1 Kings 18:20-39New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Elijah’s Triumph over the Priests of Baal
20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24 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 is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29 As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lordcame, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “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 all these things at your bidding. 37 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.” 38 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 that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
The United Methodist Church is huge. It encompasses many continents, countries, and nations. We are a global church. And because we are a global church, we are diverse. There are people within the United Methodist church from many diverse walks of life with different views, opinions, and scriptural understandings.
And that’s good!
But it also becomes an issue at time. In particularly, it becomes an issue when we talk about complex issues. Evidence of this was on full display during General Conference several weeks ago. One side of the aisle wanted things their way and the other side of the aisle wanted things their way. They argued and bickered and yelled and protested.
In fact, many were calling for the church to split because they saw no way forward with those in the church who disagreed with them.
I’m willing to bet that some of us have thought about how easy it would be to get things done if certain people would leave our connection.
Some of us have sat through meetings where we’ve felt like a few people just “don’t get it” because we disagree with what they have to say and offer.
Some of us have sat in church and listened to sermons and said to ourselves “the preacher just doesn’t get it. The preacher isn’t edgy enough. The preacher isn’t as refrained as they should be.” And that’s good, but we often find people using it as an excuse to leave a church over a sermon instead of having discussion.
And the list goes on and on and on.
Disagreeing with something someone says or does is not bad in itself. Not everything that is said or done by human beings is appropriate or life giving. I happen to love deep theological debates and discussions with others I feel are incorrect.
The issue is in how we approach disagreement. Often, we shut conversations down or walk away from particular people purposefully. We are convinced that our way of understanding and our interpretations of what Jesus taught are the only correct way of understanding. And anything outside of what we believe is flat out unacceptable, beneath us, and not worthy to be a part of our community.
Again, not everything is acceptable, but not everything is unacceptable either.
What we end up doing is making idols out of ourselves. We worship our own ideas, our own understandings of scripture, and our own ways of doing things.
We become like the so called prophets of Baal.
All we say, do, and touch in the name of close minded division forms a depiction of God that is incomplete and flawed. In essence, we create our own Baal.
And we stand these ideas, actions, and divisions up on pedestals to define who is worthy of joining our communities as we sacrifice love for hatred at the altar of self-righteousness.
By doing this, we stand them up in front of God. And when we do that, we start confining God to a small box with sides set by the limits of what we understand.
And when we stand them up in front of God, we find out that we’re wrong. Where the idols we craft often seek division, self-service, and arrogance, God silences with a fire of love that burns with compassion that changes our perceptions, changes just how big we understand God to be, and challenges us to grow in diverse community.
See, the idols we craft do talk. They do show up. We carry them around in the heart of our bodies in the Temple that Christ has claimed as His own. Initially, we don’t notice it. Eventually, we acknowledge we have an idol in our hearts next to Jesus. Then we start making excuses and merging our ways and divisiveness with Jesus until, ultimately, we push Jesus out completely.
But God is not content to leave us with our idols and our broken communities. No, quite the contrary. The grace of God is ever before us and is constantly calling to us.
Like the prophet Elijah, God calls out to us and shouts “How long will YOU waver between two opinions? Do you worship me? Or do you worship yourself?”
And we cling to our understandings of God still. We hold them up in front of God and pat ourselves on the back for shaming our brothers and sisters. And still, God still calls out to us.
And if we truly open ourselves up to what God is trying to challenge within us, the Spirit bursts forth in us and begins the work of replacing our idols with Christ again.
It is indeed a process. Changing our way of thinking, our view of the world, and our views towards those who disagree with us is a long process. But we can never start it if Christ isn’t on the throne of our hearts.
And Christ doesn’t just leave us to figure it out alone. He accompanies us and strengthens us when the process is hard. He helps us to learn to love ourselves the way God loves us in spite of what we have done in our lives with our idols.
And in case we think this is a blind process, Jesus gives us clear guiding principles: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
May we replace our idols with Jesus.
May we worship God instead of worshipping ourselves.
May we become more welcoming, more hospitable, and more accepting of people who are different from our own selves.
May we practice love for all wherever we go.