Oct 29 – Worship Service – Choosing Faith

Oct 22 – Worship Service – Halleluiah Anyway
November 6, 2023
Nov 5 – Worship Service – Remembrance Day
November 9, 2023

Oct 29 – Worship Service – Choosing Faith

Rev Lohnes

Sunday October 29, 2023

 Introit                                                                                                       #392
How sacred is this place!  Its open door of grace behold, my soul and enter!    
May all who worship here, believing God is near, find God is at the center.
Words Copyright © Hope Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense #A723756

Acknowledging the Territory
We acknowledge that, here in Yarmouth, we live work and worship in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” first signed with in 1725.  By acknowledging this, we commit ourselves to live in Peace, Friendship and Respect.

Lighting the Christ Candle
In the flame of the Christ Candle, we see reflected the light of Christ and we commit ourselves to live in that light, sharing it with all those we meet, wherever we go.

Call to Worship
We gather here in worship, seeking to hear God’s word for us.
But when that word is not what we want to hear, sometimes we ignore it.

We gather here in worship, hoping that God will answer our prayers.
But sometimes our prayers are more about telling God what we want rather that asking what God wants.

We gather here in worship, longing to draw closer to God.
But we don’t always recognize that God longs to draw closer to us.

So, as we gather here today, let us truly open ourselves to the One we worship.

Opening Prayer
We live in a world that expects scientific proof for everything, and sometime we struggle with this.  Sometimes our doubts and questions can overwhelm us.  Yet our faith speaks of cosmic wonders, unexplained mysteries and glorious possibilities.  We thank you Divine Mystery for the gift of faith.  Although there are times that we ignore the obvious signs you offer us and we miss the more subtle revelations of your presence, continue to speak to us and remind us that we are not alone.  As we gather here today, may the mystery of faith that transcends understanding speaks to our hearts even in the midst of our questions.  Amen.

Gift of Music              Our God’s a Fortress                                         VU #263

Scripture Reading
Our scripture reading today tells the story of the competition between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal.

1 Kings 18:17-39                                                         Good News Translation
When Ahab saw [Elijah] he said, “So there you are—the worst troublemaker in Israel!”

“I’m not the troublemaker,” Elijah answered.  “You are—you and your father.  You are disobeying the Lord‘s commands and worshiping the idols of Baal.  Now order all the people of Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel.  Bring along the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah who are supported by Queen Jezebel.”

So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and the prophets of Baal to meet at Mount Carmel.  Elijah went up to the people and said, “How much longer will it take you to make up your minds?  If the Lord is God, worship him; but if Baal is God, worship him!”  But the people didn’t say a word.  Then Elijah said, “I am the only prophet of the Lord still left, but there are 450 prophets of Baal.  Bring two bulls; let the prophets of Baal take one, kill it, cut it in pieces, and put it on the wood—but don’t light the fire.  I will do the same with the other bull.  Then let the prophets of Baal pray to their god, and I will pray to the Lord, and the one who answers by sending fire—he is God.”

The people shouted their approval.

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Since there are so many of you, you take a bull and prepare it first.  Pray to your god, but don’t set fire to the wood.”

They took the bull that was brought to them, prepared it, and prayed to Baal until noon.  They shouted, “Answer us, Baal!” and kept dancing around the altar they had built.  But no answer came.

At noon Elijah started making fun of them: “Pray louder!  He is a god!  Maybe he is day-dreaming or relieving himself, or perhaps he’s gone off on a trip!  Or maybe he’s sleeping, and you’ve got to wake him up!”  So the prophets prayed louder and cut themselves with knives and daggers, according to their ritual, until blood flowed.  They kept on ranting and raving until the middle of the afternoon; but no answer came, not a sound was heard.

Then Elijah said to the people, “Come closer to me,” and they all gathered around him.  He set about repairing the altar of the Lord which had been torn down.  He took twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes named for the sons of Jacob, the man to whom the Lord had given the name Israel.  With these stones he rebuilt the altar for the worship of the Lord.  He dug a trench around it, large enough to hold about four gallons of water.  Then he placed the wood on the altar, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood.  He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the offering and the wood.”  They did so, and he said, “Do it again”—and they did.  “Do it once more,” he said—and they did.  The water ran down around the altar and filled the trench.

At the hour of the afternoon sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and prayed, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove now that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant and have done all this at your command.  Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you are bringing them back to yourself.”

The Lord sent fire down, and it burned up the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones, scorched the earth and dried up the water in the trench.  When the people saw this, they threw themselves on the ground and exclaimed, “The Lord is God; the Lord alone is God!”

Favorite Hymn Request     Called by Earth and Sky                         MV#135

                                                   Choosing Faith
I want to start out today with a little bit of background to the story you just heard.  It’s been about one hundred years since King David ruled over a united Israel.  David’s son Solomon was renowned for his wisdom, but Solomon was also a king who increased taxes, increased military conscription as well as increasing forced labour for both the men and women who were force to become part of the royal harem.  When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him.  When Rehoboam traveled to the northern Israel the people there told him that if he lightened their burdens, in other words, if he lowered taxes and decreased force labour and military conscription, they would swear their loyalty to him.

Rehoboam consulted his father’s advisers who recommended that he do as the northern tribes had asked.  But then he asked his own friends and advisors what they thought and they responded by basically saying, tell them if they think they had it bad before, just wait and see how bad it will get, if you do not obey their king!  Needless to say, the people revolted and the kingdom was again divided in two with Rehoboam being left as king of Judah, while Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials, became king of Israel.   

Years later Asa is king of Judah and Ahab is king of Israel.  But Ahab no longer worships Yahweh alone, and has begun to also worship Baal, the god of his wife Jezebel.  Into this situation, God calls a new prophet by the name of Elijah.  Elijah warns King Ahab that because he has abandoned God, there would be a 3-year drought.   The drought occurs resulting in a three-year famine throughout the land.  Rather than seeing this as a warning from God, Ahab blamed Elijah.

And so, Elijah goes to Ahab with a challenge.  He would single handedly take on all of the 450 prophets of Baal who was worshiped by Queen Jezebel.  Ahab accepted the challenge and so begins the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Looking at this from the outside, no one would ever consider this a fair fight.  To begin with, Elijah was outnumbered 450 to one.  Secondly, the prophets of Baal had home court advantage.  The challenge was held in Israel where the worship of Baal was firmly entrenched.  Thirdly, the weapon chosen for this battle was fire from heaven.  This would definitely have appeared to favour Baal who was the god of thunder and lightening.  In Iconography, Baal is pictured with a lightening bolt in one hand and a drum, representing thunder, in the other.  To top it all off, the sacrifice that was chosen, was a bull, which was generally accepted as a symbol of Baal.

Despite all the obvious advantages they have, Elijah invites the prophets of Baal to go first.  So, they prepared the bull, placed it on the altar they had build and began dancing around the altar and praying.  They spent the entire morning dancing and praying, but by noon, nothing had happened.

Now this is where the story takes a bit of a turn that we don’t always catch.  Elijah starts to heckle them.  Your god doesn’t seem to be answering you.  Maybe he’s daydreaming.  Maybe he’s gone to the bathroom.  Maybe he’s just not home.  Elijah is not the prime and proper prophet that we tend to think of.  He’s more like John the Baptist than like Nathan or Samuel or most of the other Hebrew prophets.  It actually appears that he is having fun with this.

And the prophets of Baal are getting more and more upset.  If Baal wasn’t going to answer their pleas, maybe they could manipulate him into answering if they took more drastic measures.  So, they started to cut themselves with knives and to rave madly.  But still nothing happened.

Now it’s Elijah’s turn.  He rebuilds the altar that had been destroyed, but he does so in a very specific way.  He uses 12 stones to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  He rebuilds it as it was originally prescribed and lays the wood and the bull on top.  But then, he ordered that the entire thing be drenched in water.

The version of the story we heard today says that “At the hour of the afternoon sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and prayed, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove now that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant and have done all this at your command.

There is not dancing, or begging or self mutilation.  It is simply a prayer saying, “OK God, I did exactly like you told me too.  Now it’s up to you.”  Elijah knows that he cannot manipulate God into doing what he, Elijah, wants.  He simply does his part and then leaves the rest to God.

But there is one thing more about this story that is not at all clear in the Good News Version of the text.  And it is something that would have been very significant to the people gathered on Mount Carmel at the time.  The afternoon sacrifice was not like many of the other sacrifices.  It was not a sin offering seeking forgiveness of an offering requesting help or blessings.  It was a loyalty offering.

This goes back to the very beginning of the story and Elijah’s challenge to the people of Israel, saying, “How much longer will it take you to make up your minds?  If the Lord is God, worship him; but if Baal is God, worship him!”

This is about where the people will put their faith and their loyalty.  The people still considered themselves loyal followers of Yahweh but they also considered themselves worshipers of Baal.  Elijah was telling them they couldn’t have it both ways.  They had to make a choice.

We all have competing loyalties in our lives at times.  We all have times when we may be pulled in different directions and the choice of which path to follow may not always be clear.  Sometimes we all make compromises and adjust our plans and expectations to fit in with those around us.  But Elijah reminds us that there are also times when we must make a choice, times when we cannot compromise and must choose our loyalties and stand up for what we believe in.

And in the face of competing loyalties, competing ideologies and competing beliefs, that can be very difficult.  It can be especially difficult if the majority of those around you, the majority of those in power or the majority of those who are most vocal, hold an opinion or ideology that differs from yours.  You can sometimes feel like the opposition to what you believe is overwhelming and it can feel very risky to speak out at all.

But it is here that Elijah can, perhaps, help us more than ever.  I already mentioned that Elijah was surrounded by those who opposed his point of view and was outnumbered 450 to one.  So how did he deal with all that?

Well, first and foremost, Elijah held tightly to his faith.  Secondly, he dealt with the entire situation with a sense of humour. He saw the absurdity in the efforts of the prophets of Baal to support their point of view and he called them on it.  Perhaps he was a little more sarcastic and offensive than we might have liked, but Elijah saw the humour in the situation and was able to ground himself in it.

There is a wonderful quote, and I’m sorry but I could not find who it was attributed to, but it says this.  “When you can look at the powers that be and roll your eyes, they can never defeat you.”

It can be hard to stand up for what we believe in.  But when we can learn to hold on to the joy we find in our faith and the peace that we experience when we are convinced that we have done the right thing, then we can continue to stand up and say, “this is where my loyalty lies, this is what I truly believe.”  And when we can do that, who know what could happen.  Amen

Gift of Music              Unto the Hills                                                     VU #842

We Offer Our Gifts
We may not feel like anything we do can really make a difference.  And alone, perhaps we can’t.  But when we offer what ever it is we have to the Divine Mystery we gather here today to worship, who knows what our gifts might accomplish.  And so, let us offer what we have, trusting that it can be more than we know. 

Offertory Response                                                                                         #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirit
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Words and Music copyright 1991 Abingdon Press. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense #A723756

Offertory Prayer
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they too may become a blessing.  Amen.

We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath.  God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts.  So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.

Minute for Mission

Call to Prayer                                                                                          #400

Lord, Listen to your children praying, Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
Lord, Listen to your children praying, send us love, send us power, send us grace.
© Words and Music copyright Hope Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense #A723756

Prayers of the People
Holy Mystery, in these times of uncertainty and fear, we often feel helpless to know what to believe, what to say, how to respond, or even how to pray.  We feel overwhelmed and long for simple answers to complicated questions.  We wonder if anything we do can really make a difference and we struggle to understand.  Yet you call us to choose to trust you and to believe that, although we may not be able to do everything, we can do something.

We offer our deep gratitude for all those who have the courage to stand up and speak out against injustice, all those who stand with those who are oppressed, abused, harassed, persecuted or marginalized.  Divine One, grant us courage …

We offer our deep gratitude for all those who struggle to bring peace to the many conflicted areas of our world, those who call to account the leaders of forces that wage war, those who profit from providing weapons and bombs, and those who consider innocent casualties, acceptable ‘collateral damage”.  Divine One, show us how to be peace-makers …

We offer our deep gratitude for all those who fight for a just distribution of the wealth of your creation, those who work in foodbanks, fuel banks, furniture banks, distribution center that provide clothing and necessities for those in need.  We offer our gratitude as well for all those who fight to make these things unnecessary by working to bring about acceptable living wages and appropriate help for those unable, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves.  Divine One, make us more aware of the injustice of wealth distribution and our part in it …

We offer our deep gratitude for all those who care for the sick, the injured, the lonely, the grieving and all those who need compassionate and tender care.  We offer our gratitude for doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, and all who provide care to those most in need.  Divine One, teach us to be more compassionate and caring.

We offer our deep gratitude for all those who work for the well-being of your creation, those who seek to repair damaged ecosystems, those who fight to prevent further damage, those who seek new and better ways of using the resources of our world without damaging it and those who teach us a better appreciation for creation and our role within it.  Divine One, make us better, more appreciative stewards of all you have provided …

Life-Giving Creator of All, may we never forget to acknowledge our gratitude for all that we have been given and our deep commitment to love and serve you, now and always.  Amen.

Gift of Music              Guide Me, O Thou Great and Holy       VU #651

Sending Out
As we go out from here, let us go with gratitude, with commitment and with the deep certainty that we are not alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit accompanies us, each step of the way.  We go with God.

Choral Blessing                                                          MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.  May the love of God be the love you show. May the joy of God be the joy you know, And may the world that God would see be found in you.
© Words and Music copyright Hope Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense #A723756

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