At first glance this week’s texts seem to be saying, “My God is better than your God” and that doesn’t sound quite right to modern ears. We tend to trust that everyone finds a path to God that is right for them and don’t worry too much about whose God is greater. But when it comes right down to it, don’t you want a display of God’s power like the one Elijah elicited? I mean, Baal didn’t even show up, but the God of Israel consumed the offering, the altar, and the water. Who doesn’t want to see that?
Of course, the alternate reading from 1 Kings just emphasizes that there is no God greater and the Psalm sings out God’s greatness. If you are reluctant to preach that our God is the greatest, where else can you go?
Galatians, of course. In the middle of this short passage is the ultimate question – Whose approval do we seek? Paul makes it quite clear that if he were seeking human approval he would not be a servant of Christ. This question puts the first reading in a different light.
Think of a time when you knew, beyond any doubt, that you were serving God, doing exactly what God wanted you to do. Did it not feel like the Holy Spirit was in and through all things? Didn’t it feel as if God’s power consumed everything, stones, wood, water, and all? When we are in that spiritual zone, serving God with no strings attached, even the display of power granted Elijah seems dull in comparison. Of course, if Elijah had only been showing off for the Baal worshipers, then nothing quite so spectacular would have happened.
The centurion of the Gospel reading knew this. He didn’t need Jesus to come to his house to believe that the impossible was possible. He was in that spiritual zone. He did not care what his fellow centurions or those who served under him thought. All he sought was God’s approval and the people around him could shake their heads and avoid him all they wanted. It simply didn’t matter because Jesus mattered more in that moment.
Now I’m thinking of all the times when I was seeking only human approval and how poorly those times turned out. Because it is an election year here in the US, I can’t help but wonder how certain candidates would present differently if they were looking at something other than human approval ratings. Imagine presidential candidates running solely on a platform that would be pleasing to God… Moreover, imagine a body of voters voting in ways that please God…
On the one hand these texts are complex and mysterious. On the other hand, they are beautifully simple: serve only God, seek only God’s approval. It would be nice if it were as easy as it is simple, but we humans are complicated creatures and we need approval. Too often we look for it in all the wrong places.
Here’s a thought: What would you preach if you were concerned only with God’s approval and not so much with what folks in the pews might think?
Whatever you’re preaching, wherever the Spirit is leading you, please join in the conversation here. Perhaps together we can sort out what is pleasing to God.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.