Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Naboth Option

Mountain Sunset
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
A recent sermon from our pastor, Cindy. The biblical passage read was from 1 Kings 21, the story of Naboth. As a reminder: Evil King Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab thought it would make a pleasant garden. So he told Naboth he wanted to buy it. But in Israel, one’s land was what one passed down to one’s children. It was their safety net, how they insured they could survive. So Naboth tells the king, No.

Ahab whines about being snubbed. Queen Jezebel says, “don’t worry, I’ll fix it,” and she ultimately kills off Naboth, so that Ahab can have the land.

Nice couple, the Ahabs…

I’ve heard more than one person point out that while BP is certainly responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf, that all of us are implicated to a point, all of us, that is, who use gas, or plastic, which is, of course, all of us. Of course, I don’t like to hear that. I’d rather just blame BP. I mean, really, it’s not my fault.

And yet, some of our fellow church members, years ago, were so aware of their connectedness to this earth, so concerned for how their consumption effects the earth’s dwindling resources that they went out and sold their second cars, began living in smaller circles, made drastic changes in their daily habits in order to consume less.
We are tempted to think it’s so big and complicated and impossible to change that “why bother?” But we know, not only that we are responsible, but that we can do something about it. We know that our consumption or lack thereof matters.

Well, back to the story of Naboth’s vineyard. I’m wondering, how many of you have heard this story before? Even if you haven’t, it is such a common story that I am thinking that it rang a bell somewhere in your head when you heard it read.

Because even if you haven’t heard it before, you’ve heard it before: The Staniford Field Airport wants to expand, and the City of Louisville is, of course, all for it. You can’t be a first class city with a teeny weeny airport, right? So they condemn a whole neighborhood, Highland Park, full of sweet little houses and white picket fences and webs of relationships and shared experiences and memories, but it’s alright, don’t worry, they say, as they offer the people money enough to move into a new house in a different neighborhood. You’ll be recompensed. As if money could buy webs of relationships and shared experiences and memories.

You’ve heard it before: Shelby Park, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, has one thing going for it, and that’s the park itself, with a swimming pool and a library. Both the pool and the library are always full of kids, low-income minority kids, mostly. But the city decides that they have to close some libraries, and they say that Shelby Park doesn’t produce enough business, quantified by the number of books that are being checked out. It doesn’t matter that the library is always full of kids, they’re not checking out enough books.

But don’t worry, they say, we will build you another library, and we’ll even put the name ‘Shelby Park’ in the title. Sure, it’s too far to walk to, it’s in a whole other neighborhood, but you can ride the bus, right, all you little kids? All these years later, they still call it the “Highland/Shelby Park Branch.” As if.

Well, a few years later, the Board of Education decides to take the park itself, to build a school there. But don’t worry, they say. We’ll let the neighborhood use the gym from time to time. This plan was foiled, by the way, by some good organizing of a broad diversity of neighbors, but even more by someone’s brilliant idea to tie the campaign to save the park into the fact that it is an Olmsted Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City. Hoity toity. Had it not been an Olmsted Park, it would now be a school instead. But don’t worry, they would have let the neighborhood kids use the gym. Once a week, once a month, a couple times of year, maybe.

A few more years go by, this time the city has its eye on the last gem that this impoverished little neighborhood holds, their swimming pool. We can’t afford so many swimming pools, they say, targeting, of course, the ones that are in low-income neighborhoods. Don’t worry, they say, after we tear down the pool, we’ll build you a splash park. Woo hoo. And they did, and it’s lovely, but you can’t swim in it.
You’ve heard the story before. Israel takes more and more land from the Palestinians, puts up walls separating the people from their places of work, from their vineyards, from their families.

After my trip there, I told you how the three adults in this one Palestinian family, who lives in Jerusalem, used to get to be able to get to work in ten minutes. Now it takes them, collectively, five hours. I told you how our Palestinian guide, Nabil, who had been with us for one week already, and was once we arrived in Jerusalem only thirty minutes away from his home, from his wife and two little daughters who lived in Bethlehem, could not go home to spend the night because he knew that he might not get back out, or that it might take so long to get through the checkpoints that he wouldn’t be back in time.

I told you, didn’t I, about the huge apartheid wall, keeping the Palestinians in, or out, keeping the Palestinians DOWN. Did I tell you about the story that the iman told us over supper one night about the old Palestinian man who lived in Jerusalem, and went off somewhere one day, and when he came home that night, his house had been torn down?

You’ve heard the story before. And it would be just another story, this story of Ahab and Naboth, except that in THIS story, we see something that gives us pause.

This is a story, you see, that does not just remind us how things are in this world. We don’t need to be reminded of how things are. For every story I just told you, you could tell me another one just like it. Right? Clarksdale Housing Projects, Central America…

But in this story we see something different. Because this story presents us with another possibility, with another option. This story presents us with the Naboth Option.

Naboth chooses to serve God no matter what the cost. He pledges his allegiance, not to the flag, not to the state, not to the empire, not to culture, not to the almighty dollar, but to God. So in simply hearing this story, our eyes are opened: we see that faithfulness is a possibility. Fidelity is a possibility. King Ahab assumes that everything is a purchasable commodity but Naboth refuses to be bought. Naboth operates as a free agent, bound only by the laws of God.

And even though he ends up dead, we know in our heart of hearts that we would rather be dead Naboth, who was able to live freely and according to his own conscience, who was able to stand up to the most powerful man in all the land, than live Ahab, who seems to have had no conscience, as evidenced by his inability to even stand up to his own wife. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been introduced to a life of abundance, to a life of self-giving love, to a life of connectedness and community, and while none of us are itching to die, we’re beginning to understand that the only life worth living is a free one.

And before I’ll be a slave I’ll lay down in my grave, says Naboth, in essence. I will obey the God who led us out of slavery, who introduced new ways of being and living in this world, who introduced new laws allowing for equitable distribution. I will be faithful to the traditions of my people, and to my yet unborn children who will someday care for this little vineyard. And before I’ll be a slave I’ll lay down in my grave…

And we are strengthened by his declaration, strengthened by his story, and we know what we, given the same option, would hope to choose. The Naboth Option. The LORD is MY shepherd, not the King, not the empire, not the culture, not my boss, not even my mother or my father, but the LORD…


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