North Hill Christian Church
November 3, 2019
1 Kings 18:20-39, Mark 9:2-8
On this Sunday, each year, I call us to remember those whom we have lost in the past year. To remember those who have gone before us in death and who we continue hold in our hearts. In preparation for this Sunday each year, I have found myself remembering the memorial services that I have been a part of, remembering the stories that have been shared with me about the lost loved one, and reflecting on the legacies they have left upon us. As I go through this time of remembrance I am reminded of how their lives have left an imprint upon my own. Through the memories we shared, the times where I have learned from them, or the times that their own life has left a desire within me to do better.
As we find ourselves remembering those whom we have lost over the past year, it is helpful for us to consider the memories that we will leave behind. The marks upon the world that will last long after we are gone from his earthly world. How will we be remembered when we are gone? How have we been a transformational force in the world? And importantly how are those legacies that we will leave behind, reflective of the God whom we have encountered throughout our faith journeys.
Which leads us to our texts for today. Both of these texts are instances in which God’s presences is revealed, and serve as a reminder not only the power of God but what we do after we encounter the divine. Recognizing that as the people encountered the divine within their lives, they had the choice to make, to change their ways to reflect this truth that they have found, or go forward with a nice memory but no changes.
The text out of 1 Kings can be titled, battle of the Gods and along with much of Elijah’s story could be made into an epic movie. In this section of the text everything is set up in favor of Baal, yet the Lord our God prevails. Baal had 450 prophets in his court, the challenge was well suited for a God of Thunder and Storm, the prophets had all day to make something happen, and Elijah put himself in even more of a disadvantage by soaking the sacrifice and filling a trench full of water. Yet, the Lord our God prevailed and reminded the people of Israel who they should be following and worshiping.
The prophets of Baal went as far as cutting themselves with swords and lances to seek to curry favor with Baal, to no avail. The people had a choice. To follow a foreign God whose followers are encouraged to harm themselves in acts of worship, to gain favor. Or to follow the God that brought the people up out of Egypt, out of slavery, declared that they should not be slaves any more if they will worship the Lord our God only. The God that provided for the people in the wilderness, and gave them the promised land. And has now done what Baal could not, even with all the added disadvantages. God prevailed. It was time for the people to make a choice.
Then we have the text from Mark, in which we hear of Peter, James, and John’s experience of the transfiguration on top of a mountain where they are all transformed. Jesus is transfigured before their eyes, as Elijah and Moses show up and are talking with Jesus. The disciples are transformed by their experience and because of it want to set up camp in that place, missing the point of their ministry. They are forever changed by the experience, but have to be directed down the mountain so that others too may be transformed.
But here is the thing, these texts aren’t just about how God shows up and the people are changed. They are also stories that invite us to remember the legacies of those who have gone before us. A legacy of those who had to make a choice after encountering the divine in their own life. A legacy that I hear passed along in these stories is best described in 1 Kings 18:17, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’” You troubler of the status quo. You troubler and thorn in the sides of the powerful.
I think that these characteristics fit pretty well on Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Moses was one who grew up with privilege but became one who became a thorn in Pharaoh’s side. Disrupting the status quo in Egypt that removed the Israelites as slave labor from the picture. Elijah, became a thorn in the side of the king of Israel by calling for a return into right relationship with God, and to turn away from Baal. Elijah called out Ahab and the leaders for their mis-deeds, the corrupting nature of Jezebel by bringing in foreign God’s, and declared a drought would fall upon the land. Elijah was that constant voice in a not so diplomatic way, nagging Ahab into right relationship that we have Ahab calling him a troubler of Israel.
Then we have Jesus. The one whose message continues to call God’s people into a radical way of living. A way of living that seeks to dismantle oppression, seeks to uplift the marginalized, and bring healing to the world. It continues to be so radical, that if the sermon on the mount is read aloud without context today, that there is inevitably pushback and the claim that it is too political or socialist. Jesus preached the Good news to the poor, oppressed, broken, outcast, hurting, imprisoned, and least of these, and this gospel became a thorn in the sides of the Pharisees, and other leaders.
All of the work of this three, was out of their knowledge and experience of the divine. Knowing what God wanted for the world and willing to work towards that end. We have come to know the Good News of Jesus Christ and are given a choice, to take it for ourselves, or to hear God’s truth and work for God’s kingdom in the world, even if it means being a troubler. Hearing God’s good news for the least of these and in turn seeking to advocate and pursue justice for the least of those in our communities.
When we talk about being the thorn in the sides of our leaders, or being a troubler of the status quo, it may seem to be something that is far out of our reach. Something that requires authority and prestige to make possible. Seemingly to be out of our own reach. But that is a false assumption. We have power and authority to be the thorn in the sides of our elected officials. We have the ability to call out and name injustices in our world with our own voices.
This past week as the Tuesday Bible study group was talking about these texts we found ourselves in a place, where we needed to recognize what we can do in the here and now. What each one of us is able to do, because we hear grand stories on the news of people doing great things, but how can we even come close to doing that? So, I shared this story;
Almost two weeks ago I found myself in a position to be a thorn in the side of one who wants to be an elected official here in Spokane. Being the person that I am, I have been reading up on the various candidates that we will be voting on this week. Listening to the language they use regarding the issues that Spokane faces. Now, when I attended the ribbon cutting for the new Open Doors facility I was surprised by the presence of a candidate who has routinely spoken out against low barrier and emergency shelters and has used language that dehumanizes the homeless. I went on a tour with this individual, all along trying to think of a polite way to talk to this person while also raising my concern with the apparent confusion between their words and now actions. I wanted to respond out of my faith that tells us of God’s love for all human beings and a preference for the least of these. I got the opportunity later on in the day to ask this person a question on their campaign facebook page, which they did interact with me on. I asked, about the confusion that I saw and we continued to have an interaction in which I did name that Open Doors is a low barrier, emergency shelter, which this person apparently wasn’t aware of, and continued to call out their bias and misinformation regarding the homeless in our community. I do hope that by being a thorn in this person’s side that if they get elected they may be willing to look deeper into the issues of homelessness in our community, and recognize the benefit of low barrier emergency shelters in our community.
We don’t have to have official positions in order to be troubler’s of the status quo, only the willingness to do what we can to call out oppression where we see it. Using our voices to call out injustice in our community and in the world. Using our fingers to call or write letters to our elected representatives. Using our voices when we hear language that goes against the truth of the Gospel.
We have encountered the divine in our own lives, and we each have a choice as to how we are going to respond. Are we going to file those encounters aways as memories on the book shelf that we can call upon from time to time when we want to reminisce, or are we going to wear them on our sleeves, and be changed forever by living out the good news of the Gospel. We have a choice as to what legacy we will leave behind for future generations.