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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

I Have Found You

I Have Found You
                                                            
                                                                1 Kings 21:1-21a
 
 
King Ahab succeeded his father Omri as king of Israel. As soon as he is introduced in the book of Kings we are warned that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.” As we read more of the story it becomes clear that the real power behind Ahab was a woman named Jezebel, who was a worshipper of Baal and not concerned with the sacred Israelite practices. The great prophet Elijah has tangled with Ahab and Jezebel before we get to the story for today. There are times when Ahab might turn and listen to Elijah and do what was right in the eyes of God, but Jezebel intervenes, and problems follow. In today’s story we need to remember that land was sacred to the Israelites. They valued their inherited land above all else and would rather die than see the land go from their family. Jezebel, who worships Baal, a non-Israelite god, would not appreciate or care about that fact. She will act out of a conviction that the king has absolute power over his subjects, can do anything he wants. She does not see the role of king as one who guards the interests of the poor and powerless, as the role was intended to be. Let’s hear this event in Israel’s history. (Read I King21:1-21a)
 
There is an old Native American story that within each human being are two dogs. One dog is good and the other evil. The evil dog is always fighting the good dog. The lesson is that the dog that wins is the dog you feed most. Jezebel has been feeding her evil dog and has been leading Ahab astray. She is seen as the evil villainess and Ahab is seen as a weak person, controlled by his evil wife. He looks like he is just “going along with her schemes to get what Ahab wants the most, Naboth’s vineyard. But in this story I do not believe Jezebel is the entire focus. Ahab represents a far more subtle and damaging evil. He is seen as weak, allowing his wife to use his power to accomplish what he felt he could not. After all his Israelite upbringing was probably strong. Ahab’s sin was that of going along with Jezebel’s plotting and actions. He does not speak up when he knows an injustice is being committed on his behalf. He simply goes along with her scheming. He knows what is right. But chooses the evil because of his desire to have that vineyard.
 
In our modern world we have examples of “giving in to evil” for a cause. The ethnic cleansings of the Holocaust and in Sudan are good examples. Many supporters of the Nazi party embraced the practice of ethnic cleansing believing they were creating the master race. Killing those who did not belong to this master race seemed a logical step to take to bring about the existence of a master race, one of the greatest evils of our time, still perpetuated by groups in our day. But another evil exists in light of these attempts. Who spoke out against the killings? Many “went along with the killings.” And those who attempted to justify their role in the killings claimed they were just following orders. 
 
The world no longer tolerates ethnic cleansing although it still happens. But “going along with” practices that cause injustice and hurt to God’s people and creation is an evil that exists in all walks of life, but in a much subtle form. An example would be the story of New York Times columnist Michael Winerip’s childhood. He tells how three of his closest friends began to turn on him, ostracize and belittle him. He could not see the reason for their behavior. He was a victim of bullying. Forty years later each of the three independently tried to contact him to apologize for their behavior. All three said that they knew at the time that it was wrong but they could not break free from the others to change their behaviors. How many of us can remember can remember those times we did not break free from our need to belong to a group of “important” friends to speak out against behavior we knew was wrong?    Picking on , deriding, bullying are part of an evil, but the more subtle evil is not speaking out against it. . How many times did we stand by and laugh at a destructive and belittling prank pulled on victims of the “out” crowd? I wonder how many of us were victims of the “in” crowd’s bullying and teasing.
In wonder as well how many of us turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the injustices we see around us or on TV. We prefer to believe that things are not as bad as they are portrayed on the media, and some things are pretty hyped up by the media. But the injustices still exist. 
 
A far more serious evil exists when we try to sanitize our faith and make it palatable to the culture of our times. We want those around us to hear the gospel, but we shroud it in buildings that do not look like churches and offer coffee and snacks to consume during worship. We keep icons from visibility on the outside of our churches and do not call the place a church. We say we are trying to attract seekers by making our facilities and worship practices fit the culture around us. And some are succeeding. But I would challenge us to think about what we might be giving up to fit into today’s cultural standards. Challenges to our faith arise when religious symbols are stripped from our buildings and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is eliminated when we discard the ending to prayer that says “in the name of jesus Christ.” And we so easily focus on the rules and regulations to the hurt and exclusion of those people God wants most to be a part of faith, those who can’t dress nicely for church, those who don’t have money to offer in our plates, those who seem different and don’t seem to fit in to our way of doing things. 
 
Even more subtle is our downplaying our Christian faith so we will not be seen as different or odd. Our primary and most overriding identity is that of Christian. It is the identity that will see us through to eternity. It is the identity that will last far beyond our years here on earth. But often we don’t hold our faith first and foremost in our lives. It should be that our faith informs our actions, not our actions inform our faith. As Christians we have standards to hold on to in the face of pressures to conform to ever changing cultural standards. And holding to our faith may just mean we have to “stick our necks out” to defend the principles of our faith, to defend Jesus. We don’t want to “rock the boat.” Most of us would rather be those quiet Christians who don’t rock the boat , but also don’t set the world on fire with our faith.
 
Cultural practices grow and wane as society changes, but the one thing that does not change is the heart of the gospel, the call to love one another as Christ loves us. This is not necessarily a call to follow the rules, or dogmas or even doctrines of our faith, but a call to live the life of Christ, to care for those around us, to be Christ to the world. We are called to speak and act on behalf of our faith so that others may come to know Christ and partake of his kingdom. We are called to make a difference in the lives of those who are powerless and victims of injustice.. Where are our silences causing hurt to others and where are we standing out in faith. Where are we proclaiming the gospel that seeks justice in the face of injustice? Are we an Ahab that goes along with the flow? Or are we an Elijah that calls us to behold the injustice we might be perpetuating by our silences? How are we proclaiming our faith, in what seems to be an increasingly faithless society? 

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