Last year, beloved reader, I numbered the Sundays after Pentecost, but quickly came to see that numbering them did not contribute anything to our understanding of the scriptures or the lectionary. So this year I am just going to categorize these Sundays as “Season After Pentecost” move through the reminder of the lectionary year taking note of the special Sundays.
“So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah 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.” (I Kings 18:20-21)
It was a classic show-down. The nation was divided between worshiping God and worshiping the deity that the king and his queen worshiped. And Elijah could not stand it anymore. Elijah knew that God, who was the Living God, was more powerful than any man-created god. But the people of Israel needed to be shown. And that is what Elijah set out to do.
The Revised Common Lectionary lists as supplemental the failure of Baal’s prophets. I have included it only so you can remind yourself of what happened.
[Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let 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. Then 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!” Then 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.” So 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. At 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.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. Verses 22-29]
Now is it the living God’s turn.
“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; Elijah 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”; with 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. Next 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.” Then 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, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 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. Answer 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.” Then 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. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (Verses 30-39)
I do not know if I could have done that – had faith enough to soak the alter, the offering and everything else, and then call down fire from heaven. And I tempted to think badly of myself, and less of myself as a child of God. But then the Spirit in me reminds me of all the times I have stepped out on faith in God and God has held me up. Maybe I cannot call down actual fire from Heaven. If you are not sure you could, then be comforted that you are not alone.
Think of the challenges that are in your life; have you given them over to God? Or maybe you think that what challenges you in your life is worthy or worthwhile enough to call on God’s help. Let me tell you, beloved reader, if your thinking is like that you are pouring water over it just as much as Elijah had water poured over his altar. God did not fail him. But, I can imagine your thinking; what if you do depend on God to get you out of a “wet” situation, and it does not work out they way you thought or assumed it would!! I can understand that thinking and feeling too.
Bible characters such as Elijah seem capable of things we could not imagine. We are not called to or expected to the sorts of things that Elijah did; and if you are, beloved reader, why are you reading my writings and not writing about yourself and giving God the glory?! For those of us, however, we are living quiet lives in God, God has no need for us to have spectacular events in our lives. The comparatively small personal triumphs are lives are as much a celebration as the big ones. And there is no event in our lives to small and personal not to praise God for. The Lord indeed is God. And the small figurative altar we have in our soul and spirit is worthy enough for the fire of God to accept what we offer. Praise to the Lord who makes the God-self present in our lives. Selah!