I was so disappointed. There was so much buildup and hype. So much buzz. So much publicity. Do you remember? About a month ago, for the first time in 116 years, a man was going to walk a tightrope across the Niagara Falls. Sure, over a century ago, a bunch of people had done it...before it was forbidden. But then, it was banned because not everybody that tried made it across.
Now in 2012, Nik Wallenda, whose great grandfather had died falling from a tightrope at the age of 73 when I was a boy - Nik Wallenda, was going to do it. It was a symbol of total risk, total fearlessness, total commitment to one's craft and ability. And I have to admit, I was pretty excited to see what would happen. I was rooting for the guy.
I was rooting for the guy until I found out that he would be wearing a harness, that really his risk of death in the stunt was probably lower than my risk when I try to turn left on 278. Now, don't get me wrong. I certainly wouldn't want anything bad to happen to the daredevil, but it's just that you can't really bill it as a daredevil act when you're wearing a safety harness. It is still an impressive skill.
He would've made it without the harness. But, for all the hype, he wasn't "all in," not the way the people who did it in the past were.
I suppose I shouldn't get worked up over it. It is just tightrope walking. Ultimately, it's just entertainment. There's really nothing that says you have to be "all in" when it comes to entertainment. But, can we at least agree that it is something special when we do see people who are "all in" on whatever they do?
Open your Bible and read 1 Kings 18-19. There you see what it means to be "all in." Today we'll look at Elijah, next week at Elisha. Notice how "all in" Elijah was. He stood up to the tyrannical king Ahab. He willingly lived in poverty. He forcefully challenged all 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a showdown with death on the line on Mt. Carmel (850 to 1). He was "all in."
But then things didn't turn out quite like he had hoped. In the beginning of chapter 19, we see Elijah sulking because he felt like he was the only true believer left. No one cared about what he did. He didn't want to do it anymore. He just wanted to die. He saw himself out on that tightrope with no harness and no end in sight.
Truth be told, there are times we can probably understand the frustration. We've been "very zealous for the Lord God Almighty" too, haven't we? And yet, our lives don't always go our way. Have you ever been ready to yell out to God like Elijah does in this chapter? "You don't know what you're doing! You've lost control God! It's not working!"
God doesn't always seem to be taking you where you think he should. Whether it was when your efforts for God's work seemed in vain or under-appreciated, or when your efforts to stop running away from God failed and the addiction won a battle or the pride showed its head. When your walk of faith is more tightrope than taxi, when you feel like you are all alone without a harness instead of being securely carried along by God - you know what it is to be "all in" to yourself, "all in" on self-pity, self-praise and self-trust. Here's the problem - that tightrope of self always breaks. And when you are "all in" on that, the fall is much worse than some rocks at the bottom of Niagara.
So God goes all in to save us. God took flesh and Jesus came - not to risk his life like a tightrope walker, but to give it. He had no rope, no safety harness.
He went "all in" and faced every temptation and beat it, "all in" to have no place to lay his head, like he says in this Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 9:58). Jesus went "all in" to the punishment for our sin, all in on receiving the mocking, all in on the pain of betrayal, all in on the scourge and whips and nails, all in to suffer the pain of hell on the cross, all in as he gave up his very last breath and surrendered his spirit - to save us.
That kind of commitment doesn't need to be explained. We just need to see it. In our text, notice that God doesn't defend himself. He just comes to Elijah as "the Lord" - the "all in" God, the Savior God. He reminds Elijah who he is and then just gives him his next instructions: "Go." And as a bonus, in pure grace - he gives him church - he reminds him of all the others struggling right alongside of him, "There are 7,000 faithful remaining. You're not alone." But even if he was, he would not have to fear, because God is truly "all in."
Next week, as we continue our look at 1 Kings 19, we'll see how he asks us to be "all in" as well. Have a great week.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.