Monday, May 30, 2016

When Do We Stop Doing What We're Doing? 1 Kings 18:30-39

Rev. George Miller
May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:30-39

Today’s reading is like a World Wide Wrestling Match taken to the highest level.

In one corner, we have King Ahab and his god Baal; in the other corner we have the prophet Elijah and his god, Yahweh.

In King Ahab’s corner we have 450 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of Asherah, and all the citizens of the northern kingdom.

In Elijah’s corner, we have…no one (wah wahhhhh).

It’s a battle to see whose God is bigger. Elijah makes a bet- each one will dismember a bull, place it on wood, call upon their god and see which god is the better Grill Master.

Ding, ding! King Ahab’s guys go first. They kill a bull, put it on wood, call out to Baal, and nothing happens.

They limp around the altar, calling upon Ball for hours. Morning turns into afternoon. They call, they cry, they cut themselves.

Midday comes along and there’s nothing, simply silence. No voice, no fire, nada.

It’s Elijah’s turn. “Gather around” he tells the audience. “Look what God can do!”

Slowly, meticulously, he fixes the altar. He gathers 12 stones. He makes a trench. He puts the wood in an orderly pile. He cuts the bull into uniform chops.

Then to up the ante he has them pour 4 jars of water over everything, not once, not twice, but three times, so it’s all good-n-wet.

Then Elijah calls out “O Yahweh, God of our ancestors, answer me so they know you are God, I am your prophet and they can give their hearts back to you.”

Boom! Crash!! Bang!!! Sizzle!!!!

A lightning bolt hits the altar and everything, every single thing, from the stones, to the dust, to the water is burnt to a crisp.

Yahweh, the God of Israel, has won the belt!

And now that God has won, the people fall on their faces, make an announcement of faith, and soon after, the rains begin to fall…

Now on Tuesday, our Lectionary Bible Study class talked about the faith of the people. Wednesday, in the K.I.T., I talked about the horrifying notion that in verse 40 Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Baal.

Today we are going to talk about King Ahab. He’s such an interesting fellow.

King Ahab is one of those biblical beings who just never seems to get it right. He has great power, yet makes huge mistakes.

He’s given ample opportunities, but makes poor decisions. He’s given numerous choices, but always seems to pick the wrong one.

So let’s talk a bit about Ahab.

Ahab was the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He ruled a nation that truly was rooted in the Word of God.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were their ancestors. God led them into the Promised Land, giving them the Commandments, and the simplest of directives- “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

They had King David, the greatest king who ever lived. They had Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived.

But then everything went downhill: the nation split, the kingdoms were divided, and basically every king who followed was a great big mess-up.

Ahab was perhaps the biggest one.

For starters, he marries a woman named Jezebel and begins to worship Baal.

Then the prophet Elijah tells him that because of his actions God will not allow any dew or rain to fall.

For three years a drought hits, and instead of taking ownership for his actions, King Ahab searches high and low for Elijah, and allows his wife to kill the Lord’s prophets.

Then when King Ahab and Elijah cross paths this Battle of the Gods takes place, and although Yahweh clearly wins, it seems like King Ahab has not changed his ways.

Apparently for King Ahab, a miracle of majestic proportions is not enough.

Later on, the king engages in a war with the nation of Aram. But not to worry. God sends a prophet, not once, but twice to assure Ahab that all be will OK.

“Don’t worry,” the first prophet tells Ahab, “the Lord will take care of your enemies and you will know the Lord is your God.”

Later, the second prophet says “The Lord will give you victory over your enemies, and you will know the Lord is your God. But just do one teeny, tiny thing- when you capture the enemy king, don’t let him go.”

But what happens. The enemy king sweet talks his way out of captivity. “Hey,” he says to Ahab, “If you let me go I’ll give you back all the land my father took from your father.

“And if you like, you can use the land to put up a strip mall, a Dollar Tree, a Sam’s Club, and a Starbucks.

Then you can go shopping whenever you want and buy your wife a diamond necklace, you can get yourself the latest I-Phone, and one of those double-mocha grande frappacinos with whipped cream and caramel drizzle.”

King Ahab’s response is “OK.”

Apparently, the fact that God just fought for him and won was not enough.

Finally, there is a day in which Ahab is heading home after a long day of doing whatever a bad king does, and he sees right next to his a house a beautiful vineyard.

“This is nice,” he says, “But it would be so much nicer if it was turned into a vegetable garden and if it was all mine.

Then I can grow kale and collards and beets and avocados so I can make my own shakes and guacamole.”

So Ahab tried to convince the owner to part with his property, and when the owner doesn’t, Ahab and his wife concoct a plot in which the man is falsely accused of bad-mouthing God and he is stoned to death.

This becomes the last straw for God. Elijah is called to give Ahab this message:

“When you die, dogs are going to lick up your blood. Every male in your household will meet disaster. Stray mutts will eat your wife, and your relatives who die out in the country will be pecked apart by birds.”

Pleasant, right?

But apparently the idea of him and his wife becoming Kibbles-n-Bits at the Humane Society is just what it takes for King Ahab to finally open his heart.

He rips his clothes, he puts on a sackcloth, he fasts, and he goes around humbled and acting dejected.

Finally, there is a breakthrough.

A 3 years drought did not do it. Fire from a sky did not do it. Rain from the heavens did not do it. Victory in battle did not do it.

The thought of he and his family being consumed by dogs and birds did it.

God is touched by Ahab’s actions. God acknowledges the change, and delays the disaster that’s set to befall the king.

Ahab, Ahab, Ahab.

His story would be funnier if it wasn’t so tragic; his story would be less tragic if it wasn’t so true.

Ahab’s narrative is such an interesting study in human nature when it comes to faith and when it comes to behavior.

We can look at the life of King Ahab and wonder “What point do we stop doing what we’re doing?” and “What point do we stop not doing what we’re not doing?”

For example, what if instead of blaming Elijah for the drought, Ahab looked at his own actions and how worshipping Baal was bringing misery upon the people and the land?

Was Ahab really that stubborn and thick headed that he allowed everyone and everything around him to suffer for three years?

What if instead of spending all that energy to hunt Elijah down, King Ahab turned back to God and said “I am so sorry for my mistakes. Please forgive me and stop punishing the people for my transgressions.”?

When God fought for Ahab, giving his enemies to him and delivering him from evil, Ahab should have made a better effort to do thing right.

A military victory would have been the perfect time to bring peace upon the land and to re-embrace the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord.

Not cave in to consumerism and kill someone for a garden full of greens.

It shouldn’t have taken the fear of Fido feasting on his flesh for Ahab to turn back to God.

But you know what? I don’t think any of us have the right to judge King Ahab, because in many ways his story is our story.

How often?

How often do we need a mind-blowing miracle in order for us to believe God is real?

How often do we need to hear a prophetic word being spoken in order for us to realize we’ve brought a drought into our lives?

How often do we need to be reminded of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all they’ve been through in order for us to believe?

How often do we have to be reminded that:
-once we were slaves in Egypt?
-God came to us in a manger?
-Jesus died upon and a cross and
-Christ was raised by God on the 3rd day?

How often do we have to be reminded of these things so that we believe, and by believing, we are empowered to act?

To be brave? To do what’s right? To confront unfairness?

To wonder if we’re possibly the cause of the dry spell?

To not be fooled and lured in by false idols, or things, or having the easiest access to the items we don’t need, but want?

How many of us here today are just one variation of King Ahab?

To many degrees, we all are. I am.

We’ve experienced fiery events. We’ve experienced an outpouring of blessings.

We’ve been given second, third, fourth chances to infinity.

We’ve received words of warning. We’ve received grace, and yet…

…yet we still act like we haven’t experienced a dang thing.

We fail to fully trust in God. We are quick to forget the wondrous things we’ve seen. We allow others to lead us down false paths. We punish those who speak the truth.

We lie, we trick, we inflict harm, we place the blame on others.

We turn from God again and again and again and again, no matter how many times God turns to us and says “I’m here, I’m here. I AM here.”

King Ahab was as far from imperfect as one can be, and we are not that far from him.

Fortunately, I believe that our God is patient. I believe that despite what some scriptures say, our God is kind.

Fortunately, I know that as human beings blessed with the gift of free will, we will never get things 100% right.

Fortunately because of Jesus I know that our God is full of grace and mercy, and we are given ample opportunities to learn, to grow from our mistakes and to be better versions of ourselves.

Fortunately, because of the Resurrection, I believe we have all of eternity, and beyond to do that learning, that growing, the evolving.

Sometimes we need fire from the sky to be woken up. Sometimes we need God to win our battles so we can do better than we are.

Sometimes we need to hear the harsh truth to realize that our actions do affect others.

It can start by remembering and realizing that there is more to the world than just us.

That there is the great Mystery and we are all part of the Holy Narrative.

Amen and amen.

No comments: