(no, this is not an optical illusion. The pulpit is very high)

Knowing yourself

‘Who are you?’

Imagine that you are Elijah.

Paraphase of 1 Kings 18:1-19:9

The strong Elijah

· Challenging Ahab –draught (17: 1)

· Brought a dead boy to life (17:19-24)

· Stand up to the 450 Baal priests (18: 20-39)

· Pray for rain (18: 41-45)

· Ran faster than horses (18: 46)

The weak Elijah

· Pride at being a man of God

· Thinking that he is the only surviving prophet of Yahweh (18:22)

· Not listening to Obadiah that he is not

· the narrative refers to ‘his life’

· Jezebel threatens to take it (19: 2)

· He flees for it (19: 3)

· He asks to surrender it (19: 4)

· Some scholars thinks that running away to Kirith Ravine is an act of cowardice (17:5ff)

· He gave up

· Dismissal of his servant at Beersheba (the southernmost limit of Yahweh’s land) – abandoning his job as a prophet

· Travelling a day further – abandoning God’s covenant people

What do you think about Elijah? Is he different from you?

Acting without reflection reveals who you are

Ah Beng was the only Chinese disciple of Abba Isaac, the most famous of all the Desert Fathers in the Fourth Century. Ah Beng had traveled all the way from China to learn to love God and become a good Christian under the teachings of Abba Isaac. After fifteen years. Abba Isaac decided that Ah Beng was ready to start his own monastery so he sent him home. With tears in his eyes, Ah Beng bade his sifu goodbye and made his way back to China. Finally he decided to settle in a small place called Sow-Lin in China.

Being a disciple of Abba Isaac, Ah Beng led a very ascetic life. He lived in a simple wooden hut. Soon many became his disciples and the making of a Sow-Lin monastery were in the works. Ah Beng owned only a loincloth which he washed everyday. Unfortunately, whenever he left it out to dry, the rats would tear at it. So Ah Beng decided to keep a kitten to drive away the rats. However, Ah Beng found that now he had to beg for milk in addition to his own food everyday. This took time away from his prayers and meditation. So Ah Beng decided to keep a cow to produce milk for his kitten. When he had the cow, Ah Beng found that he now had to find grass for his cow. Again this cut into his prayer and meditation time. Then Ah Beng had a bright idea. Instead of begging for his own food and grass everyday, he would cultivate the land around his hut to grow wheat and use the stalk to make hay for his cow. In farming, Ah Beng found out the hard way that it took even more time away from his prayers and meditation. So in frustration, Ah Beng decided to employ people to work his farm. Ah Beng discovered that supervising his employees took up a lot of his time so he decided to employ a manager. In a short while, Ah Beng discovered that he had became very rich!

One day Abba Isaac decided to visit his disciple Ah Beng in China. Instead of a hut, Abba Isaac found Ah Beng living in a mansion. “Your house is like a temple in Sow-Lin,” stammered a surprised Abba Isaac. “All this came about” explained Abba Ah Beng, “because I wanted to keep my loincloth.”

As Abba Ah Beng has found out that such a simple spiritual discipline of asceticism and wearing a loincloth can escalate into a full bloom Sow-Lin temple. I wonder how many of us are aware how complicated Christianity has become. We build multi-million Ringgit churches which are used only a few hours every week. The rest of the time, the buildings are left empty. These are our houses of worship. We worship in air-conditioned comfort, with upholstered seats, clear view of the stage where we see the musicians and speakers perform. Our sermons are uplifting, comforting and simplified so as not to make demands on our time, effort and wallets. We are entertained by karaoke choruses, PowerPoint presentations with sounds and video, and brilliant solo performances by singers and choirs. There are many translations of the Bible in English; offering us the choice of choosing by the beauty of the language (KJV) or reading like a newspaper (The Message). Our theologies are so complicated and convoluted that we are willing to kill each other over it. We fellowship with people who are like us in status; socially and economically. To help the poor and the marginalised, we prefer to give money rather than to get our hands dirty. We retreat into our religious ghettoes and watch as social injustice and racial polarisation tear apart the infrastructure of our society.

Have you ever wondered what God really require of us? Does God wants big fancy churches, emotionally stirring worship performances and Christians who are not disciples? The prophet Micah has this to say, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God’s requirements from us are simple; (1) we are to be just in our action, (2) we are to be merciful to others, and (3) to walk humbly with our Creator God. Our Lord Jesus Christ clarified that for us in what is known as the Great Commandment; we are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).

Ever wonder how something so simple can become as complicated as modern day Christianity? I believe it is time that we re-examine the way we practice our religion. We need to get a religious KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). We need to ask ourselves which of the many activities we do in church is what God requires. Our church facilities and assets must also be examined to see if that is what God requires. We also need to reassess if we neglect what God requires of us: to seek social justice, to give voice to the oppressed and marginalised, to defend the defenceless and vulnerable, to eradicate poverty and to reduce suffering of the sick, wounded and traumatised.

If this means we have to simplify our lifestyles in order to act justly and to show mercy, let it be so. If it means we have to re-examine our dependence on lavish church buildings, then it is needed. If it means our worship be less of a performance and more of a service, may it be done. If this means our pulpit teaching be more Christ centered rather than man or psychology-centered, it will be beneficial. If it means we have to reduce our church activities to its minimal so more time can be spent outside the church building to offer justice and mercy, let us do it then. Jesus led a group of disciples for 3 years and left them to form a church. Within three hundred years, the church became the most powerful religious institution on earth after it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately it also became the richest, most ritualistic, power-hungry and self-centered institution on earth. Then as now, the church of Jesus Christ needs a religious KISS.

Reflection Questions

a. What do you think Elijah had learned about himself in the passage?

b. What have you learned about yourself?