Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 2, 2013
I Kings 18:20:39
I don’t know much about this world, but I know one thing: the Houston Astros are terrible. Like, really really bad. As of last night, they have managed to win 19 games, and lose 37 games. I’ve been to one game this season. I was so excited to go, so pumped to see my beloved Astros. And they gave up eight runs….in the first inning! They’re that bad. Whoever they play, wherever they play, the Astros are the clear underdogs.
And I don’t know much about God, but I know one thing: God must be an Astros fan. Because only the God of grace that I know could have the sheer patience to be an Astros fan. Only the God of love could cheer for a truly bad baseball team. Only the God of all compassion could be for the underdog.
And, really, God is always cheering for the underdog. That’s what I love so much about this long passage from the Old Testament. Yes, it was very long, but I hope you paid attention. This story pits the followers of Baal and the followers of the God of Israel against each other. If the followers of Baal get their offering to light on fire from heaven, then Baal must be God. If the followers of the God of Israel get their offering to light on fire from heaven, then the God of Israel must be God. It’s like a divine shootout from the Old West.
But there’s a catch. There are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and only one prophet of the God of Israel. And his name is Elijah. Four hundred and fifty against one? Elijah is the underdog.
So the showdown starts. The prophets of Baal – all four hundred and fifty of them – cannot do anything to get their offering to light on fire from heaven. They dance around, they chant, they do all sorts of rituals. And still, no fire from heaven.
So what does our hero, the underdog Elijah, do? He taunts the followers of Baal. He mocks them. Elijah is awfully snarky for being outnumbered four hundred and fifty to one. Elijah says, “what’s the matter? Maybe your god has gone out for a cup of coffee. Maybe your god is asleep. Just yell louder, maybe you can wake him up.” Of course, Baal does nothing, because Baal is nothing.
So then the underdog comes up to bat. Elijah prays to the Lord, the God of Israel. And behold! A fire falls from heaven and consumes the offering. The contest is over. The underdog has won! Elijah, though he was just one prophet, does more than all four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal.
See, God is always for the underdog. God must be an Astros fan, as God is a fan of Elijah. The underdog.
Elijah is not the only underdog that God favors. God cheers for shrimpy little David when he has to face Goliath the giant in battle. God pulls for Moses, even though he has a terrible stutter. God pulls for the underdog. And no underdog is lower than Jesus.
Jesus was born in a dingy little backwater of the Roman Empire. Being from Galilee was about as impressive as being from Vidor, Texas. Being a carpenter was about as prestigious as working the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Hanging out with fishermen and ruffians was as honorable as running with the gangs of Houston’s fifth ward.
And Jesus was going toe to toe with the entire Roman Empire. We would expect somebody doing that to have a lot of followers with swords and weapons. But no, Jesus comes armed only with some poor fishermen and free love.
And Jesus was going toe to toe with the devil and death itself. We would expect somebody doing that to follow all of the rules and stay around “nice people.” But no, Jesus socializes with bums and sinners and breaks the rules with reckless abandon. Jesus is the underdog. Of course, God is always pulling for the underdog. And that’s why, in the end, Jesus wins. Because God is on his side.
God is a fan of the underdogs. And we have many, many underdogs today. There are now more people living below the poverty line in Houston’s suburbs than there are in the city of Houston itself. From 2000 to 2011, the number of poor people in the suburbs of Houston doubled.*
Super Bowl LI in 2017 will be in Houston. And along with the big game, will come the largest single incident of human sex trafficking in the United States. Somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 children are trafficked as sex slaves every year in the United States – and many of them will be coming to Houston during the Super Bowl.†
These are the modern underdogs.
These are the ones that God favors. The Church can be bamboozled into believing that the trappings of power – money, fame, success – are indicators of God’s love. That we need to bow down to folks with wealth and prestige. But remember, the God of Israel didn’t listen to the four hundred and fifty because they were a lot of them. God listened to Elijah because he was faithful. Elijah was the underdog, and God was his biggest fan.
God is cheering for us, when we are living paycheck to paycheck, just trying to get by. God is your biggest fan, even when the world is lined up against you. God is pulling for us, when it seems that it’s four hundred and fifty against little old you. God is on your side, when you remember the poor and the forgotten.
Because, when it comes down to it, we are also the underdogs. Here we are – just a little band of Episcopalians in Spring, Texas – surrounded by problems on every side. Poverty, slavery, unbelief. We could say that the problems are too big, and that we couldn’t possibly do anything about it. We could give up, and go home, because there are four hundred and fifty prophets against one.
But Elijah trusted that God would fulfill his end of the bargain. Elijah didn’t give up because there were four and forty nine more prophets of Baal. Elijah didn’t give up because his task seemed impossible. Elijah was faithful – because he knew that God favors the underdog.
I really don’t expect the Astros to win the World Series this year, or for many years to come. But then again, nobody expected Elijah’s God to do much of anything either. Our God is God of the underdogs. The God of Moses, the God of David, the God of Elijah, the God of Jesus, the God of the Church, has season tickets for the hapless Astros. And God has season tickets for you, the underdog.