Elijah Chronicles - Chapter Two: "Fire Fall"
This week we are continuing our sermon series entitled, The Elijah Chronicles, a re-imagining of the story of Elijah, set in a post-apocalyptic future. If you missed out on the first chapter, you can go back and read it HERE. Or you can watch the whole service on our Livestream recording HERE.
The Resistance continues, brothers and sisters... But this week we aren't going to just sit idly by and wait---this week we are going to strike a blow against tyranny and idolatry! The story that we are going to be exploring in this second installment of our series centers on an epic battle between Elijah and the false prophets of the ancient god Baal, a battle that would ultimately begin to turn the tide against the evil king Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel... The people of God had forgotten who they were. Elijah helped them to remember. And he kicked some serious... you know... in the process.
More on that in a moment.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you did something wrong, I mean really wrong? And then you thought for a moment that you might have gotten away without having to pay the penalty for said wrongness? And you prayed to God, and told God that you would never do such a thing again, and that if God could just see his way clear to never let anyone find out about it that mattered... you would be forever grateful?
Well, this kind of thing has happened to me, and probably on more than one occasion. But the one I remember most clearly was when I was twelve years old and I thought it would be a really good idea to invite my buddy into the house when my parents weren't home so I could show him my dad's gun---the one that he kept in the closet, presumably where I wouldn't find it.
So me and this buddy are looking at the gun and I start to feel pretty guilty about the whole thing. I asked him to give me the gun back so that I could put it on the shelf where my dad would be none the wiser. It slipped. The gun slipped and in a slow motion moment, my buddy and I watched as it fell to the floor right on the hamme with the barrel pointing upward. There was a huge bang as the gun went off, and our ears were ringing something fierce.
We looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was smoke all in the house, but I opened windows and fanned it away. I put the gun back on the shelf and we ran out of the house like we were being followed. My friend and I swore one another to secrecy. We figured that it had misfired or something, and tried our best to forget about it.
Weeks went by. I thought I had---dodged a bullet (Ha). I prayed harder than I had in my whole life that God would look the other way. I promised all manner of things to God if he would just keep me from getting in trouble.
My dad woke up one morning and gazed up at the ceiling above his bed. He noticed a small hole in the ceiling. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was a bullet hole, and a quick look at his gun revealed where the bullet hole came from. He asked me later that morning if I knew anything about any of it, knowing full well that the gun hadn't lept from the close on it's own and fired off a round in the ceiling above where he slept.
Seriously, if the thing had put a hole in any number of other places, and my dad wouldn't have seen it. My prayers went unaswered, my bargains with God were fruitless. I was fairly certain at that point that God wanted me to suffer in life, or didn't care all that much about what happened to me.
And I missed some prety serious facts. Like I was alive. The bullet had passed between my buddy and I, not touching either of us. None of that mattered in that moment because I felt like God and I were on the outs.
So what happens when we pray real hard and nothing happens? Or, like in my case, something happens, but then it turns out to be worse that you envisioned it? We've all heard that old chestnut spoken by dads, rotten bosses, hardcore teachers and grouch coaches since time immemorial, "It's my way or the highway." But how do we know for sure that God's way---the way that he seems to want us to travel is better than the Highway?
I have to tell you that in that moment when my dad stood in front of me and asked me if I knew how the heck a bullet hole got put in the ceiling---I wondered if God's way was any good at all. The Highway was looking pretty good right then. In fact my image of the Highway right that second was of me in a convertible rag top Mustang on a long stretch of road with the wind whipping in my hair as I drove as fast as I could away from my house.
But here's where it gets real. I have to admit that this was one of the first moments in my life where I found myself actually wondering if God really existed. Sure, everything had been my fault. But I had prayed. And nothing happened. I wondered if this kind of thing was true in other aspects of life---that God was silent in response to our hardcore, heartfelt prayers. And if he was silent then, I found myself wondering, then might God also be silent in a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Which led me to wish for some kind proof that God was really there---wherever "there" is.
Listen, if we are all being honest. We've been there.
What if... and this might be a stretch... What if an entire culture was struggling with this kind of thing? What if people in this culture were walking around hoping, wishing for a sign that God gave a fig about them and their issues...
Not much of a stretch to imagine this, is it? It's us. It may very well have been the culture of Elijah's day, too. That's because people don't change a whole lot from one century to another. Everyone is searching for something to believe, aren't they? So many people speak vaguely of their belief in God, as a Higher Power, the Universe and other nebulous and non-specific terms. No one seems to want to land on one particular belief or another. "What's true for you," they might say, "doesn't have to be true for me." And all of this leads to strife because no one seems to have a corner on the market when it comes to Truth.
And we could all use a sign, right? Wouldn't it be wonderful if God just appeared and told us all to settle down? To tell the conservatives to stop being so uptight and sure of themselves? To tell the liberals that they really aren't as compassionate and just as they imagine? To finally show us all what's what?
Maybe to have some fire fall from heaven or something.
What if I told you that the proof, the fire was closer than you think?
I am going to tell you something that will blow your mind. Maybe not right this second, but in a bit. I just want you to know it right now, hold on to it, remember it, because it's one of the truest things that anyone will ever say to you: You are on fire and you don't even know it.
Let's read 1 Kings 18:16-40, which is easily one of the coolest passages of Scripture in the whole Old Testament.
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
Ahab thought he was being all snarky and cool right then, but Elijah turns things around on him...
18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
The actual translation here is "how long will you keep hopping between two crevices?" The image here is of the people jumping back and forth between rocks. They couldn't decide whether to worship God fully or Baal. There were hedging their bets at this point.
But the people said nothing.
All the dude wanted was for one person to say "Amen!" He must have felt like he was preaching to Presbyterians.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Finally! An amen... sort of.
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
The prophets are trying to wake Baal from the dead essentially. He would supposedly die in the winter and be raised in the Spring... only he hadn't been raised because God wasn't letting it rain.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Famously, there is a phrase that Elijah mentions here---"busy" that could also be translated "he is away having a bowel movement." Only it doesn't say it that nicely.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
Elijah was about to preach, but he needed some props to do it. Come on now! I didn't come up with the idea of dramatic symbolism in a sermon! There are twelve stones for twelve tribes, water symbolizing the Red Sea, wood, sacrifices---Elijah is reminding the people of God's history with them, taking them from the land of Egypt and slavery, always being with them.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
The epic nature of this struggle was larger than the moment, larger than the battle against the false prophets, against and evil king and queen. This was a battle between God and Baal and God kicked some idol hiney.
40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
They literally took them right down the side of the mountain to the creek that runs at it's base and executed all 450 prophets of Baal.
This was the equivalent---if you are a Star Wars fan---of the Rebels shutting the generator that kept the Empire's force field up in the Return of the Jedi. The barrier fell down, and the Resistance started to believe.
But before this whole thing started, the people were in a bad way. The may have been longing for things to be different, but they had gotten tired of waiting on a sign from God. They moved on, or at the very least decided not to choose one deity over another. By refusing to choose, they made a choice. This is where it is permissible to play Rush's "Free Will" at high volumes. Go ahead. I'll wait.
What Elijah did, however, was confront them with what they already knew... and had forgotten. There were signs of God all around them, and they didn't... even... know it.
Maybe you have been hoping for some evidence to show that a life with God is the kind of life you should lead. Maybe you have been wondering if it's all worth it? You've been trying to do right, but there's no sign that God is paying attention. You say to yourself, "The Old Testament is full of stories like that. It would have been so easy for them to believe with fire falling, smoke rising and all manner of stuff going on to freak them out and drive them to the straight and narrow. But in real life none of those kinds of thing ever happen. I wish fire would fall from heaven!!"
Remember what I said earlier... You are on fire and you don't even know it. That fire from heaven, that sign that you have been longing for is closer... than you could possibly imagine.
In Geneva Switzerland is a huge building that contains the largest atomic particle collider in the world. The collider works round the clock smashing atomic stuff together in order to see what kind of particles can be detected from their destruction. The collider is the epicenter of the search for the very building blocks of life, the unseen, unknown, unfathomable atomic pieces of whatever that will help us understand the universe.
And what the scientists who gather in Geneva are hoping to learn more about is a particle called the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson has also been called "The God Particle," because it is the very thing that seems to be holding all of everything together. Including you, and me. Bosons are subatomic particles that help slow other particles from natural super speed and let them join up up with other particles so they can stick together.
Without this particle even if there was a Big Bang, some scientists say, the universe would not have been able to form without them.
Scientists say that trying to learn about the Higgs Boson is like trying to hear a tiny, delicate whisper over the massive thundering din of a NASCAR race.
It still lies in the realm of impossibility.
One scientist that has worked on this project for years was quoted as saying, "There must be some sort of underlying structure that we don't understand." They know that it must be there because without it life wouldn't exist. Yet it remains so unknowable and unpredictable.
If by now you are not excited a little bit about the wonders of science... I don't know what to do for you.... And you keep waiting for fire from heaven. When it's all around you... in you... and through you...
You think all hope is lost? You're on fire and you don't even know it.
You feel like your prayers aren't being answered? You're on fire and you don't even know it.
You feel as though God isn't there, or doesn't care? You're on fire and you don't even know it.
What would it look like if you fully embraced this? You wouldn't walk around wondering if God was there any longer, would you? You would know the truth about yourself, just like the people who were gathered on that Mountain with Elijah came to know. God doesn't have to prove himself to anyone... but he does. And just because we are too sophisticated to understand the earthy, ancient symbolism of fire from heaven, doesn't mean that God can't show his grace and glory in other ways that are even more miraculous and mind-blowing.
May you know what it means to have sure and certain hope that God will never leave or forsake you. May you see his presence all around you. May you be reminded of who you are, and what God has done to redeem you through the gift of his Son Jesus Christ, who became one of us to save all of us. May you finally, once and for all realize with joy that you... are... on... fire...