Today we join the prophet Elijah as he brings some insight into what it means to follow God. Which is kind of what a prophet does. Prophets come to the people and tell them God’s truth and frequently, God’s uncomfortable truth. It’s frequently an uncomfortable truth because prophets come to people who have stepped off God’s path for whatever reason and need some guidance back to doing things God’s way.
Certainly it was an uncomfortable truth for the people to hear. The people were apparently confused and impatient waiting on God to do something in their lives. What they were waiting for is a list as varied as there are people but they felt like they were missing something. So they went after the Canaanite god Baal. The Canaanites were in the area when the Israelites returned from slavery in Egypt and so were well known to the Israelite people as was their God Baal. When the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac didn’t fulfill their desires they turned from God to Baal. The sad truth that they would find out was that Baal was never going to fulfill their desires. Ever. Baal could not provide for them or be their true God.
So there had to be a contest. A contest between Baal and God. It would be easy to treat this as an essay into whose God is the better god. I don’t know how well it translates into Hebrew but it would be easy to picture the two sides jeering each other, “My God can beat up your god!” as if they were 12 year olds forever. I think that kind of misses the point of what’s going on. You can picture it easily enough but what is the author of 1 Kings trying to tell us?
In the first place, this story reminds us that we too chase after false Gods. If you don’t believe me look at your debit card statement and your calendar. We’ve talked about this before but where you spend your time and money is frequently a pretty good indicator of where your heart and mind may be focused. I don’t mean that in a ‘give all your money to Spirit of Hope to prove you love God’ kind of way. Please don’t do that. You have bills to pay and food to buy. It’s just a general observation that applies to most of us and bear checking in on occasionally.
And by checking in I mean taking an actual hard look at statements and calendars. It is far too easy to delude ourselves into believing we don’t spend that much on tools or fabric. It is far too easy to delude ourselves that we don’t spend that much time watching Facebook, Netflix or reality TV. To capture the uncomfortable truth we have to look at the real data, not relying on what we convince ourselves is true.
As we chase the false gods we just identified while waiting impatiently on God to do what we are expecting we can learn something about this from the saints who have gone before us. All Saints Sunday is certainly a good time to remember the saints who have gone before us but to also remember what we learned about faith from them. In the 13 years as a vicar then pastor there have been a number of times I’ve held the hand of someone as they breathed their last breath on earth and intoned the words of the commendation of the dying, “Into your hands O merciful Savior I commend your servant __________. Acknowledge, I humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him or her int the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and int the glorious company of saints in light.” In those words of commendation I was reassured by THEIR faith in a risen Christ because many had told me they had no worries and no fear about what comes next. THEIR faith in a risen Christ, and no false gods, assured them of their place alongside Christ.
That’s a little bit about what All Saints is about. Certainly, we miss the saints who have joined the Church Triumphant, that is to say the saints who have died from this life and have joined the church that has triumphed over sin and death. But in their joining the church triumphant we are assured once again that Christ has indeed won the victory over death. In their faith we are assured once again that Christ has indeed won the victory over death. No false God can ever accomplish that!