"Sin Boldly" or "God's love makes us do crazy things"

Vicar Axel Kaegler                                                                                 Luke 7:36-8:3

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


“Sin boldly” or “God's Love Makes Us Do Crazy Things”

            In the way that the Church tells time, we've entered into the Season After Pentecost, also called Ordinary Time.One of the perks of ordinary time is that the Revised Common Lectionary, is that it gives the suggestion of going through some of the lesser known stories and sagas of the Old Testament. This is a really useful thing for us preachers and congregations, because it forces us to confront some of the lesser known portions of the Bible, as well as parts of ourselves that we don't like to see.


Now, in my research for today's passages, I came across an article in Living Lutheran that brought up a story of a baptist preacher who at one time preached against the use of tobacco. Now, in the Lutheran 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 or shouldn't do, but instead a sermon in the Lutheran tradition is nothing other than telling the truth about humanity, scars and all, and telling the truth about God, cross and all. But that's beside the point. Because the important thing was the response to this moral speech. After the service, a deacon walked up to him and said something to the extent of, “Of course tobacco smoking is bad, but we have farmers in this community who grow tobacco for a living, so we don'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, but after the service the deacon approached him again and said: “You know we Baptists don't drink, but some of us work in a distillery, so lighten up on that topic.”


The next week, the preacher condemned gambling, and by now the preacher knew what was coming, as the deacon said “You know, we have a lot of people who raise horses in this town, and the horses are sold for racing, and I know we're not supposed to gamble, but...”


The preacher stopped the deacon right there, and said “Well what should I preach on?” The deacon responded “How about Chinese Communism? We don't have any Chinese communists around here.” And I'm sure 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 that give us comfort grant us permission to work against God's will and to continue working harm the people whom God loves?


In our first reading, King Ahab, who is the most powerful man in the Kingdom, realized that having everything he could possibly need wasn't enough for his self-interest. He saw that there was a vineyard next to his palace that would make a great garden, but finds that its owner Naboth will not sell it for the price he gives, nor will he let Ahab give him a different vineyard.


Now, this is another place where our 21st century sensibilities tend to get in the way of what's happening here. In the modern era, we have the real-estate industry, and land is a commodity. But this wasn't really the case in three thousand years ago.  Land wasn't just sold back then, there were no realtors, and people didn't move around. In a day before banks, investment accounts, storage units, grocery stores, and before safe travel, land was way more 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 selling his land would be crazy, because land is priceless. It's a family treasure given to him and to be given to his family. And exchanging his vineyard for another vineyard would mean putting another family out of their home.


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


This isn't a question about abstractions such as “rights,” “freedom,” or even “property.” It's about living being forced into dying. It's about God's promise of justice for God's beloved people. This is a story about a king who was entrusted to be loving, just, and powerful in protecting the weak, but does the exact opposite on the whim for a garden. It's also story about God's response through the prophet Elijah, whom Ahab calls 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 of Israel, Elijah can do absolutely nothing but confront the richest, most powerful, and most underhanded person in the Kingdom on behalf of God's justice. Love makes him tell Ahab that because of God's call for justice, and because of God's power and love for God's people, Ahab can't get out of this alive. God will stop Ahab's tyranny forever, and the most powerful man in the world, and his line, and his blood, will have to be reduced to drinking water for the dogs. Ahab can no longer be trusted with power. For Elijah, to be loved by 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 these verses. That's why we have to turn to the Gospel where there is a sinning woman, who has a reputation that does her no better than Ahab and Jezebel. Now we don't know what her sins were, but they were enough to make Simon the Pharisee cringe. And yet, somehow, God let her know that Jesus was not her enemy. Where Ahab and Jezebel hear the name of Elijah and consider him an enemy, when this nameless woman hears the name of Jesus, she knows that he is a beloved friend, and someone who brings her good news. In faith and love, she anoints him, cleans his feet, and cries, overwhelmed by the love Jesus embodies. She is forgiven, and can only respond in love. Love doesn't just make the prophet Elijah do crazy things, but it makes even a woman stuck in sin do crazy things: to enter into a house filled with people who hate her, to waste all of her oil, to cry all of her tears, and to wipe Jesus' feet. This kind of love, this kind of faith given only by God, is the forgiveness of sins. God's love makes us do crazy things. But what does that say to us today?


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


At Synod Assembly, the New England synod passed a resolution that advocates ending the development of a fracking industry in New England until conclusive, independent studies demonstrate that the process doesn't poison the aquifers of people in New England. This is in accordance with Clean Air and Water Act already passed by the US government, and in response to fracking companies coming into Western New England and beginning exploration and the setting up of fracking stations. Fracking stations are controversial due to their use of known carcinogenic chemicals which many fear will leak into aquifers. Pretty much, I would understand that that 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 around to open up gas supplies at the expense of people who live and get their water from 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 at assembly called the church not to get too political. They called for us not to say anything at the risk of dividing the church body. Fellow baptized believers protested that we're not experts, that we don't know as well as the industry leaders, that the environment is too political. But when I read about the Prophet Elijah and the sinning woman, I can't help but think that a call not to get political on behalf of others is wrongheaded. God's love makes us do crazy things for one another. God's love makes us advocate for others when the risks are high. It makes us extravagant for the benefit of others. So when we hear people crying out “We need your protection! You promised us clean water and we're not sure we will have it! We all live here, not just the one and not just the 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 will argue that the water, the land, the Earth is more important for us all in the long run. But God's love gives us assurance that, whether we are for fracking or against it, we are still welcome to the table. We hear the people's cry and we are still a united body, called to do a crazy thing, to work for the weak in the face of the strong. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. But the graceful assurance is that when we are wrong, we are still welcome, and when we are wrong, God is still working to make right.


Martin Luther once told us that pretty much everything we do can be understood as doing something sinful or wrong. That no matter 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 do can work a bad result. And yet, Luther admonishes us, that in faith and out of love for the Gospel and for our people we must act, sinning boldly for Desmond Tutu's water, Naboth's Justice, or the woman's forgiveness. We believe ever more boldly that God will be our justice, and will work for good in all our days. So House of Prayer, I invite you, with Luther, to sin boldly, to love one another 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 far greater than the greatest of political divides and sins. Come and take part in the body, come to Jesus, feed at his table.