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Exodus 40:34-38
1 Kings 19:3-8
Hebrews 12:1-2

        We don’t have to ride our bicycles across the country to know what it’s like to undertake a journey. We needn’t set a worthy goal or commit ourselves to a challenging pilgrimage to find hope and meaning along life’s way. Wandering for years upon years in the desert is neither a requirement for nor a guarantee of finding the Promised Land. We don’t even have to suffer an unbearable loss or be running for our lives to wake up to the reality that our very existence is being sustained by angels. Nor do we, thank God, have to martyr ourselves for the sake of the world to know the joy of being at home in God’s heart.

        And yet for some of us the pull of the open road or the unknown path is strong to the point of irresistible. From the beginning of time virtually all peoples and cultures have used the metaphor of journey to symbolize the human drive for physical survival, economic success, personal growth, spiritual deepening, and just plain fun. Our myths and stories, scriptures and personal experiences are filled with quests and exploration, life’s trials and tests, the agony of the struggle and the thrill of achievement.

        Think Abraham leaving home and family to set out for a place he did not know. Think of the 10 years and a lifetime of testing it took Odysseus to get back home. Think Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, Huckleberry Finn and Jim, Ernest Shackleton, Amelia Earhart, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Cheryl Strayed, Katherine Johnson. Think of Jesus alone in the wilderness for 40 days and, later, seemingly alone on a cross. Think any number of books and movies and spiritual traditions in which a journey outward represents the inward journey, where characters find themselves even as they get lost in the big, wide world.

        Think, of course, of our new heroes: Clif and Arleen, Sara and John, Mark and Julie, Bruce and Bill.

        We admire them and their accomplishments not only because what they did is amazing, not only because, like them, we miss Charlie, not only because we love them, not only because, even if we can’t imagine riding a bike 80 miles a day or sleeping in a tent for weeks on end, we love the idea, at least, of adventure—but also because their journey speaks to something deep in our souls, something perhaps even embedded in our DNA.

        We, too, have journeyed, and are journeying still. We, too, are heroes.

        Think about the journeys of your own life: the journeys from home to some unknown place, the scary path to a new or newly realized identity, the winding road from childhood to adulthood, crowded dinner table to empty nest, worker to retiree, strength to limitation, knowledge to wisdom.

        Think about all the journeys you might never have expected to take, some of which you surely would never have chosen: life-threatening illness, alcoholism, unemployment, divorce, widowhood, a new love, a different career, a horrible loss, hurricane after hurricane after forest fire after earthquake after flood, political firestorm after policy disaster. Think of challenges met and obstacles overcome.

        Think about the journey you are on even now. Consider that even when you think you know where you’re headed and how you’ll get there, you never really do. Name your journey’s tests. Cry over its pain. Realize all the ways it is transforming you, humbling and healing you, strengthening you and refining you.

        This is the stuff of life. This is the journey of life.

        The key element of the classic hero’s journey is that the hero-in-the-making travels alone. It is one brave soul against the elements, one liberator against the world, one explorer wrestling with her inner demons, his checkered past, their personal shortcomings and life-long wounds. The hero may have companions along the way, formal support systems even, but in the end, in the key moments, she is on her own.

        But we know better. The alone-and-all-on-your-own business is what makes these stories mythical. And it is when we buy into that formula that we unnecessarily isolate ourselves and get into real trouble. It is a classic—and common—mistake.

        The prophet Elijah shows us how it’s done—and how not to do it.

        When his troubles with King Ahab start to get really serious, Elijah manages to make things even worse by imagining he is all alone.

        “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord,” he whines, “but Baal’s prophets number 450.”

        He is not, of course. God is with him, as are, as he will later discover, no fewer than 7,000 faithful people. But first, as is the way with hero’s journeys, things will get worse. Elijah’s successful, if murderous, smackdown with the prophets of Baal enrages Queen Jezebel, who vows to kill him. And so he runs for his life.

        Only he doesn’t get very far before he is overcome by the awareness of all he is up against. He is tired. He is discouraged. He is deeply depressed. He would rather die than continue his journey, and so he lays down under a tree and goes to sleep, hoping never to wake up.

        But he is not alone.

        No sooner has he given up and fallen asleep than an angel touches him and says, “Get up and eat.” He rubs his eyes and looks around in this deserted place and, sure enough, there’s an angel food cake and a jar of water. He eats and drinks and lays down to sleep again, thankful for the food but still resisting the next stage of his journey. Sleep is good; sleep is essential, but it is not enough.

        And so the angel, who’s been there all along, touches Elijah a second time, rousing him awake.

        “Get up and eat,” the angel tells Elijah. “Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

        And Elijah does get up. He eats and drinks and, as the story says, he goes 40 days and nights on the strength of that one heavenly meal and, I like to think, a more informed sense of Who was going ahead of him and traveling with him.

        He was not alone after all. The children of Israel wandering in the wilderness were not alone. We are not alone. Whether it is a pillar of cloud by day and a cloud of fire by night that shows us when and where to go, the great cloud of beloved witness that cheers us on the way, or the angel who drops in with food and drink and the occasional hundred-dollar bill, God’s love is always with us.

        We are not alone in the struggle for racial, economic, and immigration justice. We are not alone in the work for peace. We are not alone in our efforts to combat climate change. Those who lost loved ones on 9/11 do not grieve alone. The people of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean are not alone in facing and recovering from the Harvey and Irma; the people facing fires and floods and earthquakes are not alone. God is with them in the neighbors helping neighbors. God is with them in the strangers helping strangers. God is with them in the work of all levels of government, in every kind of first responder, in every dollar donated to their recovery. God is with them in us, and through the church.

        You are not alone this morning. Whether or not you can see the cloud of fire beckoning you on, whether or not you can hear the cheering of loved ones lost and gone, whether or not you can recognize the angels in your midst or taste and see God’s goodness in the love feast prepared for you, trust that you are not alone. Trust that the Holy One is with you. Trust that if you only get up and take the nourishment provided for you, you will have what you need for the next stage of the journey.

        Back on Pentecost Sunday, as the C2C4Charlie riders prepared to set off on their epic journey, we blessed them. Those of you who were here may remember that we sang them out, assuring them that they would not ride alone, that our love and prayers would go with them.

        This morning, I invite you to sing with me again, as we bless one another and receive the oldest, greatest promise of all:

Courage (courage)
my friends (my friends)
you do not go alone.

God will (God will)
go with you (go with you)
and love your journey home.

Openness (openness)
my friends (my friends)
you do not go alone.

God will (God will)
go with you (go with you)
and love your journey home.

Community (community)
my friends (my friends)
you do not go alone.

We will (we will)
go with you (go with you)
and love your journey home.

Jesus (Jesus)
my friends (my friends)
you do not go alone.

We will (we will)
go with you (go with you)
and love your journey home.