Vicar Axel Kaegler                                                                                 Luke7:36-8:3

House of Prayer Lutheran Church           Fall, 2013                                  1 Kings 21:1-21a

 

“Sinboldly” or “God’s Love Makes Us Do Crazy Things”

            Inthe way that the Church tells time, we’ve entered into the Season AfterPentecost, also called Ordinary Time.One of the perks of ordinary time is thatthe Revised Common Lectionary, is that it gives the suggestion of going throughsome of the lesser known stories and sagas of the Old Testament. This is areally useful thing for us preachers and congregations, because it forces us toconfront some of the lesser known portions of the Bible, as well as parts ofourselves that we don’t like to see.

Now, in my research for today’s passages, Icame across an article in Living Lutheran that brought up a story of a baptistpreacher who at one time preached against the use of tobacco. Now, in theLutheran tradition, if the point of a sermon is “Christians don’t use tobacco,”it’s not a sermon. A sermon is not a speech about morals or what you should orshouldn’t do, but instead a sermon in the Lutheran tradition is nothing otherthan telling the truth about humanity, scars and all, and telling the truthabout God, cross and all. But that’s beside the point. Because the importantthing was the response to this moral speech. After the service, a deacon walkedup to him and said something to the extent of, “Of course tobacco smoking isbad, but we have farmers in this community who grow tobacco for a living, so wedon’t want you to preach about that anymore.”

 

The next week, he went against alcohol use.It was an impressive rant, and one that I probably wouldn’t agree with, butafter the service the deacon approached him again and said: “You know weBaptists don’t drink, but some of us work in a distillery, so lighten up onthat topic.”

 

The next week, the preacher condemnedgambling, and by now the preacher knew what was coming, as the deacon said “Youknow, we have a lot of people who raise horses in this town, and the horses aresold for racing, and I know we’re not supposed to gamble, but…”

 

The preacher stopped the deacon rightthere, and said “Well what should I preach on?” The deacon responded “How aboutChinese Communism? We don’t have any Chinese communists around here.” And I’msure you can all see some of the problems with that. ( http://www.livinglutheran.com/blog/2013/06/not-me-lord.html)

 

When did our employment or the things thatgive us comfort grant us permission to work against God’s will and to continueworking harm the people whom God loves?

 

In our first reading, King Ahab, who is themost powerful man in the Kingdom, realized that having everything he couldpossibly need wasn’t enough for his self-interest. He saw that there was avineyard next to his palace that would make a great garden, but finds that itsowner Naboth will not sell it for the price he gives, nor will he let Ahab givehim a different vineyard.

 

Now, this is another place where our 21stcentury sensibilities tend to get in the way of what’s happening here. In themodern era, we have the real-estate industry, and land is a commodity. But thiswasn’t really the case in three thousand years ago.  Land wasn’t just sold back then, there wereno realtors, and people didn’t move around. In a day before banks, investmentaccounts, storage units, grocery stores, and before safe travel, land was waymore important. Land means life, the place you grow your own food, money,security and a place for a family. It’s all wrapped up there. Naboth sellinghis land would be crazy, because land is priceless. It’s a family treasuregiven to him and to be given to his family. And exchanging his vineyard foranother vineyard would mean putting another family out of their home.

 

Between Ahab not getting what he wants, andbeing a King defied by a commoner, King Ahab is dejected. So Jezebel tells himto cheer up, and show Israel once and for all that he is king by letting her dohis dirty work. She gets false witnesses to testify against Naboth and haveNaboth killed so they can claim his land as theirs, not even talking aboutNaboth’s family.

 

This isn’t a question about abstractions suchas “rights,” “freedom,” or even “property.” It’s about living being forced intodying. It’s about God’s promise of justice for God’s beloved people. This is astory about a king who was entrusted to be loving, just, and powerful inprotecting the weak, but does the exact opposite on the whim for a garden. It’salso story about God’s response through the prophet Elijah, whom Ahabcalls his Enemy.

 

God’s love makes Elijah do crazy things.Because it is in the love of God, in the love of justice, and in the love ofIsrael, Elijah can do absolutely nothing but confront the richest, mostpowerful, and most underhanded person in the Kingdom on behalf of God’sjustice. Love makes him tell Ahab that because of God’s call for justice, andbecause of God’s power and love for God’s people, Ahab can’t get out of thisalive. God will stop Ahab’s tyranny forever, and the most powerful man in theworld, and his line, and his blood, will have to be reduced to drinking waterfor the dogs. Ahab can no longer be trusted with power. For Elijah, to be lovedby God means to use our hearts for justice and power on the behalf of the weak.

 

But with all of this judgment, I feel uneasy,because I’m a sinner, and I don’t see a lot of grace or forgiveness in theseverses. That’s why we have to turn to the Gospel where there is a sinningwoman, who has a reputation that does her no better than Ahab and Jezebel. Nowwe don’t know what her sins were, but they were enough to make Simon thePharisee cringe. And yet, somehow, God let her know that Jesus was not herenemy. Where Ahab and Jezebel hear the name of Elijah and consider him anenemy, when this nameless woman hears the name of Jesus, she knows that he is abeloved friend, and someone who brings her good news. In faith and love, sheanoints him, cleans his feet, and cries, overwhelmed by the love Jesusembodies. She is forgiven, and can only respond in love. Love doesn’t just makethe prophet Elijah do crazy things, but it makes even a woman stuck in sin docrazy things: to enter into a house filled with people who hate her, to wasteall of her oil, to cry all of her tears, and to wipe Jesus’ feet. This kind oflove, this kind of faith given only by God, is the forgiveness of sins. God’slove makes us do crazy things. But what does that say to us today?

 

To a people who are suffering oppression, theGospel is the end of oppression. And to a woman with a bad reputation, who ishated by those around her and who hates that she is hated, it is true love andfriendship in Christ Jesus. And to us today, Desmond Tutu once wrote, to thethirsty, the Gospel is a glass of water.

 

At Synod Assembly, the New Englandsynod passed a resolution that advocates ending the development of a frackingindustry in New England until conclusive, independent studies demonstrate thatthe process doesn’t poison the aquifers of people in New England. This is inaccordance with Clean Air and Water Act already passed by the US government,and in response to fracking companies coming into Western New England andbeginning exploration and the setting up of fracking stations. Frackingstations are controversial due to their use of known carcinogenic chemicalswhich many fear will leak into aquifers. Pretty much, I would understand thatthat in the ears of those who wrote the resolution, and those who supported it,it sounds like a wealthy and powerful organization throwing its weight aroundto open up gas supplies at the expense of people who live and get their waterfrom the land. (See Synod Assembly Resolution 13-03; http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2012/12/12/group-explores-possibility-fracking-massachusetts-federal-study-hints-limited-shale-gas-deposits/ueDJlzRbDH42pPnLcP3KMO/story.html)

 

            Now,like the deacon and the pastor in the beginning of my sermon, many people atassembly called the church not to get too political. They called for us not tosay anything at the risk of dividing the church body. Fellow baptized believersprotested that we’re not experts, that we don’t know as well as the industryleaders, that the environment is too political. But when I read about theProphet Elijah and the sinning woman, I can’t help but think that a call not toget political on behalf of others is wrongheaded. God’s love makes us do crazythings for one another. God’s love makes us advocate for others when the risksare high. It makes us extravagant for the benefit of others. So when we hearpeople crying out “We need your protection! You promised us clean water andwe’re not sure we will have it! We all live here, not just the one and not justthe other!” it’s understandable that many in our church want to support them.Some will argue that cheap natural gas is good for the poor, but others willargue that the water, the land, the Earth is more important for us all in thelong run. But God’s love gives us assurance that, whether we are for frackingor against it, we are still welcome to the table. We hear the people’s cry andwe are still a united body, called to do a crazy thing, to work for the weak inthe face of the strong. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. But the gracefulassurance is that when we are wrong, we are still welcome, and when we arewrong, God is still working to make right.

 

Martin Luther once told us that pretty mucheverything we do can be understood as doing something sinful or wrong. That nomatter what we do or where we go, we find ourselves to be held captive to sin,and cannot free ourselves. We will always find accusers, and everything we docan work a bad result. And yet, Luther admonishes us, that in faith and out oflove for the Gospel and for our people we must act, sinning boldly for DesmondTutu’s water, Naboth’s Justice, or the woman’s forgiveness. We believe evermore boldly that God will be our justice, and will work for good in all ourdays. So House of Prayer, I invite you, with Luther, to sin boldly, to love oneanother boldly, to advocate for the weak boldly, and to be political boldly.The unity of the church is in our Christ’s body. God promises that this is fargreater than the greatest of political divides and sins. Come and take part inthe body, come to Jesus, feed at his table.