Sermon for November 18th, 2012
1 Kings 18:20-39
20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. 23Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ 25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ 26So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ 28Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; 32with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ 34Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, 35so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’
Elijah's Sacrifice: Choosing Sides
It's not as easy for me as it once was, getting from here to there. I am an old man, you see. I limp along as best I can. In my language, "pasach" -- to limp...well...it also means to hop, to pass over, to dance, to hesitate, to balance... pasach
You know this? Perhaps you, too, hesitate, balance, dance between two sides? You want to be on this side...but you want to be on this side, too. Yes...I see you have the disease, this "limp" too. I will tell you a story about pasach. Really it's a story about sacrifice.
I was younger back in those days, the days of the great drought. No need for this cane. Israel was a divided land then, and not just geographically. Her people were divided within themselves. Every Sunday they came to church and worshiped Yahweh. And then the other six days of the week they worshiped Ba'al. I've heard some foreigners pronounce it "Bale" but it's Ba'al. That other god. That false god. Ba'al had many temples in our land. There was the temple of Foot Ba'al, the temple of Basket Ba'al, the temple of Base Ba'al, to name a few. Stadiums full of people worshiped Ba'al in those temples. Every corner gas station in those days had a temple to Ba'all -- Power Ba'al, they called it, and millions worshiped. Little altars were set up in the heart of every home to Ba'al Room Dancing with the Stars. In short, Ba'al was worshiped everywhere.
But the people said, "No--we worship Yaweh. We just like to play and watch Ba'al. It's nothing serious. We worship Yahweh. Yahweh is our God."
Yahweh is our God. Hmmmph. I remember those words, for they form my name. Elijah. It means "my God (El'i) is Yahweh (jah). And so he is...Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and all the days of the week. Yahweh is my God.
So there came a drought in the land. You might call it a "water recession." Times were hard for everyone...people brought less and less to Yahweh on Sunday. But still they flocked by the millions to the temples of Ba'al the rest of the week.
All but one woman, that is. She was a widow--a single mother--in the town of Zarephath. I came across her one morning in my travels, and asked her to spare some food and water for the Prophet of Yahweh. I did not know that she had a little son at home, and only enough food to last one day. When I met her, she was on her way home to fix the last bit of food for herself and her son; and then to prepare herself and her son...to die. I did not know this, or I would not have asked her for food and water. But Yahweh knew. Through me, he spoke to her: "Do not be afraid. Go home, and prepare your meal. But first, before you or your son eat it, bring some for me. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: Your pantry will not run out of food until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."
She hesitated...wavered...did a little dance, pasach, weighing both sides in her mind: Who is this strange man, and why should I believe such craziness? But what if he is right? What if he is from Yahweh? And just like that, she chose her side. She went home, prepared food, and brought it to me. This single mother on death's door! She sacrificed her last meal, her son's last meal, for the prophet of Yahweh. And Yahweh was faithful. Her pantry was not empty, it did not fail, and she and her son ate for many days.
But still the drought wore on. King Ahab was re-elected (or as we would say, re-annointed) on a promise to end the water recession, but not even he could make it rain. And still, the people worshiped Yahweh on Sundays, and Ba'al the rest of the week. They did their dance, their pasach, limping between Yahweh and Ba'al, never choosing sides. But the time for a showdown had come.
It was December 2nd. Commitment Sunday. The end of the stewardship campaign. All the people of Israel were invited to bring their offerings to the church: First Presbyterian Church of Mount Carmel. But this would be no ordinary Commitment Sunday.
In years past, the choice had been simply "how much should we commit to Yahweh?" Or sometimes "Should we even commit anything to Yahweh at all?" And the people would bring their offerings to Yahweh on Sunday. Then they would pile up their offerings to Ba'al the rest of the week. They would say with their voices, "Yahweh is our God." But their offerings screamed even louder: "Ba'al is our God!"
And so this Commitment Sunday, as the people of Israel gathered on the mountain, I said to them: "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Ba'al, then follow him." The people did not answer. "Let two offerings be made today: One to Ba'al, and one to Yahweh. Let those who choose to follow Ba'al call on his name, and I will call on the name of the Lord! Whoever answers with fire is indeed God." And the people answered, "Well spoken."
First the offerings to Ba'al were brought in. The temple of Foot Ba'al brought in 8.5 billion gold coins it had received in offering over the past year. The temple of Power Ba'al brought in 17.4 billion gold coins. Throughout the day, the offering to Ba'al piled higher and higher, but still no fire from heaven. I couldn't resist a few taunts: "Cry louder, and perhaps Ba'al will hear you! When you are sick and in the hospital, or on your deathbed...will Ba'al come visit you then? When you bring your children to be baptized...when you come to be married...surely Ba'al will be there for you? Ba'al must bring deep meaning and purpose and fulfillment to your life for you to offer so much to him! Why is he silent when you need him most?"
Midday passed, and still no fire came to the offering for Ba'al. Now it was Yahweh's turn. It was a hot, dry, day, and I didn't want accusations of foul play, so I ordered water--precious water--to be poured all over and around the offering to Yahweh. I even dug a trench around it and had that filled with water. But where was the offering? Who would bring an offering for Yahweh? Who would choose his side? Then...I saw them: A single mother, and her young son, making their way slowly up the hill. A single mother, who, in a season of drought, had sacrificed her very last meal so that the work of the Lord might be done. There was more gold and worth in that small meal that had cost so much, than in all the coins Ba'al would ever see in a lifetime of offerings. And it was clear with every step they took, that this mother and her young son had chosen their side. They made their offering to Yahweh.
Now some who were there and witnessed that day's miracle have too quickly given all the credit to me. I did call upon Yahweh, the God of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob. I did pray that God would answer, and that the hearts of the people would turn back to him. But when that great fire fell from the sky (and fall it did--in blazing heat and blinding splendor!)...when the flames devoured not only the offering, but the stones upon which it stood, the water poured all around and even the dirt off the ground...when that fire fell, I knew whose sacrifice had touched the very heart of God: An unlikely pair, a mother and child without much to offer...but what they had they gave willingly. They didn't waver, they didn't dance around the issue, they didn't limp. They chose Yahweh.
With everything they had, they chose God.
May we all choose as wisely, and as generously, as they did.