The Oldest Land Grab?

Growing Cucumbers

land grab poster

land grab poster

King Ahab lived in Samaria in a royal palace.

King Ahab liked growing things.

The palace gardens were full of fruits
and vegetables. There were beans and
apples and grapes and dates and figs
and melons and leeks and olives and
lentils and pomegranates and onions
and pistachio nuts. The problem was
that the garden was so full of fruits
and vegetables that there was no
room to plant anything else, and King
Ahab fancied having a go at growing
cucumbers. What could he do? There
was nothing for it. He needed a bigger
garden.
Next door to the palace lived a man
called Naboth. Naboth liked growing
grapes and making wine and Naboth
had a big vineyard. Ahab asked Naboth
if he would sell him his vineyard. Naboth,
whose family had owned the vineyard for
years, said no.
King Ahab went home. He was cross and
then he was sad and then he curled up on
his bed and cried.
That night Queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife,
waited for Ahab to come down to dinner
and he didn’t come. Jezebel was hungry so
she ate her dinner and then went to find
Ahab.
She found him in his bedroom and asked
him what was going on. Ahab told her all
about wanting a new vegetable garden in
which to plant his cucumbers and about
Naboth telling him he would not sell his
land.
Jezebel was not impressed. “You’re a king,”
she told Ahab, “You can have whatever
you want. Now stop crying and go and eat
your dinner and leave Naboth to me.”
The next day Jezebel found some men
who she paid to tell lies about Naboth.
Then she forged Ahab’s signature on some
royal documents and had Naboth killed
and his lands given to the king.
That night Jezebel told Ahab what she’d
done.
Ahab was shocked. He knew what
Jezebel had done was wrong. But he had
got his new garden and that was what
he really wanted. Did it matter how he’d
got it?
The next morning Ahab went next door
into Naboth’s vineyard. He walked along
the paths between the grapevines and
began to plan where he was going to
plant his cucumbers. He turned a corner
and he met Elijah the prophet.
Elijah was not interested in cucumbers.
He was there to tell Elijah that God said
that hurting people to get what you
want was wrong.
And King Ahab knew that Elijah was
right.

(from Spill the Beans Issue 8)

Who said that the Old Testament is irrelevant today? Well, actually, many people – sometimes myself included. For, with its complex stories of strange customs, religious laws and palace intrigues, it seems at best ‘dated’ – a bit in the mould of Austin, Dickens or Trollope.

Yet the Bible portion above ise bang up to date. For, there is no greater generic global problem than with disputed land ownership. We see it big-style in Zimbabwe and Burma, we cannot forget Israel-Palestine and it is even here in minor ways in Bonnie Scotland.

Yet, the Holy land is a good place to start. Since there is huge irony in this story of the illegal taking of land, as Elijah’s ancestors did exactly that to the original Canaanite population! And whilst I do not think, claiming divinely ordained ownership is at all helpful in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, we do at least see certain issues of justice being played out in these readings – played out in a way that speaks volumes for our own times.

Because certainly Naboth owned his land – ground that he indeed considered to have been given him by God himself. And although King Ahab’s initial offer was fair even generous, it was well within the vineyard’s owners rights to refuse. It is the next episode that is the problem. For, Ahab reigns over his people through the divine covenant – the rule of law if you like. In modern parlance then, there is a legal framework in place to prevent arbitrary acts of injustice. However, now enters Jezebel who by being foreign was always likely to be cast as a nasty piece of work. She comes from a race where despotic rulers are the norm. And so she would dearly like to do as she likes without legal restraint. She can’t – so she uses the law to her own ends. She stirs up some impression of a national crisis thus the need for a day of fasting. Then she trumps up charges against the unfortunately Naboth which carries the death penalty under the law of Moses. As a result, he is executed and she gets the vineyard. Game, set and match we might say.

Proof then that using, bending or abusing the law to unjustly gain land is a wheeze that is as old as the hills.

But our bibles make also clear that such acts of chicanery are seen by God. Moreover, they are judged by God’s own sense of innate justice. For Elijah pronounces that it is not only land that is gifted by the divine but so is power and wealth, inheritance and even life itself. In fact, he makes all too clear that we forget this to our peril.

Not unpredictably then – in due course Ahab comes literally to a stick end at the battle of Ramoth Gilead. Afterwards his chariot was turned into his hearse with dogs licking up the spare blood! Elijah’s milk curdling foresight indeed had gruesomely come to pass.

Nevertheless, we do say quietly to ourselves I couldn’t possibly stand in Brook Street blaring our fiery damnation! A stiff letter to the Courier in ‘Elijah speak’ would raise too many eyebrows. Worse still, what happens when I denounce the powerful thieves of this world and they remain unscathed!

But with thought, we realise that Elijah’s prophecy is less crystal ball gazing than telling how it tends to be. Bad people don’t always have their come up pence but they often do. And their seeds of their destruction are usually in through their own hands. Their arrogance goes a step beyond the law. Their overturning of the law leaves them as vulnerable as their victims. The sword they live and profit by finds an even more lawless wielder. Or, as Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘Man for all seasons’ counsels an ardent supporter keen to overthrow the law this time for a good purpose:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Put more directly, we just need to keep any eye out from injustice and then say – in the Lord’s name I warn you – I warn you that he who lights the fire must surely burn.

And this takes us strangely to the Amazonian rain forest. For the Kayapo tribe are an indigent people living in the depths of the jungle. However, their homeland is about to be flooded for a hydro electric dam. They fought the land grab by their government through the courts and in the public media. They cited the law that native peoples cannot be moved. But their rulers have stated that this is trumped by national security and so an area three times as bio-diverse as Europe is to be lost. Also over 40, 000 humans lose their homes and their unique way of life.

Elijah I suspect would have something to say about the misuse of the law. He would have spoken out for God’s justice not least for those unable to resist the powerful and greedy. Yet he probably would not have given the warnings we can. For knowing civilisation’s way of progress, we need to proclaim that any government’s survival is directly proportional to how it treats all its peoples. With history’s witness, we can point out that prosperity based on unjust if technically lawful actions is no lasting wealth at all. And right up to date, we could ask, backed by science, with the loss of so many rare species of plants, how many cures for diseases that you might one day need are you destroying?

A man asked this week in a newspaper – should he leave his well paid but morally bankrupt job behind? Elijah has for him an answer. And so to rulers, who are similarly tempted to be devoid of humanity, honesty and integrity have Elijah’s answer. And it is be warned by Naboth vineyard. It is to fear God’s judgement and always to think of a just harvest.  Indeed it is to plot less for the dregs of greed and cultivate more the finest vintage of a more lawful kingdom.

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Elijah and Chaos Theory

It could be in your newspapers today. Its a story about a middle-eastern morpho-butterflycountry with a dynasty of dictators running it. And as these rulers get cruel and lawless so do the people. Until one faction breaks away and before we know it there’s a civil war. This doesn’t, of course, stop the struggle for power and the rot of corruption. So what is held dear – what is revered if you like – gets more rancid by the day.

 

But then something happens which is not so much unexpected as utterly bizarre. Since from nowhere, into the despot’s palace pops a man who is honest. He says – What you are doing is against God’s will. The reply he gets is – see if I could care but you better watch out my friend. Nevertheless our honest man is also courageous one as well. Since he then speaks like the Sky weather forecaster. He predicts that the rain ain’t going to fall no more. Now that isn’t much of a curse in Scotland but in hot countries where water politics is big business, he is chancing his arm a bit too far. And so he makes himself scare and relying on God’s guidance stays on the run for a few years as the endless drought takes it toll of humans, animals and crops.

 

And that brings us roughly up to date with Elijah and his current CV.

 

No wonder when as a refugee he approached a single parent just surviving with a sickly son in this most sickly season, he had every right to expect to be sent packing. Yet he was not. In fact, he asked for help and out of this woman’s poverty he received it. Then in turn she also received aid and her son even got his life back. And so together through the long cruel heat-wave they held on – they survived – they got through it.

 

What then does this tell us today?

 

Mercifully, we do not live in strife torn places such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia. We do not live in famine struck areas such as sub-saharan Africa. But we do live in a time in our nation of hardship even of food poverty. We do walk past the doorstep of the hungry parent of the ill child.

 

It is therefore worth noting the deeper story within this story. Because did you notice, there was no religious language used. There was no judgment calls made. There was no conditions set or budgets considered. There was only one in need and one with compassion. And that was enough. That was enough to change both the lives of Elijah and the widow, it was enough to change the world they lived in even by a microscopic amount. In fact, it was that interchange mercy that created a quantum step away from the cesspit of dog eat towards true community. Or as Christ might express it – they contributed a smidgen to moving a living hell towards the coming of the Kingdom of God.

 

Yet we can still be a bit perplexed as to how such a little event can alter the whole picture.

 

 

 

Well, I heard it said this week that material things come and go but ideas are can never be destroyed once they are talked about! Take the one that was hugely popular a few decades back called chaos theory. Basically it said that everything no matter how small has an effect on everything else. More interesting, even small changes set up new conditions that might just result in massive outcomes down the line. As a result, small happenings can trigger others to give a chain reaction with unforeseen consequences. The classic illustration given at the time was that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rain forest causing a typhoon in the China Sea. All a bit far fetched maybe. But even if none of us can alter bad situations a lot, we can least try to alter it a little. For then we improve someone else’s world more than we imagine.

 

Nevertheless, trying to change things even a little, speaking truth to power even a little, asking or giving help even a little seems difficult.

 

But that forgets this story.

 

There was a tightrope walker, who did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, “Whilst I don’t believe you can do it, I’m willing to make you an offer. And it is for a very substantial sum of money, besides all your transportation fees, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls.” The tightrope walker wrote back, “Sir, although I’ve never been to America and seen the Falls, I’d love to come.” Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. The dare-devil was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the most treacherous part of the falls blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, “Well, Mr. Promoter, now do you believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it.” “No,” said the tightrope walker, “do you really believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, you just did it.” “No, no, no,” said Tightrope, “do you believe I can do it?” “Yes,” said Mr. Promoter, “I believe you can do it.” “Good,” said Tightrope, “then you get in the wheel barrow.”

 

Well if today we feel daunted at taking a small step that could result in a revolution, then here is the story to challenge, prod and to inspire. For if we call ourselves Christians we do need to get into the wheel barrow. We need to get into the wheel barrow to allow Christ to act through us via faith, courage and compassion. We need to get into the wheel barrow and trust that with Christ we will start a waterfall by giving a little and taking a little. We need to get into the wheel barrow and expect to reach the God’s side – for there alone will we discover needy lives changed, fallen nations purified and an arid universe refreshed forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with mixed feelings

 

Luke 19.28-40a150

Tell me – how many cheers do you give today. And that the answer to that depends on whither you greet this morning with unalloyed joy or with mixed feelings. Certainly Christ greeted the Jerusalem crowd with the latter. As a result, our lesson this morning speak volumes for many of us here – many also who are just out there – many who have mixed feelings about entering. Continue reading

Tourism as Direct Trade

 

Yesterday I preached a sermon basically saying that we should do good without thought of reward. Specifically when we give a few coins to a beggar we should also not worry about what she/he will do with the money. And the reason is simple – we have that choice of what we pick in life, why shouldn’t they?

That’s why I think this blog on Fairtrade coffee is very thought provoking….

If you would like to know more about Fairtrade, then here is their link

Fairtrade Foundation

 

 

When Coffee Speaks

Smart locals. These are the ones who spent their childhoods sweating on the family farm, but realized that their land could give them something more. Smart locals are the ones whose families have spent their lives being ripped off by North Americans and Europeans buying their products at prices below the cost of production; they’re the ones who saw tourists on the horizon and realized it was time to make back all that money.

Smart locals see that agriculture is a good way to stay broke. They see that as much as those North Americans and Europeans like to eat bananas and chocolate and buy so many tropical products, they like to come to the tropics. And if they’re coming, they’re coming with money to burn.

Smart locals are the ones who turn their aunt’s vacant house into a bed and breakfast, who don’t try to cut corners but who…

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The gift of Revelation – Sermon

John 14.1-7

Colossians 1.15 – 20

It is a strange story – it is a moving story – it is a story that hits you between the eyes and stops you in your tracks. It is a story that has so much to ask us today.

Because, just recently I was told of a middle aged German who visited Auschwitz a couple of years back. He was looking at the various photographs when became very agitated. When they eventually got him calmed down, he managed to explain that he was looking at a picture of the unloading ramp at the concentration camp. It was there that a SS officer decided who was to live and who was to die. Behind him in the photo was a SS guard taking down the decisions. That man was his father. Now, the visitor went on to explain, that his father would never say what he had done in the war and taken his secret to the grave. They then asked him – what had his father done after the war. He had been a Lutheran pastor!

Well I suspect we think to ourselves there can be no hope for this Nazi no matter what he did later. Yet we also, strangely, come away from that story saying to ourselves but if there is hope for him, then there must be hope for me.

However, is this heart’s demand for such a hope misplaced?

Well no – it is certainly not.

Because that hope is the gospel hope. It is the hope we ca not so much overcome who we are but can escape from who we are and we can climb out of who we have become.

And that very hope comes to each and every one of us from a gift from God; the gift that concludes our series on divine gifts and the gift which exceeds and overshadows all others. Because, that gift is the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Now Jesus reveals many smaller details about God, but he also reveals two huge facts as well. And the first is that God is a loving God, a caring God and even an indulgent God. If it were not so why would have Jesus told us not to have troubled hearts? Why would he have told us that his divine father would be concerned about such things? Why indeed did he sacrifice himself so that we could have the fruits of that act of love today? Since in bread and wine this morning we do remember as the letter to Colossians has it – he made peace for us though his blood shed on the cross.

More to the point, however, is that the quality of God’s love is not weakened by what we do; what we are and what we have become.

Instead that love is constant and unbreakable and eternal. Indeed, the quality of God’s love is the same as that Vernon Scannell wrote of in his poem – contradictions in Love:

As fragile as an eggshell bauble

On a Christmas tree

But as durable as gleaming steel

Of knife, or sword or key.

Sweet as the fragrance of the rose

Or honey from the bee

But cold and scentless as the snow

And salty as the sea.

As gentle as a summer’s breeze

Or mother’s lullaby

But burly as a hurricane

Or thunder in the sky.

As magical as witches spells

Or blackbirds in a pie,

But plain and simple as good bread

Without which we would die.

Yet the revelation that Jesus makes about God has more to say.

For, our loving God is not like the old woman who lived in the shoe – full of love but unable to act out that love. Quite the opposite, our God shows his love by intervening in human affairs. And so he does bring change to human hearts; he does resolve nearly impossible situations and does help us to be different and better and more worthy of his Son’s gospel.

Ah we say – I’ll never change – He’ll never change – she will never change!

Well on our own that is true. However the point that Jesus made by talking of himself being the way is that – God can. The point of the whole passage from John is that – Jesus will. The point of the lesson from Colossians is that Jesus – is more than able to.

But what about our concentration guard whose life had seriously gone of the rails? What about those who today are consider beyond the pail? What about ourselves when we, on occasion, we feel really beyond the love and saving arm of God?

Well, there is an ancient legend about Judas that Madeleine L’Engle tells. The legend is that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards the light. The walls of the pit were dark and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around the table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”
What Christ ultimately reveals then is that he wants all of us to return to him no matter the situation. He wants each of us, with every fibre of our being, to climb back and desire for him to bring change forever. Since all he ever requires, is for us to accept his active love into our lives.

For, at this moment, we cannot know how in the end the concentration guard stood with God. We cannot even know where he or she next to us in the pew stands with God. That is for them and their creator. But we do know where Christ stands – he stands ready to show us the way – he stands willing us to ascend again to him. He stands waiting so that he and we can each begin and begin and begin again.

Amen

Offering

HYMN…………

The Bible – A gift from God

Text: Matthew 5.17-20

It wasn’t often that we had rabbit served up onboard ship. But the one time it did happen was just when I was reading Watership Down. Proof if any was needed that the Good Lord has a sense of humour. For you cannot read that tale of rabbits with human feelings and not look at a warren in an entirely different light. In essence then, stories change us – they move us to look at the world differently – moreover – they force us look at ourselves more closely. And so it is with the greatest story ever told – that immense literary work – that wonderful gift from God – the holy Bible.

However, to try to justify the Bible as God’s gift to humanity in a thousand words or so, on the face of it, is facile.  Yet, if we cannot explain the main purposes of our sacred book in a few words – how can we expect to do so in many.

Therefore, here goes!

Well, at its most basic level, the Bible answers fundamental human needs. And by that I mean the almost primeval urge that we each have to survive by knowing ourselves to be safe and secure. And this almost biologically programmed need is really only met when we live in an ordered community. Yet a wholesome and trustworthy society only comes about when each member knows what is right and what is wrong and when we find a way to encourage others to live by the same moral standards. Therefore, at its most elementary, the Bible’s purpose is to declare there is an external source of morality and there is also a living source that is also the judge of how each of meet that benchmark. But, more important than these, the bible makes abundantly clear this ethical source has supernatural powers to reward human obedience with permanent effects. For, in a nutshell, the Bible is saying – obey God’s laws and you and the human race will be forever restored. Or, as Deuteronomy puts it:

The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the lord our God, so that we may prosper and kept alive. If we are careful to obey the law, that will be our righteousness. (Deut. 6.24 ff)

Nevertheless, the Bible is more than a code of best practice; more than a lifetime highway code; more than a manual for communal survivability. Since, it also meets the needs of the mind. And so, it is the foundation stone of our Christian beliefs. Just it was Christ’s Jewish beliefs. For this morning did we not hear him say:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

The bible then, through its account of how God has spoken to a variety of people, allows him to speak to us now.  Therefore, just as scripture was Christ’s source-book and inspiration, it is also the basis of our own personal encouragement, devotion and admonishment in good times and bad. It helps us to answer why we should obey as well as what we should be obedient in. Indeed, it is ever the sword and shield for our minds as we try to influence the whole of our society towards values that will make it worth redeeming in the first place.

However, the most crucial role of the Bible is in the spiritual dimension of our being. Because it may teach us how to survive physically and it may tell us too how we battle our own fears and the failings of others, but it still has something more important to tell us. For, far exceeding its other purposes, the Bible offers the gospel of Christ to each and everyone of us. And that is the good news we can individually have new life, we can individually be forgiven for renewed life and we can individually be saved into eternal life. To put it as Paul did to the Romans;

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace that we now stand.

James Merritt, in his Collected Sermons, remarks that when a merchant ship of any size, enters a port, it takes on board what is called a pilot. In fact, we often see the pilot cutter rushing past Broughty on its way to some vessel entering the Tay Estuary. Well this pilot knows the waters of his or her port backwards, he knows the length of it and he knows the depth of it. He knows where the hazards are. He knows where the tides and currents are; what direction they flow in and how strong they are. When this master mariner comes on board then, he takes control of the ship, and he gives the orders for its safe navigation. Put simply, he is an outside expert who is brought in to make sure that ship docks with certainty.

Well, we to have a pilot in our lives. We have a gift of God in our lives. We too have a guide to safe harbour in our lives. And it is the Bible. For God can only be known to the extent he reveals himself. Certainly, we have no way of knowing otherwise. And the clearest way of him revealing himself is in the pages of the bible. Similarly, we can know nothing of Jesus without the Bible. And so again the Bible reveals his gospel and the way to Christian living. Finally, it is in the keeping of the Bible central to our community of the church that we ensure we have its moral compass and upright companionship.

Let then, every Christian prize this gift from God; let every Christian be obedient to its guidance. And let every Christian make it a basis for all that is said and done. Because it is only then that our Bible’ story will ring out again in our daily living.

Amen

Prayer for creative thanks

Lord God, we give thanks for the many gifts

You shower into our lives

Not least the music, books & art that we enjoy.

But we particularly give thanks for the wonderful world around us.

May its majesty always remind us of you.

However, we are not always beautiful

and creative in how we deal with others.

But in Jesus, you always recognised

people rather than stereotypes;

Challenge us thenwhen we treat other people as commodities,

When through our lifestyles we use, humiliate,

or rob others of their self-worth.

Give us the humility to recognise
how much we need to seek forgiveness for,
And as forgiven people,

to lead lives of extravagant love, gratitude, hospitality and service.

Indeed help us always to glimpse your glory now,
Wherever injustice is resisted
And support is extended to those

Who are grief-stricken and destitute.

Above all else, we ask for your blessing

on all who are shunned by society,

And on all who respect and value the dignity of their neighbour.

Amen