1 Kings


Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21: 1-21a
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Remember the Ancient Greek story about King Midas. Sometimes it is referred to as Midas and the Golden Touch. He was a king who loved gold. When King Midas was told that he could have anything he wanted he asked if everything he touched could turn to gold. If you recall, this delighted him totally in the beginning. He made a gold house for himself, gold furniture, golden garden and pool. The trees, the flowers… All he touched turned to gold. However, his joy was short lived and his greed destroyed him in the end. His beloved daughter was turned to gold as he embraced her and he starved as he could not eat or drink as all that touched his lips also turned to gold. In the end he begged for this great wish to be taken away. Greed, it seems, can be a very destructive power.

This morning’s scripture passage from 1 Kings is another type of ‘Midas Story’. Listen now for God’s word in the story of King Ahab and the vineyard he coveted and how his wife Jezebel connived to get him what he wanted only to have it destroy him in the end….

‘Later the following events took place; Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, ‘Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

OK – Let’s break here for a moment before we go on with the story. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page with this. Ahab is the King or ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Bible tells how this one man did more evil than all the kings before him. Not only was he a supporter of the Canaanite god Baal, but he was an immature and selfish ruler. In this story, he covets the vineyard owned by Naboth which is next to his home. He wants it for his own to turn it into a garden.

However Naboth will not give it to him. His land was given to his ancestors and will be there for the generations of his family that come after him. By keeping the land he feels that he is honoring the ancient tribal divisions of land that are in the Book of Numbers and that this land division is part of God’s law. It is more than property to Naboth; it is also tied up with his faith and worship of Yahweh.

King Ahab cannot understand this. It is beyond his comprehension and he has no respect for Naboth’s position. He is literally made sick with envy for this vineyard he cannot have. He takes to his bed and won’t eat. This king, who has much more than he needs, would rather be die of starvation than not have the object of his desires. Yikes! What a brat! His response is so spoiled that it seems comical!

And in comes his enabler… Jezebel. She sees that the king has taken to his bed and her response is first one that I would identify as sarcasm. Do you govern Israel? This probably fueled the attitude that Ahab was down with. Then she tells Ahab to get over it. She wants him to get over the depression and to pull himself up by his bootstraps. This is not a woman who is attracted to weakness in others. Only if she can use it to her advantage! She tells him that she will get him the vineyard.

So, let’s continue with the story and see what this conniving woman does to get her husband his coveted land!

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she has sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then the sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’ As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Jezebel’s schemes worked! She got the coveted vineyard for her husband! She plotted, she schemed, she had false charges brought up against an innocent man, and she is responsible for an innocent man’s death. Jezebel reports to her husband and tells him to go and get his vineyard. She might have used her husband’s name to get the power to carry off her plan, but there is no doubt that if she had been taken to court, she would have been found very, very guilty. Ahab was guilty, for sure, but Jezebel was the instigator while he was guilty of allowing her to carry it out.

However, we hear no more about Jezebel in this circumstance. God knew what happened, knew of Ahab’s destructive envy and that he allowed a man to die to get something that he coveted. So, listen now to the final few verses in this story, where Elijah voices God’s punishment on Ahab and his family.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord; Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Now we can take this story on several levels and there are lessons to be learned on all of them. The first in the King Midas level where the story teaches us that things that we covet and think we want might indeed bring destruction upon us. Ahab did not really need that vineyard that had been in Naboth’s family for generations. He just wanted it. Just as we teach our children the difference between wanting something and needing it, Ahab needed to be taught that lesson as well. We might think we need material possessions, accumulated wealth, great power, or other things we covet and envy in others, but the story reminds us that coveting and envy can lead to bad consequences!

At a little deeper lever, this is also a story about good and evil. God’s people are referred to as God’s vineyard at times so perhaps it is a metaphor for the Israelites who were controlled and stomped on by people of other nations and religions, that even when it seems as though evil will win out, it does not happen. Even when we feel stomped, burned, robbed, and are deep in despair, grace will win. Good conquers evil. Joy will come at the end. The words in a song that Bo’s group, The Forest City String Band, plays sometimes says the darkest hours are just before dawn.

This is a story about justice as well. The God of our Hebrew Scriptures is a just and righteous God. If Naboth’ s death had gone unpunished, we would have cried out for the injustice of it all! A man died for another’s selfishness! A life was casually thrown away to please another’s whim and passing fancy. The statement of dogs licking Ahab’s blood where they had licked up Naboth’s seems well… justified. And the fact that justice was carried out brings good news to us. Just as we know that good will win out, we also have hope because justice will prevail as well. We hope because of what we have experienced in the past, not because of our current situations. We hope because we remember that good overcomes evil and mercy has power over pain.

The third thing that I want to bring up is the one that does not give us hope and courage, but is the difficult one that we need to wrestle with in our lives. You see, there is a painful part of this story which we might not want to uncover as it also uncovers so much of the dark side of our own lives as well. Think about the sin that Ahab really committed. Sure we can say it was greed, it was selfishness, it was that he was a really spoiled brat who was enabled by a woman without a moral ounce in her body. BUT, when you really think about it….his really big sin was not those things. It was that he was compliant to Jezebel’s evil actions. He knew what she was going to do, that there was no action that was too immoral for her to carry out to get what she wanted, and he went along with it. All Ahab had to say to stop the evil from occurring was to tell his wife jezebel that her actions were not moral. And perhaps that is his real sin, the sin for which God called upon Elijah to dictate a punishment.

So, perhaps this story is also meant to have us look at our lives and think of the ways we have perpetuated the evil of the Jezebel’s of our world. Sometimes our inaction is a really powerful action too. We allow sins to be committed by complacency which equates to support and involvement in the sin itself. When we allow the bully at school to pick on the victimized child, this story tells us that we are as guilty as the bully. When we don’t stop a racist remark or allow someone to make a joke about someone being gay we are perpetuating the sin of inequality. When we see injustice and ignore it, we are as guilty as the unjust person. That is the painful message in the story and the one we who wish to be God’s faithful disciples need to wrestle. It is easy to see Jezebel as outside our reality, we are not as evil as that woman who has no scruples or moral fiber to her being…. But God was not pleased with Ahab as well, and well, his sin is one we all, when we are honest with ourselves, might relate to as our own. The story becomes a charge to us to be responcible. It is a charge to us to not turn from what is hurtful and hateful in the world and ignore it, but to fight for love, and God’s way in all that we do. Amen.

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Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, June 2, 2013

Scripture: 1 Kings 18:20-39
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Our text today finds us traveling with the Prophet Elijah during the rule of King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel in Israel. Ahab was a Jewish king, a child of the covenant and should have understood God’s commandments, especially the first commandment to worship God alone. But somewhere along the way he forgot the ways of Yahweh.

Elijah spent his ministry speaking out against the power of these monarchs of Israel because King Ahab introduced the worship of Baal into Israel. Baal was the Canaanite agricultural God, the giver of rain that ensured the growth of crops.

When Ahab began this practice, God, through Elijah, pronounced a drought that would last three years. This drought directly challenged Baal’s power and authority. And then at God’s direction Elijah moved from place to place. Enraged by this drought Ahab began to search for Elijah. When he is finally found, Elijah challenges Ahab to gather the people of Israel and the prophets of Baal to meet him on Mount Carmel for a sort of supernatural smack down. This is where today’s passage picks up the story.

Let us listen for God’s Word speaking to us today from the book of

1 Kings 18:20-39

20So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel.

21Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.

22Then Elijah said to the people, “Only I am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets number 450.

23Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it.

24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!”

25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”

26So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

28Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. 30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down; 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 36At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God.”

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

“Who is God?”

In my opinion, the first 5 verses of the 20th chapter of the book of Exodus capture for us the hardest commandment to honor. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”

We shall not have any other gods before Yahweh. This, I believe, must be the hardest commandment to keep.

Throughout time we have proven we are more than capable of making idols for ourselves. They have taken many forms and have demanded our unswerving allegiance:

A Golden Calf; Designer labels; Corner offices; Swiss bank accounts; Fancy cars; Guns and War; Homogeneousness; Safety and Security; Power and Influence; Political Correctness;

Family togetherness; Busyness and productivity

This list is just the beginning of things and attitudes that we have turned into idols; that we have turned and continue to turn into false gods; things that have displaced our loyalty to and trust in the one TRUE God’s sovereignty and love.

Augustine, the ancient Church historian and theologian, knew that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. He knew that idolatry lures believers because we are in search of security, in search of the one thing that will help us feel whole and ready for whatever may come.

This search often leaves us frantically dancing to appease powers that are not real; looking for hope in things that cannot provide transformation and life. Whatever drives our search, however we clothe our false idols the truth is they cannot save. They cannot bring peace because the source of our rest and peace is being blocked by our quest for control and safety.

We are not so different from those ancient Israelites from today’s scripture passage. It’s easy to ridicule and dismiss King Ahab. I did for most of the week until I remembered the complex world in which he lived, a world that was just as diverse and demanding as the world in which we live today. He was the king of a relatively small country in the midst of much larger and more powerful neighbors. His own country was filled with people who worshipped other gods and had other beliefs.

In order to solidify control of his territory he married, Jezebel, the daughter of another King and in order to keep control he allowed the introduction of the worship of the gods of her people. Anything to keep the people happy, anything to appear to be doing what he can to control the circumstances of life. But there was Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, the one who spoke for God, the one who demanded that Ahab return to the ways of the God of his ancestors. There was Elijah demanding that the make a choice.

He says to all the people gathered on Mt. Carmel, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” In other words, how long will you try and do both? How long will you wear yourselves out trying to worship both? The Hebrew meaning of that phrase is literally, “hobbling on two branches. ” The image it draws upon is probably of a bird literally hopping between two branches looking for sure footing.

He is looking at his people and saying, “aren’t you tired…it’s time to choose” And then, to help make the choice easier he challenges the prophets of Baal to a silly contest. Whose God can burn up the bull offering?

The odds are not in his favor, but Elijah isn’t worried. He watches as the 450 prophets of Baal prepare their sacrifice. He watches as they begin to call upon Baal and he begins to taunt them when they get frantic that their god isn’t answering their plea.

When it is his turn to call upon Yahweh, he uses this opportunity to do more than just make a sacrifice. He uses his preparation time to remind the people of who they are and who was there for them throughout their history. Twice he uses the number 12. He rebuilds the Alter of God using 12 stones, a physical reminder of the 12 sons of Jacob, from whom they are all descended.

Then, to really prove his point he pours 12 jars of water on the wood, another reminder of their identity and the covenant that exists between God and their people. And then, in answer to Elijah’s plea the fire rains from heaven consuming the offerings, proving Yahweh’s power and might; calling the people back to true worship and devotion. In that moment, the people of God remember… they remember who they are and who has been faithful to them throughout their history. In response they fall on their faces and proclaim God’s goodness and power.

That is the point of this whole story. It wasn’t about Yahweh proving who is the real God, it is about getting God’s people to remember who has claimed and named them beloved. In the same way this text invites us to remember…to remember who has been faithful to us throughout our many years and to look at our life to see where we are hobbling on two branches, exhausting ourselves trying to honor God and bow down before other things and attitudes that seek to define us.

In this text Elijah has come near to us asking, “How long will you hobble between two branches?” Our search for security and wholeness is over. It ends right where it began, in the very heart of God. Today we have been reminded of who God is. In the waters of baptism God claims us, washing us clean and naming us beloved. Around the communion table we are fed by the Spirit of God, who lifts us into Christ’ very presence, sustaining us for the journey ahead; filling us with the bread of life; renewing us with the cup of salvation.

We don’t have fire raining down from heaven to consume a bull, but we have plenty of evidence of who God is and how much God loves us. We see the evidence right here in this place. Let us raise our voices in praise. Let us gather and celebrate. Let us proclaim in word and deed that “The Lord indeed is God!”

Amen.

Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon August 26, 2012
1 Kings 5, 6, and 8:1-13 and Matthew 28:16-20

What do you know about King Solomon? Well, if you are like me the first thing that comes to mind is that he was wise. Scripture tells us that he was wise, that he had good judgment, and that his understanding of concepts was not to be compared. It was written that he was the wisest person living in his day. He was the author of 3,000 Proverbs and 1005 songs. People came from all over the earth, or as it was written in the Bible from all the kings on the earth, to hear his wise words. His knowledge base was not just that he was a wise ruler but he knew all about the natural sciences and could help people with his knowledge of trees, plants and animals.

In chapters five and six of 1 Kings we also learn that it was Solomon that was chosen to build the Temple for the Lord. This was a huge ambition to take on and a task that Solomon’s father King David had wanted to build but was unable to fulfill the job. But, now was the time to build the temple. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the Jews and Solomon felt called to build it in Jerusalem as a symbol of God’s abiding presence there.

And the descriptions in these fifth and sixth chapters of the materials and sizes of the temple are pretty intense. Although, as you know, the temple no longer exists, these chapters read like an architectural brochure for the visitor to the temple. So exacting are the descriptions that renderings of the temple are drawn in exegesis books on 1Kings and we can really imagine what it must have looked like. The dimensions that are given for it would have made it the largest temple known in Palestine at that time.

The temple project is dated the 480th year of the exodus. That would mean that about 12 generations have come and gone since the time of Moses delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. It took 11 years to build and hundreds of thousands of workers. Solomon started by placing 30,000 men into forced labor who knew how to cut timber from the cedars in Lebanon. He would send these men to Lebanon in groups of 10,000 for a month and then they would return for two months at home.

Besides the lumber jacks, Solomon had 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stone cutters and 3,300 supervisors besides himself to oversee this huge project. This project must have run like a well-oiled machine!

And the workmanship was beautiful! Everything was overlaid with cedar and was decorated with carvings of gourds and flowers. The most interior of the sanctuary was overlaid with gold. The furnishings were spectacular as well. The flooring was gold and the furniture was carved from olive wood with cherubs. It really must have been spectacular!

In the midst of these very detailed descriptions of the temple is a story of a dream Solomon had while the building was in progress. In Chapter 6 it is written in verses 11-13, “Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”” Richard Nelson, professor of Old Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg PA, writes in his exegesis of this passage that the dream is about the obedience to God and the freedom of God’s presence. If, and only if, God’s commandments are obeyed, the promise to David will be made good and God will dwell in the midst of the people and will not abandon them.

One gets the feeling that in the excitement of Solomon’s big project, God does not want the people of Israel to forget that it is to God that this temple is being built. God sends a message to Solomon to refocus on the big picture. It is really not about the temple, but about being a follower of God. Perhaps building the temple had become such an ordeal that God needed to remind Solomon exactly for what purpose what the temple was being built. I smile when I think about this as it reminds me of some of the pre-marital counseling I have done with couples before they are married. There is a reason for that counseling. It is because often the couple gets so caught up in the wedding and honeymoon plans that they forget the reason for the huge wedding. When you meet with them, they only talk about the wedding and never about the marriage. They can tell me all about the caterer, their colors and clothing, but need to be reminded that after their wedding and honeymoon, they will be a married couple for hopefully many, many years. That is what they are got here for. And in the same way, God wants to call Solomon back to the reality that once the temple is built, the relationship that the Israelites have with God is what is important.

Another meaning to Solomon’s dream was to counter the prevailing cultural experience of why a person would build a temple. Whereas other religions build a temple to their gods to somehow contain them and they bring offerings to their gods to manipulate their gods into giving them what they want, our God here makes it perfectly clear that a temple will not control of house our Lord. The God of the Israelites is in control and will not be manipulated by a temple or a king.

God’s message here is that God is not automatically as Israel’s beck and call. The whole universe cannot contain God. And God is only symbolically present in the temple. The temple is a concrete representation of the reality of the sovereignty of God. It is not and never will be a building to contain God.

This has theological implications for us. It is one of the uncertainties that we must allow our faith to take hold and believe is that our God is both immanent and transcendent. Just like Solomon, we all want to control God. We want a nice relationship where if we build a nice house for God, God will do God’s part for us. How can we trust that God is reliably present for us (whether God is immanent) without forgetting that God cannot be controlled and taken for granted (that God is transcendent). Our experience is that God is at one time both.

Chapter 8 tells of the dedication of the temple. This showy procession and impressive religious actions resemble many dedications I have been to before. Although the showy religious action here is “the slaughtering of so many sheep that you could not count how many there were.” The Ark of the Lord that had been carried by the Hebrew people throughout their 40 years in the dessert and kept without a home during these centuries since, was carried in with much pageantry. Solomon says in verse 12 and 13 of chapter 8 that “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell forever.” Clearly Solomon, for all his wisdom, still has not captured the message that God will not be contained within a building; that we God’s people cannot control God.

We Fairmounters have built an impressive temple to God as well. We love the beauty of this sanctuary, the gardens in the Garth, the chapel with its one wall of stained glass windows, and the charm of the English cottage architecture. We all drive by the building with pride and say to our friends, there is my church. This is where we come to be nurtured in Christian love; this is where we come to celebrate what God has done for us Sunday after Sunday. This is where we come to be with brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship. This is where we come to be educated in our faith and to be fed with God’s sacramental food. This is where we come to celebrate life’s transitions from birth to death. But we know that this is not the only place where we find God. We know most definitely that this is not the only place where God wants us to be. We come to our temple in order to go out. We come here so that we can live as Christians outside of these walls.

That is why the other scripture lesson for today is what we call “the Great Commission”. It is to remind us that while it is lovely that we have this awesome temple called Fair mount, we must remember that the reason for its being is not to hide within the beautiful walls. Inside these walls we are nurtured and fortified to leave them and go back into the world. When Christ commissioned disciples it was not to stay within the walls of a temple. When Christ told them of the ministry to which they were called, it was not to stay in a building and keep the faith. Christ promised that he would be with them as they went out and left the walls of their security. In Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

God is not contained within the walls of the temple and our place as disciples of God is to go out from them as well. Our work and ministry is to a world which desperately needs to hear of God’s love and Christ’s mercy. That is the ministry to which Christ calls us all. Amen!