June 11, 2017
1 Kings 21:1-20
Anthem: He Never Failed Me yetSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The characters of our story this morning might sound familiar.
When I say Ahab, what comes to mind?
Ahab is king of Israel when what we think of as Israel, that King David had united, is once again split. It is now Israel in the north and Judah, including Jerusalem, in the south. Ahab ruled from Samaria, the center of the northern kingdom. When we first meet Ahab, he is introduced like this:
In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel; Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria for twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. (1 Kings 16:29-30)
That’s a pretty impressive résumé. He did more evil than all who were before him.
When I say Jezebel, what do you think of?
Jezebel was a daughter of the king of Tyre, the rich trading city on the Mediterranean. And she is more complicated than a stereotype. Walter Brueggemann points out that had Jezebel been a queen of Israel who followed God, she would be a hero of the faith, like Deborah or Rahab or Tamar or Rachel or Rebecca or Ruth. She was smart, cunning, and willing to use her influence over matters around her in order serve her god. Were her god Yahweh and not Ba’al, we would be singing her praises.
What about Naboth? Anyone? Nothing?
Nobody gets named Naboth. Naboth owns a patch of land near Ahab’s palace. It is his ancestral land, meaning this is what his family was given when Israel settled here after the Exodus. It is a vineyard. The metaphor of vineyard as the land of promise from God runs throughout the prophets and even the parables of Jesus. So Naboth has rights to this land as his inheritance, and the whole thing stands as a symbol of the promise of the goodness of God to take care of the people.
And the story goes that Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard, and when Naboth would not sell or trade for it, Ahab moped and schlumped around the palace until Jezebel got tired of it and took matters into her own hands. She looks at Ahab and says, “aren’t you the king?!?”
And so we have the breaking of four of the Ten Commandments, because of the breaking of five others. Ahab covets what is not his. So he and Jezebel set about to steal it. They do so by means of false witness and murder.
That’s four. What are the other five?
- Ahab has been following after other gods,
- setting up idols,
- using his power as the king to do what is wrong in the sight of God, which is a way of using God’s name wrongly,
- and the whole following after other gods has been described by the prophets as a kind of adultery.
Honoring his father and mother would have meant remembering the story, that the Lord our God brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and yet here Ahab is acting like Pharaoh and not a shepherd of the people.
The only one we miss is honoring the sabbath, so if this took place on a Saturday, he would have bowled a perfect frame.
Looking at our story through the lens of politics, what do we see?
- Liberals protest the 1% ruining the lives of the 99%ers.
- Conservatives decry the wrongful use of eminent domain.
- Libertarians declare this to be classic government overreach and loss of individual freedom.
What does the church see?
- When Ahab and Jezebel come after Naboth’s vineyard, who advocates on Naboth’s behalf?
- Who stands in their way?
- Who testifies to the truth that Naboth did not utter such things and is not guilty?
- Who does more than set up a Facebook page, puts collection jars on the counters of convenience stores, and makes a gofundme account to help the family?
We who are called to be a prophetic community, how do we fit into this story?
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, do you remember what he was in Memphis to do? Sanitation workers strike. The people who handle the garbage being treated as disposable, as if they themselves were garbage.
Are garbage-men worth getting shot over?
Here’s the thing, here’s what Rev. Dr. King saw to be true, here’s what Jesus shows us: in God’s politics, the garbage worker and the king are worth the same. One has much more power and influence, and so needs to be more careful to be about the covenant for the sake of the others, but There. Is. No. One. Worth. Less. Than. Anyone. Else.
How do we hold those with power and influence accountable to the fact that we all must live in covenant if any of us is going to survive?
Ahab is known for his idolatry. And we may think that is mainly about statues and worship and spiritual stuff. But idolatry is not just about things. It is about forgetting the God who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It means forgetting the love of Jesus that looked upon the world which crucifies the love of God and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
Being the church means being in covenant, and seeing people how God sees them. The God who makes us free from Pharaoh and Egypt, free from Caesar and Rome, free from just being cogs in the marketplace. It means that the inherent worth, dignity, values, love for, hope for, and place in the people for whom Jesus lived, died and rose again, of each and every person is the same.
If we are to claim for ourselves the saving love of God, the gift and the gifts of life, the joy and freedom of new life in Christ, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and the grace that makes all of this possible, we must also claim it for others as well. I cannot claim it for me without also claiming it for you.
And when we do this on behalf of all people, then we are being the church.
Thanks be to God. Amen.