Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, May 7, 2017
Scripture Reference: I Kings 21:1-21a
Sermon: Elijah and Naboth’s Vineyard
A man dies and meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. Peter says to the man, “Here’s how it works. You need to have 100 points to get into heaven. You tell me about all the good things you’ve done. They are all worth a certain number of points. If your total is 100 points or more, you can come in.”
“Well,” says the man, “I was happily married to the same woman for 52 years. I never looked at another woman. I was attentive and loved her dearly.”
“That’s great,” says St. Peter. “That’ll be 2 points.”
“Hmm,” says the man. “This is going to be harder than I thought. Well, I attended church regularly, volunteered my time and tithed faithfully.”
“Wonderful,” says St. Peter. “That is worth another point.”
“1 point!” says the man. “Ok, ok. I was involved with a prison ministry for 25 years. I went into the prison, at least monthly, and I shared Jesus with them.”
“Wow!” says St. Peter. “That’s another 2 points.”
“Only 2 points!” says the man. “At this rate it’ll only be by the grace of God that I’ll ever get into this place.”
“Bingo!” says St. Peter. “That’ll be 100 points! Come on in!”
It is a funny joke that speaks a bit of truth about how we live much of our lives and our perceptions. As much as we know we can’t earn God’s grace, that we can’t earn our way into heaven, we live trying to do just that. We live trying to show we are good, making judgements about choices, lifestyles that are unacceptable, and with that comes an underlying belief that we have earned it; we have proven ourselves worthy or deserving. It’s true not just about heaven, but much of our lives. “I’ve gone to school for many years. I save lives. I’ve earned a big salary and deserve to take trips and buy a big house.” “My family founded this company. I’ve worked hard learning the business. I deserve to be the next CEO.” We live thinking the homes we have, the salaries we earn, the right we have, are things we deserve rather than blessings we have been given.
It is the same attitude we find reflected in King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Ahab thought because he was king he could have anything he wanted, and Jezebel only affirmed that notion. And indeed for much of the world, the world Jezebel came from, that was true. What a king wanted, what a king asked for, he got.
King Ahab knew that wasn’t quite as true for a King of Israel, so he makes a seemingly generous offer to Naboth for his vineyard. In fact, it was so generous that many might find it surprising that Naboth refused. Only Naboth understood there were things in life more important than money. He understood the vineyard was a gift from God to his family, a blessing entrusted to them to be passed from one generation to another. Therefore it wasn’t to be used for capital gain. That is why Naboth said no.
It was a different attitude, different perspective from King Ahab and Jezebel, who could only see what they wanted, what they deserved to have by right of their position. Rather than being satisfied, they were greedy for more. So much so they were willing to disregard God’s law and kill.
As I kept reading this story and all the different commentaries I couldn’t help but think about a book I am currently immersed in. I often buy books to prepare for different situations, and this is one I had gotten in preparation for our mission trip to Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Only I didn’t get very far in my reading. With our trip this summer for my renewal leave I decided it was time again to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It is the account of how American Indians have suffered and went from being thriving nations to people confined to reservations. As I’ve been reading through these chapters I’ve repeatedly heard great chiefs, like Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux, speak of how the Great Spirit had given them this land but that they were willing to share it. They only wanted the freedom to move and hunt. But time and again government leaders, generals declared with vengeance and greed that “the land is ours. We are great in number.” Driven by that greed, that attitude of “I deserve this,” these leaders, including one general who was a former Methodist preacher, acted much like Ahab and Jezebel, doing horrible, unimaginable, inhumane things to the American Indians – slaughtering not just warriors but women and children, provoking imprisoned chiefs so they had reason to kill them. Acts like these are the reason the United Methodist Church has in recent years spoken of the need to offer acts of repentance, much like Ahab did.
Of course, we see this same attitude played out in different ways still today. Locally among farmers there is the fear and worry of how smaller, family farms that have been around for generations can survive with corporate farms. Small, local businesses are struggling to compete against conglomerates like Walmart, Shopko, or Target. But it isn’t just big against small. We can all be guilty of greed. In uncertain times we tend to get greedy in perceived fear and need to protect oneself, to hold on and get what one needs, rather than be attentive and grateful for what one already has, rather than being open and generous in sharing.
Only Elijah comes to remind Ahab and Jezebel of what happens when we become greedy. We fail to see others and their needs. People get hurt. We lose sight of God’s gifts.
This table is our reminder. It confronts our sin, our selfishness, or greed. It reminds us we don’t deserve anything. We haven’t earned anything from God. Everything, and I truly mean everything, is a gift from God, most especially God’s grace. We come not to take, but with open hands, to receive God’s gifts.
Here at this table we are reminded we have a choice of how we will respond, how we will live with God’s blessings. Will we be greedy like Ahab and Jezebel, or will God’s generosity towards us inspire our own? Naboth was certainly trying to do so by sharing this gift with his children and future generations. Will we do likewise, sharing what we have been given with others? Will the bounty of God’s feast be shared among all?