So I’d like to start a short series today that will run for a few days on how the Christian faith forms the people of God when it comes to things like living in an election year.
I’m from Churches of Christ, and I think one of the great strengths of the branch of Christianity I grew up is in it’s strong Anabaptist roots.
Because Churches of Christ were somewhat sectarian for so long, we didn’t get mixed up in some stuff that a lot of tribes of American Christianity got involved in.
We never got mixed up with the moral majority, I’ve never seen a flag hanging in any of our places of worship, and I’ve never heard a sermon (and I certainly haven’t preached one) on who to vote for.
It’s not that we aren’t patriots, or that we don’t care about the countries that we live in, in fact we actually believe prioritizing the Kingdom of God makes God’s people better citizens of whatever nation state they happen to live in.
And if that sounds odd to you, than I hope to unpack that a bit more over the next few days.
For Every King There is a Prophet
In 1st Kings there is this fascinating story about the King of Samaria, a guy named Ahab.
Ahab lives in a palace next door to a chap named Naboth. And Naboth owns a vineyard. The King wants to buy Naboth’s vineyard because it’s so close to his palace, and apparently kings back then were lazy and didn’t want to have to walk very far.
Now it sounds pretty cut and dry. He offers Naboth a really good deal for some land, Naboth should take it. But this land had been in his family for generations, and Naboth wasn’t selling.
So King Ahab gets all mopey and 3rd grader-ish. Until he and his wife devise a plan. They decide to frame Naboth for blasphemy, they plant a couple of people to accuse him at a party. It works. Naboth is killed, and King Ahab gets his vineyard.
Sounds like a happy ending right?
But then God sends a prophet to tell Ahab that He is about to wreck his world. Cut off his descendents, take away his throne, the whole nine yards.
That sounds normal to us. King does wrong, God enforces justice.
But that’s not the way it used to be. When a king did something, it was the job of the gods, at least the job of that king’s god to legitimize it, to justify it. (Hence the blasphemy charges to get the vineyard).
A Divine Rubber StampDo you remember a few years ago, when that move Frost/Nixon came out? It was a movie that centered around the President Nixon and his most famous interview with David Frost.
There’s one scene where President Nixon is facing these accusations and he tells David Frost that when a president does something illegal, it becomes legal.
We know know that reasoning doesn’t work, but here’s the point we forgotten, The reason it doesn’t work is because of a new ethic laid out in stories like this one in 1st Kings.
Back in the ancient world, it totally would have worked. Actually in that world, that was one of the primary purposes for which religions existed, it was how the king got his way.
The job of the gods were to say what the king was doing was just fine.
But the The God of Israel is a different kind of God, and He is trying to set humanity on a different path. One where those in power don’t lord it over others.
He doesn’t exist to just legitimize existing power structures, he actually calls them to be accountable. That’s a new idea, even though it seems like it should have been around forever. Matter of fact, the Jewish prophets believed that if you are in power God holds you more accountable.
This ethic doesn’t just apply to kings and queens. This is why places in Scripture like the book of James tells us that religious leaders and teachers will be held to harsher judgement.
The writers of Scripture knew that power, any kind of power, can go to a person’s head. They can start to think that they are above the ones they lead. It’s a call to remember that even though others may answer to you, you answer to God.
One of the terms used in the Bible to refer to God and to Jesus, is the King of Kings. This isn’t just praise, it’s a statement about the way God works in the world. God is over your power structures, your thrones, your presidents, and your churches. So when humans get too big for their own britches, we need to remember we answer to someone else.
Get your own vineyard.
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