1 Kings 18:36-40

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”

Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there. 1 Kings 18:36-40

Sometimes people will write and ask me how I choose the Bible readings for each day. That varies every week, it all depends on what comes to me on Sunday nights. But this week I’m using the texts assigned to each day from a Taking Faith Home bulletin insert that we make available to people in worship. These are really wonderful tools to help parents experience the Christian faith with their children.

I felt the need to tell you that so you don’t think that I am “cooking the books” with the Bible readings this week. I’m just responding to the texts as I’m seeing them. And I find it remarkable that today’s story, the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal follows what I shared yesterday in response to the murder of Father Jacques Hamel in France. Specifically, what it means to truly hear the scriptures in our world today.

We could come at this story from many angles. We could notice that, although the political world of Israel was in turmoil and disobedience, God hadn’t wiped God’s hands of the people that God loves. He was still there and he was still showing up in and through Elijah.

We could talk about the role of idolatry in our lives. We all have our Baals. We’ll never run out of Baals. We chase our Baals – which always feels like chasing our tails – but they never deliver the goods and they always lead us to places we ought not go.

We could talk about how available God is to us in prayer. The power of prayer. The efficacy of prayer. The way that turning to God in prayer involves surrendering ourselves to God’s will, in the trust that God – unlike the Baals – will not lead us astray.

All of that and much much more lies in this story.  But here is where I will not go and I think no one ought to go: I’m not going to use this story to plug modern day Christianity, even my own tribe, ELCA Lutherans, into the role of “Elijah” and cast every other person outside of my tribe as a prophet of Baal.

And I’m not going to honor the idea of the religious genocide, the so-called religious cleansing, that concludes the story with Elijah murdering 450 prophets of Baal. I doubt the historicity of the whole story in that I seriously doubt that, had I been there with a video camera, I would have captured anything close to what the writer of 1 Kings imagined in telling the story in the first place.

The barbaric ending to this story teaches us about the dangers of idolatry. It does not suggest how we ought to treat people of different faiths. God has nothing to do with those who kill the innocent in God’s name – they are not following God, they are following an idol of their own self-centered delusions.

Which brings me back to the big idea behind Taking Faith Home. God’s primary delivery system for nurturing spirituality and a God-centered worldview are called parents. The rest of us are here to help parents. I pray that we are all mindful of how we talk about the world, and how we teach about the world, in these troubled days.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in good times and bad times, we turn to you. We offer prayers of gratitude, we ask for help, for direction, for comfort, and for strength. We ask for wisdom and discernment, for courage and conviction. And we pray that you might lead us not into temptation, that you might deliver us from evil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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