Talbot Davis

Author's details

Name: Talbot Davis
Date registered: October 23, 2012
URL: http://www.blogger.com/profile/03339332032208930957

Latest posts

  1. The Heart Of The Matter: Elijah’s Jim Valvano Moment: The "Lost Hope" Sermon Recap — July 28, 2014
  2. The Heart Of The Matter: Lost And Found, Week 3 — Lost Hope — July 25, 2014
  3. The Heart Of The Matter: How The #UMC Is Like Donny & Marie Osmond — July 24, 2014
  4. The Heart Of The Matter: A Family Snapshot — July 23, 2014
  5. The Heart Of The Matter: Top Five Tuesday — Top Five REM Songs — July 22, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. The Heart Of The Matter: Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Frustrations With Being A Don Henley Fan — 24 comments
  2. The Heart Of The Matter: A Sermon Killer — 1 comment
  3. The Heart Of The Matter: When An English Speaker Preaches A Spanish Sermon — 1 comment
  4. The Heart Of The Matter: Why We Do Vacation Bible Experience . . . — 1 comment
  5. The Heart Of The Matter: The Intolerance Of The Tolerant — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Jul 28 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: Elijah’s Jim Valvano Moment: The "Lost Hope" Sermon Recap

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/elijahs-jim-valvano-moment-lost-hope.html


I have been more than grateful for the impact that the Lost And Found series has had on people's lives at Good Shepherd.

People are finding themselves deep inside Elijah's story, and as a result they are also discovering the kind of practical healing that the prophet himself received.

Nowhere was that more true than yesterday's message, "Lost Hope."   It's a message, as you will see, in which Elijah longs for the same kind of celebration that Jim Valvano ran around the court looking for in 1983.  Yet instead of laudatory hugs, Elijah gets his second fatwa in only three chapters.

How he loses his hope -- and finds it again -- is the subject of the rest of the message.  It lands at one of my favorite bottom lines ever:  God won't do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 



Isn’t it true that there are times when we’ve had enough?  Our parents said that to us, didn’t they?  We’d push all their buttons, we were persistently disobedient and out it came:  “I’ve HAD ENOUGH of you young man!”  Or “I’ve HAD ENOUGH of your lip, young lady!”  And that phrase sunk into us so deeply – whether or not it was the prelude to some kind of , um, corporal punishment – that to our horror we have heard ourselves saying the same thing to our kids when they push our buttons.  The very thing we promised we’d never be, we’ve become.  I’ve HAD ENOUGH!  We get frustrated with, angry at, people & situations & politicians & preachers and we collectively have HAD ENOUGH.


            But you know not all of that energy is directed externally.  Sometimes the thing we’ve had enough of is us.  Issues and struggles.  Some of you reach that place where you’ve had enough of your marriage.  Or you’ve had enough of that chronic pain in your back.  You’ve had enough of losing your temper.  You’ve had enough of being single.  You’ve had enough of compulsive, self-destructive behavior.  Yeah, there’s a whole lot of people I know who’ve HAD ENOUGH and the target is us.


            And saddest of all are the people who have had enough of life itself.  The obstacles are so steep and the burdens are so heavey that you’ve had enough of living.  You lose any hope that I could possibly get any better.  The marriage won’t heal, the kids won’t be functional, the body won’t respond, the eviction notice arrived, and you just see no way out.  Where today is so dark that there is no way tomorrow can have any light at all.  Some of you have been there, some of you are headed there, and others are there right now.  Why you came to church.            Did you know that kind of hopelessness moves about 765K ppl a year to attempt suicide and 30K to succeed?  So sad.


            Which is really nothing new.  That place of hopelessness and even that death wish is exactly where we find Elijah in I K 19: He’s had enough – enough of life, enough of opposition, he’s lost hope and he wants to die.  Here’s the deal: it’s about 750 BC, the children of Israel are divided into two, Elijah is a prophet to the Northern half, called Israel, and Israel has been over-run with worship of a certain idol called Baal.  When Elijah came on the scene, he predicted  a drought, it happened, he survived a fatwa by fleeing, then he returns home and stages a contest between the idol Baal and the living God on Mt. Carmel, which is Baal’s home court.  And Elijah wins a victory for the Lord! Dramatic, decisive, definitive.  So in the aftermath of that great moment, he’s like Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug (check the first 15 seconds of this clip)


expecting to be carried down the mountain on the shoulders of his adoring fans.  Total euphoria that demands a hero’s welcome.


            Except that’s not what happens.  Look at 19:1: 

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.

Can you imagine that conversation?  Ahab has his tail between his legs, he is Jay Pritchett to Jezebel’s Gloria (AV w/ knife?) and it really is no contest.  Jezebel, whose name means “Where is Baal”; SAY IT WITH A DEEP SOUTHERN ACCENT AND YOU'LL SEE WHAT I MEAN; comes up with her own way of “celebrating” Elijah’s win: 

 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”


Ugh.  He expects praise, anticipates a parade, and he receives a death threat.  His second fatwa in 3 chapters!  So look at 19:3a: 

 Elijah was afraid[a] and ran for his life.

 I love the irony: he runs for his life . . . the same life he is shortly going to ask to be taken from him.


            So look next at 19:3b-4: 

When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.

And there it is.  I’VE HAD ENOUGH, LORD!!  I’m not gonna take it anymore!   Isn’t it true that many of us are more vulnerable after prosperity than we are in the middle of adversity?  When we fly high we fall hard.  I know it’s that way for me.  I remember that time after Easter – record attendance, big head, euphoric celebration – I checked my mail and there was every preacher’s worst nightmare: AN ANONYMOUS LETTER.  It wasn’t kicking me when I was down; it was sabotaging me when I was up!  Yeah all around, be the most watchful and attentive after success because that’s when you become complacent, self-reliant, and even cocky.  Elijah’s expectations were so high and the disappointment so great that he saw no way tomorrow could have any light in it at all. So he’d HAD ENOUGH.


            Which leads to the worst prayer in the bible: 

“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

 Wow.  The “had enough” pile on top of each other, the weight becomes unbearable, and Elijah wants to end it all.  And although it is the worst prayer in the bible, I’m really glad it’s here.  Because I know some of you have prayed it.  Or you are praying it.  Hope is gone because the marriage is over, the job market is closed, the voices are still in your head, the pain is relentless, so it seems there is no way out except to get out.  Take my life. Do it now.  Instantly.  Painlessly.  Fix it, take it, do it.  I’m tired of being responsible for it.


            That’s you.  And that was Elijah.  Except look what happens in 19:5b-6: 


All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

  
Hey: MAJOR UPGRADE from having ravens deliver your food!  I’ll take an messenger of God over a scavenger of carrion anyday!  And in case you missed it the first time, the same thing happens in 19:7-8a: 

 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.

And the repetition is the key. The answer to this painfully large prayer is massively small:  bread, water, and a bed.  Elijah wants a snap answer, a quick fix, and God grants the start of a slow process – bread, water, bed.  As if recovering hope can never be a matter of great leaps, but always involve small steps. 


            But it’s the double command:  Get up and eat (19:5, 7) that I love the most. You notice what God’s representative does?  Puts the burden back on  Elijah  God sent the provision but Elijah has to act on it to receive it.  It’s not like the messenger put an IV line in and E will receive nourishment whether he wants it or not.  He had to act.  He had to own.  He wanted to be totally passive – wanted God to do something instantaneous for him. Either kill him or make him all better in a snap.  But instead God gives a task, a massively small task:  Get up & eat.  I’m sending bread, water, and a bed but you gotta get up and take advantage of what I’m providing.  And so you know what the repeated command tells me, all of you who’ve lost hope and want God to send a quick, thorough fix?  God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.  


            He’ll only give you what you are willing to “own.”  If he had delivered (or killed!) a thoroughly passive Elijah from the season of hopelessness, the same situation would have recurred again.  Elijah had to assume some responsibility for his own healing, even if it was as small as getting up, eating, and then doing it again! for the healing to endure.  The recovery of hope is not one great leap, it’s many small steps, but you have to take them.  God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.  


            Elijah prays for this instantaneous deliverance and God in reply starts a process.  Do the next right, healthy thing, Elijah.  I’ll provide the tools, you take the steps.  I could do it all for you but that would not grow you.  I want to do it with you.  It’s the concept of Toxic Charity applied to how God relates to us!  God is not going to restore hope for Elijah; he will restore it with him.  God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.  


            You know why I really believe this?  Because some people here have lost all hope . . . and you like it that way.  Some folks don’t WANT to get well.  They like the notoriety, the attention, the helplessness.  It’s a learned state and they’ve learned it well.  They nurse their own helplessness; it’s like their security blanket.  Some people are not happy unless they are unhappy – and if they find themselves temporarily happy – or hopeful – they will conjure up a way to revert to unhappiness & hopelessness.  You know people like this.  You might have been raised by someone like this. But you just realized in a flash that, “that’s me!”  You’re not happy unless you’re unhappy; you’re not well unless you’re sick.  And that’s why God’s not delivering you from it.  Because you aren’t partnering with him! You’re whimpering before him!  God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.  


            Our recovery friends talk about “spiritual bypass.”  Where people walk into AA or a pastor’s office and want a ZAP and all of a sudden no more alcohol cravings.  Alcoholism healed and hope restored.  Now I have seen that happen. Like once.  Compared to a million people I know who need to walk all the steps.  God needs to invite you to ownership, into a process, one in which you take massively small steps, each one full of meaning while appearing insignificant.  It’s a bit like what we say around here when it comes to pastoral counseling of people:  it can’t mean more to you (counselor) than it does to them.  I love what Thomas Edison said about the light bulb:  I never failed once.  I invented the light bulb.  It just happened to be a 2,000 step process.   Finding the hope you’ve lost will likely be the same.  Not 1 step.  Maybe not even 12.  Maybe as many as 2000. Partnering with God, not passive before him. God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.  


            I’ve told many of you before of how I went through a season where I wanted either a) leave ministry and work in landscaping (genius at an edger!) or b) get a job at a small church w/ less responsibility.  Pretty heavily settled despair.  You know how I was delivered from it?  When I kept getting up in the morning, coming to work, preparing sermons, and visiting people. No quick fix.  Just a thousand small, not very glamorous steps.  And a couple of years later I was like “Oh!  I don’t feel like crap anymore!”  What will that look like for you?  How will you move to a with God instead of for you?  Is it the appointment with that therapist?  Is it following through on your intention to go to a fitness center?  Because you know the health of your body is completely connected to the health of your spirit.  Is it quitting smoking?  And how much of a blessing will that be to your finances?!  Is it simply getting up, going to work, and realizing that in the middle of all these little things that a right, God brings healing and hope?  I know one thing it can be, easily, this week: use the Daily Readings.  They are about hope this week. Follow them.  It’s not glamorous.  It is beautiful.  God is giving you bread, water, and bed.  Get up & eat.  God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you. 


            Because look at where Elijah ends up in 19:8: 

 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

He ends up at Horeb, also known to most as Sinai, the mountain of God.  Look where his journey has taken him: from Carmel the home of Baal to Horeb the mountain of the Lord.  Home of the Ten Commandments, home of Moses, summer home of Charlton Heston.  But that’s what happens, isn’t it?  When you’re not passively demanding God do things for you, but taking ownership of your own journey, he works with you and brings you not only into hope but back to home.  And you just can’t get enough of that.








Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/elijahs-jim-valvano-moment-the-lost-hope-sermon-recap/

Jul 25 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: Lost And Found, Week 3 — Lost Hope

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/lost-and-found-week-3-lost-hope.html






Back against the wall.

Feel like giving up.

No good options.

Had enough.

Whatever the cliche, you feel like the guy in the picture when you stop believing that tomorrow will be any better than today.

It's where some of you are.

It's also where Elijah found himself -- ironically, not long after his great triumph at Mt. Carmel.

So what happened next?

That's for Sunday.

8:30.  10.  11:30.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/lost-and-found-week-3-lost-hope/

Jul 24 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: How The #UMC Is Like Donny & Marie Osmond

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-umc-is-like-donny-marie-osmond.html


Wait. 

You're thinking that the Osmonds are Mormons for goodness sake, and no matter how much theological latitude we allow in the United Methodist Church, we're not that.

Except that's not what the post is about.

Instead, many local United Methodist congregations pattern their church lives after this D & M classic:


Ah, a little bit country and a little bit rock & roll.

Or, in our case, a little bit contemporary and a little bit traditional.

A little bit modern and a little bit Methodist.

A little bit current and a little bit classic.

And the result of local UMCs who try to be all things to all people?  Who may add a guitar but complement it with just the right color of liturgical parament?  Who might stray from the lectionary but will never NOT do communion on the first Sunday of a month?

When you are a little bit of everything there is a danger of becoming a whole lot of nothing.  Which is another way of saying a church with a split identity.

Now: there are a handful of congregations who navigate these waters well.  They usually have long-tenured leaders who have both wisdom and imagination.

It's much more common, however, for local congregations who attempt to be both Donnie AND Marie to have an ongoing identity crisis:  Who are we?  What is our focus?  What is our strategy?  Is it more about preserving Methodism or reaching people with the Gospel?  The identity crises are apparent in architecture, interior design, church programming, and even leadership styles.

The majority of healthy UMCs I know have real clarity around their character and style.  Some are thoroughly traditional in worship and unapologetically Methodist in emphasis.  Others are modern in style and tend to downplay denomination so that it won't get in the way of Jesus.

Neither of those approaches is right

Both, however, are clear.

And in a world full of competing voices -- in a world with both country and rock & roll! -- clarity is vital for impact.

So -- what is it, #UMC?  Country?  Or rock & roll?  Please choose ONE.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/how-the-umc-is-like-donny-marie-osmond/

Jul 23 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: A Family Snapshot

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-family-snapshot.html


Here is our family in a snapshot taken on a recent beach vacation:


There I am on the far left.

To my left is our 24-year-old daughter Taylor who graduated from Vanderbilt in 2011 and now lives in Atlanta where she works as an Account Manager in a public relations firm.

Next is our 21-year-old son Riley who this fall will begin his senior year at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  This summer he is interning at a church near that campus called Love Chapel Hill.

And then Julie.  The trip in which we are pictured was actually to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  In other words, when we got married, Ronald Reagan was president, Thriller was at the top of the charts, and mullets were in style.  Thirty years later, well, Julie is a Vice-President of Sales for a medical device firm with a worldwide reach.




Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/a-family-snapshot/

Jul 22 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: Top Five Tuesday — Top Five REM Songs

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/top-five-tuesday-top-five-rem-songs.html


If you were at Good Shepherd this past Sunday, you know what we launched our worship gathering with a terrific rendition of REM's Losing My Religion.

How else could we possibly begin a service with the overall title of "Lost Religion"?

You can watch those opening moments -- and the hour or so that followed it as well -- by clicking here.


Anyway, that experience has put me in sort of an REM mood, which means of course that I have to "Top Five Tuesday" them. So here they are: my Top Five REM songs:

5. Supernatural superserious.  This tune is off 2008's Accelerate, an album that was largely ignored yet much under-rated.  I can't resist a song that talks about volunteering at a summer camp.



4.  What's The Frequency, Kenneth?  Talk about irresistible -- a song with its origins in the most inexplicable Dan Rather moment ever.


3.  Everybody Hurts.  This walks that fine line between naming the truth of pain and wallowing in our status as victims . . . and does so in a way that is hauntingly beautiful.


2.  Losing My Religion.  Of course.


1.  Man On The Moon.  Not just my favorite REM song of them, but one of my favorites of all time, like ever.  The wistful guitar work makes it so the song never gets old.




Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/top-five-tuesday-top-five-rem-songs/

Jul 21 2014

The Heart Of The Matter: Lost & Found Week 2 — "Lost Religion" — A Sermon That Connects T.O., Elijah, And Mt. Carmel

Original post at http://talbotdavis.blogspot.com/2014/07/lost-found-week-2-lost-religion-sermon.html


Yesterday's sermon was pretty special to me for two reasons:  1) I felt good about the bottom line, The gods you make will always let you down; the God who makes you will never let you go";  and 2) the action in the biblical story takes place on Mount Carmel.

Now: Mount Carmel is a church -- the congregation I served in Monroe, NC from 1990-1999.  I am reconnecting with many of those folks this week as a preach at a camp meeting near Waxhaw, NC.

But Mount Carmel is also a physical location in the north of Israel.  And that location has everything to do with the meaning of the sermon and its application.  Here's what I mean and here's how the sermon went:

------------------------------------------------------------------------



Some of you might remember when this happened in an NFL football game: 




 And thatgave rise to a whole breed of commercials called Not In My House! . . . in the world of sports, a way of saying there is no way I am going to let you come into my home field, home court, home stadium, and beat me, taunt me, take away what’s mine.  It’s sort of macho, but it sorts of works, and the deal is . . . if you can go into someone’s “house” and beat them at their own game while on their own turf, well, you’ve done something.  A victory for the ages.  (I looked for some kind of parallel in tennis but it’s not like Harvard used to get all macho & say to Princeton tennis: not in our house!  They’d be like, I’ve got an interview on Wall Street later, can we hurry?
            Well, as we get to Week 2 of Lost And Found, as we get to week two of our days with Elijah, it’s a Not In My House! kind of deal. Here’s what is going on:  Israel, the people, had lost their faith. There had been a Civil War, a division into North & South, and in the Northern Kingdom King Ahab was on the throne and quickly staking claim to title of Worst. King. Ever.  By marrying a woman named Jezebel, he (and she!) brought the worship of Baal into the kingdom of the Lord.  Look at I K 16:32: 

 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.


  Who & what was Baal?  A god they could make with their hands.





 
 The people had lost patience with the invisible God and so they decided to make one that was visible.  PLUS, as we saw last week, since Baal was a fertility god, worshipping him involved rain dances and temple prostitutes.  I don’t care how good a church’s band is, THAT can be hard to compete with as far as “gettin’ the men in church.”      
            In the wake of all that Elijah tells Ahab there is going to be a drought.  This is to prove that God – the invisible one – is more in charge of the rain AND THE SUN than Baal could ever be.  Elijah pronounces the drought and then disappears for three years.  The people all around him had lost their religion because they were busy making gods, and so Elijah opposes it and then vanishes.
            But I wonder . . . are we done with that?  Are we really finished with making our own gods?  Now:  not too many of you are making ceramic idols but did you know that a survey of American Xns showed that 22% believe in reincarnation (Hindu!), 23% believe in astrology and 15% have seen a fortune teller?  More to the point, someone here has a made a god of a relationship in your life.  It’s not a HEALTHY one, mind you – toxic, actually – but you feel like if it is taken away from you you won’t be able to breathe anymore.  That relationship in spite of its turmoil gives you security, identity, and meaning.  Someone else here has made a god of your resume.  If you can’t hand a business card with a nice title on it to people you meet, you figure what’s the point in living?  It’s a god you have made.  You know what it is for me?  Church!  Reputation!  How those two intersect!  My own image is a god I make and tend and protect and obsess over.  Yeah, ancient Israel had lost their religion because they had traded the original, invisible god for a visible substitute . . . and you do the same.
            Here’s what’s even more true: if you are at that place of thinking about leaving faith“I don’t really believe anymore. I believe nothing. – hey, I’ve been there.  Most have.  But . . . you need to know that you are really just substituting another god in God’s place.  Most likely you!  You have a god, whether you know it or not.  The question is whether it’s the One who made you or the one you are making. 
            Back to Elijah.  Remember him?  Drought’s coming & then he’s gone for three years.  He returns to public life in I K 18, meets Ahab, and look at what he does in 18:16-19: 

16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
 
READ. So he wants everyone who is anyone to gather at Mt. Carmel (which, by the way, is the name of the church in Monroe! AV).  Why Mt. Carmel?  He could have chosen any mountain in Israel; why this one?  BECAUSE IT WAS THE CENTER OF BAAL WORSHIP!!  Baal had home court advantage on Mt. Carmel!  And so Elijah wanted to see Baal’s Not In My House and raise it by The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof! and put his Hebrew National football right on Baal’s 50 yard line star.  Ahab & the prophets are like “Baal’s gonna PROTECT HIS HOUSE”  but Elijah is all “No he ain’t!  I’m gonna ROCK HIS HOUSE!”   

And Elijah challenges the people in 18:21

 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

 Literally, hop between two branches.  And note the people’s answer in 18:21c: 

 But the people said nothing.


They said nothing . . . all the folks who have lost their religion & gone to follow a god they made just sit in silent observation.
            And what does Elijah want to do in Baal’s house on Carmel? Stage a contest in which they’d kill a bull – these were the days before     PETA – put it on a pallet and the Baal prophets pray to Baal & Elijah prays to the Lord and whichever god sets the bull on fire is really God.  So here’s the big question:  is Baal gonna PROTECT HIS HOUSE or not?  He’s the god people have made, he’s the one for whom they have lost their religion, and that’s the question.  And I love the people’s reaction in 18:24: 

 Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”


Good idea!  They’ve gone from silent to intrigued!
            So the contest starts and it’s really a thing of comedy.  Baal’s reps go first in 18:26: 

 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

 Elijah taunts them: 18:27 (not very Christ-like, but then again, Christ hadn’t been born yet so Elijah gets a pass.).  

 2At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”


 When it says “busy” there in the original language, the inference is that he is “using the men’s room.”  The longer they pray, the more noteable the non-answer, and the more panicked the Baal followers become:  18:28: 

 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.


And then the loudest silence in Scripture: 18:29:  But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

          The panic and the escalation is exactly what we do with the gods we make.  When you beg your boyfriend/girlfriend to stay.  When you think one more hit of the drug will satisfy.  When the next job will finally be the one to make you happy.  When the cutting you do will make you calm.  Increasing desperation yielding smaller rewards and it’s all because of the gods you make.
            So Elijah steps up for his turn.  First, in a nod to Jewish history, look what he does in 18:30-32: 

 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed.
  

 And then he declares what he has demonstrated in 18:36: 

 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.


He traces his prayer to history.  Not fertility, like Baal, not the seasons of the year as with idolatry, but to the way God has acted in the history of the people.  The way that Elijah knows that he is just the next in a long line of people to whom God has been faithful.  Lord, I’m just one in this tree of folks you have touched & held & protected.  

 Then the prayer’s simplicity & brevity stands in marked contrast to the panicked offerings to Baal in 18:37:  37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”    And the answer in 18:38: 

 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

The gods the people make: nothing.  The God who had made this people, all the way from Abe to Elijah: fire from heaven.  And I see that for this people who had lost their religion because they have substituted something they’d made – and how what they’d made disappointed them – and I see how that still happens, and here’s the deal:  The gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go.
            Because look at the crowd!  Remember how they were silent and then intrigued?  Look what I K records next of their response:   

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

That’s it!  That’s the moment!  That faceless crowd is actually the most important character in the story – even more than Elijah, more than Ahab, more than the bull (!).  It’s their trajectory from silence to interest to confession: The God who makes us is the only God there is!  El Yah!  (Actually sounds like Elijah’s name in the Hebrew!)  We remember who made us now!  We too are in the line that stretches from Abe & Isaac to today.  He made us and he’s holding us even when we tried to run away!  REFRAIN
            Can I ask you something that Elijah asked the people at the heart of the story?  How long will you waver?  How long will you literally hop from one branch to another?  If you are in the middle of losing your religion is it truthfully, honestly, because you’ve made another god?  People do. Religious ppl do.  Like the Episcopal priest out in WA state who decided to become Ep AND Muslim.  It sounds nice, it sounds all “can’t we all just get along-y” but intellectually it falls apart.  You can’t be both.  It’s why standing in the middle of the road you get hit by cars coming from both sides.  No parent here, for example, wants your child so influenced by peers that you get over-ruled as outdated.  That’s what we do with God. Whether it’s another religion or our horoscope or a toxic romance, drug use that yields inevitably diminishing returns, or my preoc with my image . . . it’s all “hopping.”  Wavering.  If you stay in that place too long you make self-destructive decisions that have a long term impacet and BAM! you’re done.  Some of you married or formerly married people let that guy or that girl be the god you’d made in the moment . . . and that’s why your marriage died.  REFRAIN
            I really love the intro into Elijah’s prayer.  Look at it again in 18:36: READ.  History.  People.  A line.  It demonstrates that even when God doesn’t fix our circumstances – when he does in a sense “let us down” – he doesn’t leave us alone.  He won’t let go that way.  Like I think of who it is who reminds me God is real?  I don’t have that vivid immediacy to say “the God of Abraham” like Elijah did.  I might say “the God of Matt Ristuccia” 






(AV). Who is he?  The NJ pastored who mentored me in college and then married me & Julie upon graduation.  Lord, the God of Matt!   

Or the God of Claude Kayler.




 Who is he? The guy who is my best preacher friend, who founded this church, and because he built it on Jesus and not on Claude was incredibly easy to follow.  Lord, you’re the God of Claude Kayler & because I see what I see in him I believe in you!  Or even the people who work here now.  Why?  Because some of what has been poured into me through the years I can pour into them.  Ministry gets multiplied.  It shows that God is faithful, enduring, and he won’t let go.  I may run, I may think he is invisible but he’s still not letting go.
            See, when God feels distant & you’re losing your religion, something else is going on.  He’s like the sun. The sun is NEVER NOT ON.  It’s ALWAYS burning; never not shining.  When it gets dark, that’s because the EARTH TURNS, not because anything happened with the sun.  Same with God.  He’s never not on.  We lost our religion when WE turn not when he does.  And when we turn our hands get busy making our own gods.  The same gods who invariably, inevitably disappoint.  Oh, turn back.  Test him.  Move from silence to intrigue to confession!  REFRAIN
            Down in rural FLA, a little boy was walking near a pond near the family home.  (Child, water, FLA . . . you know what’s next).  As happens down there, a gator bit on to the boy’s legs.  Fortunately the boys’ mother was near, saw what had happened, was filled w/ adrenaline and grabbed his little arms. Tug of war started. More tug.  More war. The gator was stronger but the mother was more passionate.  Great thing was, a farmer drove by, heard the screams, HAD A GUN IN HIS GUN RACK!, took aim, and shot the gator dead (Dead bull AND gator in one sermon; sorry). 
            Remarkably the boy survived though his legs were badly scarred.  Several weeks later a reporter came to the hospital room to do an update.  He asked the boy if he could see the scars on his legs.  He pulled sheets over so he could.  But then the boy did something else:  “But look at my arms!  I have some great scars there, too.  I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let me go.” NOT IN HER HOUSE!
             REFRAIN.
           


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