If the LORD is the one who can save you in this world and after you die, then follow him and his Word. If the Internet can save you, follow it. If science can save you, then follow it. If your feelings can save you, then follow your heart.
But remember, you can only follow one.
A sermon preached on I Kings 18:16-45 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on May 10, 2020.
There is a special kind of dance that those of the divided heart do. It is called the Dance of Inconsistency by some. Others call it the Dance of Wanting vs. Knowing. Scripture calls this dance of the divided heart the Dance of Having Other Gods, which is why it is also known as the Dance of Death. You call it, what, what do you call this dividedness in your own heart? Your church-self vs. your real self? Or daytime persona vs. your nighttime persona? Your appetites vs. your brain? What name do you have for your inconsistent, divided heart, that wants to follow Christ and his Word…but also wants to let other voices have the final word about at least a few things?
2800 years ago, in the 800’s BC, Pastor Elijah presented a simple fact of life to the church people of his day, the same simple fact of life that is being presented to you and me right now–If the LORD is the one who can save you in this world and after you die, then consistently follow his Word. But, if not, if it is the Internet that can save you, follow it. If science can save you, then follow it. If your feelings can save you, then follow your heart. But remember, you can only follow one. All your eggs go in one basket.
There had been no pastors in Israel like Elijah for some 80 years, ever since 930 BC when the northern 10 tribes had broken away from the two southern tribes. There had been no pastors in Israel like Elijah, and it showed. No pastors like Elijah…until now. Until things had gotten so bad that a miracle would have to be done. This was the time of King Ahab, and his wife Jezebel; it was the time when they “…did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before” (them). (I Kings 16:30) People went to church, or the northern version of the temple, and learned about the coming Messiah. But they also incorporated parts of the religion of Baal into their lives. Which is what prompted their pastor, Elijah, to say, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Or, as it sounds in the modern version: If the LORD is the one who can save you in this life and after you die, then consistently follow his Word. But if the Internet can save you, then follow it. Or if science can save you, then follow it. If your feelings can save you, then follow your heart. But remember, you can only follow one. All your eggs go in one basket.
- The Showdown
Elijah had said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” And it came to a showdown. It would be a trial by fire. Build an altar. Put on wood. Cut up a bull (a rather expensive offering). Ask your God to get the fire started on the wood to burn up the offering. The pastors of the Baal religion did what their religion said to do. Pray. When that didn’t work, dance. When that didn’t work, shout at the top of your lungs. When that didn’t work they cut themselves, not to see if they could still feel, but because one of the doctrines of the Baal religion said that Baal was aroused by the odor of blood. But, of course, this did not work. No fire came to burn up the sacrifice. Because Baal could not save them in this world nor after they would die. Which was extremely unfortunate for them, because death was coming much sooner than they had likely expected.
After some six hours of this, at about 3:00 in the afternoon, it was Pastor Elijah’s turn. Elijah put back together an old altar that had fallen into disrepair, because Elijah was not preaching to them a new truth, but the same old one from before. Because that’s the thing about Truth—it doesn’t change. Put on the wood. Put on the bull (again, a rather expensive sacrifice). And then he did an odd thing—he had young guys get buckets and buckets of water and drench the whole thing. So much water that it filled a trench he had dug around the altar. And then he prayed a simple, 60 word prayer, that took less than 30 seconds to pray. “O LORD, 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 (note—this contest was not Elijah’s idea—God had told him to do this). Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” And God answered. Sent down lightening to strike the wood, set it on fire, a fire so unnaturally hot that it not only dried up all the water, not only burned up the sacrifice, it burned up the stones. Contest over.
- The Lesson
If the LORD is the one who can save you in this world and after you die, then consistently follow his Word…all the teachings in his Word. But if it is Baal who can save you, follow him. If the Internet can save you, follow it. If science can save you, then follow it. If your feelings can save you, then follow your heart. But remember, you can only follow one. All your eggs go in one basket.
- The Twist
The twist in this whole showdown comes with the nature of the contest. A contest between two gods could have been done in any number of ways: it could have been, “the god who can beat up the other god, that one is the true god!” Or the god who can make water go uphill, that god is the true god!” But the contest God directed Elijah to conduct was a contest about sacrifice. Do you get the twist in that?
What did the Old Testament sacrifices point ahead to? The sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, on the altar of the cross. A sacrifice that won our forgiveness, won peace with God, won heaven itself. You see? Sacrifices in the Old Testament were all about what God would come and do for you, the sinner. But in pagan religions, like Baal worship, sacrifices were all about what you, the sinner, was supposed to do for your god. In pagan religions, like Baal worship, sacrifices were all about what you were supposed to give to your god. But the sacrifice Elijah performed was to remind all those Israelites about what God was going to give to them—a Savior. And through that Savior and his sacrifice on the cross (an expensive sacrifice), he would give them the forgiveness of all their sin, peace with God, and heaven at the last. And not only for them, but for us as well.
You see, if Baal is your god, he will take things from you, and eventually your soul in hell. If the Internet, or science, or your own appetites are your god, they will all take things from you, your time, your energy, your money, ultimately your soul. If the God of the Scriptures is your God, he will give things to you—your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your mind and all your abilities, and each day he gives you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse, children, financial security during Covid-19, physical security in a pandemic so that it does not harm you, not to mention, forgiveness, life, salvation. That’s why he sacrificed his Son on the altar of the cross, and raised him back to life on the third day. So that he could be the God who gives, and gives, and gives.
A lumberjack went into a 20 acre section of woods and saw a bird making its nest, to lay her eggs. But the lumberjack knew that tree would soon be coming down and she would lose everything, including her eggs. So he started whacking on the tree, shaking it, stressing the bird until finally she flew off to another tree in that 20 acre section. Immediately she began to build a nest in that tree. But the lumberjack knew that tree also would soon be coming down. So the lumberjack started whacking that tree, shaking it, until the bird finally flew off to another tree. And this went on. Until finally the bird flew up onto a rocky cliff, started to build a nest on the rock, where the lumberjack knew she would be safe and live happily ever after.
Every tree in this world is coming down. Anything you trust more than the Word of our God, you will lose. God has whacked and shaken up our world with a virus so small you can’t even see it. He’s done this so that we might learn this lesson more deeply than we ever learned it before–If the LORD is the one who can save you in this world from being harmed by Covid-19 even if you get sick with it and it causes your death, or save you being harmed by financial stress even if it means job loss or tightening your belt more than you ever have before, or save you from being harmed by the things this pandemic has taken from you or those who would use this to take freedoms from you, and the Lord who can save you from being harmed and also save you forever in heaven after you die—then follow his Word. All of it. Consistently. Seriously.
And if that seems daunting, and it should, remember this—while we may have inconsistent and divided hearts, even on our best days, God never does. Each day God in Christ has only an undivided heart of love for you. So much so, he calls you by name, at your baptism, the day he promised to love you every day, to forgive you every day, and when your days run out, to welcome you into his home forever, because there’s no one he would rather have in heaven than you, that’s what his undivided heart says. And why he calls on you, in turn, to strive each day to have an undivided heart towards him and his Word. All of it. Amen.