Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is Your Sin My Business?

A sermon based upon Ezekiel 33: 1-20
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
November 18th, 2012, Disciple Series, 11 of 17.

During our mission work in Germany, my family were making a visit to a family in the city.  It was a snowy day.  But since it snows a lot in eastern Germany, you go on about your business no matter the weather.

On this day, the snow had already accumulated on the car, and I reached to scoop a big handful to throw a snowball at my 5 year old daughter.  Just as I released my load, I heard a voice from above saying to me in German: “Machen Sie Dass Nicht!”  “Don’t do that!”   I turned to look up and a woman was leaning out of an apartment window about 4 stories up.  She saw me scoop up the snow off the top of the car.  As I realized what was happening, I answered back to her in German,
“It’s O.K. ma’am.  It’s my car.”    Hearing my answer, she closed the window and I proceeded to make my visit.

What business did that lady have policing the city streets telling me what I could or couldn’t do?    I couldn’t imagine something like this happening in America.  This lady really felt it was her social responsibility to protect everyone’s car down on the street.   Wouldn’t we frown upon anyone sticking their nose in our business?  

This brings us to today’s message: Is it my business as a preacher or as your pastor to tell you when I see you commit a sin?  The shoe fits the other way too, doesn’t it?  Is it your business to tell me if you see me in a sin?  Is your sin my business?  Is my sin your business?

WHOSE BUSINESS IS IT?
The most automatic response would be: “Mind your own business, preacher!” But before we all get “huffy” about it, let’s consider what God is telling the prophet in today’s Bible lesson. 

“The word of the Lord” has come to the prophet Ezekiel in a very peculiar way.   God begins this conversation with a story.  He wants the prophet to imagine what it would be like if a sentinel, a look out, were standing on the city wall and sees the enemy coming.  Most of the people in ancient world lived outside city walls and would enter when danger came.  What should that sentinel do if he sees danger coming?  Should he go about minding his business or should he sound the alarm?  The answer is obvious. If the sentinel does his job it is his business to give the warning.  Should the people not heed the warning and get slaughtered, it’s not his fault.  The guilt for their blood will be on their own heads because they choose not to take the warning seriously.   If, however, this sentinel does not do his job, when the enemy comes to kill them and they have not been rightly warned, God says, “I will require their blood, their innocent death to be upon the sentinel’s hands.”       

Ezekiel may have been thinking: Who is this Sentinel who is supposed to warn the people about their greatest enemy---not an enemy out there, but their own sin that is “lurking at the door”?   God answers: “So you, O mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel” (vs. 7).  God has made telling Israel about their “sin” the prophet’s business.   We might imagine Ezekiels’ reaction: “But…Lord, I know I should warn these people about their sins, but couldn’t this get dangerous?  It’s not only the enemy who has swords. Besides, who am I to define some of them as  the “wicked ones’ ( 33.8) as opposed to others as the “righteous ones” (33.12).   Can I or anybody, but you really get this nail this down? I know that their sin will hurt them, but their sin can also hurt me.  Are you sure this is my business, Lord?  This whole “sentinel” business can be more than just a little bit tricky! “    

A couple of years ago, it was around November, the weather was getting cooler.  Teresa and I were headed out the back door after the final worship service at Flat Rock on that bright, crisp day.   As she opened the door to walk through doorway, I looked down and a small brown and black looking snake was lying right on the threshold where the sanctuary and hallway meet.  I hesitated about whether or not to warn her.  I knew that if I warned her, she might overreact and accidently step on the snake.  If I didn’t warn her, she might step on the snake anyway, and I would feel bad because I should have told her.   What would you do?   Do you keep quiet and hope she misses the snake, or do you warn her and hope she will not step on the snake in all the excitement? 

What do you think I did?  Well, what would you have done?  Knowing how much Teresa feared snakes I didn’t want to say anything. Knowing how much I needed to warn my wife about the snake I told her, but it was right after her foot barely missed the snake.  I took the gamble not to forewarn her, and fortunately, for her sake and mine, it worked out. She missed the snake.  Then I told her I saw it coming.  She responded sharply, “Joey, why didn’t you tell me!”  As soon as it came out of her mouth, I knew that was coming.  I just smiled, very thankful it all worked out, both in her favor, and in mine.   What would have happened if I had yelled “snake!”

You and I have the same hesitation to tell each other about our faults, failures, and sins, don’t we?  We especially have that “hesitation” toward those we love.   We want to warn them.  We want to alert them.  But because we fear what their reactions might be, we let things go.   We navigate carefully.   Who am I to judge?  Who are you to point the finger?  You know something needs to be said, but you don’t want to be the one.  You don’t want to lose the relationship.   So, what do we do?  In most cases, we just wait and see what happens.  We pray that when they take the next step, they will miss the snake.

FOR OUR OWN GOOD
But Ezekiel does not have the luxury of waiting to see what may or may not happen.  The snake has already bitten Israel.  They are already in Exile.  They have already lost their nation.  There is no way back.  They believe God’s judgment has already come down on them as a people and come down hard.  But the question still on their minds is what’s next?    It’s the same kind of question many have today, as our own nation suffers economically with way too many innocent victims.  Why me?  Why now?  Does God blame us all for us for what a few of us have done?  This question always looms in the background of Ezekiel’s message.
  
Ezekiel’s job, as a sentinel, is called to shift the responsibility from the nation as a whole to the individual person, now living in exile.  It was Ezekiel’s particular “calling” to sound the alarm so that in the midst of terrible national collapse, individuals might have the opportunity to heed the warnings and ‘save their (own) lives”, even though the nation could not be saved.   It’s too late for the nation, but it’s not for people to turn back to God.  For God is not in the hurting or the killing business, nor is God in the condemning or judging business, for its own sake.  God is in the saving business. “The LORD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel.” (v. 11).  God wants individuals to heed the warning for their own good.  God wants to save people, one person at a time.  But to do this, each person must realize their own person responsibility for their own sin.  Hope begins with each person making their own sin, their own business.

It is no different for us today.  Most people are smart enough to know that you can’t get up in the morning and simply live your life as you please.  This is not life, but its fantasy.  But it’s the very kind of fantasyland the wealthy Florida polo club owner believed he had while driving under the influence.  Have you heard his tragic story on the news as it has been covering his trial?   When he rammed an innocent victim into a swamp and walked away and letting the other fellow drown, he was thinking that nothing would happen to him.   He went only living as he pleased without realizing the consequences, he and others would suffer. 

I know that fellow was drunk, but he’s still trying to get away with it now that he’s sober.   He is still trying to escape taking responsibility.  He even adopted his girlfriend to give all his money to her in hopes of protecting his fortune.  Oh, yes, he’s a smart guy.  But is he really that smart when he thinks he will answer for nothing or can buy his way out of anything.  If he keeps on denying what he has done, if he keeps trying to escape the consequences, what he doesn’t realize now is that one day, somebody will one day knock on the door of his heart and say “Hello!”, but there will be nobody at home to answer.  Perhaps that’s already happened.  If you lose your sense of value, your responsibility for life, your ground of rightness and goodness, and most of all, you lose a willinginess to face up to your wrongs, you may hold on to all your stuff, you may give your girlfriend your money to hold, you might even save your physical life and can buy your way out of jail, but what you will lose in the end is what you need the most and can’t ever buy back--your spirit, your mind and your soul.  “What is the profit,” Jesus said, “if a man gains the whole world and then loses his soul?”  What will you give to God, when you have no soul left to give?”  

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned people, that as individuals they cannot keep on living just anyway they want to and still receive God’s blessings of life, hope and love.  Life has a moral dimension.  Faith is a promise you must keep.  The life we live, choose, and the decisions we make (or don’t make) will have real consequences.  Our personal decisions not only make us who we are, our choices can also make us into people we may have never intended to be---taking us places we never intended to go.  So, when Ezekiel is called as a sentinel to warn the people, he is called to confront them with their sin to help save them from their sin.  God does not want for the people to die in their own selfish, wayward, wrongful choices.  God has made their sin his business and the business of his prophet for their own good---so they can make their sin, their own business too.  Through the prophet God says: “If they turn from their sin and do what is right----they will surely live, they shall not die.  None of the sins they have committed shall be remembered against them; they have done what is lawful and right, they shall surely live. (14-16).

HAVING IT YOUR WAY
God makes sin his business, the prophet’s business and even our own personal business, because God wants to save.   Confronting our sin is for our own good. But there is one more question needing to be answered: How did they get in this mess in the first place?   In their difficult, broken, tragic situation, they are saying what many say: “This is just not fair!”   It’s not our fault all this has happens.  If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s God’s fault.  “The way of the Lord is not just (v. 17).”    If God had not brought us out of Egypt…If God had not misled us in the wilderness…If God were not punishing us…If God were not so hard on us….  It is “the way of the Lord” that “is not just”.   How do you answer that prophet?

When I was a teenager, one of the biggest theological debates we could ever have was about a certain doctrine “predestination”.   The question that focuses around predestination is how much are our steps planned by God, verses how much are we responsible for our own steps.  In those days, some people believed God was caused everything.  Others believe God gives people free will and that we are responsible for the steps we take ourselves.    

I have a close friend who is a Baptist pastor in Blowing Rock, right near Tweesie Railroad amusement park.  Once he told me about his ‘Grandaddy’ Potts who was raised Presbyterian.  His grandfather came to this country from Birmingham, England and they must have been staunch hyper-Calvinist Presbyterians who had strong beliefs in predestination.  But one thing that often trumps religion is love.  His grandfather became a Baptist when he married.   Later in his life, when Granddaddy Potts was in his 80's, he fell down the steps of his church.

He was coming out of church one Sunday after worship at Riverbend Baptist Church near Bristol, Tennessee.  Riverbend is a country church with high concrete steps.   Granddaddy Potts took a terrible fall and hit his head.  He spent several days in the hospital and weeks resting at home.  A few months later my pastor friend, his grandson, paid his granddaddy a visit.  They went riding around together looking at the places in the community.   His grandson said,  "Grandaddy, I was sorry to hear about your accident and I hope you are doing OK."
His answer was a bit disconnected from my offer of concern but very much what he had on his mind.  He replied, "Well, it had been fore-ordained since the dawn of eternity that I would fall off those steps on that day."

His grandson said, "Granddaddy, I really do not think God goes around thumping old men off church steps." (Granddaddy was a straight talker about what he is thinking so it is best to talk straight to him as well.)
He said, "I can prove it to you."   (The grandson was thinking, "This is going to be good.")
He said, "If I had had anything to do with it, it wouldn't have happened." (sic)
The grandson decided to leave it right there.  There was nothing to be gained by going into a theological argument over predestination.  Granddaddy had his own mind and you could not change it. 

Do we blame God for the things that happen to us?   Just as Granddaddy Potts said, “If I had anything to do with it, this wouldn’t have happened.”  That’s what many in Israel persisted on saying, even when it was clear they were suffering from the consequences of their own sins too, not just their nations sins.  But the people kept on denying their responsibility, and many of died without hope, not because they had failed, but because they would not see their own sin and do the right thing and turn from it and turn back to God. 

Ezekiel would say to them and to us: You just can’t blame it all on God.  You just can’t blame it all on Politics, Wall Street, Your parents or anyone else and move forward.  If you want to move on from this terrible place you find yourself, you must say, along with the spiritual, “It’s me, It’s me, O God, standing in the need of prayer.  It’s not my brother, not sister, but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.  This is where grace begins, where hope begins, where the new day begins, not with denial, but with the acceptance of our own responsibility in what happens to us.   Interestingly, even the righteous are not let off the hook in this.  The prophet says, “The righteousness of the righteous will not save them, when they transgress” (v. 12).   Ezekiel continues: “when the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit sin, they too will die for it (v. 18).  

This most serious message from Ezekiel is that if we fail to heed the warning God brings to us through his prophets today, God will let us have it our way.   This sounds cruel at first, but surprisingly, it also the most hopeful message, full of all kinds of new possibilities.  For you see, just as God lets his people suffer the consequences of their own actions, so that “the person that sins, shall die” (v. 18:20), the LORD also says, “yet if they turn from their sin and do what is right….they shall surely live, and not die.  None of the sins that they have committed shall be remembered against them….” (v. 15-16a!)   If we will make God’s business, our business, if we take warnings seriously and turn from our path of self-destruction, we can still save our lives, even though the world crumples around us.   Hope is never completely lost, even if one person will make God’s business, their own business.  God’s message of warning can be good news, but the question to Israel and to us is: Which way do you want it?  Which way do you really want?  God will let you have it your way.  But it's the prophet's business to help you find another way. It's my business to try to get you make your sin your business and God's.   This is, according to the prophet, the only way you or I can live.   Amen.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

THE NABOTH INCIDENT


A Sermon based upon 1 Kings 21: 1-29
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Pastor
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
November 11,  2012, Discipleship Series #10 of 17

“He had a pistol in his pocket, and he was planning to use it.  He was mad at his wife.  Real mad.  And he was going to settle their differences—for good!  He would just shoot her and be done with it.

Seeing the man’s anger, a friend begged him to settle down long enough to listen to one recorded sermon.  After much protest the man reluctantly agreed to listen.  At the close of the message, he went home, got down on his knees and asked his wife’s forgiveness.  They were reconciled.  On the following Sunday, the man went to church, confessed his faith, and was later baptized (From Payday Someday and other sermons by Robert Greene Lee, Broadman and Holman, 1995).  

It is documented that more than 8,000 people came to faith after hearing R.G. Lee’s classic sermon “Payday-Someday”.   It was Lee’s literary masterpiece.  For more than 30 years he preached this sermon every year at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis.  Lee preached the sermon over 1,275 times in churches, at revivals, in baseball parks and football stadiums.  I heard him preach the sermon one the last times at Calvary Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., just before his untimely death as a result of a mugging assault in 1978.  

Near the close of his sermon, Lee wrote these unforgettable words:  “God’s justice does not slumber.  Even though the mill of God’s justice and righteousness grinds slowly, it grinds to powder.  The judgments of God travel slowly, but they always crush completely.” ( p. 48).  
Lee’s expressive language belongs to another era.   It is not easy to preach about judgment or justice today.  Most avoid these subjects.  The feeling is that people have enough to worry about.  People need uplifting, encouraging, and optimism.  “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” the saying goes.   Advancing God’s cause through addressing the requirements for justice is too complex and too demanding.  The idea of judgment is simply too depressing.  It’s seems easier to ignore such talk, unless that is, your name is Naboth. 

THE EXCESSIVE DESIRE TO HAVE
In our text from 1 Kings 21, Naboth is a nobody.  People like Naboth may be somebody to their own family, but they are “nobodies” to the privileged somebodies of the world—the upper crusts, the up and ups, the shakers and movers----those who hold power and position. Naboth did not have big money, personal privilege, nor did he hold any important position.  All Naboth had was a small vineyard in Jezreel, which just happened to be next to the palace of a King.
King Ahab was one of the privileged few who could have anything and everything he wanted.  He was born with a royal silver spoon in his mouth, as part of a family that had great material success.  His Father Omri was one of the select Israelite Kings who made his mark on the history of the ancient near east.  Omri is given a mere 13 verses in the Bible, but he was a king with an international reputation.   Even today, he is one of the very select few of Israel’s Kings who was noticed outside of biblical history.  He was a successful military leader, expanded the borders of Israel, and began impressive building programs in the north which rivaled or perhaps even exceeded Solomon in the south. He was a ‘ruler far more important and dynamic than the Bible suggests’ (NIDB, p. 330).      

Ahab was Omir’s son.  He was a child born into privilege, prestige and prosperity.  Children who are born into privilege often feel entitled to have all the things they want.   They have never lacked for anything, except maybe love.   So to cover the insecurity of not having what they needed most, they feel the constant need to continue to acquire and secure things.  For Ahab, the thing he ‘needed’ was the vineyard next door to his palace.  He wanted to plant his vegetable garden there.  It was convenient.  It was fertile.  Mostly, it was a plot of land which reminded him daily of something he didn’t have.  

Ahab could not stand not having what he wanted, so he approach the owner to make a deal.   “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it….”  “I will give you a better one for it…”  “Or if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money”  (21.2).   The business deal is a good and fair offer but there is only one problem.  The land was not merely a piece of land to Naboth.  “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (21.3b).  It was land that had been in Naboth’s family for years, perhaps granted as part of the original “land of promise”.   This may be only substantial thing of value Naboth has in his possession.   “I can’t let you buy it.  It’s not for sale.  I can’t part with it.  It’s worth much more to me than money.” 

Ahab is used to getting what he wants.  He goes home resentful.  He pouts.  He tunes everybody out.  He lies down on his bed as if he is sick.  He will not eat.   He has everything, but everything he has already does not make him happy.   His wife, Jezebel, comes and asks, “Why will you not eat?”  The King tells his wife what happened. “I approached Naboth the Jezreelite to purchase his vineyard, but he said it wasn’t for sale.”   “What?” his wife answers.  “Aren’t you the King?”  “Don’t you govern Israel?” “Get up, eat some food, and be happy, for I will get it for you.”

Ahab’s wife Jezebel will not take “no” for an answer.  Her words of resolve saying “I will get it for you” has all the dogged determination of a woman who married the most available man because she too wants what she wants. So Jezebel schemes and conspires, sending out letters to the leaders and elders of Naboth’s hometown accusing him of treason.  She has signed all these letters with the Kings seal.    Writing for the King, she demands the town elders and leaders to come together and produce two scoundrels who will bring charges against Naboth that he has cursed both God and the King.  They are to take this ‘nobody’ named Naboth out and stone him to death.  After the deed has been done, she sends Ahab to lay claim on the vineyard.  Everyone knows what’s happening, but no one dares say a word. 

There were people who should have become suspicious of what Bernie Madoff was doing.  But family, friends and even regulators all looked the other way.  Bernie Madoff was a somebody. He was giving other people the possibility of becoming somebodies.  They did not take notice of Bernie Madoff’s scheme because it was such a lucrative plan with much prospect.   Greed, success, power and position can cause ‘good’ people to look the other way.  Wall Street gets by with all kinds of things that could not happen on Main Street.  People of position, prestige and power have their own lawyers write laws to give them advantages others can’t have.  Even whistleblowers are largely ignored or called liars.   It should not be this way, but it is.  Because people want what they want, the world gets lopsided on the side of injustice very quickly.  Who wants to stand up and challenge a somebody who has the power either to make you somebody or turn you into a nobody? Who wants to stand with a nobody who can’t pad your wallet?    

THE DIVINE DETERMINATION FOR JUSTICE
This is where Elijah comes in.  When Ahab goes down to seize the vineyard there is someone already standing there.  It’s Elijah the Tishbite.  Elijah would be a nobody himself, had he not already made himself known to the King, challenging Ahab and Jezebel with the “word of the LORD” (17:8).   Elijah is the first prophet of Israel, but he’s not the last.  It was the prophets  God sent to stand with and for the nobodies being treated unjustly and unfairly by the somebodies of the world.  These ‘somebodies’ don’t like prophets. See how Ahab addresses him: “Have you found me, O my enemy?”   Those who treat others like nobodies make themselves an enemy of the LORD.   “I have found you”, Elijah said.

One of the amazing characteristics of the prophets is that they did not differentiate between the religious requirements to love God or the social requirements to love neighbor.  Over and over the prophets, denounced the Israelite Kings not only for “selling themselves” (v. 20) to false gods (v. 26) but also for “doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 20, 25).  This is the kind of evil that flourishes when people don’t put God first; they end up putting themselves first and hurting anybody who gets in their way.  It was this neglect for social justice which made Amos, the first writing prophet, to thunder God’s word from his farm in Tekoa saying, Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals--  they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way (Amo 2:6-7 NRS).  This is why, the Bible says, God brought judgment down on Ahab and the nation.  The “neglect” for the nobodies by the somebodies brings God’s wrath and punishment.

The prophet Elijah was known to those in power as the “troubler” (1 Kings 18.7), but the truth is that people who forget justice and righteousness are already in trouble.  People who don’t care will be troubled by God.  People who have the power to get what they want but don’t realize that with privilege comes responsibility will become more than troubled---they will meet justice that will not be on their side, which the Bible calls judgment.   This is what the prophets are about. They are in the business of awakening us to God’s absolute claim upon our lives.    For instance, according to a study by Habitat for Humanity, 80% of the world’s resources are in the hands of Christians.  If that is so, why is starvation still so rampant around the globe?  If Christians have all this wealth, why is our world is such economic turmoil?  Do you know who gets hurts the most when the economy goes sour?  It is the poor, the widow and the defensless. Elijah says it is the desire to have more that both starves the poor and destroys economies for everyone.  Could it be that still today, in a greedy grab to acquire more and more, we keep bad company with those of the likes of Ahab, who always want more without a mere thought to those who have much less?

Through the Prophet Elijah, God warns Ahab what will happen to someone who walks over others to get what one wants.  Greed and selfishness will put you on the wrong side of the justice and judgment of God.  “Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you.... Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat....He acted most abominably in going after idols….(1Ki 21:20-26 NRS).  In the end, it is not just Ahab who is determined to get what he wants.  God will get what God wants.  And what God wants will be right and it will be forever.  

THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A DIFFERENT OUTCOME
Can people today, who are used to getting what they want conceive of a God who will give them exactly what they deserve?   I wonder.  Most people can hardly even fathom that life is not just about them and what they want.   Few understand the God of Bible as not only the God who loves, but also as the God who also has a flaming love that burns for others.  God’s love burns so hot for all of us that doing right and doing justice is not an option, but a requirement.  God’s will must be done on earth, as in heaven.  The 10 commandments are not 10 suggestions.  The golden rule is the only ‘gold’ that will last.  “The arc of the universe is bent toward justice.”   We will ‘reap what we sow’.  What is done in darkness will come to the light.  “Even though the mill of God’s justice and righteousness grinds slowly, it grinds to powder.”    

I guess we could say that truth has finally become a reality for bicycling legend Lance Armstrong.   Proven guilty of doping, his 7 Tour De France titles are gone, his sponsors are gone, his foundation is gone or going, his reputation is destroyed and one wonders what is happening in his soul this very moment.  Maybe he was a great bicyclist, few would dispute that, but what we all now know for sure, what has finally come out is that Lance Armstrong was never as good as he thought he was.  According to ‘the word of the Lord’ which came to Elijah, most of us are not as good as we think we are.   The only hope for people like Armstong, like Ahab, or like us, is to stop and take a long, long look at who we have become and perhaps most importantly, to take an even more serious that we aren’t who we think or say we are.  The truth hurts, but it could also help.  Ahab could be much more, if he could only hear God’s true word about himself.  It is this ‘true’ word of how things really are that can make us better people.  The Spirit still calls us to listen, to reflect, and to examine our own lives and to realize that God’s love burns hot for all of us.  But it is also a love that will burn us, if we fail to love as God loves.      

The late Chuck Colson told about a man named Jack Eckerd, a gentleman he met while lobbying for criminal justice reform in Florida.  Eckerd accompanied Colson on his speaking tour, always introducing him, "This is Chuck Colson, my friend.  He’s born again and I’m not. I wish I were." Eckerd then sat down, Colson gave his speech, then the two of them got back on a plane and discussed religion.  Eventually, some months later, Eckerd made a decision for Christ.

Shortly afterwards, Eckerd walked into one of his drug stores. He was browsing through the newsstands when he saw copies of Playboy and Penthouse. Those magazines had never bothered him before, but now he saw them with new eyes: he saw them as a Christian. Eckerd went back to his office, called the president of his company, and barked an order: "Take Playboy and Penthouse out of my stores."
The president replied, "You can’t mean that, Mr. Eckerd. We make three million dollars a year on those books."
Eckerd repeated, "Take ’em out of my stores." And thus, pornography was removed from 1,700 stores across America, all because one man became a Christian.

Hearing about this, Colson telephoned Jack Eckerd: "I want to use that story. Did you do that because of your commitment to Christ?" Eckerd replied, "Why else would I give away three million dollars? The Lord wouldn’t let me off the hook."  That’s one way to describe the biblical imperative for justice and righteousness: "The Lord wouldn’t let me off the hook."  Women are not to be treated as boy toys and regaled as sex objects. So Mr. Eckerd decided against using or hurting others, because, as he put it, "The Lord wouldn’t let me off the hook."  (As told in a sermon, Justice: A Biblical Perspective, by Robert Setzer, July 2004).

Where do you need to do what is right in your life?  Where can you make a difference for what is just and true?  Where do you need to love?  In what area of your life, if you dared to look or pay attention, might the Lord not let you off the hook?   There are many ways to take a stand for God’s justice--- a justice that will not exploit others for selfish desires or gain, a justice that will not ignore the plight of the nobodies of this world.   Where do we start to do justice?   It starts with an examination of our own behavior---not just who we think we are, but with who we really are.   As Mother Teresa once said, "Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them."

Fortunately, the rebuke of the prophetic word did get into Ahab’s heart.   We are told in the text that when Ahab hears God’s judgment against him, he tears his clothes, fasted, and he humbled himself.    The word of the Lord comes to Elijah again: "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster on his house." (1Ki 21:29 NRS).   Yes, God will forgive us for our sins, but even God can’t undo the consequences of our actions.  If we don’t burn with the same love God has, someone will get burned.  If it is not us, it will be our children.  But of course, that gets you off the hook, doesn’t it?   You don’t have to worry about anybody but yourself, right?   How do you think ‘the Word of the Lord’ would answer?  Amen.