The Lord is My God
Pastor Doug Stratton – July 15, 2017
I Kings 17:1
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
CCI: When we make a commitment to honor the Lord alone as our God, God will use us, but the way may not be easy.
Intro: We are nearing the end of the favorite verse requests that were submitted a couple months ago. If you have another text you would like me to address in a sermon, please let me know.
Today we will be looking at a favorite character from the Bible, Elijah. What do you know about Elijah?
Good, these are all important events in the life of Elijah, but do you know what his name means? His name, is a hint to the source of his power. His name means “The LORD is my God.” Elijah’s very name is testimony to his commitment and to his faithfulness.
Elijah is honored as a prophet of God by Jews, by Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, by Mormons and even in the sacred the writings of Baha’i. He is a towering figure in the history of God’s dealing with humanity.
We know nothing of Elijah’s background except that he came from the village of Tishbe, a small hamlet about 7 miles from the Wadi Kerith. It was part of the Northern Kingdom, in the region of Gilead which today is part of Jordan. Elijah lived and preached during the reign of King Ahab who reigned between 870 and 850 BC. At the time the Northern Kingdom was quite prosperous. However Ahab had married into the royal family of Sidon and his wife Jezebaal had established the worship of Ba’al as the religion of the nation. At one point she had brought 450 priests of Ba’al from Sidon to the capital in Jezreel. Because the nation was prospering economically, many of the Israelites in the North followed the queen into idolatry.
This was the nation where Elijah was called to preach. The people did not care about the laws of God, nor did the find any reason to turn to God.
Throughout Elijah’s ministry, there were a couple of recurring themes that stand out with power, and it is these themes that I would like us to think about.
First, Elijah, as his name implies was devoted to worshipping only the Lord. Throughout the Middle East, there were many gods that were worshipped. There was even a Jewish idea that God had given each of the nations their own god, but the Lord, or “I am Who I am” was the God of Israel who ruled over all the others.
While many in the land had turned to the god of the Sidonians, Elijah had remained true to the LORD. His faithfulness in the face of persecution and rejection became his strength. It was unpopular to worship the God of Abraham, it was even considered unpatriotic because the LORD was worshiped in Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom. Yet Elijah continued to declare “The Lord is my God!”
Our society today has set up many alternative gods. There is the god Greed, which Paul calls Idolatry. There is the god of Youth and we are culture that has been clinging to this god for many years. An article published by the YWCA entitled “Beauty at Any Cost” opens with these words:
Every woman in the United States participates in a daily beauty pageant, whether she likes it or not. Engulfed by a popular culture saturated with images of idealized, air-brushed and unattainable female physical beauty, women and girls cannot escape feeling judged on the basis of their appearance. As a result, many women feel chronically insecure, overweight and inadequate, as these beauty images apply to an ever-shrinking pool of women. Moreover, the diet, cosmetic and fashion industries are often too willing to exploit these narrow beauty standards so women and girls will become cradle-to-grave consumers of beauty products, cosmetic surgery and diet programs.
The issue is not new, but the extent to which it is invading the lives of younger girls and women of color, and the lengths to which women will go to achieve an unattainable look, is an increasing problem. The pressure to achieve unrealistic physical beauty is an undercurrent in the lives of virtually all women in the United States, and its steady drumbeat is wreaking havoc on women in ways that far exceed the bounds of their physical selves. From new levels of spending on cosmetic alteration to health risks and to the emergence of a “mean girls” culture, the lifelong burden of an unattainable beauty and body image is taking a terrible toll in all areas of women’s lives, from economic well-being to health to interpersonal relationships.
Beauty has become a god.
Even our money has become a god for many. We even attribute divine attributes to money. Don’t we call it the Almighty Dollar?
We don’t have to look far to find many other gods in our midst. Our Children, while they are to be a priority, have become the object of our worship. Even life has become a god, and while life is precious, should we regard life itself as sacred?
These are the gods of our culture. Elijah was willing to stand against Ba’al, the god of fertility even though it meant he was an outcast, are we willing to stand against the gods of our culture and declare “The Lord is My God alone?”
Second, Elijah challenged the authorities as he called people to faithfulness. When we first meet Elijah, he is facing down the King Ahab and he declares that God is judging the nation. The next time he encounters Ahab, he challenges the Priests of Ba’al to a contest to determine the true God. And then again, after Ahab has stolen the land of man his wife had murdered, Elijah stands up to him and declares God’s judgement.
In the Spirit of Elijah, are we willing to stand up to authority and call for justice for the poor and the oppressed? Are we willing to advocate for men and women who are being held in subjugation by the justice system even after they are released from prison? Are we willing to speak for equality for LGBT folks who are still facing discrimination in housing in our own state? Will we stand with our Black brothers and sisters who face discrimination in employment and in every day civil rights?
In the words of the song we just sang, these are the days of Elijah. Will we declare the word of the Lord?
And the third theme from Elijah’s life that is a lesson for us was highlighted by Jesus. In Luke 4 we read: “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” These words that told the people that God was concerned about the “other” or the non-jew, infuriated the people. But when Elijah was feeling the effect of the drought in the land, he went to a Gentile widow for help and then provided her with oil and meal until the drought ended. That same gentile woman, when her son died was restored to life by Elijah’s prayers. Elijah’s ministry reminds us that God is concerned about those on the outside.
But even more, God uses people we write off. In our first encounter with Elijah, we are told that God sent him to the Wadi Koreth to hide. A wadi is stream that flows only when there are heavy rains. While the stream was flowing most of our translations say, God sent ravens in the morning and at night to feed Elijah. But in an interesting interpretation, I have learned that the word translated raven, ovrim, has an alternative pronunciation that is translated Arab. So perhaps, just as God used a Gentile widow to save him, God may have used Arabs to first save Elijah. The passage could be translated, “I have commanded the Arabs to feed thee there. And he went and did according to the word of Jehovah and went and dwelt in the Wadi Chorath east of the Jordan. And the Arabs brought him bread in the morning and flesh in the evening and he would drink of the wadi.”
God used unexpected people in Elijah’s life. Who is God seeking to use in our lives today? Throughout the year, God has used the Alrebdawi family to remind us of God’s love for all people and as Hend has grown to love those who knit on Mondays, so we have learned that God can teach us through a Muslim family. Is God working through a neighbor who speaks with an accent? Is God offering to connect with you through waitress who quietly cares for you? Is God seeking to connect you to a disabled child around the block? Is God looking to bless you through a person you do not even know yet?
These are the days of Elijah, God is working through the least expected.
But finally as we look at Elijah, we see that God works through imperfect people. While Elijah is venerated by many people and many faiths, Elijah was far from perfect. When he challenged the prophets of Ba’al to a battle of the gods, he spent the morning and afternoon mocking them in their attempt to worship. Following that great victory, he murdered all the prophets of Ba’al. And then, after this victory, Elijah fell into a suicidal depression.
I have often met people who have told me they are beyond God’s reach, their sin has built a wall that not even God can overcome. Well friends, if God can use Elijah when he determined that the Lord is My God, then he can use you and me if we will make the Lord our God.
Let us Pray.
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