Scripture: 1 Kings 18:20-40
Key verse: (21) “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”
Reflection: In a recent Gallup poll, 77% of Americans said they see the influence of religion declining in our nation, the most negative evaluation of the impact of religion in over 40 years. Ironically, the same poll indicates 75% of Americans think it would be positive for society if more Americans were religious. And that’s not just religious people either. Over half of those who seldom or never attend worship say more religion would be positive for society. In addition, roughly 77% of Americans describe themselves as “Christian.” So, 77% believe religious influence is declining. 75% think it would be good if it went up. And 77% identify as Christian. These certainly aren’t the same three-fourths of Americans, but I find the parallels striking. Our convictions do not necessarily come through in our actions. If 75% of Americans really believed it would be a good thing if society paid more attention to religion, then why don’t we? Especially if 77% of us claim we’re Christian?
“How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” That’s the question Elijah poses to the people of Israel at Mt. Carmel. If Elijah were with us today, he wouldn’t pose this question to “The Nones”—those who claim no religious faith, he’d be asking the 77% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian. It’s not posed to the prophets of Baal in order to win their souls for Yahweh. No, it is posed to Israel, to the people of God in order to challenge them to be who they say they are. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” That’s how the NRSV translates it. The Hebrew is literally translated, “hobbling upon two branches,” likely referring to a bird hopping between branches. How long will you hobble along hopping back and forth between Baal and Yahweh?
Baal was the local fertility god. Baal worship was attractive to them, offering a cure for every ailment. Crops not yielding what you need? Make an offering at the local fertility temple. Baal will turn things around for you. That’s how idolatry works. In Baalism, as with all idolatry, there is a prescribed remedy for every malady, and that remedy lies within your hands. If it’s to be, it’s up to me. If I do the right things the right way, life will be a-ok, because Baal will bless me. Not satisfied with your life? Take these seven steps and discover your best life now. The only problem? It doesn’t work. It wasn’t working for the Israelites. There had been three years of drought. They’d done the prescribed remedies, and no rain. No crops. No harvest. No blessing. So Elijah, the Dr. Phil of ancient Israel’s, asks, “How’s that Baal stuff working for you?”
This leads to the epic contest at Mt. Carmel. It’s like something out of the WWF. “Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!” Elijah sets up a contest to reveal the living God and expose the impotence of idols. He taunts the prophets of Baal as they put on their show. “Maybe Baal’s meditating,” he cries to them. The Hebrew suggests something more like Baal’s taking a bathroom break. And when Elijah’s turn comes, he offers a simple prayer, and the fire of the Lord consumes all the offering, licking up even the leftovers, leaving no doubt that the Lord is indeed God.
How long will we hobble upon the many branches defining our life? I remember a comment made once in a Bible study I attended as a lay person. My friend said, “I feel like I’ve got all these different boxes in my life: a work box, a family box, a friend box, a God box. I guess I need to take the God box and pour a little of it into all the other boxes.” To which another friend replied, “Or maybe we need to realize it’s all in the God box.” Put another way, all the branches belong to God. Imagine what could happen in our world if the 77% of people who claim to be Christian actually lived into Christ’s great command—to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Hopping between the demands of life and work and family and friends and church is a reality we all know. But in the end, there is only one God. That’s what Elijah wants us to know.
Prayer: Forgive the many ways I put my trust in the idols of our world, O Lord. Help me live into the faith I proclaim. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].