Someone once told me about this pastor. Now, I heard this second hand, so I don’t know exactly where she was, or exactly who she was speaking to, or exactly what the context for what she said was. But someone once told me that this pastor was preaching a sermon. And she said, “If you’re going to pray for rain, you better have an umbrella with you.”

And I take that to mean something like this: If we are going to pray to God—if we are going to ask the creator of the universe for something, if we are going to put our faith in the one who sustains the cosmos itself—we should be prepared for God to say yes.

And I’m not saying that all of our dreams will come true if we just believe hard enough. I do not believe that God is a celestial concierge that meets our demands if we shout with enough confidence. But I do think that there’s something to having the kind of faith that makes us get out an umbrella when we pray for rain.

In this morning’s reading, we see a showdown.

Ahab is the king of Israel, and he is married to Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. And together, they turn from the Lord, the god of Israel. And they worship Baal and Asherah. They build altars to Baal and Asharah. They support the prophets of Baal and Asherah.

And they tear down the altars of the Lord and they slaughter the prophets of the Lord.

And now there is a drought. And now there is a famine. And now Elijah is the only prophet of the Lord who is left.

And he challenges Ahab and Jezebel and their gods and their prophets to a fight.

Here’s how it works. First, the prophets of Baal prepare a sacrifice to their god. They build a pyre. They kill a bull. They put the bull on the wood. And they pray. They pray hard. They pray for hours.

They pray for their god to send fire from the heavens to burn this sacrifice. And nothing happens.

Then, Elijah builds a pyre. He kills a bull. He puts the bull on the wood.

Then he digs a trench around the pyre, and he pours water over the pyre and the bull until they are dripping wet and the water is filling up the trench.

And then he prays to the Lord. And fire falls from the heavens… and burns up the bull… and the wood… and the stone under the wood… and the dust of the ground… and the water that had been poured out… and the water that was in the trench.

Elijah wins. The people turn from Baal and Asherah and return to the Lord. And the drought ends.

And yeah, some of that is because the prophets of Baal and Asherah were praying to false gods, while Elijah is praying to the Lord, the God of Israel, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of the cosmos itself.

And some of that is because Elijah is a prophet of the Lord.

But I think that some of that is because Elijah was confident that the Lord would answer. He put his money where his mouth was. He had his umbrella ready.

Today is our All Souls’ Sunday. In a little while, we’re going to take a few moments to remember the people who went home before us. It is an act of faith that there is a whole world beyond this one.

And while we will see some photos and read some names and light some candles, it is worth mentioning that there are names that we will not read but that echo through the rooms and hallways and memories of this church.

We are a community built by those who came before us. We are a community built by people who put their hope in our God and who prayed to the Lord; who shared their dreams and heeded God’s call; who got out their umbrellas.

You see, being a church is a daring thing. Starting ministries is a daring thing. Keeping ministries going is a daring thing. 

I know. I’ve looked at the numbers. Americans—including the people who live within a few miles of this church—are becoming less religious… and less Christian… and less likely to be involved in a church. 

More and more people—including more and more people who live within a few miles of this church—see the church as judgmental… and too interested in money… and untrustworthy… and inflexible… and boring.

And we are surrounded by prophets of Baal and prophets of Asherah. We are surrounded by prophets who tell people who put faith in markets and politicians and the way things used to be.

And in the midst of all that, we remember the people who came before us. We remember the people who dared to be a church… who dared to move to a new building… who dared to build classrooms… who dared to start an endowment… who dared to plant trees.

And, maybe, we ask what we are daring to do.

Last week, I asked you to write down some of your dreams for the church. And, yeah, there were a few folks who dreamt of turning back time. And there were daring visions of what could be.

What if we were known for something more than being the church across the street from the school?

What if we embraced and lived into our Open and Affirming Covenant?

What if we created a ministry to help people in our church get to medical appointments?

What if we identified the needs in our community that the Referral Center can’t meet, and worked to meet them?

What if we developed a faith formation hour after worship, with sermon roundtables and Bible studies and Sunday School?

What if we brought back Vacation Bible School during the summer?

What if we stepped out in faith, ready to do something bold and new, giving our praise and prayers to God?

But here’s the thing:

When Elijah challenged the king and his wife and the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a fight, he prayed… but he didn’t just pray. He gathered stones and wood, he built an altar and dug a trench, he prepared a sacrifice… and then he prayed for God to bring the fire.

When those who came before us dreamt of ministries, they prayed… but they didn’t just pray. They built and volunteered and gave money and offered time… and then they prayed for God to bring the spirit.

When we need rain, we pray… but we don’t just pray. We till our fields and plant our crops and add fertilizer and pesticide… and then we pray for God to bring the rain.

We don’t just leave everything up to God. We don’t just expect God to do it for us. And God doesn’t leave everything to us. God doesn’t just expect us to do it. We are in this with God, and God is in this with us.

The Spirit that sang in those who came before us is lending new song to us, and it is we who must take up the strain and raise it up, sending it on to our community, our world, and our future.

So what of your time and your skill and your wealth are you ready to give so that we can be known for something more than being the church across the street from the school…

…and embrace and live into our covenants…

…and help the people in our church and our community and our world?

What of your time and your skill and your wealth are you ready to give so that we can worship the God who we encounter in our Lord Jesus Christ…

…and be a community  that welcomes and celebrates all people, while calling each of us toward greater wholeness in God…

…and serve one another, the wider community, and the world…

…and grow together in Christian faith and towards the kingdom that God has prepared for us?

You may have seen this coming… it is stewardship season. Soon, you will get a letter and a pledge form. And I am here asking you to remember the past and envision the future and ask this question:

Are you ready to keep building a church that was started before we got here and will continue to grow and serve long after we’re gone? Are you ready to pray for God to rain grace from the heavens?

Do you have your umbrella?

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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