Jun 23, 2007
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1 Kings 19:1-15
The truth of God is always cast in history. It is manifested in the shared life of humanity and all of Gods creation. Faith, religious life, is inescapably human. It is thus inescapably political, economic, communal and personal. It is all the above all the time. The stories we have been given this morning are both clear examples of this existential reality. In these stories the mystery of faith in God encounters the hard reality of life. There is no escape from the world
for God or for Gods people.
Faith is never an escape. For the world is Gods creation and the created are Gods utmost concern.
Last week we heard the story of Naboths vineyard. This is the story of how, with Jezebels encouragement, Ahab has Naboth killed and then takes Naboths vineyard. It is an ugly story about tyranny and power run amok. This morning, we find ourselves presented with a later moment in the same Elijah narrative. Elijah has just finished his big showdown with the prophets of Baal. The God of Israel has brought an end to the drought. Baal has been proven powerless and Baals prophets have been slain. But instead of celebrating some great victory, Elijah is on the run. Jezebel has killed all the prophets of Israel in retaliation
all except for Elijah.
But thats not the beginning of the story. There is so much more to know. So prepare your minds, your imaginations. We need to go back in time by about one hundred years before Elijah
back to the time of King Solomon.
King Solomon (961 922 BC)
The Kingdom splits between north and south.
Phoenicia and Syria are political sparring partners
Egypt is a political sparring partner.
There is a steady string of skirmishes and outright civil war between the two kingdoms.
Our story from I Kings takes place in the northern kingdom, Israel. Israel is much less politically stable than Judah in the south where the Davidic dynasty continues unabated.
Jeroboam I (922 901 BC)
Nadab (901 900 BC)
Baasha (900 877 BC)
Elah (877 876 BC)
He is murdered.
Zimri (876 BC)
He rules for seven days.
Because of the on-going civil war with Judah and aggression from Syria, the intrigue and upheaval is intense. It culminates with a coup detat as Omri, a powerful general, assumes the throne.
In some ways the dynasty that was established by Omri is the most positive thing to happen in the Northern Kingdom. Omri is politically astute, economically savvy, and a fine military strategist. Even well after his passing, when Assyria had conquered, Israel was known as the land of Omri.
One of his astute political decisions was to have his son, Ahab, marry the Phoenician princess, Jezebel. This sealed a political and economic alliance between the economic empire of Tyre (Phoenicia) and Israel. This was a wise move according to many. Phoenicia was a powerful economic force in the region, and securing a relationship with them secured Israels position against Judah.
Omris rule comes to an end somewhere around 869 BC. His son, Ahab, assumes the throne.
Ahab (869-850 BC)
Jezebel was his queen.
A political marriage, an alliance made between Israel and Phoenicia
The state religions were different.
Phoenicia Baal (a fertility God)
Under Ahab, things seem to fall apart somehow.
Economic strife with a separation of rich and poor
There had always been a kind of syncretism in the Kingdom of Solomon between the worship of Yahweh, the Israelite God, and other native religions. Solomon would also set up altars in his palace for the gods of his wives. But the public face of Israel had always been the worship of the One God in the Temple. So, in one sense, what Omri and Ahab did was completely in step with the history of the monarchy
with one important exception. Baal worship became the public face of the monarchy. The anointed of God, Ahab, begins to worship another god along side Yahweh. Jezebel brought her own prophets with her and set them in the positions once held by the prophets of Yahweh. This proved to be the tipping point.
As the economic disparity between the wealthy and the poor was increasing, political pressure from outside the Kingdom was increasing. The aristocracy in the Northern Kingdom had become, at least in the eyes of the authors of I Kings, greedy and tyrannical. It was supplanting one faith for another, and handing over national identity to foreign interests.
Baal worship comes to symbolize one way of life
an idolatrous and tyrannical way of life.
The worship of the God of Israel comes to symbolize another, where righteousness is asked of all who follow God, and not just the poor or the common folk. The demands of faith upon all adherents, upon all Jews, were the same. This is why, if you recall, the slaying of Naboth is such a horrible act. Ahab, the king, does not live as God has asked him to
and if anyone is supposed to uphold the covenant it is the King who is the anointed one of God!
This is the situation in which Elijah comes to the fore. Elijah, as a historical figure, comes into prominence toward the end of Ahabs reign. He is, like many of the prophets, attempting to call Israel back to its covenant agreement with God. He is reminding them of their identity
.who they are, whose they are.
Their identity is not centered in the political relationships with other nations.
Their identity is not centered in the economic decisions made by the aristocracy.
Their identity is centered in the worship of God
in the covenant.
And that identity is what informs all other decisions. Elijah is not asking the King and the people to pretend that God is not interested in politics, to ignore the economic and political realities of the day. Elijah is reminding them that God asks the Israelites to participate in a certain way, asking for them all to be righteous in the sight of God. They are to be a light unto the nations. This has always been their calling as a people, as followers and adherents to the holy Covenant.
In this way, the faithful are inescapably political.
In this way, the faithful make economic decisions.
Tyranny has no place.
Idolatry has no place.
God stands in the center where peace and righteousness reside. This is where the faithful are called to stand.
So, Elijah makes his stand
and then he runs. Elijah makes his way into the cave in our story this morning. He has been zealous for the LORD. But as much success as he thinks he has, he has to flee for his life. He goes to Mt. Horeb, the same mountain that Moses went to encounter God. He goes to the source of faith. There is chaos and violent wind. These things announce the coming of God. But when God is present nothing else can speak. There is the sound of sheer silence.
This passage has been translated in multiple ways: a still small voice, a fine silence, a gentle whisper, as the sound of sheer silence
All are attempting to get at the same point
When God is present, nothing else can stand. Nothing else speaks. Elijah encounters Gods all-encompassing presence on the mountain. Unlike Baal, Yahweh is not simply a fertility God. Yahweh is the One God, the God above all Gods. It is this experience that calls the Psalmist and the poet, enthralls the mystic, and encourages the prophet to call people to the edges
for the center of life and faith is not where we often think it is.
The political call of God may very well be to the edges of society. This is where Elijah encounters God. This is the place from where Elijah speaks. He calls people away from the centers of power, of strength. He calls the people back to righteousness
to the place where Gods voice is heard.
It is in this same way that Jesus encounters his own vocation, his own engagement with the powers of the world.
The loss of national identity encountered in our story from I Kings is mirrored by the encounter with the demoniac. The man has lost his identity. When asked his name, he simply says Legion. His identity is fragmented, chaotic. It is, as far as Luke wants us to know, a political and spiritual madness. He has been driven out to the furthest reaches of society. And it is there that he meets God. Jesus goes to that place to find him.
And in the spiritual rescue, there is the political rescue. What need does an Israelite town have for a herd of pigs? Well, to feed the Roman military. Luke is a writer
and makes a writers choice.
What is your name?
My name is Legion.
The demoniacs identity is centered in the identity of the oppressor. It is centered in the identity of the occupying nation. And this is as much of a sign of madness as anything else.
So, Jesus calls out the demons. The man is healed from his madness. And once again he finds his true center. He finds it in God
the God who has met him at the edges and drawn him back to center in himself and in God.
Sadly, as the story suggests, this may not cure him of the social stigma he has endured. He now endures another. Communities will tolerate the things and people that name their illness much more easily than they will tolerate the things and people that name their salvation. The devil that you know
The demoniac wants to follow Jesus now. He wants to stand with him wherever he goes. And as lovely as that may seem, it is not what Jesus asks of him. Stay. He says. Stay and tell the others.
Perhaps Luke, like the authors of I Kings, wants us to know the political ramifications of Gods work in the world. God has not abandoned politics. Far from it. And God has called us to engage as well.
We engage in politics by telling all that God has done for us. This is a political act as challenging as any. It re-centers the political conversation. It re-centers our identity, individually and collectively.
And as we tell our stories again and again, more connections will become clear to us. The areas of our lives we once believed to be godless will prove to be holy habitations, Mt. Horebs and Carmels, places where idols are cast aside and God brings an end to drought.
We will find ourselves at the edges of society, naming the ills that we all carry, the demons that possess our society.
And by finding ourselves at the edges, we proclaim God as the center of all things.
Thanks be to God.