13 June 2012

Reading: 1 Kings 21:1-21

What a horrible story! You can imagine how thrilled I was when Gordon told me the reading I had to work with today! Connecting with our community – and the reading is Naboth’s vineyard!

It is hard to find any redeeming features in this story.

We have a king who is greedy, spoilt, subject to tantrums, totally without empathy for anyone else, happy to be pandered to by his corrupt wife and officers, and then, seemingly without a qualm, happy to go and claim the land they handed to him. Perhaps his only redeeming feature is that he took Naboth’s answer and didn’t kill him on the spot.

We have Jezebel who is brazen, who uses other people, has no morality as we would define morality, worships pagan gods, and is altogether evil. Her name has become a byword for all that is evil, especially concerning promiscuity, sexual depravity and using others for their own end. Think about what picture comes to your mind when you hear the name Jezebel. It’s not a name you would like to hear given to your granddaughter is it?

Naboth is the innocent person in this story. He happens to own land right next to some of the Palace grounds where Ahab fancies a new vegetable garden. As a King of Israel, and one who worshipped Yahweh, Ahab knew the law that said that no-one is allowed to sell their land, it has to be passed down a family line in perpetuity. It was not Naboth’s to sell. Perhaps that is why he left Naboth after his refusal to sell.

How easily is community broken down when laws and customs are not adhered to. We have laws that are written and also many unwritten laws in our lives. We wouldn’t dare go out on the roads unless we could be pretty sure that everyone knew the road rules and obeyed them.

There are customs that we honour in family life, or in our civilian lives. You may be able to think of some quirky thing that happens in your family – because that is the way we do things here! In our family, when the children were growing up we had a rule that said that you didn’t have to help with the washing up on your birthday! Woe betide anyone who suggested you did. Or there was the rule that you didn’t open Christmas presents until everyone was there – after morning tea on Christmas Day. In fact I think nearly every family has its rules about family celebrations. Not sticking to these rules creates resentment and separation. It does not help a family to feel close and only provokes bitterness and arguments.

Put that on a much bigger scale and we have the picture of white people going into aboriginal country and just taking away their land. No negotiations, or expectations that these people may have excellent reasons for not giving up their land or in fact should be consulted about it. We just took it, and many times people were killed in the process. So these things not only happened in old testament times, but far more recently in our own history, and of course are still going on today in many parts of the world.

Perhaps another redeeming feature of this story is that when Elijah came to confront Ahab, he recognised his sin and was repentant. A bit late, but he was repentant. Ahab comes over as weak rather than wicked.

So, what I want us to get out of this story, are the lessons it gives about how NOT to run your life. If we make up the complete opposite scenario, what would we see.

Ahab wants the vineyard. He goes to talk to Naboth, who says that it is not his to sell. Ahab then recognises the justification of this stand and backs off. He goes elsewhere to see where he can legally buy land for his vege plot. In this way, relationships are respected and community life is stable – people know where they are. Jezebel doesn’t find a sulky husband, so she too has a life that is not one of intrigue and creating mayhem. At least not for that reason!

OK, I am dreaming – but in fact this is the sort of behaviour that we are promoting all the time as Christians. Jesus showed us that we have to love God, love our neighbour and love ourselves. The sort of behaviour attributed to Ahab and Jezebel just does not stand up in our time. Of course it is not only Christians who behave more appropriately today either – our whole society is built on the tradition of respect for each and every person in the country and ultimately every person in the world. – ref Abby Sunderland being rescued from the ocean.

Our church here at Kippax is one where we have worked so hard over the years about being part of our community that we are now pretty well embedded in the community. As we know, hundreds of people pass through our doors every day for various reasons. Some for pleasure, some because they are in need. Also people from this church go out into the community and take part in many activities to help other people all around Canberra.

So what are the features of a well functioning community? To illustrate this, I want to use an example from my own life that has been going on recently.

About 6 weeks ago John and I joined the Thursday morning bike-riding group. This is a group of anything between 8 to 15 people who meet on Thursdays and go for a ride of about 20 kms and then finish with a good cup of coffee. The things that make this group a community are very much in evidence. When everyone meets, we ensure that everyone is ready before heading off in the same direction together – completely trusting the leader to know where they are going – although I am told this is sometimes misguided trust. John and I have visited many parts of Canberra we didn’t know existed before and if we were to be left behind any time, we wouldn’t have a clue where we were. But this doesn’t happen. The community stops and regathers every few kms and makes sure everyone is OK. We have drinks of water and we blow our noses! If anyone has a problem with their bike, two or three others come and help to make sure that that person can carry on riding. One week, I felt really crook about half way round the ride. I had to stop and wanted to have a drink and a bit of a rest, but the others decided that wasn’t enough, so sent one of the others back to our cars and came back to pick me up, together with the person who had stayed with me to keep me company – and of course our bikes. What a caring community! This is not a group of individual bike riders who just go off on their own for the sake of exercise. They look after each other, make sure we have stops for water and rest, and then keep going together. Then at the end of the ride, there is a celebration with a well-earned cup of coffee as the community remains intact.

This is an example of the sort of community we want to be, in our families, in our church, in our city and nation. Caring for each other is what it is all about or else the community will break down and not be a community any more. We are motivated by our love of Jesus Christ, and take the nourishment of the Spirit we need along the way to ensure we can keep going.

 

Given that there is so much need in our families, our community, our country and our world, how do we keep going and not give up? For us, I think the answer lies in keeping a close relationship to God, which is the primary source of our inspiration to be involved in our community in the first place.

When Jesus visited Samaria he found himself talking to a woman at a well. I am sure you know the story but just in case you have forgotten it let me give you a very brief summary.

Jesus was travelling through Samaria, which in itself was unusual as Jews usually went another way to avoid this part of the country for political reasons. At the time Jesus was ahead of his disciples and he became thirsty. He asked a woman he saw at the well if she would give him a drink of water. This was the second unusual thing – first Jesus spoke to a woman – and then asked her for a drink. Neither of those things was customary for a Jewish man at that time. They then fell into conversation, with Jesus challenging her about her lifestyle and offering her an alternative idea.

He said, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

The conversation went on with them playing word games with each other but deep truth was there too. This woman accepted the offer Jesus made to her and was empowered to go and spread the news to others.

We too need to remind ourselves that our strength to keep going with our work in our church and community comes from our relationship with God. It comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. We need to keep filling ourselves with God’s strength. And just like when going bike-riding we need to have a drink whether we feel thirsty or not, as we use and use and use our spiritual energy and may not realise when we are running dry.

Today, I have put lots of cups and water on the table. The invitation is for you to come and take a drink of water, in recognition of your need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen you for the journey you are on.

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