Monday, 30 May 2016
Sermon May 29, 2016
The account of the battle between Elijah and the priests of Baal is marvelous example of those times when God’s chosen people strayed from worshiping the one true God. A common story of the Jewish people in the Hebrew Bible, is one of the Israelites being tempted to worship false Gods and being called back by the prophets to worship the one true God. This encounter between Elijah and the priests of Baal is one of the most dramatic and engaging accounts of this continuing story.
I don’t know if this story has been made into a movie but it cries out for it to be done. We have all the essential parts here. It is so dramatically written that it is almost a scene play as it is presented. Elijah, the prophet and the hero of the story rally the people and lays it on the line. Which God do you serve? You cannot serve two Gods. Will it be YHHW or will it be Baal—the foreign god of Jezebel the foreign wife of King Ahab. He puts it wonderfully to the Israelites, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? All was not well with the Chosen People of God.
Elijah engages in a battle with the priests of Baal. It hardly seems a fair fight—Elijah all by himself against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal.
It is a version of anything your God can do mime can do better. It is a wonderful, dramatic display of one-upmanship.
The offerings to the two Gods are set up. Which God will send down holy fire to make the offerings a holy sacrifice? The priests—all four hundred and fifty of them—call on Baal to send down the fire to made the offering a holy sacrifice. Of course their god is silent and does not respond. Again the writer describes it wonderful language, “But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made”.
Elijah responds by upping the ante. He has his people prepare an altar which represents all the people—twelve stones; one for each of the tribes of Israel. He reminds them who they are and who their God is and that He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He has them pour water on the wood of the sacrifice; not once but three times to show beyond a doubt that YHWH is the one true God. God responds and send down holy fire.
What happens next is one of those inconvenient parts of the bible that I have mentioned before. How does Elijah act after this wonderful response by God? Does he call on the Priests of Baal to see the error of their ways and to worship the one true God? No, he has the People of God slaughter them—every last man jack of them; so much for having compassion on your enemies.
However, that seemed to be the only way that people could live in those times—by a battle to the last man—and sometimes woman, child and animal.
So, if this was the Hollywood movie it could easily be we would have the compulsory happy ending—they would all live happily ever after—at least the hero and everyone who supported him. However, we know that this is not going happens as things never go that smoothly for the People of God. Queen Jezebel—well deserving of that name—declares war on Elijah. What does Elijah do? He is not so heroic now but, quite sensibly, hightails it out of town, “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.” No High Noon showdown here.
This is a wonderful dramatic story. Is there anything in this account in Holy Scripture that we can apply to our time and to us today? Well, I don’t think God is calling us to treat our enemies the way Elijah treated the Priests of Baal or Queen Jezebel treated Elijah. However, we can learn a lot about the need to be reminded vigorously when we have forgotten to worship the one true God. I can imagine that Prophet of God saying to us, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions”? The only problem with that is that we seem to have many more than two options or opinions today.
There are so many, many gods that we worship today; materialism, the obsession with social media and popularity, success, and power. I could go on very easily but you get the point.
I love the expression “limping after them”. That is such an apt description. When we are following the wrong opinion or option in life, when we miss the mark we are not seeking God; When we sin that is what we are doing, limping through life and not living life to the fullest. So how do we know when we are seeking the wrong option? Well the account of Elijah gives us an answer. We will know by the results. Elijah as a representative of YHWH defeated the Priests of Baal in dramatic form. However, we cannot expect that God will act in such a dramatic way today. God have given us the new covenant in his only begotten son Jesus Christ. In this he has dramatically shown the way. However, he has given us the option —again those inconvenient and difficult options—this one of following Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. We have that model of who and what Jesus is that we should no longer need dramatic proof in the form of fire from heaven—God sending down lightning bolts like Zeus from the heavens. We have Jesus Christ to show us what it means to live the life that God intends us to live—a life or sacrifice for others in service to our God.
We have another thing that we can take from the story of Elijah and the Priests of Baal. Things did not go well for Elijah after his great victory. He ran away in fear for his life from the wrath of Queen Jezebel. There are going to be times when, even in our successes we are going to taste defeat. The sweetness of life—even if we choose the right option and are faithful to God— will at times turn to ashes in our mouths. However, in those times we know that just as God was still with Elijah, even as he fled from the wrath of Jezebel, God is still with us. God will sustain us and Jesus will be our guide through the valley of the shadow of death. Thanks be to God.