1 Kings 18:20-39
(watch here: https://youtu.be/gKHCG1tuZrM)
20So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal,
then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. 23Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ 25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ 26So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘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.’ 28Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
30Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; 32with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ 34Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, 35so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
36At 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. 37Answer 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.’ 38Then 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. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’
I like the one about a doctor who moves to America but isn’t allowed to continue practicing medicine. So he opens a shop with a sign that says, “$20 and we’ll cure any illness. Guaranteed, or you get $100 back.” A lawyer sees the sign and realizes he can make an easy $100. He walks into the clinic and says he lost his sense of taste. The doctor looks him over and tells the nurse to get the medicine out of box 20. The man is given a dose by mouth. He vomits in disgust and says, “That was the most disgusting thing I ever tasted!” The doctor replies, “Congratulations! You’re cured! That’ll be $20.” A few days later, the disgruntled man goes back to the store and says, “Please help me, I lost my memory!” The doctor takes him to the back room and says, “Nurse, get me the medicine out of box 20.” The man says, “Please no! That stuff was awful!” The doctor replies, “Congratulations! That’ll be $20.” The man returns the next week and says, “Doctor, doctor, please help me, I can’t see anything!” The doctor says, “Sorry, I can’t help you. Here’s your money.” The doctor hands the man his money. The man says, “But the sign says you would pay $100. This is only $10.” The doctor says with a smile, “Congratulations! You can see! That’ll be $20”
They say a sucker is born every day and it’s usually the lawyers who are quick to take advantage of them which makes that joke particularly satisfying. That lawyer thought he had an easy mark on that doctor and, boy, was he mistaken. He turned out to be the sucker in the end! Not that the doctor really pulled one over on him though. He was true to his advertised sign…”$20 and we’ll cure any illness…guaranteed!” He did cure that man’s illnesses albeit very cleverly, you can’t deny that.
And I only bring up that joke because of the doctor’s following through on his guarantee. The truth is there are plenty of “suckers” born every day but I don’t like to use that expression. It implies a degree of stupidity or ignorance. People are just people and can easily get confused or disoriented in life. This world can become overwhelming at times. There’s a lot going on in this world that perhaps doesn’t happen in the next world. There are unstable economies, unpredictable weather, unregulated industries, uncertain futures, unavoidable hardships…you get the idea. This world can be a disorienting world and we’re all just trying to make sense of it and get ourselves oriented. We all just want a little slice of peace and contentment in this crazy world of ours. But that doesn’t mean we can all have peace and contentment all the time. We are all different, what creates peace and contentment for me is most likely quite different than what creates peace and contentment for others. We’re all in pursuit of these things in our own, unique ways. And orientation comes at different times for each of us. Some of us may be oriented in life while others are disoriented and that’s quite alright. The disoriented will orient themselves eventually. Now is it right and just that the oriented take advantage of the disoriented, the so-called “suckers?” Of course not! It greatly displeases God when the oriented take advantage of the disoriented. We are to serve and love our neighbors no matter what state of orientation they are in. If our neighbor appears to be succeeding in life and finding their slice of peace and happiness, we are to rejoice with them. If our neighbor is struggling, we are to help them and encourage them. This is what pleases God, not that we take advantage of our neighbor’s struggles and somehow use them to our benefit. God does not like such behave and there are divine consequences for it. God will judge those who fail to love and serve their neighbor.
So what does this all have to do with our reading for today? Well, the reading shows that there has been a long history of people trying to take advantage of the disoriented, the so-called “suckers.” There have been countless false prophets throughout the ages, people who have deliberately tried to further disorient the disoriented. The prophets of Baal were such prophets. The god, Baal, was a popular god in the time of Elijah because he was considered to be a god of entertainment. He put on a good show for the masses. Baal would satisfy the need for peace and contentment by simply entertaining and satisfying the senses. Life is nothing but one big party if you followed Baal and who doesn’t like a party?! Well, is life nothing but a party? Is life meant to be nothing but party? What about the suffering of the world? Are we to simply ignore all the suffering of the world? Can lasting peace and contentment be found in parties? Of course not, all parties come to an end eventually and they’re really only good at providing temporary escape from the realities of life. You see, Baal, as popular as he was, was still a false god and all his prophets were false prophets. And it took the courage of true prophets like Elijah to stand up to them and show them just how silly their god is. As we heard in our reading, Baal couldn’t entertain the people with any true power. It was only Ellijah’s God, our God, who could do that. Our God burned that altar down as a truly powerful display of his might and the prophets of Baal were left in wonder. Our God showed them his awesome power and they cowered in fear. And not merely for the sake of entertainment but to correct their misbehavior of leading the disoriented astray. Again, God is greatly displeased with those who take advantage of the disoriented.
Unlike with Baal, there is a guarantee of lasting peace and contentment with our God. He not only entertains with wondrous deeds but He acknowledges the suffering and disorientation of the world. He provides a sure and solid foundation in this world for us to orient ourselves on. He gives us true prophets like Elijah who are willing to stand up to the masses and show just how awesome our God is. True prophets like the apostle Paul who was a great servant of God and has helped countless people throughout the ages come to know who God is. All his letters to those early congregations and his very own witness to God’s grace and mercy all testify to God’s power. In his second letter to Timothy, he writes, “And for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” (1:12) Paul knew his suffering was known by God. Paul trusted in God and was assured of his grace. Guarantee and assurance can be found in God alone. The prophet, Isaiah, knew this as well as Paul. He writes, “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (32:17) When we are in right relationship with God and God alone, there is lasting peace and contentment.
Today we are remembering our loved ones who not only came to faith through the waters of baptism but also died in faith over the last year. Our God loves them all just as he loves us, of this we can be assured. There is great assurance and guarantee in God. In Hebrews we hear, “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (10:22) Our loved ones approached the mighty throne of God and were made new in him. We ought to be thankful for this! Our God is more than an entertaining god. Our God is a gracious and good God. Our God provides sure and lasting hope and peace and contentment. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (6:47) If Jesus says it, it is so. Let us give thanks for the assurance of God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.