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Thursday, May 30, 2013

2nd Sunday after Pentecost: Who Is Truly God

This year, in the Season after Pentecost, the Old Testament readings focus on the Old Testament prophets. Included are Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, and Habakkuk. For the next few weeks in our preaching here at AMC we are going to focus on some of these prophets in a series loosely titled Calling and Working for Justice, Righteousness and Peace, and then in July we'll focus on the Gospel readings in a series Learning from the Master.

Today we look at Elijah. As history went on in the land of Israel after King David and his son Solomon's reign, it became apparent that the people just refused to live the life that God had called them to and so God sent to those people prophets, great men and women, to speak to the people on behalf of God and to call people back to Him and His ways. One of the greatest of those prophets was the prophet Elijah and one of the events that defined His ministry more than any other was the confrontation with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel.

The name means God’s Vineyard and if you visit it you see why….there is fertility all around it and throughout the Bible this mountain is often used as a symbol of fertility…if they are pronouncing a judgement they’ll say Mt Carmel won’t be fertile…..if a blessing, then Mt Carmel will be fertile.


 I took these photos from the top of Mt Carmel when Chris and I went to Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles in 2008. Notice the fertile fields surrounding the mountain

 If you look West from Carmel you look into the Jezreel Valley, the place where Megiddo is situated….Megiddo being the place called Armageddon in the New Testament, with all its significance.
Mt Carmel is in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria. Our story is set in the time when Ahab was king and the following verses (1 Kings 16:29-33) set the tone regarding Ahab:

 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years.  Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.  Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. 

So this king of Israel did more than any other king to take the people away from God, and made God more angry than any other king. He married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, not a good Jewish girl, and with her as queen, Baal worship became the prominent religion in Israel! Baal worship glorified the cheapness of human life, it glorified human sexuality, and the people of God in Israel, bought into it…they enjoyed what it allowed and encouraged. (Baal worship is big Today, although it is not called Baal worship anymore)

And onto the scene appears the first of the great prophets…..Elijah. His name means 

Jehovah …..JAHweh
is
God …..ELI
or God is Jehovah…..Eli-Jah………Elijah

The question was being asked by people…who is really our god? Is Baal the god responsible for all this fertility

 ….or is Yahweh responsible for all this?

And Elijah, by his very name, is declaring that it is Yahweh who is responsible for all this.

Three years before the events in our reading, Elijah had gone to Ahab and said:
 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 

Now this was a direct confrontation with Baal, who was the god responsible for providing the rain which brought forth the fertility. Elijah is essentially saying:
God is saying there will be no rain for 3 years. Let’s see if Baal can provide rain in the nation.

And of course, Baal can’t, and the drought grips the nation for 3 years. 

At the end of 3 years, Elijah returns to Ahab and we read:

 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals.  Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 

850 prophets of the god of that particular religion!

So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.  Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions?

What Elijah is confronting is not people who have rejected the God of the Bible, but people who are adding things contrary to the God of the Bible, to their own lives. We believe the God of the Bible, but we also believe we can add things to our lives from “other gods”….Baal allows us to sleep around, Baal allows us to get drunk, Baal allows us to gamble, especially with the lives of our children who we will throw into fire to try and convince Baal to send rain, this is what gambling is, trying to get something for ourselves but at the expense of others….All these things are contrary, in fact totally opposed, to the God of the Bible.

And he says “How long are you going to waver between two opinions?”........God's opinion of what is right, or Baal's opinion of what is right.......... Is he saying that to you today….then he says:

“If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Now, what is interesting but also very sad, is the next line of that verse:

But the people said nothing.

How long are you going to go back and forth between God’s way and your way, the way of a false god…….and the people say nothing

 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.  Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set 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—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.”  So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.  Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down.  Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.”  With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed.  He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time.  The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God,

Now that is getting to the heart of the matter….Elijah is not doing all this so that the people will see that he has access to great power, but rather he is doing all this so that the people will know that He (point upwards)….is God!

And then verse 38…and you have to imagine it….a clear day, because it hasn’t rained for 3 years…and it’s the time of sacrifice, which means it’s probably 3 in the afternoon, the afternoon sacrifice time…

 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

One can only imagine that there was an amazed silence

The rocks on top of Mt Carmel today

 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

Now, do you realise what they are actually saying?......Elijah, Elijah,…….and I love that connection because in a sense to see Elijah in action is to recognise God at work. To see a man or woman of God in action, is to recognise God at work....... to see Elijah/you/me in action is to recognise God at work!

 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
This is a statue on top of Mt Carmel which in all honesty, I don't like. But it serves to remind me: Don't mess with our God 

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”  So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
“There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”
 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.  The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

Now, did all this have a changing effect on Ahab and Jezebel?...........as we will see in the following chapters next week,…No, it didn’t!...........and, interestingly and sadly, it didn’t change the nation of Israel either.

The lesson here for us is that as we try and live lives that reflect the power of God at work in us and through us….the people around us will not always be convinced that the LORD (point upwards)…is God.

The second lesson is that the Holy Spirit of God, the fire of God, has descended on us and God’s promise is to continue pouring out that Spirit, that fire, that power…on us….all the time! As we looked at, at Pentecost, ask for the fire of the Lord….and you will receive the fire of the Lord

There are all different kinds of people here……..all having been given particular gifts from God (just as Elijah was), and He says.... "if you use that gift for me, as you use it you’ll show people what I’m like."

And that means if I’m going to know what God is like, I’m going to be able to watch you, and if you want to know what God is like, you’re going to be able to watch each other. This is really what we celebrate in the season of Pentecost, the season which reminds us that the Spirit of God has been, and continues to be, poured onto and into whoever asks.

Now, in all honesty, the Christian community has not been particularly good at that historically. There are a lot of times in my life, and maybe in yours, where we wouldn’t want people to watch us…in order to see God…….but that’s what God wants. And so for you and for me our calling is to be what God calls us to be and His promise is that when we do that, God will help people to see Him.



Dear God, I thank you for what happened on this mountain. It’s very easy for us to have our allegiance to more than just you…it’s easy to trust in ourselves and our own strength, and our own power and our own money and our own abilities, but you’ve shown us today, reminded us, that there is only one God (and one strengh and one power) and that’s You and we pray that we will live in such a way that how we live, how we act will make clear to people that you are God, that You are our God and that You are working through us. Please fill us with such a measure of your Spirit that as we leave here today we can feel powerfully your presence in us and know that we can be Elijah’s in the world we live in. Because....these are the days of Elijah


This sermon was inspired by the teaching
of Ray Vander Laan in the 
series, which I strongly recommend
as an excellent resource for small groups

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