Standing with the Eleven Let us pray… Rev. Stuart Buisch
After a night of raucous violence, it is certainly curious to be talking about standing with anyone. But there is wisdom looking at the scenes after the dust settles. Here today we look at Elijah after a competition between Baal and God and Peter standing to explain Pentecost. In the time we are living there are most interesting ways of seeing everything. In Elijah’s mind after the fire fell it was time to kill the false prophets. The next day the queen was after his life.
With Jesus ascension he promised that something would happen, they would receive strength, power. Most of us couldn’t imagine the fire in either of these scenes although for Elijah there was no room left for ‘fake news’, he had them pour 12 jars of water over the altar to be clear there was no cheating. At Pentecost the storm, the flames of fire and the sounds from everyone seem to indicate this is nothing rehearsed or created for the day.
But the story in the news – rioting in cities; Elijah calling out to God with an answer in fire and Pentecost changing the minds of many visitors to Jerusalem does call us to ask the question ‘what do we stand for?’ or ‘who do we stand with.?’
Tradition is wrapped in each of these stories. If something doesn’t go well in your community there is a long history of showing with your feet and presence that you don’t agree. That tradition is not racial. A lot of tea went in the water by God-fearing colonists who were tired of their situation with Britain.
Elijah built a stone altar, twelve stones -the tradition of twelve family lines in Jewish ancestry. In fact, everything but the water was the ritual tradition of a holocaust offering, a complete offering to ashes. For Judeo-Christian followers that is reason ‘holocaust’ is so poignant in our history, it echoes the complete destruction of sacrificial offerings. One might suggest that holocaust offerings were Elijah’s rationale for killing ‘all’ the prophets of Baal.
Peter stands up to a crowd amazed by the grace they have just heard and trusted in. He turns to the tradition of scripture to explain situations otherwise difficult to make sense of. He also picks up from Joel the tradition that ‘those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’
But these three accounts go beyond tradition. Peaceful protests are flashpoints for more. Impatience calls for action, or so it is believed and words become bullets, hammers breaking glass, hands become the tools of thieves. Perhaps it would never happen with just one from any crowd but change the numbers and make it a group and the action and destruction potential changes exponentially.
Elijah calls to the people, ‘draw near’. Such powerful words for a scattered, uncertain people, who are willing to follow any god that is presented. It doesn’t take much to leave one god and run off to another. One friend with a suggestion, one person with an engaging personality, one bad day/crop/job – you name it something goes wrong we can shop for a new god, new church, new preacher. Elijah speaks clearly to those people. Perhaps more appropriately, God speaks through the lips of Elijah to God’s own beloved people. They draw near and God is disclosed in a life changing way.
Peter stands up to a crowd who are in a daze. They came to Jerusalem out of obedience to their faith. They were prepared to celebrate a feast and all of the sudden they have a new
experience. They hear about God, their God in new terms. They hear that messiah has come, that there is life and hope and salvation. No not church membership, not a calling card that declares them in and others out. They find a deeper wholeness (a broader understanding of saved). They find contentment inside where peace or despair had reigned. And ever so quickly there are others who are ready to make fun, ‘o they are drunk.’ While Peter’s logic or experience of wine is limited, nine o’clock never stopped a good drunk from drinking, but it is unlikely that 120 people waiting for God would all be drunk.
IF the church stood for justice, stood with people, those who live near and not so near; IF the church was about life and wholeness how often would protests turn violent? Hungry people: hungry for power, for influence, for life at someone else’s expense know the language and practice of violence. The Church of Jesus Christ needs to figure out where it will be in times of chaos, conflict and pandemic and stand there!
The church again must, like Peter, look in Scripture or have the Spirit of God remind them of the truths told in the stories from Genesis to Revelation and ask afresh are we in line with this great arc of redemption and reconciliation? Will we, not just clergy, but all of us find words for what is happening today and what God is calling us to? Has it occurred to any of us that this pandemic is an opportunity for each of us following Christ to become monastic? To let our shelter in place be a chance not simply to clean our houses but to present our lives in holy obedience to God within the four walls of our homes as monks do with the four walls of their cells?
Finally, can we hear Elijah calling out to us today, ‘come here’? God is calling each of us. God is interested in every detail of our experience of each piece of news, each item of challenge in our lives, every question we have. But throwing those questions without trust that God hears will continue to produce a deafening silence. Whatever draw near to God means to you, do it! But be ready for the hand of God to move around you, before you, behind you and within you, amen.
Holy God, open our eyes to the things that trouble you with our world….
Gracious God, let us be conduits of your grace in our surrounding…
Forgiving God, set us free to live, to love, to pray….