Between the Track 1 lesson from 1 Kings and Paul’s opening sentences to the Galatians, this Sunday’s lectionary is packed with drama. The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is almost too good to pass up, but I’ll save the details of Elijah’s snark for tomorrow. Instead, today, let’s talk about the the set up to the story.
1 Kings 18 opens in the third year of a drought in the land. The LORD appears to Elijah and instructs him to go to king Ahab and tell him that rain will soon come upon the land. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this isn’t the great news that one might expect, and Obediah, a servant of King Ahab and a devout follow of the LORD, is fearful of what sort of wrath Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, the power behind the throne and worshiper of Ba’al, the god of Tyre who was associated with lightening, will bring upon Obediah and the people of the northern tribes.
Eventually, however, Elijah and Ahab meet face to face and the exchange begins just prior to Sunday’s pericope.
1 Kings 18.16-19 – ” So Obediah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet him. So it’s you, is it — Israel’s troublemaker?” Ahab asked when he saw [Elijah]. “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied, “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the LORD and have worshiped the images of Ba’al instead. Now bring all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, with all 450 prophets of Ba’al and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who are supported by Jezebel.” (NLT)
Here the lesson for Sunday starts with a peculiar word showing up early on.
1 Kings 18.20-21 – “So Ahab summoned all the people and the prophets to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How long are you going to go [on limping] between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Ba’al is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (NLT, with an author’s translation).
This word, “limping” shows up later, as the prophets of Ba’al and Asherah are attempting to have fire set to their offering.
1 Kings 18.26 – So [the prophets] too the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Ba’al from morning until noon, crying, “O Ba’al, answer us!” But there was not voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made.
The idea of limping as a sign of spiritual illness is also found in the Greek New Testament in the story of Peter attempting to walk on water. As Jesus pulls him back out of the water, he asks Peter, “why do you doubt?” Why are you of two minds? Why are you limping between two opinions? As we look forward to another baptism at Saint Paul’s, I can’t help but think about how the Baptismal service, from its renunciations to the baptismal covenant, is an exercise in being of one mind, of choosing one opinion, of following the LORD alone. Over the course of our lifetimes, we all limp from time to time, but the LORD is eager to splint us up, to carry us while we need it, and to bring us back to wholeness.