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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

2 Kings 22: 1-10, 23: 1-3 “Preparing Our Hearts: Writing Scripture on Our Hearts”

We are now entering into the season of Advent. The period of time set aside in the Christian Church to prepare of the coming of Jesus Christ anew. For the next four weeks we are going to take time in worship to discuss how we intentionally prepare our hearts, because while its a really nice thing to say, it is somethings a much harder things to do. 
I love how Episcopal pastor Melford Bud Holland describes the season of Advent in his devotional book, Advent Presence, saying that Advent is “Kissed by the past, beckoned by the future, and drawn to our present moment”. 
First, Advent is a time to look back to the past in order to remember who we are. If anyone understands looking back it is the people of Israel. Every time they celebrated Passover together they remembered that they were once a people enslaved in Egypt but now were a people free to worship God. When they heard the words of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, they would remember learning it as a small child or walking alongside their children and grandchildren as they learned it as well. The people of Israel were a people steeped in the tradition of their fore-mothers and fore-fathers. 
Yet, somewhere along the line something tragic happened - and the Book of the Law - this book that defined who they were and their religious history with a Holy God, went missing. We don’t know when or how, but the book was no longer in its place of prominence in the people’s lives. What would happen today if you lost your Bible? Would it matter in your daily life? Would your neighbors and friends see a marked difference in you because of the loss? Maybe the analogy is a little rough around the edge, since many of us own more than one Bible, but the people of Israel were lost without the written account of their history. Yes, they went about life as usual, teaching their children, building the temple, and running their households, but something was markably different without this book that was central to their lives together. Even though they had scripture memorized, it was different when the symbol of their communal history was lost.
We have a lot of traditions that surround the celebration of Advent and Christmas. I am still trying to learn some of your particular church traditions. And each of us celebrate a little differently in each of our homes. In my particular home, the Christmas tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving, as part of our preparation. My mom and I work hard to have as much of the shopping done as we can before Black Friday. The season of Advent is filled with celebrations, baking, and laughter for the Bodle’s. But each of our homes celebrates differently, carrying on the tradition of our families of origin and making our own. But it is not so much the tradition itself that matters as much as the past it reminds us of, the past that grounds us and informs who we are. In fact, traditions become devoid of meaning when we no longer know why we do them that way, for it is our histories that inform our present moments.
Advent, also beckons us the future. It is this wonderful time, at the start of the Christian year together, when we are invited to ask big questions, like what is God’s vision for us. As Christians we all have the same mission, to go out and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as United Methodists we add a bit more onto that visions saying that we go about this work of making disciples in order to transform the world. But each local church is asked to fulfill that mission in a distinct way, which is called vision. We go about this in distinct ways because we have special gifts in this sanctuary that look different from the gifts in other sanctuaries. We are never excused from living into the mission, but we are invited by God to do it differently based on the gifts and graces present. Advent is a wonderful time to vision into the future about what God is calling us to do and be in the coming year. What is important to us as Sandy Ridge United Methodist Church? What unique opportunities are being placed before us by God? 
When King Josiah found out the Book of the Law had been found the priests and prophets and the royal court re-read it together. Remember they would have already known it by heart, but this was their opportunity to hear the words afresh and wonder together about how they were going to live into them together in this new day and age. They renewed their covenant with God together - to keep the Word of God written on their hearts - and then all people pledged themselves to live into the renewed covenant together. 
Often Advent is a time to look to the past to inform us as we move on into the future. But we need to be careful not to just switch back into the mode of thinking that if we did things the same as we did them before, there would be the same results, for today we live in a different context. We always need to ask ourselves what is the “so what” we are working towards, what is the purpose. So that we can feel comfortable? So that we can keep the doors of the church open? Or is it something bigger and Kingdom sized - so that new people come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ? So that we invite people into a relationship with a Savior that can change their life? King Josiah’s “so what” was so that the Word of God would be written on the people’s hearts and inform not only their past, but their present and future as well. What vision are we being called to live into in the future and for what purpose?
During Advent we are invited to reflect on the past and wonder about the future, but all while living in the present moment. One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in the book of Esther and says “for such a time as this.” In the case of King Josiah, for such a time as this, Hilkiah found the Book of the Law to be read by the servant Shaphan in the presence of the King. For such a time as this the King then called the people together to renew their covenant with God, so that the Word of God could be written on their hearts. What are we here for at this present time? What is our “for such a time as this” church? What are we being invited to be present in preparing for this Advent season? What words are we writing on our heart this season and what are we pledging ourselves to be part of?
We live in this Advent dance between the past, present, and future and must attend to each piece, for we would be incomplete in our journey of preparation without them. May we spend time intentionally reflecting on traditions, visioning with God about the future, and being present for such a time as this, this Advent season, letting God write on our hearts and be proclaimed through our lips and lives. Amen. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Introvert vs. Extrovert

   I am an extreme introvert. Its more than just what the Myers-Briggs test says about me - I recognize this in myself. I recognize that I am more comfortable in small groups. That I get tried if I talk to long with lots of people. But if you don't know me you would never guess that I'm and introvert. I preach weekly. A fair amount of my time is spent with groups of people in worship, meetings, and Bible studies. I'm articulate and warm. I present myself well.  So when I say that I'm an introvert sometimes people are a bit shocked - because somewhere along the way we have substituted the actual meaning of introvert and extrovert - how to do you replenish yourself most naturally when you are drained - to mean things like socially awkward.
   And introvert and extrovert are not the only places we seem to have problems around language and the meaning of words. We do it all the time without realizing it - putting our own spin on something to make it not what its intended to be and as a result its hard for us to have conversation using words because our definitions aren't the same. How can we reclaim the meaning of words in our communal life together so we can better communicate in a way that helps us get to know each other better?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Love/ Hate Relationship with Paul

    The apostle Paul and I have a touch and go relationship. The first sermon I ever preached was on Paul's conversion - it lasted eight and a half minutes and was not pretty. Yet, I always felt connected to Paul because of that sermon. But Paul also wrote some of the harshest words that have ever been throw in my face about women not being in ministry. Paul wrote words that make people doubt my call.

   The churches I serve are currently studying the book of Acts - and last night we looked at the story of Lydia - the women who helped house Paul and fund his ministry. The women who had the local gathering of believers meet in her house. One of the people attending that study asked how Paul could accept Lydia's help and not believe that women are vital to ministry.

   What came next was a conversation about missing the most important things. We miss the most important things in the Bible when we rip words from their context. I don't think Paul ever meant for his words to be published or applicable to all believers. He was writing to very specific churches in very specific times. Times when women didn't have occupations alongside men. Times when women didn't even sit in the same part of the synagogue as men. Times when it was unfathomable to think that uneducated women would proclaim the gospel.

   But we no longer live in those specific times. Instead we live in a time when God calls women - whether we like it or not - to preach and teach and proclaim the gospel. We live in a time when I had over 50 people interview me and affirm my ministry over a period of years before I could be ordained. I am not rouge. My call has been heard, tested and confirmed by others. Yet, I accept that not all people agree with women being in ministry and I'm okay with that. But I do ask that as I respect you, that you respect me. And that we both respect Paul, by looking at the context behind the words.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Safe Places

    Often in the church we talk about this being a safe place - a place where people can come for help and comfort and hospitality. But this week I've been reflecting on how it might not actually be all that safe for clergy.

    A lot has happened the last few weeks.
A book I contributed to was put out by an awesome editor who wanted to talk about some of the challenges young clergy face: http://www.amazon.com/Tell-Truth-Shame-Devil-Challenges/dp/1573128392/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448481323&sr=1-1&keywords=tell+the+truth+shame+the+devil
and I was interviewed for an awesome pod cast: http://coffeepotfellowship.us

      But I keep asking myself am I going to get in trouble for speaking the truth? The truth of some of the things that have harmed me in ministry. The truth about some of the ways I've blundered or screwed up or have doubted decisions that I had to make.

     Often when I tell people I'm a pastor for the first time they have one of two reactions. The first is to shy away from me - as if I am going to start throwing the Bible at them. The second is to tell me that I have the best job because I work with nice people and don't have to put in that many hours. I would much rather deal with the first reaction. See the first reaction can be dispelled by people getting to know me, getting to trust me and realize that I don't go around quoting the Bible all the time or telling people they are sinners. But the second reaction... well that's a lot more troubling.

   Yes, yes I love my job. I think I have the best job in the entire world because I get to tell people about a God who loves them and see lives - personally and communally - changed by the grace of God. But I don't always deal with nice people. Sometimes I have people yell at me. Or unfounded accusations made or rumors start that I have no idea what the root is, but there isn't any truth to. Sometimes I have entire boards do very hurtful things based on rumors and not truth. And I can't do anything about it. Because these people - whoever they are and whatever mood they may be in - are the people I am called to love and serve. And serve many, many hours a week - not just Sundays and not just when they realize I am working. They don't know about all of the visits and calls to their brothers and sister in the church going through a hard time, the hours working with other local clergy to impact the community. The time praying for wisdom before writing sermons and devotionals. The countless hours at meeting doing administration - preparing for ministry to happen and flourish. The time reading to preschoolers and having story time on the porch so kids can hear the stories of faith.
The time overseeing staff and planning for worship. And I can't make them realize that unless they follow me around for a few days as my shadow, because so much of ministry is done one on one or with small groups, not in the public eye. So reaction two is really hard to dispel. And I don't even know if we are supposed to or are allowed to talk about all of the stress in ministry.

    In a large part it is our fault as clergy. We are supposed to be strong and create safe space for other people so in turn the church isn't always the safest space for us. But partially it is because of the system to, the system of clergy trying to one-up each other with hours. Or telling us that everything we hear needs to be a secret so we can't talk about anything that happens in church that troubles us. And that doesn't feel right. We create a place that isn't honest. We create a space that isn't safe if we don't have places to publicly put the truth out there. We are human. We hurt. And sometimes its the people we serve that can hurt us the most. We are human. We make mistakes. We doubt ourselves. And we need a safe space, too.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King Sunday

Today is a special day in the life of the church - it is Chris the King Sunday - a day when we celebrate the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. When I was starting out in ministry in 2007, my mentoring pastor used to tell me that there are three days in the church calendars that clergy really struggle to preach - Trinity Sunday, Ascension Sunday, and Christ the King Sunday. I’m not sure if its difficult because we are on the cusp of entering into the season of Advent, and this is the last Sunday before we get there, or simply because we like to say as the church that Christ is Lord of our lives, but sometimes we find ourselves not acting like it. Either way, here we are, on Christ the King Sunday and our last Sunday in the stories of the faith sermon series.
Ironically, on this Christ the King Sunday, our story doesn’t come from the words of Jesus or the New Testament, but from the prophet Isaiah, and old testament prophet, positioned right around the time when Jerusalem is about to fall from glory and become captives of Babalyon. Like Jesus, Isaiah often tried to reach out to people by speaking in parables, in stories, hoping that people would be able to relate to them better than simply being scolded. The situations is bleak, the people of Israel in Jerusalem, the Holy City, are corrupt. So Isaiah spins them a tale. 
Israel, the vineyard that Jacob planted, the people that God loved, were gifted by God to have the best possible life together. They were planted on fertile ground. God cleared away the obstacles. God planted them to bear the best fruit. God watched over the people of Israel day and night - when they were in exile and in times of peace. And yet, and yet, things did not turned out as planned. Even with every good gift given to them, they yielded bad fruit. Yielded what they were not planted to yield. And now they had a problem. 
But God, the God of love and generosity, refused to give up on them and as a result, God starts to sing a love song over them. God sings about the passion God has for them. Let that sink in - the passion God has for them. What are you passionate about? What does that word mean to you? God tells the people that God are not as God had intended them to be. They, the people of God’s own heart, were the failed harvest. And God’s heart is grieving. 
I was recently asked in a meeting of pastors what you would risk for the harvest of God if you knew that you could not fail. If you knew that you could not fail. Which of course is true because God never fails. I love thinking about these big, Kingdom sized questions, but I have to wonder how often we use our human imperfection, our human failings, be an excuse from living into the Kingdom sized mission God has given us. Not just the world, but us, right here is Philipsburg and Sandy Ridge. We look at ourselves like the people of Israel, a failed people who have not lived into God’s love and vision, and we let that block us from going forwards. We totally miss that this passage in Isaiah is a love song that God is singing over the people, over us. 
So what comes next in this love song, isn’t God glossing over everything. Instead it is a warning. A statement that God hasn’t given up on us. Hasn’t given up on Israel. But God is still grieved. God still has to ask what more could have been done, what more blessings and chances could the people have been given in order to given them a chance to thrive for the Kingdom and ministry of God. They were given everything the neighboring countries could have dreamed of yet they were a sour people.
Oh brothers and sisters, how many times do we too end up like sour grapes? What more blessings could God have given us? And what do we sometimes do with all of the good gifts when we aren’t paying attention? We act as if we haven’t been given enough. Acting like the love of God for us is not enough. Act as if God should be planting, cultivating, and harvesting for our self-interest instead of God’s Kingdom. Acting as if our blessings are meant to be squandered away for a rainy day instead of being shared. Shame on us. Such things simply make us wither and more sour. 
Now God’s anger starts to emerge and God speaks of what is to come. Not because God wants the people to learn their place, but because like a plant that has not yielded its fruits, God needs to ensure that the next harvest of the crop will be different. But what I love about God is that God doesn’t just throw the old plants and vines away, instead God wants to redeem them and give them yet another chance for the sake of the mission and vision of Israel. And as a result, the vine of God’s delight, Israel in Jerusalem, will fall. 
Lest not lose sight of the purpose of this short time of failure and falling though - it is for the people’s redemption. Folks, what areas in your life are in need of God’s redeeming? Even if it is painful? Even if it isn’t quite what you want? Where are the broken and fallen places in your life where a shoot can emerge from the stump of what has withered away? As Christians we identify this shoot as Jesus Christ - so where are the places where you need the touch and love of Jesus Christ in your life today?
For today, on this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate that even in our broken nature and fallenness, God is not done with us you. God loves us so much, even if the best we could do for a time was yield sour grapes that made us bitter, that God sent Jesus Christ to redeem us. God loves us so much that God did what no mere human could do. In the words of theologian Noel Leo Erskine, “The promised salvation will not come through human intervention but through divine action.” 
Brothers and sisters, Christ offers us a peace that we cannot achieve on our own. This passage shows the iconic image of the lion laying down with the lamb - a sign of hope. A sign of security. But Christ doesn’t just offer us the gift of this peace, but invites us to be part of it as well. No matter how sour the fruit we have yielded in the past, Christ offers us a redeemed future, where we can partner together for the sake of the Kingdom of God. To be co-creators in the peaceable Kingdom. 
What a vision of community. What a task the people of Israel were charged with. While they may never have achieved such peace or justice, they were charged with God with something to work towards. Which leads me to ask, what is the task of our community today? What defines those who gather together and call themselves the church?
We are about redefining relationships. Our relationship to God through Christ and our relationship with the people of God. Instead of asking what can the church do for me, we gather together to ask how we can serve each other and those we come into contact with each day. We say that each and every one of our relationships – no matter their level of depth – is important. And we exhibit this principle every week when we gather.

These are huge visions for our community, for the church. A huge vision of the importance of the peaceable Kingdom in Christ’s Kingdom plan. But God does not give us tasks that are impossible. No, God gives us Divine sized visions that help us grow in holiness. May it be so, here, through the blessing of Christ Jesus!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hosea 11: 1-9 “Stories of the Faith: The Love of God”

“I love you”. Some of the most treasured and yet disregarded in the English language. When you say that you love someone what exactly do you mean? When I say that I have a relationship with someone I am trying to convey that I love them, they mean something to me, I care about them. Its what I mean when I talk about my relationship with my family, or friends, or you as part of this wonderful body of Christ. 
However, the English language misses the nuances of the word love. In Greek there are actually four different words that can be used for love that translate as affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity. C. S. Lewis explored each of these loves in his book The Four Loves, based off a radio presentation he gave in 1958. Lewis was trying to explain what we mean when we say that “God is love”. That love is so much more than a romantic feeling, and God’s love goes even deeper than the Greek understanding of love, because love is complex.
This morning as we continue in our sermon series on stories of the faith we arrive at the prophet Hosea, and this passage about God’s love for us. However, before we jump into unpacking God’s love for us, we need to figure out what we mean when we talk about our love in general, because the two things are very different. As Lewis described the complexities of love, he broke it into…. categories. First, there is Eros, or romantic love. The love that creates and builds families. That builds families for generations in fact. That romantic love is not just about seeking pleasure, but rather about connecting with another person for a sake bigger than yourselves.
When we speak about God’s love for us, its more than romantic love, it is love from God because God created us in the image of the Holy One. This love of God is agape, also called charity. The type of love that is unconditional, even when we screw up and in all circumstances. This is the greatest love that can exist, and is the love that God showed us not only in our creation but also through Jesus‘ sacrifice on the cross. A few years ago I was leading a Bible Study at Mansfield and one of the young men attending described agape love this way - we cannot do anything to make God love us more, and we cannot do anything to make God love us less, for the love of God isn’t based on us, but is a self-giving of God’s own spirit. Agape love is self-sacrificing, and can be seen as the highest form of love that anyone can ever give to another. That is the type of love that the prophet Hosea is speaking about this morning. 
The prophet Hosea describes the unending love of God through the metaphor of his own life. Hosea was a prophet who was given a strange direction by God – go and take a woman who he knew would be unfaithful as his wife. Okay, so at first glance it doesn’t seem that loving, but it is…because it’s our story. The book of Hosea is God’s plea to us to cease being unfaithful to God. It’s a reminder of everything that God has done for us but more importantly shows us the beauty of what God is currently doing in our lives as well, even when we have deeply strayed. 
“When Israel was a child, I loved him.” Take a moment a substitute your name in for Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel was the name of the collective chosen people of God. Today, you and I are the still the chosen people of God, the new Israel, the new gathering of those who love God, if you will. When the Church, the collective body of Christ brought together because of the love of Christ, was brand new in the 1st CE AD, God loved her. When the Church approaches God with a renewed attitude everyday, God loves us. It goes beyond that, though. When Michelle was a child, God loved her enough to speak a plan over her life, to knit her in Dottie’s womb and to place reminders of his presence daily in her life, if she would only open up her eyes and see. God loves us each with the intensity that a mother loves her child, only wanting our love in return.
But God loves us enough to call us out of the captivity that has taken a hold of our lives. In other words the love of God does not leave us the same. We feel bound by guilt and imperfections. By addictions. By how we see ourselves. By how we have treated others. And somehow we become so caught up in the things that keep us captive that we cannot see God right in front of us yearning to set us free. Gomer, the woman who was taken as a wife by Hosea, was so imprisoned by prostitution that she didn’t see that Hosea wanted to set her free by loving her. God is calling us to exit out captivity like the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt. More often then not in situations where we feel imprisoned we ask “where is God?” but maybe we need to be asking “are we letting God be God?” Are we looking at the extension of God’s grace in front of us or like Gomer are we not acknowledging that God is enormous enough to heal any wound and set us free from any captivity? Do we see the problem as being bigger then the Almighty Creator of the Universe? He created the stars, placed the sun the perfect distance from the earth, etc. Yet he can’t handle my problem. Are we moving away from God the more God is calling us by constantly trying to handle our problems on our own or we ask other people for help and advice before we ask God? The more God is extending his love towards us are we shying away, not seeing how the love of God can heal all wounds?
We need to look to verses 3 and 4 from the scripture lesson when we are blinded to God’s immense presence in front of us. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.” Another version says ‘But they don’t know or even care that it was I, the Lord God, who took care of them.’ Here is another one of those places where we need to substitute our names into the passage. It was God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that lives and moves and breathes that taught Michelle how to walk through life. This does not mean that God abandons us blindly stumble through life on our own. God took time to teach us how to walk like a loving parent teaches their children. And when we do stumble and fall God picks us up, and gently urges us to try again. What a better way to see the overpowering present love of God then when God picks us up when we fall?
In verses 5-7 God is crying out of his discouragement towards God’s children. But this is where most people get caught. They forget to look in front of them to see God in the rising sun each day or at their wounds to see how God has brought about healing. They don’t see him as a daily presence in their lives. They are so blind they think God has abandoned them. This leads to complaining, a manifestation of our blindness of God in our lives. If we would look in front of us to see the grace we are given every day we really wouldn’t have a reason to complain.
We don’t look towards verse 8- 9 where God says God could never abandon us. We are marked with his love. We cannot out sin God’s grace. Like the lost Israelites or Gomar we need to return to God. Lying ourselves at God’s feet and thanking him from the depths of our hearts for the grace and countless blessings that he has lavished upon us. I think if we were honest with ourselves we would see that we could become closer to God.
If today you feel like God has abandoned you or unloved or unhappy, stop looking at God’s grace through the small lens of our human love and instead look at the fullness, unending nature of God’s love for us. Remember that you cannot out sin God’s grace for God’s divine love in so much stronger then any concept we have of God’s vengeance that binds us. Because even if we can’t quite grasp or display the agape love of God, God loves you with an radiating love, that will not leave us alone and never leaves us unchanged. 


Sunday, November 8, 2015

“Stories of Faith: The Presence of the Lord” 1 King 18:20-39

Sometimes it seems like life is like a giant game of tug-of-war. Do you remember the game of tug-of-war? Two teams each hold a side of a rope marked with some type of bandana or other flag in the middle and pull. Hard. They take turns dragging each other back and forth over something, usually a mud pit. Repositioning their hands. Sweat making the rope hard to hold. Until finally, one team drags the other across the mud pit.
If life is like that giant game of tug-of-war between choices, the prophet Elijah comes forth in this mornings scripture lesson and says no more. No more tug-of-war over decisions, simply make a choice. Choose God. Or choose the other option, in this case, Baal, the god of weather. Choose and stick with your choice.
If only in life choosing could be that easy. Yet every day we have things in our life that we choose over God. Sometimes its work. Sometimes its our to-do list. Sometimes its our finances. Things and people around us are clamoring for out attention, and we have to make a choice with each and every one of those options. 
We have been spending our last several weeks together in this sermon series about stories - the stories of the faith and how they connect with our story. But here’s the thing, in every great story, written down or not, there is an element of conflict. A choice that needs to be made. Folks, this is your choice in your story - what are you going to choose? I want you to take a moment, close your eyes, and enter into today’s text. 
The prophet Elijah came around during the time period of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Wicked rulers who despite multiple times where Elijah tried to enter into their lives and tell them a new story, still worshiped Baal, the god of weather. It wasn’t uncommon during this time period to worship different gods for different things. And every King and Queen want a good harvest - which requires good weather - because no one wants to rule during times of drought and famine. Yet, that’s exactly what Elijah told the King was on the way - a drought. Not a welcomed message to be sure. Elijah told King Ahab that this particular drought was going to be a bad one - lasting five years. Now, three years later, three years of no rain, three years of the people whom Ahab and Jezebel ruled over praying to Baal for the drought to end, God sends Elijah back, telling him that when Elijah goes before Ahab, God would send rain upon the land. 
While Elijah is venturing off to make this grand announcement, he first came across Obadiah, Ahab’s palace administrator who devoutly loved the Lord. Elijah tells Obadiah to go announce his presence to the King and Obadiah rightly freaks out a bit, worried that he would be put to death for such an announcement. But Obadiah went anyway, and Elijah presented himself before the King, who blamed him for the entire drought because of his prophesy. Elijah wasn’t having any of the blame game though - and switched it right around on the King, telling him that it was because of the King and his family following Baal that they were in this mess in the first place. Which is where we pick up today’s story.
Now the people are faced with a choice. Follow God, the Lord of Elijah. Or follow Baal who their rulers worshiped. And the people said nothing. Isn’t this true of us also? Can’t you see your own story in the people of Israel? When we are faced with having to make a choice that we rather not make, we stay silent. Thinking that by staying silent we will save the skin of our teeth. Or by staying silent we avoid having to make a decision, when really not making a decision is a decision. 
And not only can we see ourselves in the people of Israel, but don’t we all seem to find ourselves with pesky Elijah’s in our lives when we would rather just stay silent. Don’t we seem to find ourselves with people in our lives who won’t let us slide by with our silence, but instead make us make a choice. Elijah turns to the people in all of their silence and says that he is one of the only prophets of the Lord left who hasn’t fled or been killed. Yet, here is Baal with these hundreds of prophets. Let’s make two sacrifices and see which God will send fire down from heaven to light the sacrifice. 
And just when the people tried to drop the rope in the game of tug-of-war, refusing to make a decision but instead, retreating into their silence, the game is back on. They pick the rope back up and resume their sides. Only now, Elijah was seemingly going to help them make a decision. The gods could be at war and they would simply choose the winning side. It all sounds good to them.
The prophets of Baal even got first pick of which bull they wanted to prepare. And longer to prepare their sacrifice. Yet they called on Baal for hours , but no one answered. So they tried dancing. And singing. And shouting. And then Elijah, never the most well mannered of the prophets, started to taunt them, telling them to shout louder so maybe, just maybe they could wake their god up. The flag seemed to be slipping onto the side of Elijah and his Lord.
Then Elijah had the people come to them and help repair the alter to the Lord that had been destroyed by Ahab’s constituents. Then he doused the wood with water. To the point where water was flowing down the alter’s side the wood was so drenched. The flag slipped to the side of Baal, there was no way wet wood was going to light up. Yet, when Elijah prayed, fire came down from heaven and the wood beneath the scarified burned. With one good and final tug from Elijah’s side, Baal’s came tumbling into the metaphorical mud. The people remembered whose they were.
Open your eyes. I think we all want to be on the side of the victor, and we know that our God is victorious. But I have to ask, can you see why the Israelites were struggling. There not only hadn’t been rain or dew in three years, but for those three years Elijah, pretty much the last prophet of the Lord, had been MIA, so they hadn’t heard a word from the Lord. In that time they had lost their love and zeal for the Lord when they were faced with silence. Is it as easy to chant that our Lord is victorious when we are facing the silence? Or when the presence of the Lord seems to be hidden? 
During those times when God isn’ as noticeable to us, for whatever reason, it is so easy to slip into worshipping other things - food, money, relationships. Pastor Mike Slaughter at Ginghamsburg Untied Methodist Church in Ohio states that it only takes him one day to slip away from a healthy fear of our great God. One day of not doing devotions. One day of not praying. One day of not seeking out the Lord. Here the Israelites were losing that healthy fear over three years! How long has it been since you’ve had a healthy fear of the Lord? How long has it been since you’ve slipped into worshipping other people and things instead of God?
But hear the good news. When we slip away, God is going to come after us and get our attention somehow. We celebrate that good news every time we break bread together around the communion table and hear the worlds, “when our love failed your love remained steadfast.” The real question is how far is God going to have to go to get your attention? How far is God going to have to go before you worship in the presence of our Holy God alone? How far until you drop the rope of the tug-of-war for your heart and put our God as victor in the right place? 

Brothers and sisters, we are humans and we are flawed. Saint Augustine, bishop in the early church, was quoted as saying that “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”  And we know that when our hearts are restless, we wander, and start to worship other things and people, looking for security in different places. May I invite you today to stop wandering. Stop roaming from thing to thing, looking for the victory you can only find in Christ. And instead, return to the God who has won the tug-of-war for your heart. Amen.