men in your life, you husband, father, brothers. 

So it seems to me that Paul presents these antithetical pairs to show a new social ethic, that these things that seem to divide and create a hierarchy no longer do so. Instead, all, regardless of social standing are one in Christ. Gender, ethnicity, and level of freedom no longer determine one’s worth, because all are one in Christ. This was a radical departure for Paul’s world. He is saying that gentiles are just as highly regarded by God as Jews. That slaves are equal with their masters, and women are equal with men.

The ideal and realistic implementation of Paul’s social ethic

Denominational divisions

How effective has the church been at implementing Paul’s vision of unity in Christ? Are there still hierarchies within our society and our worshiping communities or are we all one in Christ? Simply put and woefully understated, we have not done well. The language that we use has changed but in many ways the divisions have remained. We are no longer concerned about being Jew or Greek, but we have divided ourselves based on denomination. The Catholics think that the protestants are destined to purgatory and the protestants wonder in the Catholics are even Christian. And for some reason no one really thinks about the orthodox church. If we just focus on the protestant church the amount of denominations is staggering and few of them like to get along. The conservatives think the liberals have abandoned all theology and orthodoxy and the liberals think the conservatives want to see everyone they don’t like burn in hell. And no one likes the hipster Calvinists. We have divisions between mega-churches and small churches, denominations and non-denominational. Our theological, political, and structural disagreements have led to even greater division and it seems that all we can agree on is, if we don’t have coffee on Sunday the people will get angry. There are legitimate theological differences that Christians have. I am a Wesleyan and not a Calvinist. And I would have difficulty working with a denomination that refuses to ordain women. But our differences and divisions have led to isolation, even from those churches that are only different from us in name. It is concerning when we start to think in terms of “those people” in “that church” over there. There is a lot of work that would need to be done for us to come back together, but being one in Christ seems like a good place to start. On that basis we can begin to work toward unity.


“There is no longer slave or free.” We no longer have slavery as an institution in our country, even though it is a reality for many around the world. And the temptation is to think that because we did away with slavery and no one is alive who owned a slave, racism is dead. At best we would be fooling ourselves, if not willfully ignorant. It would be easy to outline the ways that racism is still alive and well in our country today, ingrained in our culture and in our institutions. But our focus is on our unity in Christ and not the racial divisions in the U.S., even though there is some crossover between the two. Unfortunately, the situation is not much better, only more subtle. Our churches are still segregated into white churches and black churches and any crossover between the two is seen as a special event and not a partnership in Christ. We take a colonial approach of trying to reform the black church into the image of the white church. In mainline denominations there is a minority of people of color in leadership roles despite numerous highly qualified individuals. The Sunday morning church hour still remains the most segregated hour in America. 


Along side racism, I would be remiss if I did not also mention anti-semitism. We no longer hear church leaders referring to Jews as Christ killers. But the largest anti-semetic organization in the U.S. operated under the guise of conservative Christianity, even if it was a perversion of it. And when that group and its various, suit coat wearing offshoots, reemerged in the public square in Charlottesville, we had people that Christian communities consider leaders have a hard time condemning such a blatant display of hate. Political considerations should not trip up church leaders when it comes to condemning anti-semitism. This one should be easy.

Gender equality

“there is no longer male or female.” There is no longer a hierarchy of gender in which men rule over women. This one still feels relevant to the church. Much like racism, there is much that could be said about gender equality in the wider society, but if we focus on just the church there is enough to say already. One Sunday, years ago, at one of my previous churches, we invited the wife of one of our neighboring Free Methodist churches to come and preach. She was just starting the ordination process, and so we thought it would be a great opportunity. She was also a good friend so it was also an excuse to see her and her kids again. She preached all three services that weekend and did a wonderful job. Wednesday afternoon we got a letter in the mail from a gentleman who had been attending our church, informing us that he would be looking for another church to attend because we had dared to flaunt biblical values and let a woman preach in our church. In his mind we violated the biblical mandate of the silence of women in the service and the prohibition against women teachers,  and our service was an abomination before God. If that story was an anomaly, it would not be worth sharing. But it is a regular occurrence. There are many large churches and denominations that ignore the equality of women in the leadership of the church. And even within those that do affirm the leadership and ordination of women, there are often few women occupying leadership roles. Some in the church seek to disrupt our unity in Christ, in regards to male and female, by twisting some things that Paul says about women while ignoring all of the times that he put women in leadership roles. 

When I think about the division that still remains in the church. The divisions between denominations and between protestants and Catholics and Orthodox. The racial divisions that are deeply embedded into the structure of the church. The divisions of male and female into superior and subordinate. It leaves me less than hopeful. In fact there are many times that these divisions that we have created cause me despair and to feel hopeless. When I think about the vision of what the church could be, one in Christ, and what it actually is, it makes me sad.

In times like these, Elijah’s story is a fitting example. In the Old Testament reading this morning we see Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel who wants him dead. Prior to this story Elijah had a contest with the prophets of Baal on mt. Carmel to see if YHWH or Baal was the real god. Elijah and YHWH won and Elijah had all of the prophets of Baal killed. Now Jezebel has told Elijah, the same fate as the prophets of Baal is waiting for him if she catches him. One of the most powerful people in the country wants Elijah dead and so he flees for his life. This threat to Elijah’s life seems to have a profound impact on him and he asks God to “take away [his] life.” As he sits under a broom tree, resting in the shade, while on the run for his life, he hopes that YHWH will release him from his prophetic task by letting him die. 

Elijah and his understandable hopelessness

We may be tempted to think of Elijah’s request as overly dramatic, but I think his sense of hopelessness and desire for life to end is realistic. On one hand how many people either wish their lives would end or take steps to make it so, because the situation that they are in seems to be hopeless. There is a reason that shows about teen suicide are so popular, and it is because the sentiments expressed in the show are so relatable. But if we think about Elijah’s sense of despair and hopelessness in general and apart from the issue of suicide, it is an understandable feeling. With all that is wrong in the world, debt, hunger, slavery, war, disease, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Theoden says, “What can men do in the face of such reckless hate?” and that feels like such an accurate representation of the world in which we live. 

YHWH cares for Elijah, practically

In the face of Elijah’s despair YHWH gives him some practical help, eat something and drink some water. We could easily spiritualize YHWH’s instruction to Elijah, he needs to restore his strength with spiritual food, the word of God. And while that would be fair, I don’t think that it is necessary. YHWH’s instructions are good, practical, advice. When we take on the task of trying to change our world, whatever that may look like, it is easy to lose sight of practical necessities. When our days are consumed by the things that need to be done, we need to take time to care for ourselves. Drink some water, not just coffee. Eat something that didn’t come from a gas station. Say no to things. The mission of the kingdom of God, changing our worlds, is a long game. So take care of yourself so that you can go the distance.

Elijah goes to where YHWH has been experienced

After Elijah’s nap and snack he heads out on a long journey, and eventually arrives at the mount of God in Horeb and goes into a cave. Elijah’s destination, this cave on a mountain in Horeb is significant for two reasons. First, he is hiding in a cave which calls to mind the chapter immediately prior where Obadiah hides 100 prophets of YHWH in a set of caves to keep them safe from Jezebel. Elijah is hiding in the same type of place that other prophets were kept safe from those who sought to kill them. YHWH has brought Elijah to a safe place, where he can rest without fear. Second, the mountain that Elijah is on is the same mountain where Moses “saw” YHWH. In Exodus 33 Moses is standing before YHWH and asks to see his glory. So YHWH directs him to stand in the cleft of rock and as YHWH passes by Moses may see his back. The echoes with Elijah’s story are unmistakable, especially since YHWH appears to Elijah towards the end of the story, in the sheer silence. Elijah has been brought to a place where YHWH has been experienced, where the presence of YHWH has been felt and seen. This place where Elijah is, is a meeting place with YHWH.

In much of the same way we have the opportunity to enter into similar places, sanctuaries where the presence of God is experienced. In moments of despair and hopelessness, the church ought to be a place where people can come to feel safe, and to experience the God who cares for them. That means, first that this place is available to us when we experience moments of hopelessness. We can come here and rest in the presence of a god who care for us. And second, it means, that as the representatives of God in creation, as the hands and feet of God, we are to care for those who seek safety and rest. Our community of faith ought to be fostering and environment of healing.

Elijah’s cynicism

While finding rest and peace is the ideal, Elijah’s speech alludes to the reality that often we long to hold onto grievances and cynicism. If we read Elijah’s comments in isolation from the immediate context, he seems to have every right to despair. He says that the “Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He repeats this complaint verbatim after YHWH presents himself in the sheer silence. If Elijah were the only faithful one left, and all of what he said about the Israelites was true, he would have every right to despair. The problem is, what he says is only partially true. The Israelites may have done those things in the past, but they aren’t now. And the only one seeking to kill him is Jezebel. Elijah seems to be forgetting about a few important details. First, Obadiah, another faithful prophet, successfully hid 100 other prophets. Elijah is not the only on left. Second, the reason that Jezebel wants to kill Elijah is because of the Israelites have chosen that they would worship YHWH alone, after Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. The Israelites killed all of the prophets of Baal.

While Elijah is in a place where he can experience the presence of God he also needs to set aside his cynicism. Grudges are not healthy and get in the way of working toward the kingdom of God. While we don’t forget the things that have happened to us prior as if they never happened, we should not hold on to them after God has acted and forgiveness has been given.

YHWH recommissions Elijah, and Elijah heads out to do a new work

The dialogue between Elijah and YHWH features notable instances of repetition. Elijah repeats his complaint twice, in response to YHWH asking him the same question twice. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Seems like an odd question given that YHWH was the one who told him to go there in the first place. But the question seems to be less focused on how Elijah got there, and more on what he is going to do now that he is there. Is Elijah there to wallow in his cynicism, or is he there to be recommissioned as a prophet, to “stand before YHWH” once again. Their interaction ends with YHWH giving Elijah instructions about where he is to go, now that he is acting as a prophet again. “Go, to the wilderness of Damascus.”

What are you doing here? Have you come here to find healing? Have you come here to find peace? To experience God and to stand in his presence? And are you here so that you can go out again into the world as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ? Where do you find yourself in Elijah’s story?


  • Chris Landon

    Chris Landon is the Lead Pastor at Arbor House. He is also the Pastor of Missional Engagement at Northgate Free Methodist Church. He has served at Arbor House since 2016. Prior to that he was the Summer Camp Director of Covenant Acres Campground and Retreat Center, Assistant Pastor at Gowanda Free Methodist Church, and Youth Pastor at Ransomville Free Methodist Church. Chris has a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Roberts Wesleyan University, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Northeastern Seminary, and is currently working on a PhD in Christian Theology (Old Testament) at McMaster Divinity College. His research interests include the books of Judges and Genesis, the narratives of the Old Testament and their application in the local church, and the intersection between Old Testament interpretation, contemporary politics, and Punk Rock. Chris and his wife Melissa have been married since 2014 and have three cats, Marcus, Minerva, and Nedjem. He enjoys playing paintball, video games, and listening to Punk.