A Reading from the First Book of Kings (18:20-39)
Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah 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. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let 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. Then 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!” Then 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.” So 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. At 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.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. Then 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; Elijah 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”; with 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. Next 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.” Then 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, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 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.”
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the Lord when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians (1:1-12)
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (7:1-10)
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The account that we heard in today’s first reading, about Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal, is one of the most powerful stories in the entire Bible. The author of First Kings has presented us with a very vivid scene.
Elijah has increasingly come to challenge the actions of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel. Jezebel has reacted by killing off all the other prophets of Yahweh, the LORD. Elijah alone is left. The tension between the great prophet and the royal couple has been rising; but the people in general have apparently kept quiet. They have backed away from pledging allegiance either to the LORD, the God of Israel, who is championed by the prophet, or to Baal, the pagan god of the land who is espoused by those holding the royal power.
Elijah will not let them straddle the fence any longer: “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” It is time to decide the issue once and for all. To force the issue, Elijah proposes a direct challenge. “Let the 450 prophets of Baal prepare a sacrifice up on Mt. Carmel and call on their so-called god to send down fire on it. After all, he is supposedly the storm god, so sending down lightening should be right up his alley. Then I will prepare a sacrifice and will call upon the name of the LORD. We will watch to see what happens. The god who responds with fire is God.”
As the story unfolds, the prophets of Baal grow frantic. The scene becomes comical as they jump and hop around, shouting in vain for their god to do something, resorting even to slashing themselves with swords to get his attention. Meantime, Elijah is laughing at them and mocking them. “Shout louder. Maybe he’s busy. Maybe he’s in the outhouse and can’t hear you there. Maybe he’s out of town. Or maybe he’s asleep.” The bizarre scene goes on all morning and continues into mid-afternoon. But no god answers because no god is there.
The prophets of Baal have put on a great show, one that could rival any mega-church around. If they had a mega-temple somewhere on or near Mt. Carmel, they would be packing the people in. Folks by the thousands would be flocking there to see a spectacle like this. People of all ages love a big, glitzy performance and grand dramatic gestures, claiming to bring the power of some god or other into their presence and into their lives.
On the other hand, notice how Elijah goes about doing the work of the true God and testifying to the presence and the power of the true God. Elijah, portrayed as one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, of all the prophets, goes about his work routinely and calmly. There’s nothing spectacular at all about what he does. There is none of the frantic jumping and shouting and flashy display used by the prophets of Baal. Instead, all that Elijah does is done simply and quietly. After the great show that his opponents had put on, the great prophet’s actions could easily have been missed altogether.
At about three in the afternoon, the time prescribed in the Torah for the offering of sacrifice, Elijah silently picks up 12 ordinary stones and builds an altar. He digs a trench around it and arranges the wood and the offering on top of it. He then asks bystanders to fill four stone jars with water and pour it over the sacrifice, wood and altar and to do the same a total of three times: a total of 12 large jars of water. And, praying quietly to the LORD, Elijah calls down the fire that demonstrates for all to see that there is only one God who is supreme over all the earth.
Despite the great drama present in the Elijah narratives, the quietness, the calmness, the ordinariness of Elijah’s own actions permeate the stories told about him in First Kings. Maybe the great prophet’s approach has something important to teach us about our own work of bearing witness to God and doing the work of God.
Some Christians and some churches seem to revel in big, splashy displays and programs. They like to put on spectacles that the prophets of Baal, gathered on Mt. Carmel, would envy. They love to have people making great public displays of religious fervor as though such exhibitions actually contributed to the transformation of people’s lives and of the world so that the world resembles more and more faithfully the reign of God.
But the stories told about the prophet Elijah point our attention in a different direction. They suggest to us that we can accomplish the work of God — maybe best accomplish the work of God — in the more ordinary, non-dramatic, service that we provide to people day-in and day-out. They suggest to us the importance of works of service like those in which the people of St. Mark’s are engaged on a regular basis: those works of service that all of us have been invited to list on the cards in the pews for our Time and Talent survey.
The critical role of our ordinary daily lives is something that is important for us to remember and maybe even more important to emphasize during this time of the year when we are celebrating graduations. Graduating classes are often encouraged to think big: to consider the great potential that they have, to think about a world of opportunities that is supposedly opening up before them.
“Thinking big” in that sense is an important thing to do: opening ourselves up to new possibilities and goals, and thinking of something greater than just ourselves. But, at the same time, it is important also to think small: to recognize the vital role of our seemingly ordinary actions, actions touching the lives of just one or two other people in simple yet life-giving and hope-giving ways.
Serving a meal to one person who is hungry, maybe to someone who shows no appreciation for what they are receiving; stocking shelves in a food pantry located in a church basement; listening as a child reads the same chapter of a book that the four children before her also read to you, and still reacting as if you were hearing it for the first time; mentoring students at a local high school; calling Bingo in a retirement community and patiently repeating (maybe for the third time) the “B5” that every person but one got the first time – none of these are especially exciting things. But then, neither were many of the things that Elijah did. Yet, like his work, our works of service can be avenues through which God touches the lives of people, and, in touching the lives of people, changes the world.