God Is In Your Corner

1 Kings 18:20-39   November 8, 2015                      Confirmation Sunday

It is game day, people and God has picked this fight! On this side of the ring we have false god, small-g-god Baal, the god of storm. He has the home turf advantage, 450 prophets, and the weapon chosen for this round is fire, something the god of storm can produce! On the other side is the visiting team, team God with a capital G! The God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! The God of freedom. God has one prophet with him, Elijah, and God has chosen the weapon of fire. God is also known for use of fire, appearing to Moses in a burning bush, and as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites through the desert. It is the worship-off to end all worship-offs!

Why is God picking fights? Well because God is watching the people he loves worship not only God but the false god, Baal, along with any number of other gods. They’re covering their bases, so to speak, ever since King Ahab married Jezebel and she introduced everyone to Baal. So God calls Elijah into the ring to push the point: who will you worship? Elijah gets in their faces and demands: How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Just make up your minds!

And right out of the gate it seems like God has thrown the game. As I mentioned, it’s an away game and God it the visiting team. Elijah is on Baal’s home turf of Mount Carmel. And the false god Baal has 450 prophets, the hometown advantage, I suppose, and God’s got Elijah, just the one. And it seems God has given a nod to Baal’s strength, being the god of storm, and chosen the weapon of lightening to ignite fire. Plus there isn’t even a coin toss – Elijah just let’s the 450 prophets of Baal go first.

So, they butcher a bull and set it on the altar and pray to Baal for fire to come down and light it up. And it didn’t happen. They stomped on the altar! They tore it down, so frustrated were they with their god Baal for not showing up.

And then, I think this is one of my favorite parts of the story, Elijah trash talks them. Totally gets in their face about their wimpy, absentee god: Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?

Not very sportsman like conduct, right?! Well, Elijah can see and the 450 prophets of Baal can see that their god is a no-show. So Elijah says, “my turn!” and calls everyone for a closer look. And the first thing he does is rebuilds that altar in honor of God. So right away, the center of worship is changed. Then, perhaps a gesture that shows he’s not cheating, or perhaps he’s just a show-off, he makes the challenge harder for God than it was for Baal and orders a trench dug around the altar and then has the altar doused with water 3 times, enough so that the trench was filled with water. Then Elijah prays a prayer to God, demanding an answer and a visible sign, and, well I picture a fire ball from heaven, falls onto the altar and it all lights up, burning away even the water. And everyone fell on their faces, declaring “God is the true God! God is the true God!”

What a trash-talking, in-your-face story! This is a bombastic, “let me show them” God. This is a story that uses all the exclamation points and says to us: God comes down! God is active in our lives! God shows up! God does amazing things! God answers prayer! God is stronger than all the small-g gods!

So, on this confirmation Sunday the message is clear: demand an answer from God during worship and you will get just what you asked for. Amen?! Amen.

Oh my. Of course, this isn’t how it works, is it? I am delighted to break it to you, in fact. Because if today was all about laying the whammy on you so you had some sort of magic code to then put your request into the vending machine we call God and get just what you asked for? Well, it sounds too good to be true, right? It sounds a little, cheap. A little unimaginative. A little too easy.

I am here to tell you what you probably already know: faith doesn’t work this way. And I believe faith being a lifetime of ups and downs, of grasping in the dark – well, it’s our only hope.

Because if God was a vending machine God and we got exactly what we wanted, it wouldn’t take long for it to seem like God was simply middle management to our ultimate control of things. If faith were simply a method to get what we want the way we want it – well it’d be as easy as picking up a few things from the store on our way home. And soon, we’d be sure we could just go it alone anyway, cut out the middleman so to speak. We’d downsize God in a flash.

You see, left to our own devices or treating faith as a never-ending wish list simply leads to our worship of all kinds of other things: wealth, time, popularity, perceived control. Left to our own devices, we always choose the small g gods. Just like the people in the Bible.

In today’s story, God was weary of watching the people he loved choose the wrong thing, the wrong god. Putting their faith and hope in the false gods that only lead to constant want and dependence on the things that let them down. False gods lie. So God called Elijah to make a scene. And it wasn’t because of the eloquence of Elijah’s prayer that God acted. This was all God’s doing. God is the one that acts and moves in our lives, always blowing our expectations out of the water by wanting to be in our lives.

After all, we are children of God living in the world God created and loves. So, especially today, Anna and Emma, Cameron and Olivia, Maddiee and Abby, Hanna and Mara hear this: today you affirm your baptism. Today you say Yes, that you know God will always love you, particularly through the flesh and bones and love of Jesus Christ and through the wily, unpredictable action of the Holy Spirit. So today is the day of a new beginning, a new start for you to realize and recognize that God is always leaving what we think is God’s home turf – like heaven or other far-off places- to be with you. To be with you, in your life, in this world. And sometimes, maybe just sometimes God in your life looks like a firey ball from heaven coming down to light up your life.

Or maybe, just maybe sometimes God in your life looks like your heart still beating after someone you love dies or just up and leaves your life or your family changes or your life is in a place you’d never imagined it would be.

Or maybe, just maybe, sometimes God in your life looks like having to figure out what life is like for you after a break up or after you’ve injured yourself for the first – or the second – time.

Or maybe, just maybe, sometimes God in your life looks like how great it feels to get out on the ice in hockey or as a figure skater. Or to get up on stage as a performer in musicals or choir. Or to take photographs of this beautiful creation and to care for animals you love. Or to participate in REACH or to run Cross Country.

You see, you guys? That’s the deal. God’s heart breaks when we forget about God. God aches when we turn in on our own selves. God hates it when we worship other things, other people and not God not because God wants to control us like puppets, but because God wants his love to shape our lives. But God never stops reaching for us, never stops closing the gap we always seem to want to create. God is always playing the away game against all the things that rival God, that want your worship and attention. And God always wins.

So God gets everyone’s attention in today’s story by burning through even all that water.

And today, God gets your attention by reminding you just what this ordinary thing called water and God’s promises can do in your life. It destroys your life and raises you to new life. This water reminds you that God shows up – as a firey ball from heaven or in the lunch room at school – and says, “I choose you. You are mine. I love you.” The truth is: God could do this on God’s own. God could love the world without us. But this foolish God is always, always slowing down to bring us along. Our foolish God shows up to partner with the likes of us and uses us to show the world that God is alive and well and in love with the world.

It doesn’t always look dramatic. It doesn’t always look like we’re winning. In fact, God looked like the biggest loser of all time when he slipped into the skin of Jesus and then Jesus ended up on the cross. But it’s just where God was getting started. It was THE new start.

It’s no wonder God chose you as partners. You are beautiful re-creations today.

God is always in your corner.