11/10/19 – Choose Your God (and choose wisely)

Posted on : Nov 7th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, is remarkably “just like us.”  He’s so human it is unbelievable.  He has one heck of a temper and temperament.  And he is as justice focused as AOC (that’s, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

Elijah’s story is so relevant to our life and faith story today, that I’ve just got to give him his own mini-series.  He deserves much more, but time is running short.

This Sunday I’m going to begin with Elijah’s great spiritual insight: “Choose Your Own God, But Choose Wisely!”  That will be followed by: (Nov. 17) “Just like us:  Elijah doesn’t always get God” and (Nov. 24:) “Just like us: Elijah has his ups and downs…Worst Day Ever?”

Christianity is in such a mess today, that only someone with Elijah’s spiritual perceptivity can help redeem it.  As I see it, the basic struggle within Christianity today is we have too many gods.   The problem is, we’ve created god in our own image and likeness.  That god is not the God who is revealed to us in Scripture and the best of our tradition.

That is the same issue Elijah confronted.  King Ahab (Israel’s king in the northern kingdom) went awol.  He had a fondness for “cafeteria” style religion.  That is, “I’ll have a little of this, a lot of that, and none of the other.”  It didn’t help that he married Jezebel, an ardent worshipper of the pagan gods of Ba’al.  (You might have heard this god’s name as “Bail,” which is how many pronounced it, but it is really two syllables “Bah” and Ahl (as in Alah).  Ba’al is both a singular and collective name for Canaanite gods.

King Ahab decided the gods of Ba’al were more useful than the God of Israel, so he knocked down the altar where the Israelites worshipped and instead built an altar at which the people could worship the gods of Ba’al.  Soon the whole kingdom of Israel was worshipping Ba’al.  This wasn’t appreciated by the God of Israel.  According to I Kings 16:33, “Ahab did more to provoke the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  Quite an accomplishment!

So, God calls Elijah to what can only be described as a “Donald Trump” moment.  With great drama and flare (literally!) Elijah challenges Ahab to a test to see “whose God is the strongest.”  Guess who wins?

When you peel back the layers of this complex story, Elijah is absolutely correct in his spiritual assessment of the situation.  You can’t follow multiple gods. So, “Choose your own God, but choose wisely.”

How wise are we when it comes to following our God?  Do we practice “cafeteria religion,” taking only what we like, what comforts us, and leaving the rest?  Do we have the insight to know when others have done that and are trying to force us to believe exactly as they do?  We have plenty to think about this Sunday!



I Kings 18: 20-40

So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.

Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow God; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”

Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.

Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”

All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”

Elijah told the Baal prophets, “Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you’re the majority. Then pray to your god, but don’t light the fire.”

So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, “O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.

This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.

Then Elijah told the people, “Enough of that—it’s my turn. Gather around.” And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.

When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”

Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.

All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”

Elijah told them, “Grab the Baal prophets! Don’t let one get away!”

They grabbed them. Elijah had them taken down to the Brook Kishon and they massacred the lot.


From the contemporary paraphrase of the bible, The Message Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson



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