Formations lesson: Between Prophet and People
January 26 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 18:20-39

Formations lesson: Between Prophet and People | Friday, Jan. 26, 2001

Friday, Jan. 26, 2001

Formations lesson: Between Prophet and People

By Ken Vandergriff 1 Kings 18:20-39 Christian faith lives by stories. We imaginatively enter into a narrative world, identify with one or more of the characters, and consider how we would respond in that situation. Doing so shapes our own faith. We learn how to be Christians through stories that model faith. Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas points out in A Community of Character that "the church is nothing less than that community where we as individuals continue to test and are tested by the particular way those stories live through us."

Identifying with Israel The story of Elijah's confrontation with the Baal prophets on Mt. Carmel tests us. What kind of community will we be if we allow this story to shape us? Our lesson suggests at least two possibilities. If we identify with the people Israel gathered at Mt. Carmel, the story calls us to single-minded devotion to God. Many Israelites thought they could straddle the fence, worshipping both Baal and Yahweh. Baal, after all, was the storm god, responsible for the fertility of the crops. Who could object, they reasoned, to a few rituals for this god? It was for a worthy cause; without sufficient crops, people literally starved. Moreover, it wasn't as if they were ignoring Yahweh; They would still serve Him, too, just not exclusively.

Israel could not have it both ways; neither can we. Divided loyalties cannot work. Because compromise subtly distorts our conception of God, it remains a danger to the believing community. We imagine that faith can coexist with consumerism, militarism, nationalism, denominationalism or careerism. We imagine that these aren't really gods, that giving them their due won't affect our faithfulness to God. In reality, these and other "-isms" take on a life of their own, with their own agendas, and invite us to identify their goals as God's. They subtly divert attention from God's agenda - a good indication of which is given in our recent lesson from Luke 4:16-21. Like Elijah's community, we cannot straddle the fence. If God really is God, then we follow Him and pursue His goals with single-minded devotion.

Identifying with Elijah When we identify with Elijah in this narrative, we are called to be a prophetic community. That doesn't mean to be a shrill or obnoxious community. A few years ago I attended a local town festival. A small group of well-meaning believers had set up a platform on the main street, where a speaker harshly berated the thousands of passers-by. As the speaker cried, "You're not rejecting me, you're rejecting God," I thought to myself, "No, I'm rejecting you, not God, because you're just obnoxious." Being prophetic doesn't mean being vitriolic.

As Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall explains in Confessing the Faith, being prophetic means first a deep immersion in God's story so that we can "recognize the deviation, incongruity, and loss" when our social and moral positions fall short of God's expectations. Elijah did that. He recognized the deviation and loss occasioned by compromise with Baal.

Second, explains Hall, being prophetic means making "the effort to get beneath the immediately visible effects of any or all such issues to their deeper causes." Only then can "the promise, healing, and recovery" offered by God's grace be realized. Martin Luther effected the renewal of faith only when he perceived his church's basic deviation from grace; Millard Fuller began Habitat for Humanity when he confronted the poverty of greed and selfishness in his own life and in society; Martin Luther King dreamed a better society only by exposing the fundamental ignorance and prejudice of individuals and institutions. They deserve to be called prophets because they probed the root causes of issues; only then could they show a better way.

A final reflection concerns the end of our lesson's story. Elijah lived in a "winner-take-all" religious world. Religious enemies could be eradicated, and Elijah does that (v. 40; 18:4). We live in a very different world, a religiously pluralistic world, where others have the right to believe differently. That is as it should be. Elijah is not the best model for us at this point, but we can find other models, believers who show that confession and testimony wield more power than the sword.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
1/26/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 18:20-39 | with 0 comments
Filed under:

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.