Tag Archives: power

Ahab/ king or cranky toddler?


          Phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space! This may not ring a bell for all of you, but it is one of the greatest lines from Disney’s Aladdin. It is part of Genie’s explanation of the highs and lows of the gig of being a genie. He also lists certain provisos and quid pro quos to the wishes he can grant. He can’t kill anybody, he can’t bring anyone back from the dead, and he can’t make anyone fall in love with someone else. Not only that, the only way for him to gain his freedom is for a person to use one of his 3 wishes to free him.

          In the discussion from Starters for Sunday Fourth Sunday after Pentecost from the Church of Scotland, there are five themes identified for this week. From Power, Justice, forgiveness, restoration and grace they draw the discussion to the key theme, woven through the story of Naboth’s vineyard, of the sovereignty of God.

            Today we read about King Ahab again. This time, though, he was being more of a petulant toddler than a king. The first people to read this scripture were probably the Israelites who were in exile and it is likely that it was written to explain to them why God had allowed their exile.

            Ahab and his wife Jezebel had gone to stay in their secondary palace. Apparently, he liked gardening but when he saw the vineyard of Naboth next door he wanted to buy it from him. Naboth refused to sell the land of his ancestors. Not only was this his “family farm” but the vineyard had been granted to his ancestors when the Israelites arrived in the promised land, and when God granted that land he made it clear that the land was for their use in perpetuity, but that it didn’t belong to them. They were told that it was never to be sold permanently. Naboth was being faithful to the will of God when he refused the Ahab. He was, unlike Ahab much of the time, being obedient to the real sovereign of Israel, God.

          When Ahab could not convince Naboth to sell him the land, nor trade it for even better land he was disconsolate. Most kings would not have even offered a purchase or trade, brutality was the norm for kings of the day. I don’t say that to justify Ahab in any way, but rather to highlight the difference with kings of Israel and Judah who did not rise to power through their own actions or by birth but through God’s anointing. There were a few provisos and quid pro quos. The king must not consider himself better…than any other Israelite and he must not use his position to accumulate wealth for himself (Deut 17:14-20). God made it clear that they were to live in accordance with his commandments, remain faithful to him, and imitate his heavenly rule.

          When he returned from the vineyard, Ahab moped, pouted, and refused to eat. Not only was he not getting his way, but as a king he had expected to be obeyed without delay and this made him feel powerless. When she noticed him moping around the palace more like a toddler than a king, Jezebel couldn’t take it. She asked what the problem was, told him to stop being such a baby and eat, and then set about to get him the vineyard.

            Unbothered by loyalty to God (she worshiped Baal) niceties or ethics, she arranged to have Naboth killed. Not only did she do such a vile thing, but so did all the people and advisors who went along with her plan. Naboth died at the hands of the townspeople for trumped up charges of cursing God and king. When he was dead the elders and nobles got word back to Jezebel that Naboth was dead and she, in turn, informed her husband and told him to go take possession of the vineyard. Problem solved!

          Ahab was Israel’s king. When God agreed to have a king anointed for Israel he warned them that life under a human king would not be a bed of roses. He knew, as do we through experience that powerful people and powerful institutions may start out working for the greater good, but too many turn to using their power for personal gain of one kind or another. Some want more and more power, today New Brunswick, tomorrow the world! Some use their power to belittle and diminish others like bullies on the school ground or in the workplace.

          After Ahab took possession of the vineyard, God sent Elijah to him to pronounce his judgement for this crime. He told Ahab and Jezebel that they would die horrible deaths. “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (v 19). Our reading stopped at that point, but the story continues. Ahab actually repents and lives a more godly life for a while, but in the end he and Jezebel are killed and their bodies are dumped in the vineyard they had stolen where they would be torn apart by wild animals.

A story

King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. “You are the greatest man that ever lived…You are the most powerful king of all…Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you.”

The king was a wise man and he grew tired such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

“So you say I am the greatest man in the world?” he asked them.

“O king,” they cried, “there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!”

“And you say all things obey me?” Canute asked.

“Yes sire” they said. “The world bows before you, and gives you honour.”

“I see,” the king answered. “In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water.”

The servants scrambled to carry Canute’s royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge.

The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. “I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?”

“Give the order, O great king, and it will obey,” cried his entourage

“Sea,” cried Canute, “I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!”

He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!”

In came another wave lapping at the king’s feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water.

Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

          Even some of greatest of Israel’s kings were, as are the rest of us, flawed. Regardless of who has earthly power over us, God is our sovereign, our true king to whom we owe our loyalty and obedience. Whether we find ourselves in positions of power or not, we are called to live out our lives in justice and love. This leaves us with two big questions. The notes on Church of Scotland starters for Sunday states them this way; “what does justice mean when we try to live it out relationally?” and, “what does it mean to live both justice and love in our lives?” As Presbyterians in Canada we have answer to that in our statement of faith, Living Faith section 8.4.

God is always calling the church to seek that justice in the world which reflects the divine righteousness revealed in the Bible. 

God’s justice is seen when we deal fairly with each other and strive to change customs and practices that oppress and enslave others. 

Justice involves protecting the rights of others. It protests against everything that destroys human dignity. 

Justice requires concern for the poor of the world. It seeks the best way to create well-being in every society. It is concerned about employment, education, and health, as well as rights and responsibilities. 

Justice seeks fairness in society. It involves the protection of human beings, concern for the victims of crime, as well as offenders. It requires fair laws justly administered, courts and penal institutions that are just and humane. 

Justice opposes prejudice in every form. It rejects discrimination on such grounds as race, sex, age, status, or handicap. Justice stands with our neighbours in their struggle for dignity and respect and demands the exercise of power for the common good.

Food, Power, and Minions/ Today Woodstock, Tomorrow the World!


http://www.lesechos.fr/medias/2014/07/03/1002787_multinationales-du-conseil-les-maitres-de-linfluence-85676-1.jpg

 Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, filled by the Holy Spirit and being tempted by the devil. As I write today we have been in the wilderness of Lent for 10 days. The first of our series focused on the devil’s first test, the personal temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy Jesus most basic physical need, hunger. The hungry crave fullness. Let’s turn to the second temptation, the political temptation to seize authority and glory.  “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will be yours.’ (Luke 4:5-7)
Power is the ability to influence and control others while, at the same time, withstanding outside influences which would control you. Just as the hungry crave food, the oppressed crave power, control over their own lives and those of others. This applies equally to people suffering from actual oppression such as the Israelites who were being enslaved in Egypt or civilians in Sudan today, and perceived oppression like an employee who is angry because the employer has blocked social media sites from their computer network.
Israel became a nation in the conventional sense when they convinced Samuel to anoint a king over them like the other nations had. Prior to this, Samuel was preparing to pass his authority as a judge of Israel to his sons but his sons did not follow in his ways. Samuel was upset that the people asked for a king but God pointed out that it was their rejection, not of Samuel, but of God as their king. Once they had a king, the Israelites soon discovered that human rulers were perhaps subject to even more temptation than the judges had been, as the judges looked to God for direction. As predicted, human kings took away much of their autonomy.
“He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattlec and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17)
The Messiah was supposed to come to preach, to heal, to prophesy, and to defeat the devil. In short, he would free the oppressed. Many expected this to take the form of political uprising, use of conventional power to throw off the yoke of Roman rule which, at the time, covered the world from modern day Great Britain, most of Europe, Northern Africa, Egypt, and most of the Middle East. Even if he had liberated Jerusalem from Roman authority, they would have remained surrounded by the Roman Empire.   
We may tend to think of this whole story as a quick succession of temptations and answers in this story, because that is the way that they read. But this is the story of the temptation of Jesus, not the testing. We are told right up front that Jesus was tempted, really tempted. Jesus was, as we often are, there with his finger on the trigger or the button to accept. Focused on his mission of bringing peace and healing to the world, Jesus must have thought of all he could have do with rule over all the kingdoms. There could be peace, he could make taxation fair, put in social programs to feed the poor and provide health care for the sick. He could do it all and with no need for him to suffer humiliation or pain.
God’s power is expressed in creation, healing, and judgement.  The devil offered Jesus worldly, human power. All Jesus needed to do was bow down and worship the devil. But what he was offering wasn’t really power, but submission. “Would Jesus submit to the ruler of this world in order to achieve good for the people of this world?” (Craddock 1990, p 56) No he would not. Once again Jesus answered the devil with scripture saying, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Luke 4:8) Real authority rests with God. God can give and take human authority as he did throughout the history of his people from Moses to the Judges and the Kings. God even granted provisional authority to Satan in some instances; that is how he was able to make this offer to Jesus in the first place. The devil offered Jesus kingship, God granted Jesus authority to teach, to heal, to cast out demons, to forgive, and to grant eternal life.
One interesting thing that Fred B Craddock points out in his commentary is that temptation is hardest to resist for the most able. “We aren’t tempted to do what we can’t do, but what we are able to do.” (Craddock 1990, 56) Who are those super villains in comics, out to rule the world? They are not limited, know nothings, they tend to be brilliant individuals who have had some success gaining control who then find themselves driven mad with hunger for more! Today Woodstock, tomorrow the world!
I am just guessing here but most of us don’t feel very powerful. Over what, or whom in your life do you have power? For me there would be very little problem with temptation to storm the world of sport, since I am really not athletic. As a teacher, I have power over my students in terms of when and where they can be and what they are to be doing in class, but as I point out to them it I more a perceived power than real power. If they all decided to do something else, there is no way I could stop them. I could inflict consequences after the fact as a show of power. I could give in to the temptation to be stricter, to take away freedoms they normally have in order to keep control, or I could continue to balance demands and freedoms to our mutual satisfaction.
What power do we have? We have the power of free will, of choice, which was given to us by God. We have the power of the Holy Spirit helping us to remain focused. We have the power of Scripture which, we know from Luke’s focus on it, includes the idea that scripture is adequate to generate and sustain faith and that without it even miracles would be of no use. (Craddock 1990,56) And we have the power of assurance that the devil, the tempter, has already been defeated through Christ. As Paul reminded the Philippians,
20…our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Lindsell, Harold, and Verlyn D Verbrugge. 1991. NRSV Harper Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House.
Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.

Choose Now Part 1


Choose Now!

How many times in books, movies, Broadway musicals, and television shows have we seen this story?  A young attractive girl or guy has been dating for a while.  They are very popular and have more than one person vying for their affection.  One day the two, or more, either discover that they are not alone or get tired of it and demand that the young person choose now.  They are unwilling to share, they want all of the person’s love and devotion.  Torn, most of the movie will be about the agonizing decision. There are two possible endings to these stories, either the person chooses, or they try to keep both and in so doing lose both.  This is our story today.


In our story from Joshua (24:1-2a, 14-18) God comes right out and says “Choose now!”  Either follow the gods of the local people or follow the God of your ancestors who has done so much for you in the past.  Making the choice to follow God today is a commitment to last a lifetime.  This may be easy today, but all sorts of challenges will arise: “losses, betrayals, promises of success from other gods of wealth and position and power.”  How do we make good on our commitment?  How do we keep ourselves in line and avoid falling back in with those other “gods”?


How many of you have tried to change a habit?  Quitting smoking, getting rid of the credit cards, eating a more healthy diet, and exercising more are all examples of common habit changes.  Was it easy?  For the first few days many of these things probably go pretty well.  We have committed to a plan, we are keen.  As time goes on we run into the other challenges of life and these new patterns can very easily fall by the wayside. Without even thinking about it we reach for a chocolate bar or a cigarette after a stressful day at work.  One leads to another and we are right back where we started.


What do we have to do to be successful in these efforts?  Many people join support groups where they go each week for encouragement, a reminder of the benefits of the change, a reminder of the goal.  With this sort of support people can often make major changes in their lives.


Making the choice for God involves a life change as well.  In a way the message we get from the reading in Joshua is that we need to remember our goal.  For our support we need to read our Bibles, need to hear it read in worship and discussed in classes. If we want to remain faithful we need to put ourselves in a place where we will be reminded daily of all that God has done and has promised us in His son Jesus Christ.  This is what led us to our choice in the first place.  To quote a sports phrase, we need the Bible to help us keep our eye on the prize.


In the Gospel lesson we have basically the same challenge put to us.  Jesus completes his explanation of His purpose here as the bread of life and then we hear the reaction of the disciples.  To paraphrase, “are you kidding?  That is way too hard!”  Like the disciples, we are keen to sign on for the salvation, but not so keen on following Jesus path of persecution and suffering and death.  We are frightened by the idea of carrying our own cross.

Aug 27, 2006 Stanley

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 84

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69