This week is a little different…it’s half term and we’re running the preschool group at a Christian camp we go to every year…the theme for the week is ‘Listening in a Chaotic World!’ We’re reading the ancient story of Elijah, a man who lived in about 800BC and wondering what wisdom his story can offer us today! So here goes!
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 1 Kings 16:1-2
Ok, so where to begin…Elijah goes to tell King Ahab that there will be no rain for a few years! Random?!? What makes a man tell a king such news?! Well, Elijah worshipped God, the God of Israel. There is a strong possibility that he’d reached his Popeye Point (check out the one about anger!) King Ahab was not following the way of his God, Yahweh and Elijah knew that something had to be done. The message would not of been random to King Ahab because he’d of known the Jewish law…he’d of known that it was written:
“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.” Deuteronomy 11:16-17
Interesting! Raises a few questions right? Why do we worship? What’s so bad about worshipping other gods? And why would someone worship (and remind the King of) a God whose ‘anger would burn’ if you didn’t worship him?? Well, we’re talking 800 years before Jesus in a time where people worshipped many gods. Which starts to answer the question of why people worshipped; worship wasn’t just an act of gratitude but more an attempt to appease a gods, to ensure rain and sun and children etc would be provided! This was their understanding of how the universe worked, but as we step into this story there is a new understanding beginning to be established, a God who claims to be the only God, a God who loves without condition, who’s for humanity no matter what. Worshipping him was about entering into relationship. The writers of the Torah are still at the early stages of this understanding and their language for explaining how to be in relationship with this God is still hugely influenced by how they’ve previously believed the universe to work! Which is why people like Elijah (we call them prophets) keep appearing, to try and tell people what God is like, until a time comes when God, instead of sending a prophet sends himself…not so that His anger is dealt with or satisfied or whatever the terminology is but instead to show humanity once and for all how much He loves!
Which brings us back to the story…and starts to answer the question about worshipping other gods!
Ahab had forgotten how much God loved him and he hadn’t ‘been careful’…he’d been ‘enticed’ and he’d married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who worshipped Baal, a Phoenician god who controlled fertility of land and people…and for the land to be fertile what would be needed? Rain!! What had Elijah just told Ahab? That there’s going to be no rain! Funny that!
Thing is it’s not funny because Ahab is about to find himself in lot of trouble. His worship of other gods has led to him avoiding his duty as King; he’s not using the abilities and responsibilities he’s been given in a way that is for the good of his people, or for the good of the world. He’s totally smitten by Jezebel and her lifestyle and he’s neglected all he knows to be true and his choices are finally catching up with him!
Thing is, we all have a ‘calling’; we’re all given abilities and knowledge and responsibilities! We’re given them to make a difference for good in the world. There are times we get distracted and we forget who we are and what really matters.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher explains it like this:
“By all appearances, things were going well, but the soul does not put much stock in appearances. Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that it is indeed possible to live a life other than one’s own. . . .”
It’s easy to be influenced by the media or our friends or just simply by how everyone else seems to be living. We start to think that life is just about accumulating wealth or possessions, or being successful or gaining power. It’s not that these things don’t play their part it’s just that sometimes we think they’re all that matters. We stop being true to who we really are and we start to ‘live a life that’s not our own.’ It takes a brave “Elijah” character to call us back to what really matters again!
We all get to participate in the bigger story of the universe that’s constantly unfolding. It’s a story that’s been unfolding since it first burst into life. It’s a story that’s headed somewhere, a story full of adventure and hope and joy and pain and tears and laughter and confusion and love and we’re part of it! The wisdom in this story or one of the questions the Elijah story asks is; are you playing your role in this unfolding story or are you playing someone else’s. This world needs you to play your own part but to do that we each need to stay true to who we really are!