Desmond Tutu giving lecture accepting Wallenberg medal at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, October 29 2008

Today’s reading:  1 Kings 18; 1 Thessalonians 1; Ezekiel 48; Psalm 104

In 1984 Desmond Tutu, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, won the Nobel Peace prize for his work against South African apartheid.  The global recognition he gained from receiving such a prestigious award propelled Tutu on to the world stage, and gave him the influence of a prominent world leader.  Tutu’s opportunity for such broad impact, coupled with his courage and commitment to lead, helped him gain international sympathy for those oppressed under such an unjust regime.

During some of the darkest days of apartheid, the story is told of Tutu leading a church service when hundreds of armed South African police officers showed up to threatened the worshippers.  Tutu was not intimidated.  He continued to preach, then addressed the police officers directly, saying, “You are powerful.  You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked.  So, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side” (Jim Wallis, God’s Politics).

From our place in history today, we know this story has a good ending. Desmond Tutu’s courageous work helped officially end South African apartheid in 1993.  But in the years leading up to that time, Tutu wasn’t sure how the story would play out.  He had to trust good would eventually prevail, even if he wasn’t alive to see it happen.  What an incredible story of courage.

Today’s assigned scripture in 1 Kings 18 is also a story of incredible courage. Ahab was King of Israel at the time.  He was married to a pagan princess named Jezebel, who persuaded him turn away and follow after false gods.  Elijah, one of the most well-known Old Testament prophets, was a contemporary of King Ahab.  Yesterday in 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah announcing a drought was coming to the land.

Our reading today begins in the third year of this drought with God directing Elijah to confront King Ahab.  This certainly required courage because King Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought.  He had been trying to find (and probably kill) Elijah for several years.  In spite of the danger, Elijah trusted God’s plan.  Not only did he confront King Ahab, but he went on to directly accuse the King of causing the drought himself. “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals [false gods] (1 Kings 18:18).  Elijah then challenged King Ahab to a contest to see who was better, Baal or God.  The contest was just Elijah, with God on his side, against 450 prophets of Baal.

You know how the story goes – not only did God prove his authority, but he did so decisively.  Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God” (1 Kings 18:38-39).

In 21st century America today, no one is seeking to kill me for obeying the one true God.  Even so, I sometimes time lack the courage to follow God’s commands.  Why is it so hard?  Like Elijah and like Desmond Tutu, I know how the story is going to turn out.  God wins!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).