Experiencing God with all the senses

Given its scriptural context, my sermon on Sunday focused on the eyes.  “Where have you seen God today?” was the recurring question, and it is, I believe, an important one.  This is not to say, however, that God is not made manifest through our other senses as well.  In fact, Sunday’s Track Two Old Testament lesson comes at the tail end of a story that all about how God makes himself known in unexpected ways.

clipart-five-senses-4

If you didn’t click the link to read the lesson, I’ll remind you that it is the story of Elijah’s flight to Mount Horeb.  After Ahab married Jezebel and worships her God, Baal, the Lord God of Israel withheld rain from the land for three years.  So it begins with God being manifest in the parched tongues of the thirsty and the empty bellies of the hungry.   Over and against Baal, the god of the storm, Elijah’s God is fully in control of sun and rain, ground and harvest, and even life and death.  Elijah, following the command, that is the voice, of God, departs for Zarephath where he is to find a widow who will care for him.  Here again, God is made known in water, oil, and flour, even the very taste of bread upon the lips of Elijah, the widow, and her son.

As the story unfolds, Elijah ends up in a spiritual battle with the priests of Baal over who’s god can bring fire to the earth.  God’s power is is made manifest in fire that consumes damp wood, stones, dust, and even water.  God was felt in the heat of the flames, and the smell of burnt wood.  For the priests of  Baal, the impotence of their god was known in the pain of their wounds as they tried to appease Baal with a sacrifice of their own blood.  After that amazing and ridiculous story, Elijah once again leaves town for safer quarters, and our lesson opens with Elijah hiding for safety atop Mount Horeb.  There God isn’t in the earthquake or the rock-splitting wind, or even the fire, as before.  Instead, God makes himself known to Elijah in the still, small voice.

God is willing to find us by any means necessary.  Through sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing, God calls us each in our own way.

Limping is a sign of spiritual injury

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.