"How long will you pasach (passover, sprin over, limp, be lame) between two ca'iph (ambivalence, divided opinion, different sides?" the prophet Elijah asked the people of Israel in the first reading (I K 18) this Sunday in many of our churches (Revised Common Lectionary, you can see the readings here: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=264 )
The first thing that jumped out at me is the word pasach which occurs for the first time in the Ancient Covenant text of Exodus 12:13 "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses, when I see the blood on your door I will passover you and the plague will not be on you..." Where it then occurs three times in that chapter. In 1Kings 18 the word occurs twice. Here and in v26 where the priests of Ba'al are limping/leaping/hopping around before their altar (in a frenzy) trying to stir their (pseudo) god to act. This is an intentional use of the word (with different connotations) probably to emphasize that the ambivalence of Israel (their limping) has placed them in the same camp as the futile hopping priests of the idol/false god. On the other hand, it also leads to memories of God's definitive act of salvation. [I believe I am following the ancient Jewish practice of reading Scripture by connecting the word to its other uses and contexts] The reading therefore opens to us both options, illustrated from other uses of pasach: The blood on the door in God's ultimate act (in the Ancient Covenant) of salvation and the bloody (they cut themselves with swords) false priests of the unreal god Ba'al.
In the section prior to this Elijah has happened upon Obadiah, (bad) King Ahab's chief of staff. Obadiah is an interesting character. His name means worshipper of God and he is described as one who fears the Lord greatly. While the evil queen Jezebel is killing off the prophets of Israel, Obadiah has secretly hidden one hundred of them in the desert and provided them bread and water. Thus he acts as savior to the men (as God's tool). Yet, while faithful to God he is also in service of Ahab and fears him as well. Elijah tells Obadiah to announce to the king, "Elijah is here" (which in Hebrew can also mean "Lo, the Lord is my God." see Seow in the New Interpreter's Bible, Vol III). Obadiah is afraid the king will kill him. He is an example of the "limping between two opinions" which Elijah condemns.
When Ahab and Elijah meet it is almost comical. The king to calls the prophet, "Is that you, the troubler of Israel?" to which Elijah responds, "I am not the troubler, you and your fmaily are the troubler because you have turned from God to Ba'al." (like the banter of feuding third graders). This is the age old conversation between competing world views (and continues to this day). Judgment is God's affirmation of which one is right. We will soon learn it is Elijah.
In what would certainly have been a much watched reality TV face-off in the ancient world if they had cable, Elijah invites the 450 priests of Ba'al to make a sacrifice to their god and call down fire. The problem is Ba'al is no god and so their hours of hopping and self-cutting produce nothing but exhaustion. Elijah, playing the trash-talker on the side lines constantly mocks their efforts and their useless god. One of his best lines is "maybe your god is asleep." Finally, Elijah says, "it is my turn." Then to emphasize the miracluous powers of God, he has gallons and gallons of water poured upon the wood. Clearly, if it catches on fire, it will take some doing. After a brief prayer (the theme is constant; it is about God' revealing Himself so that the people "will know the Lord/YHWH is God. We see it time and again in the Torah and the story of Exodus. Manifestation and revelation are central concerns) Elijah invokes God and a fireball so hot that it consumes everything: gift, altar, dirt, water, totally. It is another case of superabundance. In the face of the divine the people fall to earth in worship and proclaim "The Lord is God! God is the Lord!" The crowd (ever fickle) turns on the Ba'al prophets and slay them all (just retribution for the murdered prophets of Israel). It is a bad day for false gods.
Even in the Bible, God does not usually act so definitively. Many times, most times, He is quiet and behind the scenes. Later in this story we will see Elijah in a deep depression and hopeless. God's power is often masked and God's people are often deeply tried and worn out. Israel's history is limping between two options (God or false gods) as is ours. We embrace "spirituality" in the quest to make God fit our desires and needs. We are reluctant to obey or submit. We redefine morality to fit our behaviors. We are, in a word, just like Ancient Israel. We are adept at claiming we know best and self-jusstify everything we do.
The prophets' words are as apropriate today as they were 2500+ years ago. Stop limping between two opinions, he demands. Stop hesitating and vascilating. Stop trying to have it both ways, eating and preserving your cake. "Fish or cut bait" demands the Prophet. He knows the cost of obedience. He fights for his own soul in an effort to stay faithful. He succombs to despair and only God's mercy and intervention saves Him from tossing in the towel himself. This way of life is not easy and in spite of some church advertisements, when you follow Jesus everything is not better and all blessings are not yours. The cost of discipleship is a cross. Following Jesus means abundance, but also great suffering.
Today in VBS we will sing about Jesus. We will have joy and laughter. We will love the kids who are to spend the week with us. We will mark them out for Jesus (with the blood of the lamb on their doorpost--figuratively speaking). We will study "The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe" and announce Aslan (Jesus) in on the move! But I know we are intitiating them also into a life of decision. No limping, only following Jesus (Triune God). And embracing that path these little ones will need to be prepared for great battles against Ba'al and all his satanic henchmen. It is the way of the non-limper, the way of Life!