The Narrative Lectionary points us to 1 Kings 18:[17-19] 20-39 and Mark 9:2-4 this week. While there are many great stories of Elijah the prophet in the Bible, the encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel is probably the most familiar.
Three years into a drought, Ahab and Jezebel have not been moved to give their hearts to God. They continue in idol worship and rejection of God. The supplied text begins with an encounter between Ahab and Elijah. Ahab calls Elijah the “troublemaker of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah is in full prophet mode and invites Ahab to call together the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to Mount Carmel for a showdown of power and faith.
Elijah’s challenge to the people was clear: How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him! (1 Kings 18:21)
But the people were completely silent.
Everything that happens next is the complete dismantling of the false god Baal. Two altars. Two bulls. Two calls to deities in an attempt to see which one would answer. Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to go first and they spent hours calling and dancing and trying to gain the attention of Baal. They even cut themselves and shouted but to no avail.
Elijah’s turn to call upon his God. To make sure that everyone knew the truth, his altar was drenched with water over and over until a trench around the altar was filled with water. Elijah prayed with clear purpose:
*Prove that you are God and I am your servant
*Prove that I have done all of this at your command
*Prove this in such a way that everyone watching will know you are God
*Prove that you will bring them back to yourself
The fire came from heaven and consumed the entire altar and water.
When all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord – he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
The Narrative Lectionary text ends there, leaving out the command to kill all of the prophets of Baal.
This vivid story reminds us of the power of God and the impotence of false human-created gods. But I think the part of the text that stands out to me is the question that Elijah asks:
Elijah came near to all the people and said, How long will you halt and limp between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him! But if Baal, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word.2 Kings 18:21, AMPC
Such a great question for our contemporary times. Whatever personal gods we have allowed to proliferate our lives, we face the same dilemma. Our neglect of God and attention to these gods has brought about pain and discomfort into our lives. It has separated us from our Father and spiritual drought is depleting our spiritual energies. What are those gods? How do we know when we have allowed a god into our heart? These are too numerous to mention but anything can become a god in our lives if we allow it to come between us and the true God.
When faced with the question of how long they would tolerate these idols, the people responded with silence. Were they contemplating life without Baal worship? Were they wondering if Baal had some power over the elements and they might be elongating the drought even further? Perhaps, like we often do, they were spending a moment of introspection as they considered the question.
Two opinions … the battle for the highest place in our hearts is ongoing. We want to hang on to the opinion that God is God! At the same time, we want to hang on to the idols that get in the way of God’s presence and influence in our lives.
Once the powerlessness of Baal was obvious and the power of God was demonstrated, the people forsook their silent posture, fell on the ground, and shouted out! This is a call for us to respond as well …. to make a spiritual decision to turn to God alone and leave behind anything that causes us to be separated from Him.
The preacher has a lot of decisions with this text. The story is BIG, and it could take up considerable time to go into great detail. But it is also a powerful story. Will the preacher start naming some of the gods of the contemporary day and how specific are we going to get? People do not usually like to have their gods called out … but if we feel the spirit and power of Elijah we will have no choice.
Every day we must make a decisive choice about whom we will serve. Elijah asks the people to do this, and we must do so as well. When we make the choice to serve God it will be in recognition of His great power, with humble submission (face down on the ground), and with joyful uninhibited praise, “the Lord is God!”.
The Gospel text connected to this week’s story does not resonate much with me. Yes, Peter is asked by the Father to make a choice between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus – and to choose Jesus. If the preacher observed Transfiguration Sunday back in March, then this will be a repeat and it’s not the easiest text to preach one time. Those are two big stories and though they both contain Elijah’s presence, I doubt I’ll use the Gospel text this week.
This month I’ll be using the theme Prayers For Spiritual Awakening, as each of the texts for November 2019 are related to the prophets and the appeal to faithfulness. I’ll post my sermon notes and audio on this blog on Sunday.
You’re invited to join my Facebook group Narrative Lectionarians and to participate in the discussion and sharing of resources found there each week.