Welcome to our worship today at Christ Lutheran and welcome if you’re listening on the radio. In our summer sermon series, “The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful”---we’ve been looking at a series of portraits from our Biblical family album.
We’ve seen The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in people like Isaac and Esau and Abigail and Jonah.
Today we begin several weeks focused on one of the major figures of the Bible. The prophet Elijah. And the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful are crystal clear in the conflict between Elijah and King Ahab.
Ahab was just a beautiful human being---No, not really! Just the opposite! Do you remember how your mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” If you followed that advice about Ahab, things would be very, very quiet. Listen to 1 Kings 16---
1 Kings 16:29-30 “In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.”
“Ahab did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those kings before him!” That’s some indictment because those kings before him were horrendous! And his queen Jezebel was just as bad! Ahab and Jezebel were known for being champions of worshipping the false god Baal. The worship of Baal wasn’t new in Israel. But when Ahab married Jezebel for political reasons, she reintroduced Baal from her homeland and encouraged idol worship in a big way.
Human sacrifices and other unmentionable acts were used to try to coerce the idol Baal to bring them rain, good crops and many children. Of course they were worshipping something that didn’t exist, so it was really a vain attempt to control their world and get what they wanted.
Elijah was a major contrast to Ahab and Jezebel. But we have to remember that that doesn’t mean that Elijah was perfect. We’ve learned in this sermon series that there are no perfect followers of the Lord. We always have to look beyond any human representative of God. No king, no prophet, no pastor or lay person is close to perfection. We can’t judge the Good News of Jesus by his messengers. We always have to look at the message itself in the Bible and the truth it brings us.
God always works through imperfect messengers. It is the only kind he has. But there were major differences among the many. The last few weeks we’ve been talking about Jonah. Look at the contrast between him and Elijah. The Lord calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah looks at the map---sees what’s in the opposite direction from Nineveh and that’s where he heads. With Elijah, we don’t hear anything of God’s call. But there he is standing in front of the most dangerous man in the land giving him some very bad news from God.
Elijah was blessed with strong faith and courage---at least most of the time. There were times that Elijah would give in to despair as we’ll see in the coming weeks. But he was one of the greatest leaders of the Bible. When Christ was transfigured on the mountaintop, revealing the glory of God---who was with Jesus? Moses and Elijah.
Elijah had the courage to go to King Ahab and announce that there was going to be a drought in the land as a result of worshipping Baal---
1 Kings 17:1 “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” Elijah says to Ahab, “there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word”
Ahab is probably thinking, “Who does Elijah think he is!” Ahab served Baal, the supposed god of dew and rain. Elijah saying this to Ahab was a huge threat. Elijah was standing there before the King and was challenging his god.
This conflict pitted Ahab, Jezebel and all the groupies of Baal against Elijah and the remaining faithful followers of the Lord. And Elijah’s name itself showed where he stood.
ELIJAH means--- “Yahweh is my God” or “The Lord is my God”
After he made the announcement to Ahab---
1 Kings 17:2-4 “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”
A few weeks ago, I spoke about the great fish that swallowed Jonah and the questions that raises. This week, we have ravens that are going to provide airmail meals for Elijah. How do we understand that? Is that like drone deliveries?
Ornithologists tell us that ravens are very smart. They’ve learned to scavenge for food in human garbage, unattended food and picnic items. They have even been observed undoing Velcro and unzipping zippers at campsites to steal food.
One park ranger told me about a man who heard a loud clunk on his roof and went outside and found a can of tuna on the ground and a raven trying to open it. A few minutes later, the same thing---the raven dropped the can on his roof to try to open it. After a while the man got tired of the noise and he went out and opened the tuna can for the raven. The next day he heard several loud clunks and he went out to find 3 ravens all with their own cans waiting for him to open them! I haven’t been able to verify that story, but it points to the raven being a very bright bird.
That’s still a long way from them bringing food to Elijah twice a day for a long time. But as I said with Jonah, I think there’s a problem when we believe that God has to fit our human understanding of things.
To me, that view of God not only seems arrogant, but also illogical. Forgive me a brief rerun of a few weeks ago---But could the God who created DNA, billions of stars, subatomic particles, and the beauty of Glacier Park, step into his creation on occasion---his creation which operates according to his natural laws and scientific principles most of the time---Could that God, our God, arrange to have ravens take care of Elijah? From my point of view, that’s no problem for God. And the Bible gives us many examples of that.
Our CLC constitution says that the Bible is “the sole authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life.”
If the Bible is to be authoritative for us, it means first of all, that we must study it carefully and know how it is intended to be read. Not everything is intended to be read literally. But if it is authoritative for us, it also means that when we hear something that clashes with our feelings or views, we shouldn’t assume that we’re right and God’s wrong. So with the ravens as with the great fish, we may not understand how it could work, but can’t we trust that God does?
When the Lord sent Elijah to Kerith Ravine, the Lord was saying to Elijah---“you need to get away for a while so I can prepare you for what lies ahead.” Elijah needed to learn to depend on the Lord—to learn that the Lord would provide!
1 Kings 17:5-6 “So Elijah did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”
Kerith comes a word meaning “to cut off”. God wanted Elijah to be cut off for a time---cut off from Ahab for his protection, and cut off from his usual way of life so that Elijah could learn to depend on the Lord.
Elijah obviously didn’t worship Baal or depend on Baal to provide for him. But where was he at in learning to look to the Lord for his strength?
In a place like Kerith Ravine, you learn that you can’t depend on yourself for very long.
What did Elijah need to learn? We don’t know much about Elijah prior to his encounter with Ahab. We don’t know if he was rich or poor, humble or arrogant. But it appears he had a few things to learn. This vacation at Kerith Ravine was the time for the Lord to teach Elijah who was the only who could really provide for him and protect him---who was the only one worthy of worship.
Who do we worship today?—Baal or the Lord God? I’m not aware of any Baal worshippers in the Flathead Valley. Nobody in sophisticated cultures worships idols. Or do we? What does Baal represent? For Ahab and Jezebel, it was worship of the sensual, pleasurable, the material things. It was an attempt to control the rains and the crops, to make the world do what they wanted it to. Baalism was a religion based on filling the desires of the self.
Maybe we do worship Baal today. Only in place of a wooden or metal idol, we put ourselves. Instead of asking do we worship Baal or the Lord, the updated question is do we worship the Lord or ourselves? Is the Lord our God or am I my own god?
How do you and I answer that question? Most of us, most people in general, would not admit they worship themselves. But the real test is not in our words, but in how we live. Each of us needs to look at ourselves and see what the evidence shows.
And we all are guilty to one degree or another of keeping the Lord Jesus from really being Lord of our lives. We keep God at a distance for a variety of reasons.
---We’re not sure who he is and what letting him into our lives will mean.
---We’re not ready to let him have influence over us.
---We think he will prevent us from living as we please.
And even when we have let the Lord in, even when we have accepted him and said we believe---‘He is my Lord”---we still too often keep him at arm’s length because we’re not ready to let him be Lord of heaven and earth. Heaven maybe, but earth----well as long as it’s not the part I want to control!
Do we answer like Ahab---“I’m my own god!” Or do we answer like Elijah---“The Lord is my God!”
It’s a crucial decision. And a life-changing one. Because when we live believing that the Lord is God of all, then we’re open to learning---learning that when we let God be Lord, that life doesn’t depend on our successes or failures. Life depends on His
successes through Christ’s cross and resurrection and all that results from them.
So like Elijah, we need times that the Lord can cut us off from all distractions and help us learn or relearn who he is and who we are---
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
There are many ways this growth can happen. Maybe it’s the quiet time you set aside each morning to connect with the Lord, for him to refill you with his Spirit, and let you grow in his Word.
Maybe it’s by being part of a small group where the Lord works through his Word and the people around you to grow in his way.
Maybe it is an experience of his glory in nature as you look out in awe and realize how small you are, and yet how blessed you are, seeing all that he has done for you.
Maybe it is a special time away like a Tres Dias retreat where you can focus on the Lord in ways impossible in the hurry of daily life. (There is information in the bulletin about the fall Tres Dias retreats. Talk to me or anybody you know who has been part of one of those for more information.)
Elijah’s time at Kerith Ravine was essential in his becoming the leader God wanted.
But then the brook dried up---
Was that bad luck or God’s timing? It was time for Elijah to move on---
1 Kings 17:7-9 “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”
Next week you’ll hear more about Elijah. Remember---
ELIJAH means---“The Lord is my God!”
Why did God choose Elijah? It's easy to think that Elijah was superior to us, but he wasn't. We read in the book of James---
James 5:17 “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Elijah was chosen to confront the followers of Baal because he had a relationship with God and knew the power of that relationship in prayer.
What made Elijah great? Elijah didn’t have it all together. Elijah needed time to grow, and lots of encouragement, just like we do.
What made Elijah great was his commitment to the will of God. Elijah gave his all so that the world would know the one true God.
And that was Good and Beautiful.