Welcome to St. Paul’s Ivy on this very special day as we celebrate our 175th anniversary! If you are visiting from another congregation, we heartily welcome you and look forward to getting to know you during our picnic this afternoon.
We can promise you good food and warm company, but cannot guarantee any pyrotechnics the like of which we see in our reading from 1st Kings this morning. This showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is amazing. We can easily imagine the scene being some kind of new reality show. Instead of The Voice or The Bachelor, we would all gather in our living rooms to watch Prophets: The Showdown.
Of course Elijah is not just parading around to entertain the Israelites. The Lord is so angry with Ahab and the Israelites that he has caused a multi year drought. Ahab is described in the Bible as the most evil of all the kings of the Israelites and the other kings were no peaches, so you can get an idea of what kind of person he was. His wife, Jezebel, encouraged him to start worshiping the local God, Ba’al, so he set up shrines for that purpose. Breaking the first of the ten commandments is no joke. I mean, truly, if you are the King of God’s people at the very least you ought to get down to the third or fourth commandment before your integrity starts to fall apart.
Elijah is assigned the uncomfortable task of being the prophet to try to keep Ahab in line. Elijah has confronted Ahab before when warning him about the drought. So this scene is round two in their battle.
Ahab gathers all the people of Israel to see this competition between the Lord and Ba’al. In other parts of 1st Kings Elijah can be afraid, even whiny, but here is all swagger. Beyonce is known for getting into her Sasha Fierce character before a show and I picture Elijah doing his own version of this here. At the very least he must give himself a pep talk! Elijah’s first move is to taunt his audience! Can you hear his scorn? “How long will you go on limping between two opinions?”
This is what is so pathetic about the Israelites worship of Ba’al. They haven’t given up worshiping the Lord, they’ve just added Ba’al into the mix to hedge their bets. They won’t even commit to fully abandoning the Lord. Elijah is not impressed.
In a contest, Elijah puts himself up against the 450 prophets of Ba’al. The prophets of Ba’al make a pile of wood and pray and pray and pray and nothing happens to their pile. And when nothing happens Elijah trash talks to them! “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
Like a true showman, he then calls the crowd to get closer so they can all get a good look. He carefully rebuilds an altar to the Lord that has been torn down. He digs a trench and puts wood into it. In the middle of a drought, he then pours water all over his pile of wood. He doesn’t do this once, he does it three times for good measure! The entire trench is filled with water. There is no way this fire should light.
Elijah offers a an offering to the Lord and prays that the Lord would show himself so that the Israelites could know him. The Lord sends a fire that consumes the burnt offering, the wood, even the water catches on fire.
The people of Israel, given this absolute visual proof of the power of the Lord fall on their faces and worship him.
If this was on our imaginary reality show, Elijah would drop his mike and walk off stage. Ba’al has been served.
We may not have any altars to Ba’al set up at St. Paul’s, Ivy, but the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al is a powerful reminder about God’s power.
We have been celebrating the ways God has shown up in the past in this place, but a few weeks ago Eric guided our attention forward. We now begin dreaming about the next 175 years of worship and service in this place. Will we move forward in courage and hope, trusting that God is powerful?
Or will we hedge our bets?
A few weeks ago, at our last vestry meeting, your vestry voted to authorize the hiring of a full time director of youth ministries to care for our junior and senior high youth and their families. The children and youth formation committee read about, talked about, prayed about youth ministry in this place and nervously made this recommendation to the vestry. I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t think there was any way it would pass! Most churches I know hedge their bets, not wanting to fully commit to youth ministry. When the vote came in I would not have been surprised to see the coffee table in Neve hall burst into flames.
Hiring a youth minister is not a way to outsource youth ministry. With a full time youth minister, we are going to have more events, need more chaperones and drivers, need more Sunday School teachers, need more confirmation mentors. Will you rally around this vestry and the new youth minister when he or she comes? Will you come to church more often so your kids can be in Sunday School regularly? Will you put youth events on your calendar first rather than squeezing them in when they are convenient? Youth ministry is not just about giving teens a wholesome set of activities. Youth ministry is about inviting teens to meet the living God, the God who so loves his people; he is willing to put on ridiculous light shows to get their attention.
And for those of you not called to work with youth, are you willing to dream big? To imagine the other ministries God might be calling us to in this place? How does God want to show his power and his love at and through St. Paul’s, Ivy?
God shows his power now, not through droughts and fire, but through changed lives. Are you willing to draw near to God in these upcoming years and have your lives changed? Are you willing to pray? Join a bible study or Education for Ministry group? Encounter God in our outreach program? Finally go to AA? Are you willing to be changed?
Following God is no joke. After his amazing, bold display of God’s power, Elijah spent a long time on the run, afraid for his life. (He also killed the 450 prophets of Ba’al, which might have had something to do with his sudden need to hide in the hills. Jezebel was not pleased.) We will have moments in ministry when we feel bold and confident in what God is doing and there will be spectacular failures when we want to hide in the hills.
But there is exhilarating freedom to take risks when we realize that our successes and failures aren’t really about us at all, but are both part of living lives that are open to the possibility of God’s power breaking in and doing something miraculous.
Keep your eyes, your ears, and your heart open. Be a detective who searches for where the Holy Spirit is at work. Let us know where you think God is calling us. And 175 years from now, let the members of St. Paul’s, Ivy reminisce about the exciting work God has done in our time.