Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“Get Off the Fence” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Get Off the Fence” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Elijah appealed to all the people and said, "How long will you straddle the issue?   If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” …At the time for offering sacrifice, the prophet Elijah came forward and said, "LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things by your command.  Answer me, LORD!  Answer me, that this people may know that you, LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses."  The LORD's fire came down and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and it lapped up the water in the trench.  Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!"  (1Kings 18:21, 36-39)

They multiply their sorrows who court other gods.  (Psalm 16:4a)

Men witnessing burning altar, Fresco from Dura Europos synagogue,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
For three years, the people of Israel had suffered the effects of a severe drought. Elijah said the drought was God’s punishment for God’s people following their rulers, Ahab and Jezebel, down the road to Baal worship.  In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah tells the people to make up their minds.  Either be for the Lord or not.  We are not like other peoples in this part of the world, he says, selecting a little bit of this faith and a little something else from another and blending it all together.

For Elijah, this is a faith crisis.  He wants to bring things to a head.  What follows is a long account of a showdown between Elijah, the sole prophet of the God of Israel, and the 450 prophets of Baal.  Two altars are prepared, each with a bull to be sacrificed.  The large gathering of Baal’s prophets gets first go at having their god kindle the fire for the sacrifice.  For hours they call upon their deity without any response.  The Scripture says, “… there was not a sound; no one answered, and no one was listening.

Elijah taunts them, suggesting that their god is away on a trip or sleeping. 
When Elijah calls upon the Lord, however, fire immediately destroys everything from the bull to the wood of the altar to the very stones on the ground.  Everyone proclaims that there is only one God, the God of Israel.

This is not one of my favorite stories.  The narrative continues on past the end of today’s reading with the slaughter of all the prophets of Baal. 
Whether the story appeals to us or not, it does present us with a hard truth.  Either we are faithful to our God or we’re not.  There’s no sitting on the fence.  We can protest that we would never worship a god of another religion, but I can hear Elijah saying, oh, really?   Maybe not an officially recognized god, but what about all the other things you idolize?

Think back over the last day or two.  How did you spend your time?  How much time did you spend on social media?  How many hours of television did you watch?  How much time did you spend worrying about something?  How much time did you spend shopping on Amazon? 

How much time did you spend in prayer or study or action, the tripod on which Cursillo is based? 

Honest answers about how we spend our time may show us that we aren’t as committed to our God as we would like to believe.  The one line in today’s reading that jumped out at me was “there was not a sound, no one answered, and no one was listening.”  If we call out to most of the activities we engage in over the course of a day or the material possessions we treasure, we get no answer.  If we call upon the Lord, God is always listening and will respond.  Maybe today is the day to get off the fence.

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