Sunday’s sermon: Coming Full Circle

repent

Text used – 2 Kings 22:1-23:3

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • It’s time for a little truth telling, friends. I had a cute and funny opening written for this morning’s sermon – something about the return of 80s fashion and how everything comes back around for better or for worse – but when I sat down at my computer this morning, I erased it. Something about today doesn’t feel like a “cute and funny” morning. Maybe it’s because the weather is a bit dark and gloomy. Maybe it’s because of the darkness that is ever-encroaching during this time of year, eating up more and more of that precious daylight. Maybe it’s because of the somber events that we’ve witnessed on the national stage this week – impeachment hearings, continued threats from wildfires in California, and yet another school shooting, this time in Santa Clarita, CA. Maybe it’s because of some serious and difficult things going on in the lives of people I know and love. Maybe it’s just that time of year as we approach Advent – a season in the life of the church meant to be reflective and deliberate and measured. Whatever the reason, something about this morning feels like it requires a more serious, more contemplative approach to our text.
  • This morning’s text = a coming full circle for the people of Israel → It is a powerful moment of self-recognition, contrition, and repentance.
    • Story begins in a way that many of the previous stories have not – text: Josiah was 8 years old when he became king, and he ruled for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. … He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, and walked in the ways of his ancestor David – not deviating from it even a bit to the right or left.[1] → Remember, in pretty much all of the Old Testament stories that we’ve read recently, we’ve encountered kings who did the exact opposite – kings who did evil in the sight of God, kings who worshipped other gods and led the people of Israel to worship them as well, kings who seemed to almost go out of their way to not follow God’s guidance and commands for the people.
      • A couple weeks ago = King Ahab → cream of the crop when it comes to evil and corrupt kings
      • And so just the beginning of this morning’s Scripture reading seems to be a turning and returning … a new page … a breath of fresh air.
    • What follows = fascinating story about remodeling and buried treasure of sorts and utter repentance
      • History behind the remodel/reform (from Rev. Dr. Mark Throntveit, prof. of OT at Luther Seminary in St. Paul): It seems probable that Assyria’s rapidly diminishing power was a major factor in [Josiah’s] reforms. Since political domination in the ancient Near East usually involved participation in the conqueror’s religious practices, Josiah’s religious reforms not only witnessed to his piety, they were also a strong reassertion of Judah’s political independence from Assyrian domination.[2] → So this Temple remodel isn’t just a little DIY project a lá HGTV.
        • Repairing and remodeling of the Temple = restoration and reassertion of Judah’s power and sovereignty as an independent nation in the region → restoring long-dominated and long-abused nation of Judah to a place of self-reliance and national autonomy
        • Repairing and remodeling of the Temple = repairing and remodeling of the faith → restore the long-neglected and long-abused Temple, and indeed, the faith of the people of Judah, to its right and sacred glory
      • Discovery in the midst of the renovations = hidden “book of the law”
        • Scholars in agreement that this is some sort of copy of the 5 books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) – probably not the full books that we have today but some sort of collection of portions of them
        • Some scholars speculate it may have been hidden by previous priests in order to protect it in the face of some of the more forceful and dangerous counter-reformations of previous kings, including Josiah’s immediate predecessor – his father, Amon, as well as his predecessor before that (and grandfather), Manasseh, both of who were evil and sinful kings more along the lines of Ahab than Josiah
      • So one of King Josiah’s secretaries heads to the Temple in the morning to pay the workers and instead is met with this incredible discovery that was made by Hilkiah, the high priest. Hilkiah gives the scroll to this secretary who returns to the king and reads him the scroll. – text: As soon as the king heard what the Instruction scroll said, he ripped his clothes. The king ordered the priest Hilkiah …: “Go and ask the Lord on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Judah concerning us because our ancestors failed to obey the words of this scroll and do everything written in it about us.”[3] → You can feel Josiah’s desperation and devastation in every word of this account. As soon as he hears these long-lost words of God, he is beside himself with shame and grief on behalf of himself and his people.
        • Heb. “kriah” = ancient tradition of expressing pain and sorrow[4]
          • Mandated by Torah as part of the grieving process
          • 2-fold meaning
            • 1) outward expression of that torn feeling you have in your heart when you’re grieving
            • 2) recognition that the body is only a garment that the soul wears à death is the opportunity to strip off one garment and don another
          • So in his response, Josiah is immediately and viscerally reacting to the spiritual disobedience of himself and his people as though it were a death – something lost, something to grieve. But perhaps there is also a layer of recognition that he and the people have the chance to strip off that outer layer of disobedience and sinfulness that they have worn for so long to expose a new layer of faithfulness beneath.
            • Supported by Josiah’s actions at the end of our reading – text: Then the king went up to the Lord’s temple, together with all the people of Judah and all the citizens of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets, and all the people, young and old alike. There the king read out loud all the words of the covenant scroll that had been found in the Lord’s temple. The king stood beside the pillar and made a covenant with the Lord that he would follow the Lord by keeping his commandments, his laws, and his regulations with all his heart and all his being in order to fulfill the words of this covenant that were written in this scroll. All of the people accepted the covenant.[5]
  • And if that were all to the story, it would be perfect and beautiful and wrapped up nicely in a neat, little package with a bow. But friends, Scripture rarely (if ever) wraps things up that neatly for us.
    • On the king’s orders, Hilkiah, the high priest, seeks the counsel of Huldah, the prophetess – Huldah’s words ring out in the middle of our text: “This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says: … I am about to bring disaster on this place and its citizens – all the words in the scroll that Judah’s king has read! My anger burns against this place, never to be quenched, because they’ve deserted me and have burned incense to other gods, angering me by everything they have done.”[6] → As much as we may like to, friends, we cannot ignore this portion of the text. It is neither healthy nor faithful to read a story like this in Scripture and only take to heart the easy parts … the light parts … the pretty parts … the parts that make us sit comfortably and contentedly in our pews and pat ourselves on the back. Today’s Scripture is truly a text of repentance – of returning to God with hearts and souls that are woefully contrite. In order to return to God in such a way, like the people of Israel, we have to acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake. We have to actively name that mistake and claim it within our hearts and our minds. We have to own up to it and bear the consequences.
      • BUT this is where we find light and everlasting hope in the good news of the gospel (from Paul’s letter to the Romans): All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.[7] → Friends, God knows that we are not perfect. God has had plenty of experience with God’s people throughout the millennia to fully know and understand that we are going to make mistakes. We are going to turn away. We are going to disobey God, both intentionally and unintentionally. We are going to fall short in our relationships with one another, in our relationship with ourselves, and in our relationship with God. None of that is news to God. Trust me, God is aware. But God is also merciful and grace-filled. God is loving and steadfast in that love beyond anything we could ever imagine.
        • Frederica Mathewes-Green (Eastern Orthodox speaker, author, and theologian): God is not looking for repayment, but repentance. What heals a broken relationship is sincere love and contrition.
  • So this is what we’re going to do this morning, friends. We’re going to take an extended time to give you a chance to come to God with all those things that feel broken in your world – in your heart, in your relationships, in your faith, in your belief in yourself and God and other people. We’ve all got broken places. We’ve all got places within ourselves that are as ragged and raw on the edges as Josiah’s torn garments. Take some time to bring those before God this morning.
    • Distributing rocks
      • Symbol of the destruction that Josiah and the Israelites had to go through to find their way back to God
      • Symbol of the strong, steadfast nature of God in the midst of all the turbulence of our world and our lives

  • Prayer for wholeness:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
ruler of all creation.
We praise you for the abundance of your blessings.
To those who ask, you give love;
to those who seek, you give faith;
to those who knock, you open the way of hope.
Help us to serve you in the power of the Holy Spirit,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[8]

[1] 2 Kgs 22:1-2 (emphasis added).

[2] Mark Throntveit. “Commentary on 2 Kings 22:1-10, [14-20]; 23:1-3” from Working Preaching, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4218. Accessed Nov. 17, 2019.

[3] 2 Kgs 22:11-13.

[4] Aron Moss. “Why Do We Tear Our Clothes After a Death?” from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/248163/jewish/Why-Do-We-Tear-Our-Clothes-After-a-Death.htm. Accessed Nov. 17, 2019.

[5] 2 Kgs 23:2-3.

[6] 2 Kgs 22:15-17.

[7] Rom 3:23-24.

[8] Prayer from “Service of Wholeness for an Individual” from Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 018), 744.

Sunday’s sermon: Big Love

Big Love

Text used – Hosea 11:1-9

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1918, made radio receivers as a young boy, and started working at an AM talk radio station at the ripe old age of 14 when one of his teachers told him she was “impressed by his voice.” He started as a janitor, moved up to filling in on the air reading commercials and news briefs, and eventually ended up with his own show on ABC syndicated stations nationwide. By the time his illustrious career came to an end with his death at age 90, he had won just about every radio broadcast journalist award there was as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For millions of Americans, his voice was the calm, velvety voice that narrated stories that touched their hearts and lives for decades.[1] [PLAY PAUL HARVEY CLIP] After those now-infamous words, Paul Harvey would weave together his own particular blend of history, narrative, and personal commentary.
    • Stories as touching and innocent as a story of a man trying to save a flock of birds on Christmas Eve and instead finding a renewed sense of faith
    • Stories as meaningful and timeless as Harvey’s famed “So God made a farmer
    • News stories as momentous and history-altering as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
    • Following that famous phrase, Harvey would present a different facet, a different angle, a different element of a story – something you probably hadn’t known or considered before. More often than not, it was a more human element, a more personal connection, or a twist in the story that revealed some profound element of faith. Friends, today is our Paul Harvey moment in the midst of all this Old Testament meandering we’ve been doing. Today is our “rest of the story.”
      • Weeks leading up to today = lots of stories of the people of God in the Old Testament
        • Began with creation
        • Disbelief of Abraham and Sarah over God’s promise that they would have a son (Isaac)
        • Jacob wrestling with God
        • Story of Moses – birth to call in the burning bush
        • 2nd giving of the Ten Commandments
        • Anointing of King David and David and the people of Israel dancing before God
        • Dividing of the kingdom of Israel
        • Elijah the prophet taking on the prophets of Baal and the deterioration of the people’s devotion
        • In all of these stories, we’ve heard the people’s side. We’ve heard about the people turning to God and away from God. We’ve heard about the people trusting God and doubting God. We’ve heard about the people acting for God and acting against God’s will.
    • But today’s Scripture is wholly different. In today’s Scripture, we hear from God. Today’s Scripture is, in fact, the rest of the story.
  • Today’s text = from book of Hosea → Now, Hosea is a challenging little book.
    • One of what we call the 12 minor prophets (major prophets being Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Lamentations) → all of the writings of the minor prophets are fairly “doom and gloom.”
      • REMINDER: job of the prophets was to bring God’s word to a people who had strayed in an attempt to bring them back to God
        • Necessarily includes calling the people out for their wrongdoings AND detailing the terrible things that will happen if they don’t repent and return to God
        • NOT a popular message → prophets = not popular people
    • Hosea’s specific context[2]
      • Very little is known about the prophet Hosea himself
      • Historically somewhere between 750 and 724 BCE → period of heavy political, economic, and religious turmoil in Israel
        • 6 kings on the throne during Hosea’s time → all but one assassinated
        • Corruption in highest levels of court and government was rampant
        • Borders of the northern kingdom of Israel constantly threatened by kingdom of Judah to the south and kingdom of Assyria to the east
        • Practice of religion at the time had become intimately interwoven with various Canaanite religious practices (worship of Baal, rituals involving golden calves, cultic fertility sacrifices, etc.)
      • Suffice to say thing in Israel have gotten pretty horrible.
    • Hosea’s unique framing of his message = metaphor of marriage
      • Nation of Israel as a whole = unfaithful spouse who has turned away from God
      • People = children of that marriage
      • First 10 chs. of Hosea are full of stark, no-holds-barred, call-it-like-it-is recriminations aimed at Israel
        • E.g. – Hear the Lord’s word, people of Israel; for the Lord has a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. There’s no faithful love or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, murder, together with stealing and adultery are common; bloody crime followed by bloody crime. … My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Since you [priest] have rejected knowledge, so I will reject you from serving me as a priest. Since you have forgotten the instruction of your God, so also I will forget your children.[3] → And that’s probably one of the most G-rated parts. Truly, all, Hosea is a very difficult book to read. It’s full of agony and hurt and abandonment, and all of that is felt, not by the people but by God. God has not turned away from the people. The people have turned away from God.
  • Today’s passage = unique and even refreshing moment of grace and love and light in the midst of a grim text → speaks of God’s love in pure, unadulterated, unequivocal terms
    • Text: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the further they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and they burned incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love. I treated them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them. … How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment.[4] → You can hear God’s anguish in this. You can hear God’s yearning. You can hear God’s heartbreak. You can hear how desperately God misses the children who have so willingly and so easily turned away despite all that God has done for them. It is truly both stunningly painful and stirringly powerful to read.
      • Margaret Odell (prof of religion at St. Olaf): This poem of YHWH’s anguished love for the beloved child Israel stands as one of the most poignant testimonies to divine love in the Old Testament, if not in the entire Bible. Quite possibly the earliest expression of God’s love in the Bible, it is also the most passionate, as it portrays God’s heart in conflict with his plans, his compassion averting his anger.[5]
  • Up to this point, much of the Old Testament stories that we read have been the “turning away” stories from the point of view of the people. Today, we hear a stirring, heart-rending reminder from God of just how much that turning away tears at the heart of God. It is, indeed, the rest of the story, and that story is LOVE. You see, friends, that is how big God’s love is for us.
    • Love that overcomes “turning away”
    • Love that overcomes waywardness and faithlessness
    • Love that overcomes excuses and exceptions
    • Love that overcomes even God’s own frustrations and intended consequences
      • Text: How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?[6]
        • “Ephraim” = Israel (interchangeable in this text)
        • Admah and Zeboiim = cities completely and permanently destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah[7]
    • Love that overcomes anything and everything just to get to us
    • Scholar: This is not the story of the “prodigal” son who, having struggled with his own bad choices, finally turns and comes home. This is the story of a prodigal God who – in anguish, heartbreak, and the fiercest love – comes seeking out the children who have strayed.[8]
    • “But,” you might be saying, “I haven’t strayed. Not that much. Not really. Not intentionally, anyway.” And that may be true. But the reality of life and faith and the brokenness of the world around us and the world inside us, friends, is that we have all strayed – in big ways and small ways, in intentional ways and unintentional ways, in simple ways and in complex ways, always in ways that hurt God.
      • Description from Fall Breakaway workshop → turning ever-so-slightly bit by bit until God is completely out of sight
      • Friends, we are not perfect … at least, not the last time I checked. And even despite our best efforts … on our best days … with our best intentions, we cannot love God perfectly. But the good news is that God can love us perfect. The good news is that God does love us perfectly.
        • 1 John 4: God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. … here is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.[9]
        • This is why I say what I do and we profess what we profess whenever we come to the table. “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you this morning, you are welcome.” God’s love is big enough to love us through all our ups and downs, our turning aways and running aways, our doubts and our frustrations and our messes and anything else we think might be “too much.” The point is that with God, there is no “too much.” No. Matter. What. God loves you. God loved you before it. God loves you in the midst of it. And God will love you after it … no matter what “it” might be. Loves. You. Full stop.
  • I want to leave you with a song this morning – a song that speaks to that holy, perfect, infinite, pursing, forgiving, all-encompassing love of God.

  • Halleljuah, indeed. Amen.

 

Charge

“The faith that I profess is rooted in a belief in a God who loves us deeply, desperately, and with a passion that cannot be contained. This God is always seeking us out, wanting to be with us and wanting us to experience the very best that life has to offer. This God is protective because we are loved so damn much.” – Rozella Haydee White from Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Harvey.

[2] Gale A. Yee. “The Book of Hosea: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 200-

[3] Hos 4:1-2, 6.

[4] Hos 11:1-4, 8-9.

[5] Margaret Odell. “Commentary on Hosea 11:1-9” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4216. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

[6] Hos 11:8.

[7] Deut 29:22-23.

[8] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Hosea 11:1-11, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 296.

[9] 1 Jn 4:16b, 18.

[10] Lauren Daigle. “Love Like This” from Look Up Child, © 2018 by Centricity Music.

Sunday’s sermon: A Wildly Audacious Ask

asking for a favor

Text used – 1 Kings 18:17-39

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • I want you to take a look at your bulletin cover this morning [see image above]. This is a meme I’ve been seeing make the Facebook rounds lately, and it makes me chuckle every single time I see it.
    • READ MEME: “Me trying to ask someone for a favor: Hey could you help me with this thing? Absolutely no pressure though. Totally ok if you can’t. If you’d father run me over with a car that’s cool. Are you mad at me?” → Full disclosure: Part of the reason I chuckle at this is because this is exactly the way I ask for favors. Many of you probably know that from various messages or emails you’ve received from me.
      • Maybe it’s the Midwesterner → Minnesota nice on steroids, right? You’ve heard the old adage that you have to ask a Minnesotan if they want something 3 times, right? “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “Oh, no. That’s okay.” (2 minutes later) “Are you sure I can’t offer you a cup of coffee?” “No, really. I’m fine.” (5 minutes later) “Really, I can get you a cup of coffee. It’s okay.” “Well, I guess I’ll take a cup of coffee.”
      • Maybe it’s the introvert in me → not wanting to put someone out
      • Maybe it’s just the “me” in me …
    • But I know I can’t be the only one that asks for favors this way, right?
      • Lots of ways that we soft ask for things
        • “Could you maybe …”
        • “Would you possibly …”
        • “I might like you to …”
      • Lots of ways that we couch our requests in a way out for the person we’re asking
        • If you want to …”
        • If it’s not too much to ask …”
        • When you have time …”
        • But …” “But …” “But …”
      • And all this hesitation and bet hedging certainly doesn’t stop with asking people for things, does it? How often do our prayers sound like this as well? “If it’s your will, God … when you make a way, God … maybe possiblybutbut but …”
        • TRUE: persistant little petition in the Lord’s Prayer “THY will be done” → And in the past, I know we’ve talked about “thy will” vs. “my will” and how important and impactful it can be to leave ourselves open to the moving of the Holy Spirit and the potential of God’s calling and leading in our lives. I think “Thy will, not my will” qualifies as a prayer couched in uncertainty. But there’s a big different between declaring our openness to God’s direction and hedging our prayers because we’re not really sure God can handle them. We’re afraid that God won’t “show up.” We’re so concerned we can’t handle a “no” response to our prayers that we don’t even want to give God the opportunity.
  • Today’s Scripture reading = exact opposite attitude → Strange as it may sound, I love this Bible story because it’s so excessive. It’s so sensational. It’s so over-the-top. In it, Elijah embodies such a wildly audacious Plus, he’s sarcastic as all get out, and how often do we encounter a little snarky sarcasm in the Bible, right?
    • Background
      • Last week: splitting of the whole kingdom of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah → very end of last week’s Scripture reading
        • Jeroboam made king of the northern kingdom of Israel → worried that the people would go back to King Rehoboam (southern kingdom) because the temple was in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was located in the southern kingdom
        • Bottom line: people needed a place to worship SO Jeroboam set up 2 golden calves to worship in the northern kingdom → Do you remember me saying last week that that was foreshadowing of more trouble to come? Yeah … that trouble comes TODAY.
          • Shannon Meacham (colleague and fellow YCW): Last week’s reading ended with two golden calves and a dagger in God’s heart with the words that echoed Aaron at Mt. Siani. After weeks of skipping books and centuries, this week we move only 6 chapters to hear how bad things have really gotten.[1]
    • A handful of kings in between Jeroboam and King Ahab in today’s passage – IMPORTANT POINT: all of them “did evil in the Lord’s eyes” in one way or another, mostly by leading people away from worshipping God → Now, you may also remember those pesky, sort of obscure rules that we read a few weeks ago. You know … the Ten Commandments! That first rule was something about not having gods other than the Lord God. Yeah. Uh oh.
      • Today’s king = Ahab → And as far as wayward kings who did evil things are concerned, Ahab was by far the worst! – text (1 Kgs 16): [Ahab] 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. Ahab also made a sacred pole and did more to anger the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of Israel’s kings who preceded him.[2]
        • Quick history lesson: “Who was Baal?” = god of storms and fertility worshipped by a number of ancient Middle Eastern cultures including the Canaanites (modern day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine)[3]
    • So this is who the prophet Elijah is up against.
      • Today’s text = not Elijah’s first run-in with Ahab
        • Previous encounter: Elijah telling Abah that Israel will suffer a severe drought because of Ahab’s wicked ways[4] → As you can imagine, this wasn’t exactly something Ahab enjoyed hearing, so Elijah’s already on the wrong side of King Ahab’s temper.
          • Hear that tension in the opening part of today’s reading – text: When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one who troubles Israel?” Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel; you and your father’s house have! You did as much when you deserted the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals.”[5]
  • Bulk of today’s story = dramatic scene straight out of Biblical soap opera
    • Villain: Ahab, the corrupt and evil king
    • Hero: Elijah, the prophet of God
    • Pawns/stooges: 450 prophets of Baal
    • Drama: one singular, solitary prophet (Elijah) essentially challenging great, overwhelming hoard of Baal’s prophets to a duel → It is a duel of belief. It is a duel of fire and sacrifice and pageantry. It is a duel of prayer vs. prayer, god vs. God.
      • Elijah challenges prophets of Baal to build an altar, sacrifice a bull (one of the most expensive and sacred offerings), and call on Baal to light the fire on the altar – text: “Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire – that’s the real God!” And all the people answered, “That’s an excellent idea.”[6] → Now, there’s a really important point embedded in this portion: Elijah’s audience. In preparation for this scene, Elijah has called “all the Israelites” to witness because, after all, Elijah is attempting to turn the people’s attention and devotion back to the Lord God. That’s his ultimate goal, right? He’s not going through these crazy, elaborate paces just to show off to a bunch of false prophets and a dangerously maniacal king. He’s doing it for the people.
        • Makes this point clear – text (Elijah basically calls the people out): Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.”[7] → super funky Heb. in this portion of the text
          • Scholar: The Hebrew word translated “opinion” is related to a word meaning “tree bough” that might have been fashioned into a crutch creating “unequal legs” and causing an unsteady gait. Elijah is calling the people to pick the god behind whom they can steadily walk.[8] → So basically, Elijah is calling out the people’s wishy-washy attitude toward God and their faith up to this point. They’ve been flip-flopping back and forth for generations, and Elijah says, “You know what? Not anymore. It is time to choose. And by the way … here. Let me help you make that choice.”
    • 450 prophets of Baal build their altar, prepare their sacrifice, and spend “from morning to midday” parading around the altar and calling out to Baal to light the fire … But … NOTHING.
      • As if that embarrassing silence wasn’t bad enough, the added bonus is that Elijah starts taunting them! (This is where that snarky sarcasm comes in.) – 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!”[9] → And Elijah’s spiritual trash talk ends up having quite the effect on the prophets. – text: So the prophets of Baal cried with a louder voice and cut themselves with swords and knives as was their custom. Their blood flowed all over them. As noon passed they went crazy with their ritual until it was time for the evening offering. Still there was no sound or answer, no response whatsoever.[10]
    • Elijah’s turn = builds his own altar using 12 stones (one stone for each of the 12 tribes of Israel) → But then Elijah ups the ante even more. To his altar of wood and stone, he adds water. Not just a dribble. Not just a little bowl. Not even a single, full jar of water. Elijah has those around him fill four jars with water, then douse the altar not once, not twice, but three times, so much so that the abundance of water basically creates a moat around the altar!
      • Historical point: jars that Elijah calls for are not cute little mason jars but massive jars used to catch rainwater for various purposes → similar to the jars that Jesus uses to turn water to wine at the wedding at Cana in gospel of John
        • Capacity = 9 gallons per jar[11] (do the math: 9×4 = 36 gallons per trip TIMES 3 trips = 108 gallons of water)
        • And remember, they’re in the midst of a severe drought … and here’s Elijah, pouring gallons upon gallons upon gallons of water on his altar. This, friends, is a Biblical throw-down right here. Without a doubt!
    • Elijah’s prayer: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.” → Elijah is essentially laying down a big ol’ “PROVE IT” to God before all the people of Israel. All his eggs are in one basket. And that basket … is on fire. Literally. Or at least, it’s about to be. Elijah’s ask here is not It’s not couched in escape clauses and possible outs and “maybe-possibly-if-but” language. Elijah’s ask is big. It’s bold. It’s ostentatious. It’s wildly audacious. Elijah is literally calling on God to show up in power and presence, in essence and extravagance, in sparks and flames and blazing glory.
      • God does not disappoint – text: Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench! All the people saw this and fell on their faces. “The Lord is the real God! The Lord is the real God!” they exclaimed.[12]
  • Friends, it’s certainly true that sometimes, God’s answer to prayer is not the answer that we’re seeking. And it’s true that sometimes it’s hard to put ourselves – our deepest desires and most desperate hopes – out there when we cannot hear or see God, when we cannot prove God like Elijah did with fire from heaven – not to the world around us, not to those who laugh at or question us … not even to ourselves. But here’s the thing: if we don’t take that risk … if we don’t leap out in faith … if we don’t ASK, we don’t give God the opportunity to be audacious in God’s abundance and grace. We deny God the chance to show up in our lives in extravagantly unanticipated and unexpected ways. And we deprive God of the opening to work through us to inspire faith in those around us – people we know as well as people we don’t. So be brave. Be bold. Be wildly audacious. Because you never know what kind of spark God is just waiting to forge into a wild, faith-fed blaze. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Shannon Meacham. “Narrative Lectionary: Stuck in the Middle with You (1 Kings 18:[17-19] 20-39)” from RevGalBlogPals, https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/10/29/narrative-lectionary-stuck-in-the-middle-with-you-1-kings-1817-19-20-39/.  Posted Oct. 29, 2019, accessed Nov. 1, 2019.

[2] 1 Kgs 16:30, 31b-33.

[3] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Baal-ancient-deity.

[4] 1 Kgs 17:1.

[5] 1 Kgs 18:17-18.

[6] 1 Kgs 18:23-24.

[7] 1 Kgs 18:21.

[8] Elna K. Solvang. “Commentary on 1 Kings 18:[17-19] 20-39” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4215, accessed Oct. 31, 2019.

[9] 1 Kgs 18:27.

[10] 1 Kgs 18:28-29 (emphasis added).

[11] Titus Kennedy. “Stone Jars, Ritual Washing, and the Water to Wine Miracle at Cana” from Drive Thru History Adventures, https://drivethruhistoryadventures.com/stone-jars-ritual-washing-water-wine-miracle-cana/. Posted Jan. 24, 2018, accessed Oct. 31, 2019.

[12] 1 Kgs 18:38-39.