I had the difficult task of trying to teach the story in 1 Kings 18:20-38 to some elementary school age children. I wasn’t sure how to explain it both in a way that they would get it and in a way that they would still see their faith as something good. So I did my best. I explained some of the problems, but I said the best part about this story of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal was a promise that God would show up when we really needed and God would prove to us, if we really needed, that God still lives. But of course, being the 9- and 10-year -olds that these kids were, a little girl raised her hand, and said, “Pastor Elijah, I think this story really leaves me wondering if Baal still lives and if God is the one who is dead?”
What a poignant question from my brilliant 9-year-old student. Does not Baal still live?
Does not Baal still live when car bombs and drones are a reality for God’s children in the Middle East? Does not Baal still live when my house is foreclosed, my loans are in default, and my job has come to and end? Does not Baal still live when the wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed? Does not Baal still live when your wealth dictates your standing in the court of law? When your sexual orientation is criminalized? When your gender is controlled?
Does not Baal still live when greed, lies, bigotry and hate seem to be the way to rise to the top of our politics? Does not Baal still live when the face of Christianity and the face of the church is narrow and provincial exclusive fundamentalist Christianity and it seems like progressive and prophetic voices are outnumbered and dying and no one seems to care what they are saying?
Does not Baal still live when a gunman walks into a classroom and murders first-graders, or walks into a sanctuary and murders the black churchgoers who welcomed him, or walks into a gay bar and murders those seeking relief, refuge and sanctuary from the chaos of this world, those trying to live life to its fullest, those trying to find love, friendship and happiness in one of the few spaces they can claim as their own? Does not Baal still live when 50 of God’s precious children are massacred because of they are gay, and our leaders lack the will to change the laws on their behalf, and the church lacks the courage to change our theology for the sake of their names? Does not Baal still live?
Sometimes we must ask this question. Sometimes we must square up with God and let God know that like the people of Israel, we doubt that God is truly powerful because the truth of God lies dormant and even non-existent in too many of our lives. The justice of God seems too long delayed, the love of God seems reserved for the few. Sometimes we must approach God and say we are tempted to believe and trust Baal because we are overwhelmed with the evil we see and so we doubt if God’s power is really good and really omnipotent and if God is really omnipresent. Sometimes we must say to God that as a nation we are dealing with this question — does not Baal still live?
My brothers and my sisters, the church must answer this question today. The church must know that our brothers and sisters, particularly our gay brothers and sisters are looking at us, wondering if we will have the heart to prove to them that it is not Baal, but God who lives and claims them as his own, just as they are, this and every day. And it is this God who comforts them in their pain and it his church who advocates for them and welcomes them into full communion. It is his people who proclaim that because God lives, all of us may live too and the evil we see will pale in comparison to our experience of life in God.