The following transcript was generated using AI from the sermon recording. Some grammatical and transcription erros may be found.
The Importance of Making Decisions
Last week, we talked about who do we go to and ask for advice? Where do we see counsel from? Who do we listen to when we have a decision to make? We talked about two kings in Israel, jeroboam and Rehoboam, who both ended up listening to the wrong people and making the worst possible choices and, in doing so, split a kingdom and ended God's promise for both of those kings. In light of that, it makes sense that perhaps making no choice at all is a better option than making the wrong one. Sometimes, this is how I work personally, as much as I don't like it. Tell me if you've ever been in this situation. You've gone to a diner, and this always happens at a diner. You open the menu, and it's about 20 pages long. When you look at that menu, you have no idea what to pick because of the options before you. You want to make the right choice because you want to avoid getting stuck with the food you're not going to like. And invariably, if you're anything like me, whether you go to a wedding and a wedding reception or at a restaurant, you pick something, somebody else picks something else, and you always seem to like what somebody else picked. It happens to me all the time, to the point where if I'm sitting in a restaurant, sometimes with these long menus, with short menus, the waiter or waitress is just standing there waiting for me to make up my mind until I finally run out of time and I finally have to pick.
Now, I have difficulty deciding about something as light as what I will eat. In that case, there are times when it's tough for me to make some of the more significant decisions in my life that I have to make because as soon as we decide one thing, the other things are cut off from us. As soon as I choose this meal, I no longer have the options for the other. Can you relate to that at all? Has that ever happened to you, where you have two choices? You're only quite ready to choose between them once you have to. Then sometimes, more often than not, the only choices that are left available to us, none of them, are good.
I tell that story because when Elijah speaks to the people, he doesn't say to stop worshiping Baal and choose God. What he tells them is to stop trying to hop between multiple options, stop trying to hedge their bets, and stop trying to leave in that in-between time where they don't have to decide. What Elijah wants is for the people to decide for themselves who it is they're going to worship because this going between doesn't help anybody and is not true worship. He leaves it up to them to decide who they will pick. He doesn't tell them, but he starts the set out on a test, and he orchestrates this whole thing between him and the 450 prophets of Baal. Who is the God of Thunder, the God of storms, in the palace or the Parthenon or Pantheon? Sorry, he is known for bringing storms. He is known and worshiped for controlling the weather and bringing lightning and fire. In fact, they're doing this in the middle of a drought, and the people know this. So Elijah is already playing off what's happening in the surrounding culture. They're in the middle of a drought. Now, they must call on the God of storms to light the offering. Elijah doesn't even want to end there. He wants to set up this test to be completely undeniable, so he says to bring two calves. These prophets, these ones, can choose. They're the ones they want. I'll take the leftovers. He gives them the morning and most of the day to decide what to worship and to call on Baal to burn the sacrifice, to light the altar. And he lets them go, these 450 people calling the God of Thunder and lightning and rain, to send forth a lightning bolt to light the altar on fire with dry wood, since they're in the middle of a drought, and to carry forth. He's trying to set it up so that the people will see evidence that God is God. He wants the people to decide who they will worship, but he wants to make it up to chance. He doesn't want to leave it up for them to say well, that one's good enough.
The people, when they are told that they need to stop hopping from one to another and worshiping whatever God comes their way, have no answer. And it's either because they feel guilty for worshiping the wrong God, but I suspect it's more so that they were never forced to choose. They never realized that they had to choose In the worship of Baal and Ashira and all other gods in that pantheon. You could worship multiple gods. You could choose which one you would follow at any given time, and likely, you made altars to many different ones just in case you didn't want to choose. Because as soon as you choose one God, you may make the other gods angry, and it is far safer to live in this unchosen area, this nebulous area where you're not committed to one any more than another so that you can get whatever blessings from the God you can get without angering the gods over here in vice versa.
And so for Elijah to comment, say you need to make a choice, sounds foreign to these groups of people. But he doesn't leave them to choose without any information, any kind of data, any kind of show of who God is or isn't. And so the gods of Baal spent most of the day crying out to Baal to light the fire, the wood, and the wood would burn the meat. And they cry out through the day, and Elijah starts egging them on a little. I mean, if you never see humor in the Bible, you're just not looking because I, Elijah's calling out to them. Perhaps he can't hear you; maybe he's on a trip, and you must cry out louder. Perhaps he's sleeping, and you just got to wake him up. Just go a little louder. Perhaps he's just absent-minded, and you need to convince him, that's all. Just go a little louder. And so they do. They redoubled their efforts, they cried out louder, they cut themselves and bleed, all trying to call out to Baal so that he may come and light this kindling that's already dried out, proving that he is a God worthy of worship.
Well, we get to the evening offering time, the evening sacrificial time, and by now, Baal had not answered. Now, whether or not Elijah is arguing that Baal doesn't exist or that he's not a God that responds or can overcome God, the God of Israel, is another question. But Baal doesn't answer. And so Elijah. I love what Elijah does because it's a great example of what we need to do in our culture today.
The Power of Sharing Personal Stories
When we call people, make a choice. You can't have it all. You can only go some which way. Make a choice. We don't have to tell them what choice to make, we don't have to say which one is the right one, but we can invite people to make a choice, because hopping back and forth, as if a bird hopping from branch to branch doesn't lead to stability, it doesn't lead to blessing, it just leads to running around like a chicken with your head cut off. So, as scary as making a choice can be, it will lead to stability.
And so what Elijah does, as he gathers the people, says, come closer, you don't have to watch from afar, you don't have to think that you can kind of make out what God is doing, come closer, come closer and see. And then, pulling in what the people know, it pulls up 12 zones representing each of the tribes of Israel, relying on their history, relying on who they are, and he builds an altar out of these 12 stones. He places the wood, he places up the bowl, and then he does something strange. He places grain in a trench around the altar, then asks for four jars of water To pour on the bowl and the altar, and the wood and the grain. And then he does that three more times, again, this 12, recurring to remind the people of who they are and where they come from. So he pulls them in clothes, he drenches the wood and the grain, and he prays, prays, ah, show your might in this act, alight the flame so that the people may come to believe in you, not so that you might be proven right, not so that you might be proven powerful, but so that the people may come to believe in you and their hearts are transformed. This simple prayer, with the people gathered close, leads to a fire all-engulfing, coming down from the heavens. It burns the meat and the wood, it melts and destroys the rock and the dust, and then, an odd order of things says, it laps up the water and the trenches. The fact that the rock and the dust were utterly destroyed tells me that the water wouldn't have lasted very long either. So, I imagine the trench was further away. And then what happens is that the people believe they have enough evidence, they have enough of what they've seen for themselves, and they choose the God of Israel.
Now, how this relates to how we can interact with the world around us will become apparent if it's not already. The people in our world and our culture today have lost sight, have lost sight of what God is already doing. The people in the church have lost sight of what God is doing. We no longer tell the stories, we no longer share testimonies, and we no longer talk to each other about what God is doing and has done. We no longer talk about how God has been a blessing to me in my daily life and, how I treat my family my co-workers, how I interact online, how I treat strangers and those distant. We no longer talk about that. I do these things because of what God has instilled in me and blessed me, and we have a world that can make a choice. But they don't have the evidence, they don't have the data, they don't have anything to base that choice on, and so they flit and float as if they don't need to make one.
If what we offer in the Christian faith today makes any difference in any of our lives, if it brings transformation in any of our lives, if it brings hope to us in how we live and how we encounter the atrocities and the violence and the pain in the world, if it has meant anything for our lives and our relationships, then surely we want that for other people. Indeed, we want to share what God has done for us so that others may experience it for themselves. We don't even have to talk about which religion is right. We don't have to talk about whether or not people will go to heaven when they die. We don't have to go on to any of that because people aren't asking those questions anymore. Yet they're asking what difference does religion make? And for many, they said it's been a pain in the foot, and it continues to be.
What difference does Christianity make in the world? And they look at Christians whose lives look vastly the same as everyone else, and they see us treating people poorly and angrily. We see a Christian celebrating when a pastor who is outed for being a cross-dresser kills himself. That happened in the last week. The people see Christians celebrating that, and they say, why would I want to be a part of that? The evidence of the data we're giving for people to make a choice does not lead to people making the choice that we feel would bring blessing. And so when people don't choose, when people refuse to hear about the Christian faith, when people say that's not for me because it's caused too much pain and damage in the world, that's on us because we're not sharing the data, the stories that will show that God is authentic, that God is Lord and that following and choosing him brings blessing and hope and transformation.
My hope and my prayer for us is to gather the people in our spheres of influence, the people that we know. Gather them in, gather them close so that we might share. We won't do it through blasts of fire from the heavens that melt rocks. That's not absolutely necessary for people today. What they want to hear is the evidence that God is at work in people's lives, that God is bringing transformation, that those who are sick are healed, and that those who were lost and lost in sin have been redeemed. Those who have felt lonely have been connected with a blessed community. Those who have struggled with addiction, through connecting with the people of God, through Christ himself in prayer, have been transformed Not miraculously, not overnight, but that healing has happened. And if we can recapture what it means to share our stories of what God has done, then other people will have the information that they need to make a choice and the choice they make. It's not up to us. We don't control that outcome. What we can control are the stories we tell.
Sharing Stories of God's Blessings
And so, after our worship today, if you're out there drinking coffee and greeting one another and spending some time together. These are the questions that I want you to talk about and spend some time on. When's the last time I've shared a story with someone else about what God has done in my life? When's the last time I've given evidence to somebody else of how good God is and how God has blessed me, transformed me, and brought me from where I was to where I am now? When's the last time I've been willing to share that?
There was a day that every United Methodist worship service had a time of testimony and celebration of sharing these stories. People would come and hear them and say I want that for myself, and we only do that during worship sometimes. We last did it here in Burwood a long time ago. From some folks I talked to in our Lunch and Learn Bible study the other day, Maybe it wouldn't be welcome here, I don't know, but anywhere that we are whenever we shared that story. If we can't think of one, how do we open our eyes to see God's blessing around us? How do we encourage each other to see that blessing? How do we shape it and see it and celebrate it as God at work in the world? So those are the questions I want to leave you with this day as we move forward.