The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Pentecost II...limping between two opinions

“Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."[1] 

Generally speaking, prophets are not perceived as cuddly people-persons. Hebrew scripture tends to portray prophets as prickly, and on their very best days, mildly annoyed.  Prophetic ministry is perhaps the most difficult vocation to which God may call a person. Prophecy is by its nature a difficult job since prophets are sent to people who rarely can hear them; if God’s people could hear Him, the prophetic voice would be unnecessary. Prophets live and speak “over-against” prevailing opinions, values, cultural assumptions, and that makes their utterances unwelcomed.

[1] I Kings18:21, NRSV

Sometimes prophets are sent to the people; Ezekiel is such a person. He works among God’s people during the Babylonian Captivity. Other times, as in Elijah’s case, prophets are sent to the authorities. Elijah is given the enviable task of telling Ahab, King of Israel, and his consort Jezebel, that pretty much everything they’re doing is “...evil in the sight of the Lord.”[1]  Speaking uncomfortable Truth to power is hard work; the prophet calls rulers to account either for that which “has been done or that which has been left undone.”[2] The prophetic vocation is more burden than joy; it sets up a restless disease in the prophet and those around the prophet. If prophets seem testy, perhaps they seem so because they’re feeling the burden of being alienated and alone, in constant conflict, as God’s mouthpiece. Even if we feel little warmth for them, we at least can feel some understanding that Elijah in particular and prophets generally don’t get up in the morning dying to go to work. 

Ahab is a weak king who permits other gods to be worshiped in his kingdom. That’s a problem in a theocratic kingdom; the social contract reasonably expects that the king will worship the god in whose name the theocratic kingdom is established. Scripture records Jezebel[3] as a mean, bullying personality- the kind of overbearing person who manipulates people by keeping them off balance, and whose mere presence brings dread.  It is to Ahab and Jezebel that Elijah has been sent.

Elijah’s question in today’s first lesson is one of the most artfully-framed questions in biblical literature: "How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” An instantly accessible metaphor, it says much. And though it is asked in the presence of “the people,” it is pointed directly at Ahab. To placate Jezebel[4], he has permitted the worship of Ba’al in Israel, and occasionally he even shows up at Ba’al’s temple himself.  As the chief Israelite, the king worshiping at another temple is more than poor form- it’s apostasy. God wants Ahab back, and extending that invitation to Ahab is Elijah’s task. It is not a polite invitation. It is direct, clear and imperative. 

"How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." 

Elijah says: “Ahab, it is time to fish, or cut bait. Your people are watching. When you appease Jezebel, they ask “REALLY?? Is this OK?!?” Mollifying her is wrong and you know it. You know this because you are the anointed king of Israel. The people look to you and want leadership.  Instead you limp with two different opinions. You do not have the luxury of being a universalist. The king may privately ponder and even engage in learned discourse on the speculative aspects of Faith, but nothing more. If you actually do believe Ba’al is the true god, you don’t get to embrace that belief and remain king of Israel. Essential to your kingship of this nation is committed belief in God. So what’s it going to be? Your moral cowardice is hurting the nation, and the King from whom you have the throne wants it stopped. Get committed to God or get off the throne. How say ye?!?” 

And just to encourage Ahab’s decision one way or the other, God’s man Elijah is going to challenge Ba’al’s followers...Elijah is going to have them put up or shut up. And that’s what happens. Fire falls from Heaven, gets everyone’s attention, and it even changes some minds and hearts. One wonders what else it would take to convince those who remain on the fence after such an event. To remain unconverted after such a moment seems almost inconceivable. 

Making a commitment is hard for many people. This is evidenced in their work, their personal relationships, and their self-care. Taking the path of least resistance is less challenging, and much more expedient than being a committed person. Avoiding commitment puts off becoming accountable…if you’re not committed to much, you’re not responsible for much…not much danger, and not much character either.

God is fully committed to you and me. Ambivalence and hoping to avoid a decision for as long as possible just isn’t God’s style; as His followers, we are invited into a similar devotion. There is no limping between two opinions at The Cross, and God asks that there be no limping into the World for which Jesus died. 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 29 May 2016, being The Second Sunday after Pentecost

[1] I Kings 16:25, NRSV

[2] a prayer book phrase we treasure...we say it in the context of the General Confession, and we use it when describing our sins

[3] Bette Davis’ cinematic portrayal of a person named Jezebel did so much to strengthen “Jezebel“ in American colloquial usage, describing a manipulative, mean-spirited person. Thank you, Miss Davis.

[4] Jezebel is already clear- she favors Ba’al, and she has bullied Ahab into permitting Ba’al worship. The subtext suggests that she has done this as much to exert power over him as to make a theological statement to the kingdom. Plain truth is, people like Jezebel behave as if they’re God because at a profound if unspoken level they want to be God...unfettered by discipline or allegiance to anyone/anything other than themselves....acting as they please when they please without reference to anyone other than self...pushing people around just because they can...and if they are not challenged, their estimation of themselves is correct 

[8] As opposed for example to binitarian Christians who recognize God the Father and God the Son, while suggesting that the Holy Spirit is somehow subordinate, as the animating personality of Jesus, rather than a fully distinct Person..this is a form of semi-Arianism

[9] The Book of Common Prayer, pg 373

[10] William Mounce, Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Zondervan, 2006

[11] Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV

[12] Craig Uffman, The Living Church, 17 July 2012

[13] Romans 5:1-5, NRSV