The Triumph of One God 5-29-16

I Kings 18:20-21, 30-39  So Ahab sent messengers throughout the length and breadth of Israel and had the prophets assemble on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped forward towards all the people there, saying, “How long will you sit on the fence?  If YHWH is God, follow God; but if Baal is God, then follow Baal.”  Then Elijah said to the people, “Come here to me.”  They came to him, and he repaired the altar of YHWH, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, whom YHWH had told, “Your name will be Israel.” With these stones he built an altar in the name of YHWH, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two measures of seed; he arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the whole offering and on the wood.”  This they did, and he said, “Do it again.”  They did it again.  He said, “Do it a third time.”  They did it a third time, and the water ran all around the altar and even filled the trench. At the hour of the regular offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and prayed, “YHWH, God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Israel and Rachel and Leah, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, YHWH, answer me and let this people know that you, YHWH, are God, and that is you who turned their hearts back to you.” Then fire from YHWH fell from the heavens consuming the whole offering, the wood, the stones, and the dirt, and licking up the water in the trench. At this sight, the people fell face down on the ground, crying, “YHWH is God!  YHWH is God!”

This familiar story  about Elijah is the story of the triumph of one God in the life of the Hebrew people. There were many contending forces, as we see. Today, we look at our own lives, and confess that we still today are tempted to worship other gods. We don’t want to admit it, but help me today, as we reach to understand why the first of the ten commandments is still quite relevant for us today. In our second reading we hear from Paul, who was challenging the people in the church of Galatia to stay loyal to the true Living God of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:1-12 From Paul, appointed to be an Apostle, not through human agency but through Jesus Christ, and through Abba God, who raised Christ from the dead— and from all the sisters and brothers who are here with us, To the churches of Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Jesus Christ, whose self-sacrifice for our sins rescued us from this present wicked world, in accordance with the will of our God and Creator, to whom be the glory forever and ever! I am astonished that you have so soon turned away from the One who called you by the grace of Christ, and have turned to a different gospel–  one  which is really not “good news” at all.  Some who wish to alter the Good News of Christ must have confused you. For if we—or even angels from heaven—should preach to you a different gospel, one not in accord with the gospel we delivered to you, let us—or them—be cursed! We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  if any preach a gospel to you that is contrary to the one you received, let them be cursed! Whom am I trying to please now—people or God?  Is it human approval I am seeking?  If I still wanted that, I wouldn’t be what I am –a servant of Christ! I assure you, my sisters and brothers:  the gospel I proclaim to you is no mere human invention. I didn’t receive it from any person, nor was I schooled in it, it came by revelation from Jesus Christ.

May 29, 2016

The Triumph of One God

We believe in One God, creator of heaven and earth, one true and everlasting God who loves all of creation and all of God’s people. We believe in One God, just one, one God who unites everyone and everything, One – the loneliest and most perfect number, One God who calls us to be disciples for the transformation of the world, One God bigger than our imaginations and claims, One God truer than our beliefs and insecurities. We believe in One God, powerful and almighty, world without end, Amen.

I am confident there is no one here who would disagree with me that we believe in One God. We all claim it, and reach for it. Yet none of us totally acts like it – and we likely have a number of different interpretations of what it means to follow the One true God of all Creation. On this holiday weekend, I ask you to simply reflect for a moment about what god you are most tempted to follow that competes for your allegiance to the One God above all.

We may not acknowledge our behavior as worship, but we put a whole lot of energy and allegiance and attention to financial security, self-gratification and comfort, caring for our feelings and our insecurities, and even more so for our family’s security, gratification, comfort and feelings. It’s really hard to deny the one’s closest to us everything they want, even when we know God calls us to something bigger.

 

I want to take a closer look at the story about the prophet Elijah that Rachel read as a way of challenging us to worship just one God. You may not have noticed, because we don’t generally laugh during the reading of the Bible – but this passage assigned to us this morning is pretty funny – even though it’s pretty serious, deadly, and about a difficult time.

The difficult context for the passage is that there had been a drought in the land for over 3 years. People were thirsty and the land was thirsty. The passage is a metaphor for our literal thirst for water and our deeper thirst for the Living God who is the Source of all water. Our reading sets up a competition between two gods – Baal and Yahweh.

Baal was a popular god in Canaan at the time. The current king and queen Ahab and Jezebel were encouraging worship of Baal – the god of agriculture and weather. You could understand why the god who was the giver of rain would be a pretty popular god to worship. The prophet Elijah the Tishbite had announced this drought as a judgment on Ahab and challenged him and all the followers of Baal to a test to see which god was genuine.

Elijah yells at all the followers of Baal “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, then follow Yahweh; but if Baal, then follow Baal.” My teacher Phyllis Trible said that this image of limping between two opinions was like picturing a bird limping down a limb with two branches going in different directions. If you don’t choose, eventually you are going to fall off the branch.

They set up a test between the two gods – slaughtering 2 bulls in a sacrifice. Whichever god lights the fire first wins the contest. The Baal followers limp around the fire, howling for their god. “Oh, Baal, answer us!” For hours they moan and groan and Elijah teases them, “Maybe your great god is asleep. Maybe he had to step aside and to take a leak!” This was a real worry about the gods – the worry that when you needed a god, it might be asleep or preoccupied.

Finally, Elijah steps up to the test. He builds a fire pit with twelve stones reminding them of the twelve tribes of Israel, then invites the people to douse the stones with water. Remember this is during a drought, so the water was precious. The dousing makes the test harder, since the fire is harder to light, but also reminds the people of their very real thirst. Elijah insists that they douse the fire site again… and again.

In the end he says a quiet one sentence prayer and immediately fire comes from the sky and consumes the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and all the water in the trench. The people bow to the ground to proclaim Yahweh, the God of Israel, as the God of all creation. You may notice that this story, though it is the triumph of God, is also the triumph of the provincial god of Elijah. After our assigned reading, the Bible goes on to talk about Elijah slaughtering the followers of Baal.

The claim of One God is correct but the road to get to the claim and results of the proclamation seem to contradict Elijah’s message. It matters how we get to our understanding of the triumph of one God, and it matters how we understand the proclamation. It matters if we recognize the limits of our understanding and our claims. It matters who we include and who we exclude from our prayers and our hopes.

Our claim of following the one true God does not give us the right to tell everyone else that they are following the wrong or inadequate God. Rather it gives us the chance to notice the ways in which we are not really following that God that we claim to revere! We have the opportunity to notice that we easily get sidetracked, limping after the gods of approval and security, the idols of comfort and pride. How easily we try to hedge our bets – following both Yahweh and Baal, limping down the branch in hopes of receiving the blessings of a big vision of God and a narrow, parochial idol at the same time.

We seem to be in good company, however, since Elijah is having his own troubles along these lines. Elijah at least is in real conversation, however, with God. You could say the same thing about Paul. At least he’s in conversation with God. And we have that opportunity as well. The true God, the One God of love invites us to stop limping after those idols, welcomes us back even today as we decide to stay in conversation, to question our own limitations, and to ask the important questions of faith as we strive to trust and follow on the Way.

 

Responsive Hymn: 434 When the Poor Ones (vss. Omit vs. 3)