Praise the name of the Lord;
give praise, O servants of the Lord
1 Kings 18:1-46
Ahab is king. After marrying Jezebel, he worshipped Baal (the rain god), built an altar in the house of Baal he built and also a sacred pole." Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him" (1 Kings 16:29-34).
The prophet Elijah, whose name means Yahweh is God, tells Ahab what he has been told by the Lord, that a drought is coming (17:1-7).
Where does power lie? King Ahab lives in royal court, and has control over an army.
Elijah, a prophet, was first fed by ravens then stayed in the home of a widow who was so poor that she had only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. The Lord saw to it that she wouldn't run out of food. When her son became very ill, Elijah prayed to the Lord who listened, and the son revived (1 Kings 17:8-24).
After three years of drought, the Lord tells Elijah to go to Ahab. Risky because Jezebel has been killing the prophets of the Lord.
Elijah sets up a test to prove that the Lord is God, not Baal. 450 prophets will call on the storm god to provide lightning to set fire to their sacrifice. They call on their god all morning and all afternoon. They hear no voice, no answer.
Who are we more likely to trust in times of danger, deprivation? Where do we turn for help? When we don't get an immediate positive solution, what do we do next?
The followers of Baal had been unable to evoke a miracle. Yet, when Elijah prayed to the Lord to do something to impress the people, the Lord responded with a fire that "consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench."
Israel has been convinced.
Allen and Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament point out that far more than a miracle story, our text raises questions of how we think and speak of God. Baal provides no voice and no answer. God is companion, vulnerable, affected by prayer, interacts with God's people and God's world.
But what do we think when our droughts continue? When someone else gets all the rain they need?
The more things change ....
From the time of their founding father Abraham, men who were going to be part of the congregation just had to be circumcised. Circumcision was a minimum requirement. Yet, now, some groups were letting in Gentiles--letting in people who did not fit the profile, people who weren't the kind that religious people were used to letting be part of the congregation.
When the church authorities in Jerusalem heard that Peter, Peter!, had been associated with these people who had made different life choices, they were critical of him.
Peter defended his actions by explaining that he was doing what God had told him to do.
Congregations today are still wrestling with the question of what constitutes a deal-breaker for membership.
Carl Holladay in Preaching through the Christian Year C offers this list for us to consider:
Who should be included within the circle of the people of God?Peter explained his unorthodox behavior by telling the of the vision he had seen.
Are the traditional boundary markers still to be observed?
If traditions prevents Jews and Gentiles from associating with each other, what happens when the old social distinctions no longer exist?
How are they to relate to each other within a newly configured people of God?
Background: Peter and his questioners would have been quite aware of how the Lord came to their forbearers in visions. For example, Abraham (Genesis 15), Jacob (Genesis 46), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Nathan (2 Samuel 7), Isaiah (1; 21), Jeremiah (14), Ezekiel (1; 7).
In the vision, a large sheet came down from heaven. In it were animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told Peter to kill and eat them. Of course, he refused. He knew what was required of him. These were considered unclean, and he would not eat anything unclean ever. He never had, and he never would.
The voice from heaven spoke again: What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
A distinction that had been important, essential even, was now gone.
Peter had a vision--the Lord told him no longer was there a distinction in food between clean and unclean. We could argue why religious people could not eat shellfish (I myself am very grateful that I was permitted to eat crawfish etouffe).
At the moment he heard the voice from heaven tell him that "What God has made clean, you must not call profane," three men from Caesarea appeared. With the help of the Spirit, Peter then translated the revelation about menus to extend to men.
He could not only now eat shellfish, he could eat them with the uncircumcised.
On direction from the Spirit, Peter traveled to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. There, Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit falling on those in Cornelius' household. Peter saw that the Holy Spirit that had inspired his own people was including these others that Peter had been taught to avoid.
Peter's response to this revelation is one that we might consider, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"
Christian churches still ponder the question of what minimum entrance requirements the church should make.
Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs
than to confront a fool immersed in folly.
Evil will not depart from the house
of one who returns evil for good.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, continue to expand our recognition of your presence. Remind us of the help we receive from strangers. Encourage us to befriend strangers. Amen.