Elijah and the Fire
1 Kings 18:20-39
Given by Rev. April S. Blaine on Sunday, November 8, 2015
So, we continue our journey through the Bible, where we are reading the stories (mostly in order) – and viewing them through the lens of God’s love for all people.
For a few weeks now, we’ve been reading about the Kings of Israel. First King David, who helped unite the land of Israel into one nation and then his grandson King Rehoboam who had foolishly destroyed the kingdom through his arrogance and unwillingness to be compassionate and vulnerable.
This happened in about the year 922 BCE
As a result the northern Kingdom and the southern kingdom of Judah are separate and you then have a whole lineage of kings for Judah and a line of kings for Israel.
For the next 53 years, there is war and strife between these two nations. And particularly in the north, there is a growing distance between the kings and their willingness to hear the word of God from the prophets and advisors.
And King Ahab, was the worst of them all. Not only did he reject the worship of God, but after marrying Jezebel, he brought in the Phoenician worship of the God Baal and set up temples throughout the region.
Ahab invoked the anger of God more than any king before him and so the Prophet Elijah tells Ahab that there will be no rain for 3 years. Until Elijah says so. Not a drop will fall from the sky.
I’ll let you begin to imagine what that would have meant for the people.
So you have a shortage of food and a shortage of water. And a shortage of resources in general.
Famine is in the land and
Survival is at stake.
Ahab himself was a man of arrogance and authority. He was literally the king od putting on a brave face and appearing as if he had it all together.
But - In the situation of the drought, Ahab and his advisors were starting to reach the end of themselves. Starting to realize the grave possibility that in this moment – they were powerless.
And they did not know what to do.
I’m guessing that at one point or another – all of us have met such a moment in our own lives.
In the sudden diagnosis that we never expected, in the enormity of expectations and demands of us that we can never ever seem to meet or even understand, in the moments of deep grief and loss, and in the moments of WAITING – for a future that is uncertain.
In such moments, we might try to put on our brave face, but the weight of what we are facing is too much and instead – we find ourselves face down on the floor. Completely powerless.
There are few places in the world where we would like to be LESS than in this place of powerlessness.
And when this happens, there are a few different ways that we can respond.
Some of us get angry. Defensive. We lash out with our words or our fists.
Some of us completely shut down. Abandon hope. Go into depression. Retreat.
And some of us go into denial. Plan B mode.
Powerless? Not me. I can’t possibly be powerless. I will fix this. No matter what – I will make this different.
I’m guessing some of this is sounding a bit familiar.
Ahab chose denial. He went out himself to search for the water. He was determined to find a way around this famine.
And in general, the people of Israel had begun to turn away from God and turn toward the worship of Baal.
Now, Baal was the young storm God, there were many different manifestations of this God – but he was associated with the bringing of the rain.
So, when Elijah returns after these three years and meets Ahab and realizes that even during these 3 years, nothing has changed, that the drought has not helped him find a change of heart – then Elijah decides to go directly to the people of Israel – and he asks them the question – how long? Will you straddle the fence and worship Baal and God?
They don’t answer so he decides to conduct this contest.
It’s extraordinary right? Two altars, piles of wood, and a sacrificed bull. Whoever will get their altar to light on fire by calling out to their God – this will be the true God.
And so it goes.
And the Baal prophets have some trouble.
They are in a frenzy. The myth of Baal suggested that Baal actually died and was resurrected. In the myth, those that mourned his death, cut themselves and marred their bodies as a show of respect. So, the people here are mirroring this same thing.
But Baal does not appear.
The fire does not come.
The storm God is silent.
And Elijah prepares his own altar.
The comparison is striking.
There are 450 prophets of Baal all praying and crying out.
And there is only 1 Elijah.
He even douses the altar with 12 bins of water.
And speaks one word to the Lord.
And the fire and the blaze come instantly.
So, I don’t know about you but when it comes to those moments of powerlessness – those places of waiting and uncertainty where I cannot control the outcome – in my experience – things don’t really begin to improve until there is a moment of surrender.
A moment of acceptance. A moment where I am able to acknowledge my limitations and to recognize that what is happening is beyond me.
And for me, I usually fight this as much as possible, but when I finally do it. Healing begins. The real work of God’s transforming Spirit can start.
Our fantastic Erin Hardin has been waiting now for more than 5 months to hear whether she will or will not be going to the Peace Corps. A decision that will change the trajectory of her life. A decision she has had no say over. And if you’ve spent much time with Erin you know how hard this has been. Normally the happiest person I have literally ever met, the last few months, as Erin has described it, have brought about a whole new part of her personality that she never knew was there – everything from anger and snappy rude behavior to feeling depressed and hopeless to trying to come up with an alternate plan. In October she took some time away and began to come to some peace with the reality that this was out of her hands and that it may not happen. Being able to acknowledge this seemed to help her recognize that lots of things were still possible even if this wasn’t in her future. Healing began. And trust began returning – just as she got the news that she’ll be leaving in less than 2 months for Thailand.
It’s hard – it’s so hard to get to that moment of surrender. OF acceptance of what is. But when we can – when we can let go and admit it. Those are the moments when healing can start and when God’s remarkable transformation of us can really begin.
Ahab gets a lot of attention in this story but in truth, Elijah is much more interested in the people of God who he loved and cared for. People who had been inadvertently caught in this drought. Who had suffered. Who were confused. And who were desperate to find a way out. They had come face to face with their powerlessness and they were trying anything to change the reality. If worshipping Baal was the answer, they were willing to do it.
And what Elijah offers them in this powerful moment of rare prophet showmanship is the incredible gift that all of us need during those moments of confusion and doubt – of fear and uncertainty.
That there is a source of power and strength beyond us.
Elijah’s great show was a gift of comfort and grace and love to be assured without a shadow of a doubt that the power they needed would come from a God who was bigger than all that they faced.
This show of flames would have been a relief. That God is really here.
So, I wonder where you have come to the end of yourself. Where you have been angry about it, or depressed about it, or maybe just denying it – perhaps doing everything but accepting it.
And where God might be inviting you to hear the good news.
That God is here. Really here. That you don’t have to be afraid. You can surrender. And trust that God is bigger than all that you face. And will walk with you through this – and bring the healing that you so desperately need.
Maybe not the way you imagine. But just where you need it.