Here at First Parish Church we have a number of history buffs who like to swap stories about the early days of York. Some of them are true, and some of them are not. But they’re all interesting. This one is like that. Across the street in the oldest part of the cemetery, there is the tombstone of a young man named Leroy, buried in the second decade of his life. His tombstone bears a warning to all others, as he both lived in and left the world by wanton means, apparently, though no description is given as to the nature of his scandalous activity.    

  Perhaps he had enjoyed too much hard cider and found himself careening along a steep incline near the top of Mt. Agamenticus. It has been said of such a young man, that just as he was enjoying the scenery, he stepped too close to the edge of the mountain and started to fall. In desperation he reached out and grabbed the root of a gnarly old tree hanging growing out of the side of the cliff. Full of fear he assessed his situation. He was about 100 feet down a shear cliff and about 900 feet from the floor of the canyon below. If he should slip again he'd plummet to his death.

Full of fear, he cried out, "Help me!" But there was no answer. Again he cried out: "Is anybody up there?"
A deep voice replied, "Yes, I'm up here."

"Who is it?"

"It's the Lord"

"Can you help me?"

"Yes, I will save you from harm’s way."

"Help me!"

"Let go. I’ll catch you"…. 

Looking around, Leroy became full of panic. Looking around he shouted:
"Uh... Is there anybody else up there?"

No one stands alone. God is always present to hold and sustain us when we stumble or fall.

         This familiar joke parallels another historic story from the Old Testament lesson in I Kings today. Since last week, we’ve moved ahead three generations, from King David, to his son King Solomon, and now after King Solomon’s death, to the next in-line to lead the people of Israel, Rehoboam.

         Like the young man from York history, Rehoboam finds himself in a desperate situation after his father’s death. He’s not prepared to step into his father’s shoes. He needs the help of community but he doesn’t trust it or listen to it when it comes.

First, Rehoboam goes to the older men of the community for advice on how to lead the people. He acts as if he is listening intently to all they have to say. They remind him that his father ruled as a threatening tyrant.

         The assembled leaders said, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” They want him to become a compassionate and just leader, exercising his power through service to build up the kingdom.

         We can almost see the wheels of this young leader turning. He promises to think about their counsel for three days, and then return to them. In the meantime, he pulls a Leroy. He doesn’t like the first advice he gets, so he searches for a different answer to the question. He approaches the younger leaders of the assembly, his peers and friends. They give him much different counsel. “He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?’ And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” So the king did not listen to the elders….” This story is called Rehoboam’s folly, because he ignored the wise counsel of community available to him, and then he chose instead a path that led to his destruction.

No one stands alone, God is with us. Nor one stands alone, as long as the community of faith is here.

         Where do we turn when we're hanging by our fingernails to the edge of a cliff? What can be count on to guide us when the path ahead seems unclear? We know what it’s like to be in a circumstance that presents no easy way out. We’ve heard people say, “What’s happening right now is so hard that I don’t even know how to pray.” We’ve been stuck with a trouble that shakes our confidence and threatens our future or the future of those we love.” “There is no one here this morning who has not sometime, somewhere, had their back up against the wall.”

         The first voice we hear when we’re in trouble echoes that of our wayward Leroy, “Trust me,” God said to him, “Trust me and let go.” When we’re in trouble, we think about it for a few minutes, and then we sometimes discover that the hardest answer of all is just this. “Trust God, and let go.” Let go of our anxiety. Let go of our worry. Let go of our anger over circumstances that we cannot change. When we’re in trouble, we think about it for a few minutes and then sometimes God’s promises seem too hard, there’s so much risk involved. We become paralyzed to act.

         We sometimes have a tendency to choose the easiest path, the one with the clearest course, and the most predicable outcome. When we’re scared or threatened, we’re not very creative people. We hunker down and hold on, even it this prolongs our suffering. So often we prefer the suffering of a path of our own making more that the unseen joy made possible by trusting God to show us the way out and through.

         No one stands alone.

While our young Leroy clung to the side of the cliff believing wrongly that he was alone, our young King Rehoboam turned to community to support and guide his path, though in the end he did not receive what they gave him. God answers our desperate prayers, and God also works through community to show us a way out of no way. God guides us, sustains us, advises us and supports us when life knocks us to our knees.

         You may have noticed the sign board out front, the sermon title, and the living banner on the wall this morning, proclaiming that First Parish is My Church. This isn’t a brag moment about how cool we are to belong to best religious club in town. There are in fact many wonderful faith communities gathered right now, up and down York Street and north and south down Highway 1.

When we say First Parish is My Church, we affirm with humility that through the community of faith given to us to love and to serve, we have experienced the presence of God. If you’re relatively new to this gathered people, to say that First Parish is My Church means that God has drawn you here for a purpose that may be clear to you, or will yet be revealed over time.

         First Parish is My Church because as your pastor, when I’ve found myself struggling to care for aging parents 1,500 hundred miles away, you have prayed for Ellis and me, and for them, as we navigate this necessary season from life to a transition to the other side in glory. There are others among us today with different stories to share about what makes First Parish My Church for them.

         When we say, First Parish is My Church, we affirm one of the several central reasons why people come to church and participate in a faith community. Some of you come for spiritual growth and guidance, to keep you grounded and inspired in practicing your faith, or to worship God and express your trust in God. But just as many of you come to church for the fellowship of other members and the nourishment of the community.

Earlier this year, nearly 2 million people gathered together in Paris to honor the 17 victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and the days that followed saw a global outpouring of support. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio flew to Paris to represent not only the other City of Light, but millions of Americans. An international community -- united in grief, strong in spirit, stood in solidarity with France, sending a message: a global village was there for Paris.

The Huichol people say, "No one stands alone." In tragedy or in triumph, day-to-day or during an isolated, rare event, the presence of community bolsters us. It's a credo we can all live by: In our community, we find our strength.

Without community, we cannot extend ourselves, our passions and our enthusiasm, into the world. With it, we have a mutual support system that carries us through hard times, such as when we're losing steam and motivation, and when we need strength for body and soul. It sustains us in our own lives: We don't ever have to stand alone.

Albert Schweitzer, Christian physician and missionary, once told this story about the power of community to heal. “A flock of wild geese had settled to rest on a pond. One of the flock had been captured by a gardener, who had clipped its wings before releasing it. When the geese started to resume their flight, this one tried frantically, but vainly, to lift itself into the air. The others, observing his struggles, flew about in obvious efforts to encourage him; but it was no use.

          “Thereupon, the entire flock settled back on the pond and waited, even though the urge to go on was strong within them. They waited and they waited, until new feathers grew sufficiently to replace the damaged ones, and thus to permit the goose to fly.”

Community binds us together. We find sanctuary through the company of believers every time we walk through these doors. We share nourishment whenever we break bread together and bow heads in prayer. We hold one another in silence, without judgment, when one of us falls, and we receive a word of hope from others when we're beyond words.

           God wired us for community. God gives us community for more than company. We bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s grief. We participate in one another’s joys, giving thanks to God in all things.

         First Parish is My Church, where we need one another and we feed one another in God’s name. And First Parish is your church, where God is with us and no one stands alone.