We’ve talked several times here lately about our reliance on our control of things. We like to be the ones in charge and as we’ve seen through some Old Testament stories of the last couple of months, God’s plan works a little bit better than what we mortals can dream up. God’s plan works better if and when we trust what God is up to rather than relying on what we’re up to. Elijah brings us another example of how trusting God can have pretty amazing results.
Last week we talked about King David and today’s story takes place about 100 years after him. Things went along okay for a while but now the kingdom of Israel has divided in two, the northern and the southern kingdoms. In today’s political climate we could learn a couple of things from kingdoms who learn the hard way how bad an idea division rather than cooperation really is in the long term. But today’s text has a more profound kind of idea to it so we’ll have to save talking about politics and society for another time. Like the second Sunday of nevermind.
Today’s idea is an idea of reformation for people of faith before we even thought about reformation in today’s terms. Today we recognize the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther starting off the protestant reformation but the need for people of faith to get their act together far predates Martin Luther and continues to this day.
What happened is this. The people of the then kingdom of Israel don’t get along so they divide into the norther and southern kingdoms, leaving both smaller and weaker. That’s generally how division works. Elijah’s story takes place in the norther kingdom under King Ahab. King Ahab is an extremely successful king and an extremely wicked ruler. King Ahab’s success and his willingness to be wicked are probably related items. And he is married to Jezebel, who hails from Sidon where today’s story is taking place. King Ahab and Jezebel decide together to institute their own religious practices, putting God and Ba’al and other deities and false gods in the same kind of boat. It’s that whole worshipping the golden calf and false idol thing. We seem to do that over and over again.
Anyways, it’s kind of a mess. King Ahab, Queen Jezebel and all the peoples are doing all the crazy stuff and getting way sidetracked with their faith and with their lives. And when faith and lives are sidetracked things will not be well.
Enter Elijah. Elijah is a prophet and a prophet’s job is not to predict the future but to point out when people have left the faithful path and are not acting as if God is God. Sometimes part of that is letting them know the inevitable outcome of not following God’s way of doing things so it can seem like they’re predicting the future but really what they’re doing is just calling a thing what it is. Most of us know from personal experience that not following God’s way of doing things doesn’t turn out all THAT well. And if we haven’t yet learned our lesson the hard way we’ve observed it in others.
So Elijah gets sent to Sidon to start getting things straightened out. Reformed, one might say. He doesn’t exactly WANT to go but he does. He’s worried a bit about what he’ll eat but God assures him all will be well, just do what I say and head that direction. Elijah does and sure enough, he gets fed. By ravens to start with. Maybe this is a projection from reading Edgar Allan Poe’s work, The Raven but I’m not digging the idea of ravens bringing me meat. It has a certain buzzard and road kill feel to it, doesn’t it? Basically, Elijah ends up trusting in God on his way to reform what was going on in Sidon, God makes certain Elijah has what he needs to make it happen.
This is not unlike Martin Luther’s approach to reforming what was going on. The Church, that is to say capital C church meaning the church that historically all of us come from, had some problems. Our church forbears had gotten some things wrong. Four hundred ninety nine years ago Luther got wound up, wrote out a list of 95 theses of what he thought were the worst things the capital C church was up to and needed to change, and then nailed them to the church door.
Let’s do this. Let’s think like Luther for a minute and write out on the sticky notes things you believe the church needs to reform today. That’s on a big C church level of change I mean, not the color of the carpet here. Luther did not concern himself with not the color of carpet or the songs in worship in his 95 theses but he concerned himself with the things that threatened the big C church with straying from a true witness to Christ and him crucified. The big things. The important things.
I don’t think we need to go through all 95 theses this morning but if you’re interested there’s all kinds of online links or you can read the list attached to the bookcase in my office. Suffice to say Luther was concerned in large part that the capital C church was doing things focused on humans and not God. Teaching people that people could do things to intervene with God rather than being saved by ___________ through our _____________.
We once again need to be concerned about the capital C Church.
The statistics vary a bit but today something like 50% of people in the US don’t have a church home and over 3,000 churches close their doors every year. What does the church of today need to reform so that the true church of Christ continues to bring hope to all the people? Hold on to that sticky note.
Not that we’re going to do anything to save it but because it’s our trust in God will save it. Our trust in God and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Now, with that thought in mind, what are you personally willing to do to make that happen? This is a rhetorical question so you don’t have to write it down but it is something to think about. It’s important to think about because in the Lutheran world we generally very much like the idea of Reformation Sunday. We don’t so much generally like actually reforming. And that is an important distinction because Christ will transform our lives if we, like Elijah, will trust God enough to let God take the lead.
As our lives are transformed, so will the capital C church be reformed as will small c Spirit of Hope Lutheran Church. Not so that Spirit of Hope can exist as an institution. Not so that the ELCA can exist as an institution. Not so any capital C church exists as an institution.
But so that the body of Christ exists as the way people know Christ. Not from our buildings and celebrations but through the shoes on feet that need them. Through feeding homeless people on Friday nights. Through delivering meals to people on Sundays. In all the ways we serve our community. That’s how Christ’s love is brought to life. That’s how we are reformed and transformed.