31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 10, 2019
1 Kings 18:17-39
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
As happens in every time and place, change has come to the land of Israel. Their king, Ahab, has gotten married, and his new queen, Jezebel, is strong, determined, and faithful. Which sounds really good – except she is faithful to Baal, the Syrian god of weather and storms.
Despite the connotation usually associated with her name, when you hear Jezebel, you should think Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun. You should think fierce, ruthless, no holds bared conqueror because that was exactly who Jezebel was and exactly what Jezebel did. With single-minded determination, Jezebel sought to outlaw the worship of God, the one who has walked with and cared for the Israelites since the time of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now, all marriages require compromise, but surely, Ahab, King of Israel, keeper of the people’s covenant with God, would not permit Jezebel to wipe out the worship and praise of God altogether. After all, like all of the kings of Israel before him, going back to King David, Ahab was the one entrusted with encouraging the people to remain faithful to God. He was the chosen one to guide his people in living in right relationship with God.
Except, Ahab wasn’t a good king. He wasn’t faithful to his people; he wasn’t faithful to God. Scripture tells us, “Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) and there were some pretty bad ones before him.
So with the King and Queen of Israel using all of their power to cultivate the worship of Baal, soon it seems that only Elijah is left to speak up for God.
As people of faith, we can feel like that sometimes – as if we are the only people of faith left in our family, in our friend circle, in our community. With the changes that have come to our society, we can feel very lonely as people of faith. We can feel like others have deserted God, turning to foreign gods. We can feel like there is no one left to remind people of all of the wonderful things God has done, to remind them of God’s eternal faithfulness and unconditional love.
Elijah was likely feeling alone in his devotion to God; however Elijah wasn’t wondering who would speak up for God. Elijah knew it was him. He would be the one to remind the people of all that God had done and was doing for them. He would point out the folly of following other gods, like Baal.
Which is exactly what Elijah does in the passage we heard this morning. Elijah sets about to remind the Israelites that God is “indeed God” (1 Kings 18:24) by challenging the prophets of Baal to a contest. Elijah invites them to prepare an altar, and he will do the same. They shall each call upon their god, and “the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” (1 Kings 18:24)
In a great display, the prophets of Baal dance around their altar from sunrise til sunset. They call on the name of Baal. They cut themselves with swords. They frenetically and fantastically do everything they can to get Baal, often depicted holding a thunderbolt, to hurl that thunderbolt down upon their altar and set it on fire. But nothing happens.
Which is when Elijah invites the people to come near, to come close and be reminded of the blessings of God, to be reminded that God has faithfully walked with them and with their ancestors going back generations and generations, to be reminded that once they were slaves in Egypt and now they are a free people, the twelve tribes of Israel. Elijah takes a stone to symbolize each of those tribes, and he builds an altar to God.
And just so the people know that Elijah is not the hero of this story, Elijah takes four jars of precious water and pours them over the altar. Then eight jars of precious water, then twelve, and Elijah prays, “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 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.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)
“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 in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38) And the people were reminded. The people knew that regardless of King Ahab’s unfaithfulness, regardless of Queen Jezebel’s ruthlessness, that for them “the Lord indeed is God.” (1 Kings 18:39) The Lord indeed is God.
Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to be reminded that the Lord indeed is God. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that everything we have – our health, our homes, our jobs, creation, life is a gift from God. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that it is not all about us, all about things and money – that God is the Creator of the Universe, the one in charge of everything. Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to be reminded to come close to God and be enveloped by the love of God that surpasses all human understanding.
And sometimes, we need to be the ones reminding. Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to be like Elijah and speak up for God, speak out for God.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “How are [people] to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14)
How are people to know God, know they are beloved by God, unless they hear about God, unless we speak of how good God is to us and invite others to consider, maybe for the first time, the ways that God is good to them?
As we have been reminded of God’s goodness, we need to remind others.
In the summer of 2018, I was on study leave and with my time away I visited places other than church, where people go on Sunday morning. My intention was actually to talk to people – to ask what gave their life meaning, what supported them in difficult times, perhaps talk about faith and what God means to me. I did not do it, not even once. Despite reminding people on an almost daily basis of God’s love, I was shy when it came to strangers.
It is hard to share about God and God’s love. While, thanks to our veterans, we are blessed to live in a country where we will not be persecuted for sharing about God, we can still have the fear that if we dare to speak of God’s goodness, others might turn away from us.
Fear keeps us from telling others of God’s unconditional love, even people who really, really, really might need to know they are loved, loved by the God most high.
Despite our fear, we need to be the ones reminding others of God’s love and goodness.
Start with those who are close to you. Check in on Facebook that you are at the First Congregational Church and then post a reason you are thankful to God. Tweet a scripture passage or quote that helps you connect with God. Post on Instagram a picture of a blessing. Be a little bolder – the next time someone shares a deep concern with you, tell them you will pray for them, pray for their concern – because you trust God.
As we have been reminded of God’s goodness, we need to remind others.
The next time you think you are the only person of faith left in your family, in your friend circle, in your community, hear that as God’s invitation to speak up, to speak out, and remind others of the incredible things God has done, for the Lord indeed is God.