The kingdom of Israel has divided into to two kingdoms and the Ahab mentioned in today’s narrative is the king of the northern kingdom. As the king one of his jobs is to keep people on the straight and narrow with obeying the covenantal laws that came down to Moses, like the Ten Commandments. That’s what kings do, or at least are supposed to do.
Elijah is a prophet. One of the prophet’s jobs is to keep kings accountable for doing what they’re supposed to do.
I think that setup is what they call dramatic tension.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/322747-divided-loyalties.mp3]
The problem that Elijah is addressing today is the divided loyalty of the people. Whether they be in the northern kingdom or the southern kingdom they are still people of God. Their politics are split but they are still supposed to worship the one, true God.
But they’re not. They’re all over the board. They’re getting into all kinds of crazy stuff that they’re plugging extra stuff into what they believe, most prominently one of the local gods known as Ba’al. Ba’al worship can take all kinds of forms and get into all kinds of stuff but the important thing to remember is the people in today’s story were not worshipping God solely and alone.
Remember THAT commandment? Like the very first commandment? You shall worship no other Gods? That commandment. They were violating that commandment and it was causing all kinds of mess in their lives. Split loyalties will do that to a person.
The people are called to worship which they did half-heartedly, for one thing. It’s pretty seemingly simple, this going to worship thing. Show up. Pay attention. Stay awake. That sort of stuff. But don’t our loyalties get split on occasion? Something else comes up so we don’t come to worship? And even when we do, don’t we all struggle with being distracted here and there? I’ve got all this and that going on and we find ourselves in worship wondering, “Oh wait, what did the preacher say?” We’ve all been there, this preacher included.
Where did our loyalties get split?
The people are called to choose between the God of Israel and Ba’al. They wait to make their decision, depending on the outcome of what Elijah is doing. And in many ways that seems like the wise course of action. Why choose early and potentially make the wrong decision. This is where wisdom got them into trouble. Waiting may have been the wise course of action but not so much a faithful course of action.
Where did their loyalties get split?
The trouble is not that the other deities exist and should be squashed, the trouble is not being steadfastly faithful to the one true God. It is a question of priorities. Should I spend my time worrying about what people of other faiths are doing and believing whatever about their god or is my faith better served by paying attention to my own loyalty to MY God?
If other religions are a threat, why is that? What makes other religions a threat? What does it say about our God or about our faith if we’re worried about what people of other faiths are doing? I’m not suggesting we be stick our heads in the sand kind of people but I am suggesting that we take a careful look at where we spend our time and energy.
Far better that we do what Elijah is doing in today’s story. Elijah’s focus isn’t so much on calling out the prophets of Ba’al, though he does somewhat as he makes fun of them a practice I don’t recommend. His purpose is to get the people of God, a people who are distracted from their faith, focused once again on God and not so much on the things that distract them. He does it pretty impressively with all that business of soaking down the altar with water and then calling on God to ignite it.
We are far better off if we call attention to the God we follow and serve by serving God in impressive rather than being against something. We are far better off if we call attention to the God who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ and the God in Jesus where we see and experience the promise of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life.
It is unlikely we’ll do something as impressive as Elijah. I won’t discount the possibility that one of us will light up a pile of wet wood but it has been a while since people called attention to God by bringing down fire from heaven to light piles of wood soaked in water.
I do know this. We definitely get people’s attention in the way we Bring Christ’s Love to Life. If there is any question about that please ponder Kicks for Kids and these piles of shoes headed out to schools this week. This year set another record with 516 pairs of shoes going out. This year brought donations from Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and all over Nebraska, and that’s just the ones I know about. This year a relatively small community of faith came together and brought Christ’s love to life in a way that calls attention to an amazing and loving God.
That’s what happens when loyalties are not divided.