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.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: A Wildly Audacious Ask

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Big Love | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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