November 3, 2019
1 Kings 18:17-39
“For All the Saints”
Recently, a family member questioned my faith. He fired off question after question, wanting to know how I could believe in something that I couldn’t see, how I could ignore scientific facts, and how I could manage to reconcile difficult Bible stories.
This isn’t an unusual situation for a pastor to find themselves in. And it’s something that I think a lot of young people experience, seeing as fewer and fewer of us claim faith in Christ. If it wasn’t for some special saints in my life, I might have been among those questioning people of faith. My grandparents took me to Catholic mass, taught me to pray before meals, and introduced me to stories in the Bible. I had a babysitter growing up, a strong Baptist woman, who gave me a Bible, answered my questions about God, and gave me CD’s of Christian music.
These saints took their call to pass on faith seriously. So did the prophet Elijah.
As always, the Israelites are struggling to be faithful to God. They’re easily influenced by the people and customs around them, most recently being introduced to Baal. And the text tells us that they have wavered between two gods, between Yahweh, the Lord, and Baal. They seem to hope that if they worship both, perhaps one of the gods will bless them; even better, maybe both will.
But Elijah insists that indecision is not neutral ground. It is not safe nor is it acceptable to worship both of them or none of them; this is what’s caused the situation they find themselves in.
I admit that I struggle with Elijah’s method of reminding the Israelites who they should be worshipping, pitting two gods against one another. And if you continue reading beyond verse 39, you’ll learn that Elijah has all of the prophets of Baal killed.
Yet, the care he takes to help the Israelites remember their God and reclaim their faith is noteworthy. He calls the people near to him and prepares the altar carefully; Elijah reminds them of their ancestors and the saints who preceded them, placing twelve stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. And he prays in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, again reminding them of where they’ve come from. Elijah’s prayer is not that God would ignite the fire to prove God’s existence and win this bet; instead, his prayer is that the people will remember their God who has kept promises throughout previous generations, that they will believe again, and that they will turn from Baal or the way of indifference and instead turn back towards God with all that they have.
Elijah seems to be saying to the Israelites: “There is a god who is faithful. Who listens to you. Who answers you. There is a god who wants to be in relationship with you and only you. And it’s not Baal.” When the fire comes down and the sacrifice is burned, the people cheer as they proclaim that the Lord is God.
I wonder who you relate to in this Scripture passage.
Are you Israel, wandering through life not sure what to believe or what to worship? Are you physically and spiritually thirsty, feeling like God has forgotten and abandoned you? Are you willing to pledge your allegiance to whatever brings you satisfaction?
Are you Ahab, prone to follow the crowd, easily influenced?
Are you a prophet of Baal, going to great lengths to get God’s attention, believing that you must yell and scream and cut yourself so that God will do something for you?
Or are you Elijah, desperate to pass on the faith to the next generation, wondering why churches aren’t full of people? Are you trying to prove to others that God is real, that God listens and cares and pays attention?
This is where the saints become so important for us. The faith we proclaim has been around for thousands of years. It has stood the test of time and has seen so many believers through both good and bad experiences. This faith has tugged on those who waver, who struggle to commit to God. The faith of the saints has turned from others gods, from other things which demanded human attention. This faith has belonged to many before us, some we have never known and some we have loved deeply. These saints, from Matthew and Mark to our grandparents and babysitters, have believed and have struggled and have kept the faith in order to pass it on to us.
Elijah stands before the Israelites and hundreds of prophets of Baal to witness to God, to proclaim that the Lord is God and that no one else deserves Israel’s worship and adoration Elijah appears to be far from what we might think of when we consider saints – he doesn’t seem to be pious or holy – but he is committed to God and to ensuring that the truth is known in Israel’s generation and in the generations to come.
We are here today because of so many saints. We are here today because of the witness of others, because someone told us about Christ or read us a Bible story or prayed for us or invited us to Vacation Bible school. We are here because we witnessed someone serving someone else out of love and faith, because someone invited us here, or because we don’t know where else to go. We are here, in this place today, because of the faith and vision of our charter members.
I’m hoping that everyone has a couple of these small, colorful people and something to write with. If not, there should be extra materials in the back of the sanctuary. I want you to take a moment to consider the saints who have influenced your life and faith. Which persons and churches have contributed to your faith formation? Who has said to you: “Stop wavering, stop wondering, stop drifting. There is one God, the Lord. Let me tell you about this God.” Which churches have introduced you to Christ, have given you space to grow in faith, and have challenged you to live it out?
Write their names down. And when you’re ready, come to the back of sanctuary and hang them on the wall. There will be pins available, so handle them carefully. As you write and walk back and hang your names on the wall, pray for your saints. Pray for those people and churches you have led you to this point and this place. And pray for the courage and faith to do as they have done, witnessing in word and in deed to Christ.