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ALONE IN A CROWD

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
AND
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

19 JULY 1992

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

1 Kings 19:1-4
2 Kings 4:8-17
Mark 15:34

Have you ever been invited to a party or a gathering where you were seated with people you didn't know, and because they all seemed to know each other, soon you began to feel left out?

Have you ever gone alone to an out-of-town restaurant, and there you were seated all alone at your table when you began to feel not quite sure what to do with yourself, while waiting for your food?

Have you ever moved to a strange new place, where you didn't know anyone, and you felt all alone?

And what about starting a new school; did you feel left out?

Perhaps you don't participate in the things your neighbors do; and, thus, they ease you out of their groups.

Perhaps you are a sensitive, loving, compassionate peacemaker who is trying with all of your heart to free humans, the other animals, and the environment from the corruption of this world, but your words go unheeded, and you feel alone in your struggle and reproached by your church and community.

All of these are examples of being alone in a crowd.

In 2 Kings 4:8f, there is the story of a woman and her husband who were alone in a crowd.

They lived in the village of Shunem, in the territory assigned to the tribe of Issachar in the land of Israel, southwest of the Sea of Galilee, some 2,700 years ago, at a time when the Israelites had turned away from God.

During this time the Lord repeatedly sent out His prophets to warn the people to return to Him, or they would be removed from their land.

8. Now there came a day when Elisha [the prophet] passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food.

This woman was obviously wealthy, and probably was instrumental in acquiring this wealth for her husband.

She earned and had money, but she also lived among people who didn't believe in the Lord God; thus she felt very alone, for she believed.

Then along came this man who spoke of God, as if he knew Him personally, and she had a ray of hope; so she persuaded this man to come and have a meal with them.

She invited him back, and looked forward to his return; for though she was married, she still felt lonely, as probably her husband did, also. Elisha filled that void in their lives each time he returned.

9. And she said to her husband, "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually.

10. "Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there."

Now that she has come to know Elisha better, she realizes that not only does he know God in a personal way, but he is also God's representative.

And this isn't just a guest bedroom in their home. This is a place where Elisha was to be made to feel at home; a place where he could rest and pray and study; a place that could be his regional base of ministry.

This was to be a place where neither this Shunammite woman nor her husband, nor even Elisha and his servant Gehazi, would feel lonely; for now they could all share in their love for God and for each other.

11. One day he [Elisha] came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested.

12. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, "Call this Shunammite." And when he had called her, she stood before him.

There is something very special about true Godly love; it will do nothing to harm anyone in any way.

And Elisha is very sensitive to this.

He knows that this woman is very lonely and that he is filling a spiritual void in her life; but he doesn't want anyone to get the wrong impression, for he is now living in her home.

Thus, he doesn't speak to her directly, but through his servant Gehazi, so that her husband would not get jealous, or so that others wouldn't do more talking behind this woman's back than they were already doing; and perhaps he could silence some of it.

13. And he [Elisha] said to him [Gehazi], "Say now to her, 'Behold, you have been careful [respectful in your caring] for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?' " And she answered, "1 live among my own people."

This woman didn't do what she did in order to receive anything in return.

She is already prominent; she doesn't desire anything further, either in the king's court or from the army, in the form of protection, for she is trusting in the Lord.

This Shunammite woman is content to remain in her community.

She has received her reward in the comfort that Elisha has brought to her: that her faith was not in vain; that God does care for her and loves her.

Elisha also feels this ray of hope through her; for she heeds his words something that very few others did.

Elisha needed this encouragement, just as any of us do when we are alone in a crowd.

Loneliness in a crowd is nothing new for the prophets of God.

Elijah, who preceded Elisha as prophet, also had these feelings.

Note 1 Kings 19:1-4.

1. Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets [of Baal] with the sword.

2. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."

3. And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

4. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."

The fact that Jezebel did not repent after his victory over the prophets of Baal was a disappointment to him; and he became depressed, and felt all alone.

Even Jesus felt alone upon the cross, when He called out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34)

But what about Elisha?

He didn't feel alone in the home of this Shunammite woman.

And it was because of the encouragement Elisha received from this Shunammite woman, that he felt he just had to do something for her, as a way of thanking her for all her kindness.

14. So he said [to Gehazi], "What then is to be done for her?" And Gehazi answered, "Truly she has no son and her husband is old."

15. And he said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood in the doorway.

16. Then he said, "At this season next year you shall embrace a son." And she said, "No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant."

At that time and in that part of the world, it was considered a reproach for a woman not to have any children, as well as for the whole family not to have a son to carry on the family name.

Obviously, she had been the butt of many a joke and the object of gossip in the village, both for her faith in God, and for her lack of a son; and here this man of God is offering to take much of that away.

It's not that she doesn't believe Elisha, but that the offer of such a gift is overwhelming to her; just as it was to Sarah when she was told she would have a son, and as it was to Elizabeth when she was told the same thing.

God will take away our loneliness and the reproach for our faith, if we let Him.

But we can't be fence walkers; for such people still feel lonely, and still get the reproach, and don't receive the blessing.

We have to live our faith, as does this woman.

17. And the woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.

The church community should be bringing the same spiritual comfort to each other, as the prophet Elisha is doing with this Shunammite woman.

In our community, there are far too many people who are lonely and feel unaccepted.

Perhaps such a person is here with us today, and still they feel alone in the crowd.

We can take away this loneliness and this reproach.

All we have to do is share God's love with each other.

If someone in our community is unaccepted, or you think they feel alone in a crowd, let us make some "rooms" for them here with us.

We are not to be like the rest of the world.

We are not to worry about what the person is like or what they have done, good or bad; we are just to reach out to them in unconditional acceptance and love; and together we will remove more loneliness than any of us had been able to before.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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