Sunday, August 17, 2008

The 5th Sunday of Pentecost

July 20, 2008

The 5th Sunday of Pentecost

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit Glory to Jesus Christ!

I was a little worried today because every year for all the time I’ve been here we’ve prayed on St. Elias’ day for rain, and we’ve gotten a lot of rain every year, and we don’t want a lot of rain most of today, but we do want rain. Then God solved my problem: I can’t find the prayer. So we would all ask God to give us just showers, and seasonable weather, beginning about six o’clock.

Today is St. Elias day, and St. Elias is a wonderful, wonderful great saint of the church. The forerunner, as it were, of the forerunner. The one who came before John the Baptist, was the pattern of John the Baptist. And there were many things that Elias did, but I want to speak to you primarily about one of them. We understand how he confronted King Ahab when Ahab had stolen the ground of Naboth the Jezreelite, and had had Naboth tried on phony charges and put to death so that he could own it. We understand how he rebuked also that same king, Ahab, for having built altars to the fertility god Baal in honor of his wife Jezebel, and we know how he at various times stood in the very midst of the royal courts surrounded by the kings guards who could have slain him and was fearless.

I want to talk to you about one episode in Elias’ life. Having rebuked Ahab, and having prayed to God and cause the rain to stop for three and a half years – and why did he do that? To punish the Israelites? No. It’s because they had come to believe that Baal, who was the rain god of the Canaanites, was the one responsible for the rain. So then Elijah said “Okay then, I’ll show you. My God’s not going to let any rain fall. So you go call on Baal all day long and all night long and see what happens. Well, after three and a half years, Elijah summoned the priests of Baal to Mt. Carmel, and there on that mountain engaged them in a sacrificing contest. First, they prepared a bull and put it on an altar and cried out to Baal from early morning till past noon, and the people stood by because they had liked the cult of Baal. The cult of Baal, the fertility god, and Asherah, the fertility goddess, had really good parties. It was a religion that allowed you to do a lot of licentious things and to call them religious acts. And then Elijah took the twelve stones and piled them up and he built an altar and he prepared his bullock, and he dug a trench around the altar and he filled it with water three times, which is a figure of the Holy Trinity. Then he raised up his hands to heaven and called on God to send down rain, and immediately, God sent lightning that struck the sacrifice and ignited it, and consumed not only the bull, but the stones and licked up the water in the trench underneath. Now you would have thought at this point that the people of Israel would have had their hearts permanently turned back to God. And Elijah ran back to the city, outrunning the horses of the king and his charioteers, he entered the city to receive a message: Jezebel was angry. The people had slain the idolatrous priests and the lascivious priestesses of Asherah, and she had said to him, “By this time tomorrow, you will be dead.”

Elijah was desperate because she offered a big reward. The Israelites, who a few hours earlier had said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” now were trying to figure out how to collect the ransom.

And so he ran off and he stayed in the wilderness and he prayed to God to die. And he slept, and then God woke him and fed him, the food brought to him in the wilderness by ravens. Again he prayed, and he saw upon a stone, bread and a cup of water and he ate again. And God said, “Go on the strength of this food to Mt. Horeb, to Mt. Sinai. There I will meet you.” So he runs to Mt. Sinai, he comes up onto the mountain where Moses had spoken to God. And what does go there to do? To tell God, “I want to die.” He felt abandoned, deserted; he thought he was a failure, he thought faith had been discredited and the God of Israel and been shown to be weak, and he wanted to die. And God speaks to him, and here’s what God says, “I am preserving for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed a knee to Baal; seven thousand pairs of lips that have not kissed his evil sacrifices.” In other words, “You think you’re the only believer, Elias. You think it should be on your terms, but it’s on my terms. I’m God, and I have 7000 followers in Israel who are as good as you are. Now get up, go back to your prophet’s job until I am ready to take you.”

And Elijah went and he anointed a king for the Syrians, and he anointed a king for Israel, and a king for Judah. He anointed Elisha to be a prophet in his own place. And when the time came, God took him up into the clouds in what appeared as a chariot of fire. And it is said of Elijah that he will return before our Lord’s second coming. But there is a question about this, because when they questioned Jesus about it and said, “Is not Elijah supposed to return before the Messiah?” He said, “Elijah has returned, for the spirit of Elijah, the Holy Spirit that rested on Elijah, and upon his disciple Elisha, has come upon John the Baptist.” So he came in the spirit of Elijah. Which is the correct interpretation? I’m not going to tell you because I don’t know. I will tell you that God has reserved for himself more than 7000 men who have not bowed a knee to Baal; more than 7000 pairs of lips that have not kissed his evil sacrifices, and that we are not alone in the world. So let us not despair; let us be of good cheer, let us be hopeful, for the kingdom of heaven is powerful, and our God is the king of that kingdom, and he has set up many many pillars among whom is Elijah the prophet, who support that kingdom on their shoulders, and lift it up to heaven as a living sacrifice.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!

Glory Forever!

No comments: