Old Testament: I 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.”
The Response: Psalm 96
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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
This past Thursday, I began my ninth year as the civilian chaplain for memorial dedication services and military reunions at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Currently, I have several other such services on my calendar between now and the end of October, and I always pick up a few more as the year goes by.
Each of these events includes a recounting, either from one of the participants or from someone from the Air Force Museum, of the particular contributions that were made by the unit or individual whom the memorial honors. Over the years, I have been privileged to hear some amazing stories of dedication and sacrifice and true heroism. The accomplishments have varied greatly; and the veterans present have served in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, and beyond. But regardless of the era, the response from those being honored has been almost always the same: “I was just doing my job. I just did whatever needed to be done at the time.” The individuals with whom I have spoken have consistently downplayed their contributions to a common effort, and they have portrayed their own part in a very matter-of-fact way.
That approach is very similar to the portrayal of each of the principal characters in the three scripture readings that we heard this morning. Each of these passages describes, or at least refers to, significant and even dramatic events. But the key figures themselves take a low-key approach to their contributions.
Our first reading marks the beginning of a series of wonderful stories from First and Second Kings, stories that we’ll be hearing each Sunday for the next month and one-half. (Be sure to stay tuned!) At the time that this narrative begins, the tension between the prophet Elijah and the wicked king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel, has reached a point at which a final showdown seems to be inevitable. Jezebel has managed to kill off every one of the prophets of YHWH, the God of Israel, except for Elijah. And now Elijah finds himself standing alone on Mt. Carmel, in direct conflict with 450 prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal. Four-hundred-fifty-to-one are pretty formidable odds to have against you! But Elijah is confident that, with YHWH’s help, the odds are actually in his favor; and so he challenges his opponents to a definitive contest.
The description of what happens draws a clear contrast between the loud and frantic and bizarre, and sometimes laughable, attempts of the prophets of Baal, and the very quiet and calm and understated approach taken by Elijah. For this great representative of God, there is no grand display or flashy drama or running around or shouting out or gashing with swords. Instead, Elijah quietly calls the people to him; and, as they watch in silence, he patiently and silently picks up twelve stones and builds an altar, prepares the sacrifice, has twelve jars of water poured over everything, and, in a composed and dignified manner, prays to the God of Israel. And it quickly becomes obvious to all, as the crowd in the scene concludes, that “The LORD indeed is God. The LORD indeed is God.”
The same reserved approach lies behind Paul’s words in our second reading. His opponents in Galatia had been insisting that those who believed in Jesus, even if they were not Jewish, had to be circumcised and obey the 639 precepts of Torah. Paul continued to insist, as he had from the beginning, that all that was needed was faith in the God who had raised Jesus from the dead and a life lived in faithful response to that belief — nothing terribly dramatic here either.
And in the gospel reading, the Roman centurion is never named, nor does he ever actually appear; and he and Jesus never meet. Not only that, but Jesus never meets the centurion’s slave either; nor does he actually do anything extraordinary; nor does he even command the man’s healing. The miraculous healing happens quietly and calmly, somewhere behind the scenes.
How much do we live out our faith quietly and calmly and “behind the scenes” in our community? Some churches and some Christians seem intent on doing just the opposite. They revel in big, splashy, public displays, and in spectacles that could embarrass even the prophets of Baal. They seem more intent on gaining attention for themselves than on doing the work of God as Elijah and Paul and Jesus did.
Certainly it’s important for us to “think big”: to do strategic planning, to know where it is that we and the rest of the church need to go in the future, and to prepare in realistic ways for that future. But it’s also important for us to “think small”: to recognize that the real work of the kingdom is rarely, if ever, accomplished in grand attempts to make us feel good, to fool ourselves into thinking that we are “doing something” or “taking a public stand,” approaches that often succeed only in satisfying our desire for attention, but that do virtually nothing to build up the kingdom of God in the world.
Instead, the real work of the kingdom takes place mostly in the rather mundane and ordinary works of kindness and service and love and compassion that we have the opportunity to do on a day-in, day-out basis. We often make the mistake of thinking that these works really don’t matter very much; and by themselves, maybe they don’t. But the reality is that they are not “by themselves.” Instead, they are an integral part of God’s great work of transforming the world, of making it new again.
Elijah really wasn’t doing all that much when he stacked up 12 stones to build a make-shift altar. Paul really wasn’t doing very much when he condensed the faith that he proclaimed into one of having total trust in God and living in accordance with that conviction. And Jesus really wasn’t doing very much when he commented to the crowd about the great faith of the Roman centurion. Yet, with the power of God working in and through them, these seemingly little things accomplished great things.
God is not finished yet. God is still alive and working in the world, in our greater-Dayton community, in the life of this church, and in our own lives as well. Like those veterans, gathering around a newly dedicated memorial at Wright-Pat, we might look at what we do as “just doing our job,” as “just doing what needed to be done at the time.” But, with the power of God working in and through us, these seemingly little things that we do can also accomplish great things.