June 8, 2016
Today's first reading, from 1 Kings:
Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal,
“Choose one young bull and prepare it first,
for there are more of you.
Call upon your gods, but do not start the fire.”
Taking the young bull that was turned over to them, they prepared it
and called on Baal from morning to noon, saying,
“Answer us, Baal!”
But there was no sound, and no one answering.
And they hopped around the altar they had prepared.
When it was noon, Elijah taunted them:
“Call louder, for he is a god and may be meditating,
or may have retired, or may be on a journey.
Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
They called out louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears,
as was their custom, until blood gushed over them.
Noon passed and they remained in a prophetic state
until the time for offering sacrifice.
But there was not a sound;
no one answered, and no one was listening.
At the time for offering sacrifice,
the prophet Elijah came forward and said,
“LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
let it be known this day that you are God in Israel
and that I am your servant
and have done all these things by your command.
Answer me, LORD!
Answer me, that this people may know that you, LORD, are God
and that you have brought them back to their senses.”
The LORD’s fire came down
and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust,
and it lapped up the water in the trench.
Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said,
“The LORD is God! The LORD is God!”
If you had to insert yourself as a character in this story, where would you place yourself? We all believe in the God of Israel, so are we Elijah? I certainly hope we have the slightest bit of his confidence in the Lord, not to mention the wisdom to discern when a show of power like this would change hearts.
But how many of you think of yourself as one of the 450 prophets of Baal? I didn't. At least not the first time through. But then I got to thinking: the prophets of Baal must have thought they had everything going for them here: They were the larger group, they had a clearly delineated and dramatic ritual of worship, and the famine devastating Samaria at the time made the old ways of following the LORD unpopular.
How many of us hope for a showy display of God's power in our lives, "hopping around the altar," trying to conjure up a profound experience on our own terms? I do. It doesn't look silly when you're doing it, only when you step outside of yourself and observe the altar, the sacrifice of the Lord from a more objective point of view.
How many of us hurt ourselves, literally or figuratively, hoping that the pain will bring meaning to our fruitless efforts, or at the very least the compassion of those around us? I do.
How many of us treat alcohol as "our custom," hoping that an altered perception of reality can bring about a spiritual peace, even on a subconscious level? I think sometimes do.
All of these things point to an attempt to create our own reality. So often we confuse what we experience with our five senses as reality, and therefore we tacitly believe that the greatest sensation must have the greatest meaning. But that's not true at all, is it
In Elijah's story, God, in His goodness, makes a dramatic display to overcome the imperfect perception of reality of the children of Israel. But where was God when Moses sought him on the mountain? In the quiet whisper. Where was the King of All Creation, the God Who Crushes Wars, when he deigned to become man? In a manger, hidden from the greater public for 30 years.
Once, in adoration during our campus ministry training for SPO, I was trying to write my testimony. I wanted something concise, something powerful, something irrefutable! Many people have encountered the Lord this way and it is magnificent! But that isn't my story. My story, my reality, my living, breathing relationship with my savior is one of quiet invitations and exhortations, close conversations with friends I deeply trust, and subtle calls to step outside of my comfort zone. Does this story make my experience any less real? I'll answer that with another question: Do you believe the bread and wine on the altar become Jesus Christ entirely?
Our God is the creator of Reality. I pray that we can hand over our notions, our senses, our cynicism, and receive the gift of a faith that lets God be the author of our existence. He writes much better stories than we ever can.
Praised be Jesus Christ, who is truly present in our world today, even when we cannot sense him.