Be honest! How true do you think the story of Elijah beating the Prophets of Baal in getting the BBQ going is? Did Elijah really set a load of wet wood on fire without match? Was it some form of spontaneous combustion or a lightening strike? Could it have indeed been the divine spark? Or with all this dancing around by the prophets of Baal, was it a comic story, there to mock the pagans. Is it a sort of Monty Python ‘dead parrot’ sketch to show that minor deities were never alive?
Well, all these explanations are possible yet not that important. What is important was why it was recorded in the first place and what effect it had. Since it seems that Elijah and his bonfire is set out to warn against not so much about worshipping other gods exclusively but to stop the worship of a panoply of gods. God then is portrayed as the ultimate being without either equal or lesser divine supporters.
Now this idea of a singular ultimate being was hugely novel to the primitive peoples in history who saw the divine world populated by a plethora of gods. God as God alone initially arose in the theological understanding of tribes of Israel. So much so, it defined their religion and conferred on them the status of a chosen people. Or put another way, if the Israelites had fallen into syncretistic habits of holding a pantheon of deities as holy then they would no longer be – Israelites. Doubtless then they would have faded from history. Therefore it was the result of their choice that day – that choice to again proclaim that The Lord is God – that allowed their survival as the people of faith.
Well, it would appear on a first look that multi-god worship is not a problem in hype- sophisticated Britain today. After all, Broughty isn’t littered with temples to Apollo, Jupiter or even Baal. Yet it has its other temples. Places where things are revered rather than God. Dare, in the same breath, I mention shopping malls, car showrooms, sports sites, work locations and even new housing estates; loci where hearts and minds are captured by desire and ambition. Objects that are points of destination rather than mere tools for a better way of living. In essence, jealously guarded achievements that weave their stories into ours and demand choices of us for their possession.
So what is our Elijah-like story that can compete? What is the tale we tell as Christians? How do we make those worshippers of lesser gods proclaim with us the Lord – he is God. Well that enlightening story is less told from our protestations than from our actions. For while the prophets of Baal danced around their pyre with increasing frenzy, all Elijah did was feed the widow humbly and revive the son caringly.
And something like this came to my mind during a lunch break at the General Assembly. Maybe it was both the warmth of the day and the length of the week. But either way I gradually realised that my fellow commissioners seemed no more companionable, no more hospitable nor better mannered that the people walking by on the Royal Mile; indeed in some cases considerably less so. Therefore this community of committed Christians – despite much wordy protestations of fellowship in the hall – were no better or even worse than those without the gospel in their hearts. And that realisation left me dispirited.
May we then in our smaller and possibly less august body – here in St Luke’s – choose to do better. Let us commit ourselves to act always – one to another – with humility, valuing and concern. Let us like Elijah enflame our neighbours’ damped sense of community by our humble lives. Let our compassionate spark reflect the divine fire that will draw attention away from the god of self. Or as I saw on Facebook this week a blessing from William Channing; may your life preach more than your lips.
There was once an old missionary home from foreign parts on furlough in London. He was invited to a party at which many of the great and good were present. Maybe not surprising then he felt a bit like a fish out of water. Not least when each was required to say or do something to amuse the other guests. A singer of note, sang. A pianist played a show-time hit. A famous actor recited a piece from a popular play that included the Lord’s Prayer. Then it was holy gentleman’s turn. He protested he knew nothing or could perform anything. But they would not take no for answer. So he said the only words he could remember were the Lord’s Prayer and that had already been given. The company nevertheless accepted a repeat with a good grace and he started to speak. At the end, there was silence. Then the actor stepped forward and said I knew Christ’s words but our missionary friend clearly knew the author.
May we then this day make choices that shout to the rafters – the Lord is God – the Lord is my God. May our actions tell a story to set the hearts afire of all who are distracted by unworthy things. May the fibres of our life’s being say clearly we do know our true author and creator, our true mentor and friend, in truth our very true guiding light and ‘sole’ mate.