Mar. 2017 newsletter piece


Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. – Luke 4:1-2

Wilderness journeys …

That’s what Lent is all about. It’s a time of year paralleling those 40 days of Jesus’ in the desert – 40 days of searching, 40 days of self-examination and reflection, 40 days of turning and returning to God.

Have you ever seen a picture of the wilderness that Jesus wandered through? It’s not like the wilderness that we have up here in the northern part of the world – trees and soft grass or pine needles underfoot, bushes with berries or mushrooms or other possibly edible things, shade and brooks babbling here and there with their refreshing water, an abundance of shelter possibilities.


That was not the wilderness that Jesus wandered through. Jesus’ wilderness was barren and dry. Jesus’ wilderness was rocky and desolate – littered with only a few scraggly bushes, some tough and bristly desert grass, and very, very little water.

It wasn’t a pretty place.
It wasn’t a safe place.
It wasn’t an easy place.
It wasn’t an enjoyable place.

For Jesus, this wilderness wandering was no vacation. The difficulty of his journey over those 40 days is meant to inspire repentance and contrition in our own Lenten journeys. That’s why many people give up things in which they normally find great enjoyment during Lent – chocolate, social media, meat, etc. This sacrifice makes them a little less comfortable, a little less easy … a little more challenged, a little more aware of struggle and discomfort.

But Lenten sacrifices are not the only wildernesses we find ourselves in, are they?

Grief can be a wilderness far vaster than any other.

It isn’t a pretty place.
It isn’t a safe place.
It isn’t an easy place.
It isn’t an enjoyable place.

It is the place in which I recently found myself over Christmas and through January – grieving the loss of not one but two children for which I had so desperately wished and prayed and hoped and dreamed. It was my 40 days of wilderness – ugly, insecure, difficult, and horrible. And that rocky, desolate path of grieving was just as real as the carpet and concrete beneath my own feet.

When we are grieving, very often we need people to walk alongside us. We are desperate for compassion – for a kind word, a gesture that reminds us in the midst of our sorrow that we are not alone. As Jesus wandered the wilderness for those 40 days, there were no other people with him … but God remained by his side. God was with him as he faced his temptations – as he literally faced off with Satan. And in the face of those battles, God strengthened him. God held him up, encouraged him, and protected him.

In the midst of our own grief, we can feel like we are facing off against our own demons – inner, outer, or somewhere in between. But like Jesus, we are not alone. God walks with us. God blazes a path before us in the darkness. God shelters us when no other shelter can be found and nourishes our spirits when the food and the water are scarce. God reaches out a hand to us, very often in the form of the people who love us and hold us dear, to remind us that even in the ugliest, more insecure, hardest, and more horrific places, we are beloved children.

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: Crazy Mountain Journeys


Texts used – Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9

  • There’s something magical and mystical, spiritual and stunning about mountains. It’s their grandeur – the way their peaks sometimes reach so high they are obscured by clouds, the way their sheer size and magnitude dwarf anything and everything about being a human, the way they embody beauty and life and danger and isolation all in one breathtaking moment.
    • First time I remember seeing the mountains – visiting Aunt Karen when I was 10 (Kalispell, MT on the edge of Glacier National Park)
      • Cabin up in the mountains – “rustic” to say the least!
      • Walking through the forest → no big deal … we have forests back home
      • But then: Mountain meadow!
      • Now, I could attribute my feelings of awe and reverence to growing up in the Midwest – this place of flat plains and rolling hills at best. The things we call “mountains” around here don’t even reach “foothill” status in places where there are real mountains! But I think it’s more than just that. Because my aunt grew up in New York spending her summers in the Adirondacks … and she’s still blown away by the beauty of the Rockies out her front door every morning. My cousin’s spent her whole life in Montana, and she has a deep, powerful, spiritual connection to those mountains in a way that lets her see them new every time she goes for a hike. Like I said, no matter where you grew up or how many times you’ve seen them, there’s just something magical and mystical, spiritual and stunning about mountains.
        • John Muir (naturalist and conservationist, founding member of Sierra Club, inspired Pres. Teddy Roosevelt to establish first national monuments and congress to establish first national park): “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
    • Mountains have captivated the attention of artists for thousands and thousands of years
      • Poems
        • New – “Let My Soul Flee” by Connie Marcum Wong[1]
        • mountain-poem
        • Paintings
        • Photography
        • Songs
        • And so on. Be honest … does anyone else see Julie Andrews in their head? Twirling ‘round and ‘round with her arms outstretched and singing, “The hills are a live with the sound of music?” You know what, though? That’s the thing about mountains – the magic, the mystery, the pull that they have. When you’re near them, whether you’re standing at the base of the foothills or somewhere higher up among the ridges and peaks, mountains can feel alive.
          • Ever-changing as the earth shifts and changes
          • Makes them a challenge
          • Makes them unpredictable – both dangerous and exciting
          • For people who climb mountains – whether they’re attempting to summit Everest or hiking the Rockies – this is one of those things that keeps them coming back: the changes, the challenge, and the sense of exhilaration that comes from that experience.
  • “Mountaintop experiences” in terms of faith: those highest-of-high moments when something about our faith has us overjoyed and enthusiastic
    • Feeling of harmony and connection and encouragement and strength, feeling that you have been in God’s presence → These are the moments that bolster us and empower us to continue putting one foot in front of the other. These are the moments that sustain us in the difficult times, the dry times, the low times, the dark times.
    • Today’s Scripture readings = mountaintop experiences, both literally and figuratively → But from the outside looking in, they’re not the mountaintop experiences we might expect.
  • OT reading = Moses and Joshua heading up Mt. Sinai to be with God
    • CONTEXT:
      • After Moses has brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and they’ve escaped Pharaoh’s army by parting the Red Sea and some pretty rough experiences in the wilderness (scarce food, scarce water, lots of whining/complaining Israelites)
      • Before the incident with the golden calf à Israelites decide to make a false idol to worship because they feel too far removed from God
        • Want something tangible
        • Want something visible
    • Actually, it’s today’s Scripture reading that leads to the Israelites feeling like they needed the golden calf in the first place. – text: Moses had said to the elders, “What for us here until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur will be here with you.” … Then Moses went up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. … To the Israelites, the Lord’s glorious presence looked like a blazing fire on top of the mountain. Moses entered the cloud and went up the mountain. Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.[2] → Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God and ended up staying there for 40 days and 40 nights. He didn’t tell the Israelites exactly when he would be back, and from the ground, it looked like Moses had walked right into an apocalypse – clouds and fire! – and he just stayed there! For more than a month, Moses stayed on top of that mountain.
      • Caused the Israelites to worry and be afraid because Moses was their connection to God → his sudden and extended absence led them to seek out another god experience
    • “Mountaintop experience” for Moses = incredible
      • Receives 10 commandments from God on the stone tablets
      • Receives all sorts of other instructions about how the tabernacle is to be constructed, how offerings are supposed to be made, how the priests are supposed to present themselves, how Sabbath is to be observed, etc. – 7 long chapters in Ex = God’s instructions to Moses up on that mountain)
      • “Mountain experience” for those left waiting on the ground = fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness → thought that Moses had abandoned them
        • Needed another leader → choose Aaron in Moses’ absence
        • Needed another god → create the golden calf
  • And the people of Israel were not alone in their “outside-looking-in” mountaintop experience. → NT reading
    • Today’s story = often called “The Transfiguration” (hence Transfiguration Sunday) because Jesus is transfigured by God
      • Transfigured in appearance: shining face and shining clothes
      • Also transfigured in his ministry → From this point on – after Jesus comes down that mountain with Peter, James, and John – his ministry moves from one of healing and teaching to one focused on Jerusalem and Golgotha and the cross, a journey that will be just as baffling and unsettling and frightening for his disciples as Moses’ journey was for the people of Israel.
    • I must admit that I’ve always found this one of the strangest stories in the Bible. Jesus and his closest disciples go up on this mountain, Jesus is transformed into this shining being, and then suddenly Moses and Elijah show up to have a quick chat with the Son of God. Peter, being thoroughly perplexed but also feeling like he has to do something, offers to building a couple of shrines – “one for you [Jesus], one for Moses, and one Elijah”[3] – because what else are you supposed to do in a situation like that?! Then God’s voice comes booming out of the cloud declaring again what was said at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!”[4] And the disciples, so overwhelmed by the magnitude of this experience, fall to the ground in awe. (Because really … who wouldn’t?!) And Jesus (being Jesus) leans over them and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”[5] And when they get up, Moses and Elijah are gone and it’s time to head back down the mountain … expect that on the way down to join all their companions, Jesus says, “Hey, by the way, don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”[6] Yup … just a typical day in the lives of the disciples? Not so much.
      • Weird story, right?!
      • Again, mountaintop experience for one person (Jesus) = vastly different than experience of those observing it (disciples)
  • Therein lies both the blessing and the curse in mountaintop experiences: they’re exceedingly personal. They are a moment between you and God. Period. No spectators or peanut galleries allowed. So sometimes, to the people around us – no matter how close those people are to us – our euphoric mountaintop experiences are going to look like crazy mountain journeys. → reality that speaks to the importance of how we share our faith with others, how we tell our story
    • Importance of something that’s become a pretty scary word in mainline Christian tradition: EVANGELISM (*gasp*)
      • Word that’s picked up a lot of negative baggage over the decades → For many people, the term “evangelism” has come to mean “a belligerent and one-sided attempt to convert others to our way of seeing things, an activity that necessarily implies that those who do not believe as we do are therefore lost or in error.”[7]
      • BUT “gospel” in Gr. (whenever it shows up in the NT) = euangelion = literally “good news” → evangelism: sharing the good news of our faith, sharing our story, sharing the power and encouragement and meaningfulness of our mountaintop experiences with others
    • Peter = perfect e.g. of this – one of the other assigned lectionary readings for today: 2 Pet 1:16-21 → Peter sharing his experience, his faith story, the Good News (i.e. – Peter evangelizing)
      • 2 Pet: We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.[8]
  • You see, here’s the thing about mountaintop experiences: Whether they’re our experiences or experiences that others have shared with us, they’re not meant to last forever. Just like Moses and Jesus, Peter and James and John, we cannot build dwellings and hunker down and live only in those moments of utter bliss. Because that’s not real life. Sometimes real life is the climb to that mountaintop – a journey full of anticipation and hard work, expectations and keeping that ultimate goal in view. And sometimes real life is coming down from that mountaintop – trekking a path we cannot clearly see down out of the clouds into the valleys below, places of darkness and uncertainty. But that is the journey that lies ahead of us.
    • Sarah Trone Garriott (ELCA YCW from MN serving in IA): We can’t stay here: on the mountain, apart from the world, in the bright and removed peace of our sanctuaries. Jesus is leading us onward, down into the valley, straight into death…and through.
    • Friends, it’s no coincidence that Transfiguration Sunday is always the Sunday before Lent begins. In his later testimony, when he’s speaking of that time on the mountain, Peter says, “We have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in dark places, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The part of the journey that lies ahead of us – the journey through Lent to the darkness of Good Friday – is a journey down off the mountaintop and into the valley. We know that there is light on the other side – the light of resurrection and hope and new life – but first, we must face the darkness. Transfiguration Sunday is that brilliant flash of light before the darkness falls. It is Peter’s “lamp shining in dark places.” It is that mountaintop experience that we need – that exhilaration and joy and connectedness in the presence of God – that will sustain us as we journey into Lent together.
    • Words from hymn we’re about to sing: “God of day and God of darkness, now we stand before the night; as the shadows stretch and deepen, come and make our darkness bright. All creation still is groaning for the dawning of your might, when the Sun of peace and justice fills the earth with radiant light.”[9]

[1] Connie Marcum Wong. “Let My Soul Flee,” found at Posted 2014, accessed Feb. 23, 2017.

[2] Ex 24:14, 15, 17-18.

[3] Mt 17:4.

[4] Mt 17:5.

[5] Mt 17:7.

[6] Mt 17:9 (emphasis added).

[7] Brian Stone. “Reclaiming the ‘E’ Word” in Old Testament Gateway, accessed via PDF at, Feb. 26, 2017.

[8] 2 Pet 1:16-18.

[9] Marty Haugen. “God of Day and God of Darkness,” verse 1. © 1994 GIA Publications, Inc.

Sunday’s sermon: In It Together


Texts used – Matthew 18:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

  • A while back, I heard a really touching story on the news.
    • Story comes from across the border – Willowgrove Elementary School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
    • Story from the playground[1]
      • Elementary school that installed a special bench on their playground
      • “Buddy Bench” → purpose = finding friends
      • News piece: “When you don’t have anyone to play with, you go to the buddy bench … The rules surrounding the green bench, located next to the school’s playground, are pretty simple. Within a few minutes, any student sitting on the bench will be approached by a fellow student and asked to play.”
    • Now, everyone knows about the school playground, either from your own experience (however long ago that may have been) or from the experiences of your children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc. This attitude of coming together and inviting others to play isn’t always everyone’s experience. Sometimes a playground can be a very negative place for kids. But the Buddy Bench turns that attitude and expectation around. It gives kids that little nudge to ask someone new to play with them.
      • About inclusion
      • About invitation
      • About initiative
      • About building relationships
        • Student description: “If you can’t find your best friends, and you don’t know where to go play, you sit on the buddy bench, and somebody will come and find you.”
          • Response to “How long will it take for someone to come find you?”: “Ummm … about a minute.”
    • And I know that Willowgrove is not alone in their Buddy Bench endeavor. → find Buddy Benches all across the country, even in our own backyard (PI Elementary)
      • Ya’ll, look around you this morning. We are in a church. We are in God’s house. We are on holy ground. If ever there were an adult version of a Buddy Bench, this should be it! That is what we are called to be as the body of Christ.
        • Not the individuals of Christ
        • Not the solo artists of Christ
        • Not the divas of Christ
        • The BODY of Christ
        • We are in this thing together – this faith thing, this life thing, this being-a-broken-human-being-in-a-messed-up-world thing. We are in this together … and the sooner we recognize this, the better.
          • Scripture readings this morning are pretty pointed à two great analogies that drive home the importance of togetherness and dependence on each other
  • Gospel text – Matthew
    • Begins with a question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[2] → Jesus’ response: “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[3]
      • Idea of “becoming like a little child” has been tossed around by preachers and theologians for centuries → often a text that is talked about in terms of child-like innocence
        • Trusting like a child
        • Loving wholeheartedly like a child
        • Adopting the wonderment and joy of a child in the presence of God
    • Related but slightly different angle this morning → Let me ask you this. Have you ever sat back and watched children play together? Especially children who have never met each other before?
      • Not doing the hover-parent thing where you get things going for them → introduce children to each other and set up some sort of shared activity
      • INSTEAD: Simply letting kids explore playing together all on their own
      • Maybe include a couple of shy moments – feel each other out
      • But before you know it, kids who didn’t know each other 5 minutes ago are running around playing tag or zooming trucks or feeding their baby dolls or playing house or kitchen or school or whatever like they’ve known each other forever. When it’s time to part – whether they’ve had 30 minutes to play together or all afternoon – they hug each other and talk animatedly the whole way home about their “new best friend.” What if that’s the attitude we’re supposed to have when it comes to the Kingdom of God?
        • Not an attitude of separation
        • Not an attitude of hesitation
        • Not an attitude of holding out
        • BUT an attitude of extravagant welcome, of uncompromising inclusion
          • Jesus in text: “Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[4] → Children playing together don’t care about the differences. They don’t care that your shoes look different than my shoes or that I wear a hat and you wear a head scarf or that my skin is this color and yours is that color or that your family looks different than my family. All those dividing lines that we are so ready to draw as adults – those lines that separate us from everyone else, that keep everyone else at arm’s length – don’t matter to kids. Do you have an imagination? Do you want to play? Sweet. Let’s go.
            • Humility in its purest form
    • Parallel version of this text from Luke’s gospel in the boys’ picture Bible – accompanying question: “If you were one of the children who go to sit on Jesus’ lap, what would you say to him?” → Think of it this way: If you were one of the children who got to sit on Jesus’ lap, would you want him to see you pushing others aside and telling them they don’t belong, or would you rather the whole scene look a little bit more like the Buddy Bench?
  • Speaks to the heart of NT reading, too – 1 Cor passage
    • Familiar passage about the importance of all the different parts of the body of Christ
      • Highlights importance of diversity
      • Highlights importance of togetherness
      • Highlights importance of valuing those who are different
      • I think that often, when we start talking about welcoming people into this family of faith, what we actually mean is that we’re welcoming them to become like us – to think like us, believe like us, dream like us, vote like us, understand Scripture like us. But that’s not how we were created.
        • Created to be vastly different people with vastly different thoughts, beliefs, dreams, ideologies, and understandings
        • Text: Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”[5] → Now, because I don’t have the ability to show you the news piece about the Buddy Bench, you couldn’t see the different children that the reporter talked to. They were boys and girls. They were from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. They were different ages. But all of them talked about how they had both sat on the Buddy Bench waiting to be invited and been the ones doing the inviting. Their differences didn’t even come into play. All that mattered to them was reaching out to someone that was clearly in need of a friend.
          • Again, cycles back to that humility that we saw in Mt – text: The parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.[6] → Would you want Jesus to see you belittling or diminishing the contributions and accomplishments of others – telling them that they don’t matter or they aren’t “the right kind” – or would you rather the whole scene look a little bit more like the Buddy Bench?
  • Here’s the thing about the Buddy Bench: it’s a place where a lonely child waits for a friend → if the church is the Buddy Bench, we as the body of Christ are supposed to be the friends that come to find the lonely one
    • E.g. – children’s finger rhyme from Sunday school: “This is the church. This is the steeple. Open it up, and here are all the people!” → It’s cute. It’s memorable. It rhymes. But frankly, the theology sucks. We are supposed to be the church – the body of the Christ – in the world, not just within these four walls.
      • Most common word for “church” in Gr. = ekklesia: It’s a word that means assembly, yes, but it means so much more than that! “It’s an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting. It’s those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body. It’s the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth.”[7] No four walls required.
    • How often do we sit and wait instead, putting all the responsibility on the lonely ones, the lost ones, the scared ones, the desperate ones, the wandering ones, the unsure ones to find us?
    • How often do we actively reach out? How often do we engage other people in our world – people who are hurting, people who have so often been told that they’re not good enough that they’ve started to believe it, people who are wondering, people who are angry, people who are ashamed, people who are uncertain, people who are shy, people who don’t look or think or believe or vote like us?
      • Not passively
      • Not with other mediums like our wallets or our promotional material
      • Not even just with prayer (though prayer is never a bad answer … just not always the only answer)
      • With our voices
      • With our hands
      • With our hearts
    • Friends, there’s no denying that we’re all in this together – this faith thing, this life thing, this being-a-broken-human-being-in-a-messed-up-world thing. → slightly altered quote from Mahatma Gandhi: Be the Buddy Bench you wish to see in the world. Amen.

[1] “Buddy bench a big hit at Saskatoon’s Willowgrove School,” from CBC News, Posted Mar. 24, 2016, accessed Feb. 16, 2017.

[2] Mt 18:1.

[3] Mt 18:3.

[4] Mt 18:4.

[5] 1 Cor 12:14-21.

[6] 1 Cor 12:22-27.

[7] “Ekklesia” word study, from Accessed Feb. 19, 2017.

Sunday’s sermon: The Unpopular Choice


Texts used – 1 Kings 18:20-39 and Galatians 1:1-12

  • When the alarm clock went off that morning, it was so early that the sun hadn’t even risen yet. Bree Newsome got up. She dressed in a black t-shirt, black yoga pants, and sneakers. She drove down to the statehouse in Columbia, SC, met her counterpart, and donned the climbing gear she’d brought. Then Bree scaled a fence, climbed a 30-ft. flag pole, and took down a decades-long symbol of oppression and hate: the Confederate flag. And when she climbed down, she was arrested.[1]
    • Flag flying at the South Carolina capitol – raised in 1962 as a deliberate symbol of resistance to the Civil Rights movement[2]
    • Bree Newsome considered herself an activist after her attempt to stop a prejudicial and exclusionary voter registration and identification bill in South Carolina in 2013.
    • What caused her to remove the Confederate flag that day? Just 10 days prior to her climbing up that flag pole, Dylann Roof – a young white man fueled by racial prejudice and hate – massacred nine people in the middle of a prayer service in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back)
      • In a later interview, Bree: The biggest issue was the blatant disrespect for black life. When we buried the victims of the Charleston massacre, the American flag was at half-mast. The South Carolina state flag was at half-mast. But the Confederate battle flag was still flying high. Nine people were massacred in church, and while we laid them to rest that flag was flying like it was a victory.[3]
    • Results of this action
      • Bree and fellow activist James Tyson were arrested and charged with misdemeanors
      • Confederate flag was re-raised at the capitol building about 45 minutes later
      • BUT … Roughly two weeks after Bree’s climb and after decades of protest by other civil rights groups, then-South Carolina governor Nikki Haley signed legislation that permanently removed the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.[4]
    • That day, the flag came down amidst cheers of support and optimistic calls for change … but when Bree took it down in her act of civil disobedience, it was viewed by many – in South Carolina and around the country – as an unpopular choice. But everything about her action spoke to Bree’s belief in equality and justice.
      • Bree: It mattered that scaling the flagpole was difficult. The physical battle to climb up there and get that flag was like the struggle to dismantle systemic racism. Nothing about it is easy.[5]
  • Now, I’m not telling you this morning to go out and start climbing flag poles or that you should go get arrested. But Bree’s actions are a powerful example of an unpopular choice that was made for powerful reasons. → Scripture readings this morning = all about unpopular choices made for reasons of faith
    • Sometimes just having/claiming/enacting faith IS the unpopular choice
    • Sometimes convictions of our faith lead us to make difficult and unpopular choices
      • Choice to stand up and speak out for those on the margins
      • Choice to oppose fear and intimidation wherever that may be coming from (bully on the school bus, bully in your office building, bully ahead of you in the grocery line, or beyond)
  • Story from 1 Kings: Elijah versus Baal’s prophets
      • Time of the kings in history of the people of Israel
        • After Moses and the exodus from Egypt
        • After the judges
        • After Kings Saul, David, and Solomon
        • After the one kingdom of Israel has split in two: northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah
        • Grand timeline of the world: somewhere in late 800s BCE
      • Ahab has inherited throne of Israel → Ahab is a bad, bad guy – earlier in 1 Kgs: Ahab, Omri’s son, became king of Israel. He ruled over Israel in Samaria for twenty-two years and did evil in the Lord’s eyes, more than anyone who preceded him. … He served and worshipped Baal. He made an altar for Baal in the Baal temple he had constructed in Samaria.[6]
        • Baal = Canaanite god, considered to be a “weather god” who controlled the seasons and the amount of rainfall[7] → definitely flies in the face of that first commandment that God gave Moses: You must have no other gods before me.[8]
    • As you can imagine, King Ahab didn’t exactly create a warm and welcoming environment for anyone that wanted to worship the God of Israel, and not surprisingly, he didn’t exactly take kindly to criticism either. And yet it was into this political and religious hornet’s nest that Elijah was called to proclaim the word of God.
      • Elijah = unpopular with Ahab from the very beginning – first interaction with King Ahab: Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”[9] → Elijah names drought = punishment for Ahab’s wickedness
        • So unpopular that God actually instructs Elijah to run away and hide from Ahab for a time
    • Now, our story for today picks up in the third year of that drought. God has instructed Elijah to return to Ahab’s presence and “bring the rain.” – text: After many days, the Lord’s word came to Elijah (it was the third year of the drought): “Go! Appear before Ahab. I will then send rain on the earth.” So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.[10]
      • Doesn’t come with a comforting word
      • Doesn’t come with a renewing word
      • Elijah comes with a challenge: 450 against 1, your god against my God, fire against fire → Elijah challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a test: both will set up identical altars for burnt offerings and call upon their gods to provide the fire … and he graciously (calculatingly?) lets the prophets of Baal go first.
        • Baal’s prophets spend almost all day calling out to their god but to no avail
      • And as if this sort of ultra-competitive atmosphere wasn’t bad enough, Elijah makes it even worse! – text: Around noon, Elijah started making fun of them: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost in thought or wandering or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he is asleep and must wake up!”[11]
        • Continues with his actions – Elijah douses entire altar with 24 jars of water (Remember … they’re in a drought that has lasted years … and Elijah is wasting precious water just to prove his point.) → becoming more unpopular by the second
    • And yet, in the face of that negatively super-charged atmosphere – that place of rejection and animosity and denial – God shows up. God shows up in flames so epic that they not only consume the intended sacrifice but also the wood, the stones, the dust, and all the water in the trench. Elijah’s choice may not have been the popular one in the midst of the rowdy crowd and all those other prophets and King Ahab, but Elijah’s choice was God. Elijah’s choice was faith, no matter how unpopular or dangerous it may have been.
  • Certainly not the only time when choosing faith was the unpopular choice
    • In the Bible
      • Pretty much all of the other prophets: Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Habakkuk, Joel, Obadiah, and so many more – ignored at best, publicly ridiculed more often than not, shunned and threatened and exiled at worst → still chose faith, chose to proclaim the very word of God that is causing all their pain and persecution in the first place
      • As Christians, we must remember that our faith identity lies with Jesus Christ – One who’s very life and ministry and teaching was a choice so unpopular with the religious leaders of the time that he was killed for it.
        • Preached forgiveness instead of legalistic nitpicking
        • Preached inclusion instead of elitism
        • Preached love of God above all else
        • But Jesus’ words also warned time and time again just how unpopular this decision of faith could be.
          • Mt: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?”[12]
          • Jn: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, I have chosen you out of the world, and you don’t belong to the world. This is why the world hates you.”[13]
      • See this in the lives of the disciples after Jesus’ return to heaven
        • Peter jailed[14]
        • Stephen stoned to death[15]
        • Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned[16]
        • Nearly all the disciples, as far as we know, were martyred for their faith as they spread the Good News of Jesus Christ
    • In real life – faith inspiring unpopular actions
      • Dietrich Bonhoeffer – preached and taught and worked for resistance against the Nazis until his own imprisonment and death in Flossenburg Concentration Camp in 1945
      • Archbishop Oscar Romero – stood by the poor and denounced violent military dictators in El Salvador until he was assassinated while serving Mass in 1980
      • Malala Yousafzai – fought for education, especially girls’ education, in Pakistan and survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012 à continues to be a fierce advocate for education (co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014)
      • People who, over and over again, chose to cling to their faith – faith in God and faith in the goodness of humanity – even when it was the wildly and dangerously unpopular choice.
  • See the struggle of this play out in our NT text for today
    • CONTEXT:
      • Paul and Barnabas had previous established a Christian community in Galatia (geographically: part of modern-day Turkey) → gotten word that this community has been visited by other Jewish-Christian missionaries that are questioning Paul and his teachings
        • Paul to this community of Gentiles: You don’t have to adopt Moses’ Laws (you know … ALL 613 of the laws laid out in the book of Deut!) or be circumcised to be a follower of Christ
        • Jewish-Christian missionaries: Wrong … you do have to adopt Moses’ Laws and be circumcised
        • Crux of the argument
          • Paul: right relationship with God comes through faith
          • Missionaries: right relationship with God comes through your actions
    • Text for today – Paul’s words are powerful: I’m amazed that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow another gospel. It’s not really another gospel, but certain people are confusing you and they want to change the gospel of Christ.[17] → Now, I know that this sounds harsh. Galatians is, by far, the harshest of Paul’s letters in terms of the tone that he used with those to whom he was writing. But we have to admit that it does the job it was probably meant to do. It grabs our attention. It makes us sit up and take notice of what Paul is saying. And even though it may sound like Paul is pitching a little bit of a hissy fit here (“Listen to me! Listen to me!”), he’s actually continually drawing attention not to himself, but to God.
      • Scholar: In these opening verses, everything points to God. Paul’s authority comes not from himself but from God. The message he preaches is not his; it is from God. And sinners do not save themselves through adherence to the law; they are saved by God.[18] → text: Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave. Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the gospel I preach isn’t human in origin. I didn’t receive it or learn it from a human. It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ.[19]
  • There are plenty of times in our own lives when we are presented with choices concerning our faith – what we believe, how we share it, when we’ll claim it, whether and how we’ll defend it, when we’ll admit that we need to learn more about it. When we make those choices for faith, we should make them not for ourselves or our own glory – not to make ourselves feel better or more important or more righteous. We should make those decisions to glorify God, to point to God, to give God praise and reverence and adoration and thanks.
    • Not going to be easy but the important choices in life never are
    • from the Confession of Belhar (confession born out of the restrictions and injustices of apartheid South Africa, confession that has faced opposition and unpopularity from the beginning, just recently adopted by the PCUSA into the Book of Confessions, Part I of our constitutional documents): We believe that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. Amen.


[1] Jessica Contrera. “Who is Bree Newsome? Why the woman who took down the Confederate flag became an activist” in The Washington Post, Written June 28, 2015, accessed Feb. 11, 2017.

[2] Sidney Blumenthal. “The Star-Spangled Banner in South Carolina” in The Atlantic, Written June 24, 2015, accessed Feb. 12, 2017.

[3] Melissa Harris-Perry. “One Year After She Took Down the Confederate Flag, Activist Bree Newsome Looks Back” in Elle, Written June 23, 2016, accessed Feb. 11, 2017.

[4] Amanda Holpuch. “Confederate flag removed from South Carolina capitol in victory for activists” in The Guardian, Written July 10, 2015, accessed Feb. 12, 2017.

[5] Harris-Perry.

[6] 1 Kgs 16:29, 31b-32.

[7] Jack Wellman. “Who Was Baal? A Bible Study.” Patheos. Written Aug. 28, 2016, accessed Feb. 11, 2017.

[8] Ex 20:3.

[9] 1 Kgs 17:1.

[10] 1 Kgs 18:1-2.

[11] 1 Kgs 18:27 (emphasis added).

[12] Mt 16:24-26.

[13] Jn 15:18-19.

[14] Acts 12:1-4

[15] Acts 7:54-58a.

[16] Acts 16:19b, 22-24.

[17] Gal 1:6-7.

[18] Kyle Fedler. “Galatians 1:1-12 (Ninth Sunday After the Epiphany) – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 426.

[19] Gal 1:10-12.