Elijah v Baal Score 1-0!

flames 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Marketing Strategy

Luke 10.1-9

Acts 3.1-10

Not so long ago Black & Decker were preparing for a large promotional campaign. And to get the angle just right for their advertising, they sent out market researchers to find what ‘Joe soap’ actually wanted. They returned with the discouraging news that people didn’t want drills they wanted holes. In other words, they weren’t interested in power tools only what they can do for them.

Now that was not a surprising discovery really. Few of us get on a bus to have a ride in a Van Hool special – we get on to go somewhere. And here is an important point for the church. Because it is often said that those in church don’t want to evangelise others they just what full and vibrant services. On the other hand, those outside Christianity don’t want uninvited missionaries selling them religion on their door-steps. Where then is the answer?

Well let’s have the courage to do a little honest market research. Let’s ask what those out there want from the church in here. Would it be someone telling them how bad they’ve are and how they can be as clean as the driven snow – possibly? Would they want a group of worthies mouthing various platitudes about changing the world – possibly? But what about the offer of healing, what about the offer that their lives could genuinely be better – what about the possibility of throwing aside the meaningless sleep– work – TV – sleep cycle – for a life full to the brim with hope, opportunity and harmony?

Now, I suspect we are cooking with gas! Because sure as eggs are eggs, the crippled beggar wasn’t in the market for a character assignation – he had enough on his plate for that. Neither was he fussed about a dissertation on the woes his economic situation. After all – he isn’t one of the much lauded ‘hard working families’? No what he was desperate for was the healing of his situation and the lifting up from his disability. He wanted real quality of life. And in Peter – he got it. In that disciple sent out by Christ, the cripple found what he wanted to buy. In fact, he got what he needed not what someone else thought he needed. And as a result he understood the true meaning of the kingdom of God.

Yet what about the people in churches? What about us here? How are we going to get what we want? Well, often we are harangued to get ‘out and about’ evangelising – we vaguely chatter also about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – we even whisper in fear and trembling about taking the gospel out to the people. But the problem is we haven’t a clue how to do it. We have no marketing strategy to sell what we find valuable in our faith. We have indeed no real idea what every woman and man wants.

So what is to be done?

Have you heard the story about the elderly woman who lived in a small country town? Well, one day she had car trouble on the way to the supermarket. Her car stalled at a stop sign. She tried everything to get her car started again, but no luck. Suddenly, a man in a van came up behind her and with obvious agitation started honking his horn at her impatiently. She redoubled her efforts to get her car going. She pumped the accelerator, turned the ignition, but still no luck… the man in the pick-up continued to honk his horn constantly and loudly. So very calmly she got out of her car, walked back to the van and motioned for the man to lower his window and then politely she said: “I’ll make a deal with you. If you will start my car for me I’ll be happy to honk your horn for you!”

Now she certainly handled that very difficult situation well. But, more importantly, she handled it by knowing what he and she wanted. He wanted her car out of the way and she wanted to get her car started. And so she sold him their common need – and low and below -they went on their way together in peace.

Now Christ knew what he wanted and that was to bring people into the Kingdom. He knew too what people wanted and that was what all that the kingdom could offer them. So he sent his followers out to find those who needed their message – those who were willing to hear their good news – those who were looking for something more in life. They were then to bring peace beyond all the world’s troubles– they were to bring solutions to all that needed healing and they were to bring fulfilment to life in all its dimensions. The outcome was that not only were doors opened but so was that big one to the Kingdom of God. and so, in a nutshell, they went on the way together.

What then was the kernel of this marketing strategy of Jesus Christ?

It is well illustrated for us in this story.

A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.” An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.” A government official asked if he was paying taxes on the pit. A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.” A charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in a pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!

Well, if today we want to be true evangelists – if want to offer the Kingdom that is near – if want bring healing to life –let us do as Peter did by lifting the beggar– let us do as Christ did in that story by lifting up the lost – let us rediscover the church’s unique selling point – and do likewise.

Amen

HYMN