This was the message on the Sunday after the State Track Meet and prior to Memorial Day. This has been a long week. Apparently it was longer than I thought. I forgot to post this message, and today as I was cleaning up some of my posts, I found it in the drafts. After looking through it, I decided to share it with you even if the timing is a little off. Maybe it is ok to bring up the end of last school year now as the new one is beginning. Sort of lets us know that all things work in a cycle. Here is that message from months ago. The scriptures used were: Luke 7:1-19 and I Kings 18:20-39. The title in the bulletin was, “The Lord Indeed is King.”
Last week I promised you that today would be the last of my goofy little track stories, and I am pretty sure this will be, but I won’t promise that I will quit complaining about the attitude of entitlement that surrounds us. I won’t guarantee that I have or don’t have a story about that today. I haven’t gotten started enough to know if I will sneak one in, and believe me I could tell you several, but we don’t have the time today. Maybe I will hang on to a few and share them randomly throughout the summer. For now I want to start with a simple story about how Paulina and I finished off the day after the meet.
Though the team went out to eat after it was all over, Paulina and I did a very little bit of shopping then grabbed a quick sandwich before heading out. One of the things we had to do was stop at Wal-Mart to pick up two items that had been left behind the last time we were there. It wasn’t really a big thing, and I decided before we even walked into the store if there was a line or a hassle, I wasn’t even going to worry about it. As it turned out, there was no one in line at customer service, and even though the lady who waited on us couldn’t find anything about our items in their little book of “paid but left behind,” she believed me and gave me a refund. I was amazed and impressed. She had faith that I was telling the truth without any proof.
Now here is the goofy track story. Of the 13 athletes that we had along with us this year, only 4 boys and 1 girl had been there before, do the math and you find 8 had not had that experience in the past. So, basically we had a majority of newbies, and I mean new: inexperienced, confused, no knowledge of the rules, but not quite able to keep their questions to a question. I did suggest a few times that closing the mouth and observing might be another way to learn, but that idea fell on completely deaf years. See instead of asking what was going on, mostly they rendered opinions on what they felt would not be the reason things were happening, but how things should be done. Mostly they knew way better how it should be than just enjoying the moment of how it was. But I might be getting off on the entitlement track and that is not where I want to be today.
One question in particular that hit me was when the freshman boy asked me why there were so many heats of the mile relay and why they didn’t run those extra heats sooner. See in our state [North Dakota] those are a timed final at the end of the meet rather than running them in prelims. Years ago it was decided that was the way they wanted to do those things and so that is how we do it. It is one of the few rules that is older than I am, and I really didn’t have a good answer for the boy, and he had a hard time accepting my answer that it was just the way we do things. He didn’t have any faith in my words, and it was tough to swallow. I should have had the Wal-Mart lady tell him about accepting someone at their word. Of course he was the same athlete who asked about the number of steps between hurdles in the 110 Highs and when we said 3, he asked if anyone had ever accomplished that, because it seemed like a really tough thing to do. Ok, I promise enough of the goofy stories. I could go on and on. (James later told me he asked why no one just did two steps and got it over with.)
The idea of having faith in what someone says is a key to the story in I Kings. Elijah had faith in God. He had faith that God was indeed God, and he decided to let it be known to the people once and for all. The people of Israel at the time had fallen away from their exclusive worship of Yahweh the one true God. They fell in with the idol worshipers of the area and many worshiped the idol Baal. In fact, we read that while Elijah was the only prophet of God left in the area, there were 450 prophets for Baal.
This story that we have for today is the final in a series of stories of miracles that Elijah was involved with. If we go back a chapter we read about a time of great drought and how he went to a far away area and came upon a poor widow woman and when she agreed to share the last of her food with him, her meal and oil never ran out and they were able to survive because of it. Then when her son dies, Elijah prays over him and the son is brought back to life and restored to the mother.
Now in what we read for today there is a challenge between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. They both take a bull and prepare it for sacrifice, but they are not allowed to put the fire to the sacrifice. Adding the fire is what the God is to do. So, they (as in the prophets) set up their altars doing whatever is going to get the attention of their God, and then whichever God starts the fire for the sacrifice, they have proof that is the real God. As you heard, Elijah doesn’t pull any tricks, in fact he deliberately uses water as his accelerant, and though the prophets of Baal carry on for hours, they cannot get their God to do anything, but Elijah after he finishes praying, God strikes the altar and the sacrifice is consumed in flames. Elijah had faith in God, and God shows the people that he is God.
In the New Testament, Luke tells us of a time when the person who has a great faith is someone outside of the Jewish community. This time the person with faith is what would be considered a foreigner. This story is fairly early in the ministry of Jesus, but his reputation has spread enough that a Centurion from Capernaum has heard of him. So now I have to ask some questions like those new, young athletes we had with us this weekend. What is a centurion? It is a person working for the Roman army (not necessarily Roman) who is in charge of 100 soldiers. They have full control of these soldiers from teaching them maneuvers to providing them clothing and shelter and give orders of what to do and when. They were the basic unit of the military. They were also men prone to codes of honor and well studied.
This particular Centurion, though non Jewish had a deep faith and respected and was very good to the Jewish people in the area. Although he did not convert to Judaism, according to the leaders that came to speak to Jesus on his behalf, he built their synagogue. He also understood and respected the Jewish laws about associating with Gentiles, and though he could command it, he wasn’t going to force Jesus to break laws or traditions to come to his house. Yet, he believed that Jesus had the power to heal his slave, and so this Centurion sent others to talk to Jesus to ask him for help.
By not coming personally, the Centurion was not being superior or a commander, instead, it was an indication that he felt inadequate to be in Jesus’ presence. He understood the difference in their spiritual status far better than the religious leaders of the time. Although the Centurion was an important man in the Roman army and in that particular area, he realized, that in matters of faith, in matters that involve the soul and the life beyond this life, Jesus was the superior, and he-the Centurion was not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus, the Lord, and the King of all. Here we learn that a foreigner could see clearly, what the Jewish leaders could not or would not accept about Jesus. Even the followers of Jesus don’t seem to have the faith that this foreigner has. We see that in one of the final verses of this passage: 9: “I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith.” They had no faith in the Son that God sent to save them.
What does this tell us today? Perhaps instead of an answer, this should give us a question to ponder. What sort of faith do we have? Is ours the sort of faith that Elijah or the Centurion had? Do we believe enough in Jesus to take our problems to him knowing that we will be given what we need? Notice that I said what we need, not what we want. God knows our needs before we ask. God is willing to grant us the peace beyond all peace, if we just seek and accept it. God does not give us our every whim, we all know that, and sometimes it is hard to hear that certain things will not turn out the way we had hoped or desired, but God still loves us.
This weekend/tomorrow we honor and celebrate the many soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country in oh, so many different wars and conflicts. We might want to wonder why some were spared and others were taken. How can we trust in a God that allows war and death in battle? How could Jesus have compassion enough to heal a man who would remain a slave yet not free him from the bondage of slavery? We don’t know those answers, just like I couldn’t tell my young athlete why some races run prelims and others don’t. God asks us to have faith in his word and his time. Not all things will be fixed or healed or corrected instantly when we ask, but we know that God loves us and wants what is best for us.
Oh that trusting faith is such an elusive, tough thing to grasp on to. Or is it? Faith is one of those abstract nouns, but NOT really an abstract or difficult concept for someone who keeps a close, personal relationship with Jesus through prayers and devotions and just be living a Christ centered life. Faith is possible, if we trust in Jesus even just a little like that Centurion did. God Indeed is the King and God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit are there for us through all things at all times, and when we trust in that, when we have faith that God cares for us, then we will be able to be there and care for others. Let’s remember that this weekend as we honor our soldiers who cared enough to sacrifice for us. Amen!