Imagine ... a New Future

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached June 12, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
1 Kings 21:1-21: "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth ..."
Luke 7:36-8:3: "Your faith has saved you ..."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Country singer Brad Paisley was born in West Virginia and wrote his first song at age 12. By the time he was 13, he was opening shows for such country greats as The Judds and Ricky Scaggs. Today's song comes from his latest album, American Saturday Night. Welcome to the Future peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, but went to number one in Canada.

When I was ten years old
I remember thinking how cool it would be
When we were going on an eight-hour drive
If I could just watch TV
And I'd have given anything
To have my own Pac-Man game at home
I used to have to get a ride down to the arcade
Now I've got it on my phone

Chorus: Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah, Welcome to the future

Old man Naboth had a farm, EIEIO
And on that farm he had some grapes, EIEIO
With a grape, grape here and grape, grape there,
Here a grape, there a grape everywhere a grape grape,
Old Man Naboth had a farm, eieio

Old King Ahab had a plan, eieio
He wanted to buy Naboth's farm, eieio
With a tree over here and a clump of grass there
Here a tree, there some grass, everywhere trees and grass
Old King Ahab had a plan, eieio

Old Man Naboth wouldn't sell, eieio
He said his God would not let go, eieio
With one tradition here and another tradition there,
Here a trad, there a trad, everywhere a trad, trad,
Old Man Naboth wouldn't sell, eieio

Old King Ahab got upset, eieio
He went and pouted on his bed, eieio
With a pout, pout here, and sob, sob there, eieio
Here a pout, there a pout, everywhere a pout, pout, eieio
Old King Ahab got upset, eieio

His wife Jezebel had a plan, eieio
You're the king, go get your land, eieio
With a nag, nag here and nag, nag there,
Here a nag, there a nag, everywhere a nag, nag,
His wife Jezebel had a plan, eieio

The king sent men to Naboth's farm, eieio
And near that farm they killed Naboth, eieio
with a big stone here and big stone there,
Here a stone, there a stone, everywhere a stone, stone,
Old man Naboth had a farm, now it is the king's

Old Elijah heard all this, eieio
He told Old Ahab God was pissed, eieio
With a wrath, wrath, here and a wrath, wrath there,
here a wrath, there a wrath, everywhere a wrath, wrath,
God cut Old King Ahab off, eieio

What we have going on here between Ahab and Naboth is a clash of ideas about the future. For Ahab, the future is all about his kingdom and the new ideas he's bringing into the world. For Naboth, the future is just the same as it is today - tradition guides both his present and his future. He does as his religion has instructed him to do and no new-fangled ideas are going to change his mind.

For King Ahab, the world was his oyster and he had plans to bring about many new things in the world. He could imagine ... a new future, one totally different from today. Naboth, on the other hand, was stuck in the past. He couldn't imagine anything beyond his present. His old traditions dictated how he could see the world - and nothing could change that. In short, Naboth was still getting a lift down to the arcade to play Pac Man. King Ahab - he had the app on his phone.

My grandpa was in World War 2
He fought against the Japanese
He wrote a hundred letters to my grandma
Mailed them from his base in the Philippines
I wish they could see this now, The world they say has changed you know
'Cause I was on a video chat this morning
With a company in Tokyo

Chorus: Hey, every day's a revolution, Welcome to the future

Bridge: Hey, look around it's all so clear
Hey, wherever we were going, well we're here
Hey, so many things I never thought I'd see
Are happening right in front of me

When I was a kid, I remember hearing about what the future would be like. We'd have flying cars. We'd do away with all forms of paper, like books, files, etc, because computers would replace them. Unlike the kids in this room, there are many of us here who can remember what the world was once like - a world without the Internet. A world without a personal computer at your house. Instead, if you wanted to write something - you used a typewriter, or a pen and paper, and you put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and went to the post office to mail it. All we had then was snail mail. I even remember our ancient forms of music - 8-tracks, with the soothing "Ka-chunk" when it changed tracks. And every single person here who owned an 8-track player had a little piece of cardboard underneath the 8-track to prop it up just a tad in the play so it wouldn't screech.

Back then we imagined flying cars - with 8-track players. We couldn't imagine that one day we'd carry thumb sized devices that could carry our entire music library with us. No more tape - no more shocking "Ker-chunk" between each song. Now we all have computers, the Internet, email - but still, no flying cars.

Some of us were Naboth's - rejecting the latest technology, clinging to our old 8-track players and record albums. Others embraced the latest fads - Sony Walkman's and mp3 players. Some could imagine ... a new future. Others feared it and refused to go until they were forced.

The story of Ahab and Naboth, however, shows us two examples of how NOT to imagine ... a new future. For Naboth, the future was now - rooted in tradition. Naboth held his tradition as sacred, something God had commanded him to do. He would not be moved from his tradition, no matter if the world changed around him. In some ways, this is admirable. Naboth has a deep grounding in tradition and he reveres it. However, as Naboth found out, clinging to traditions can be dangerous, even deadly.

Clinging to tradition can also cause strife and division in the world. Those who exclude and discriminate against gay and lesbian people do so from tradition. Those who wanted to keep slavery legal made their arguments from tradition. Those who wanted to deny women equal rights made their arguments from tradition. Just like Naboth they said, "God won't allow it." So they fought against a new future of justice and equality all in the name of tradition. Some even fought and died to preserve those traditions in what we still call here in the South "the war of Northern aggression."

The same can be said for some of our own traditions. We grew up in families where some things were just done this way or that, and could never be changed. We can't change this because that's how we've always done it. We can't do that, because we've been taught God doesn't approve of it. So, we even have our own traditions that keep us from imagining ... a new future, and in many ways, kill our spirit and our ability to imagine anything different for ourselves.

Ahab, too, he's a poor example of how to imagine ... a new future. Ahab was a selfish man who had more empathy for his own problems than he did the problems of his people. He liked to sulk - and he liked to get his way.

Ahab could imagine ... a new future, but that future would come at a cost to those around him. Ahab was an "us" and a "them" kind of person. Those who agreed with him and gave him what he wanted belonged to the "us" crowd. Those who defied him were "them" and deserved no help and were worthy of whatever fate awaited them.

A future made on the backs of those we disdain or look down upon, is a future no better than now. If we have to use violence and coercion to create a new future, then we've taken a wrong turn, and any future we create will only be more of the same injustice and inequality that we have now.

Old Man Naboth and Old King Ahab could never imagine ... a new future.

Breathe deeply.

I had a friend in school, Running back on the football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the homecoming queen
I thought about him today,
And everybody who's seen what he's seen
From a woman on a bus, To a man with a dream

Chorus: Hey, wake up Martin Luther, Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah, Welcome to the future

Melissa Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1961. She started playing guitar at the age of 8 and now has two Grammy awards and has sold 27-million albums worldwide. Our next song comes from her latest CD, Fearless Love. It's called We are the Ones.

We're dreaming from the bottom of the well
We're curled up in the corner of our cell
Freedom's just a story that we tell
I say give me liberty or give me hell
I know life is just a song If I can get the world to sing along, Brothers and sisters

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we're waiting for

Our man Jesus went to eat, eieio
And there a woman cleaned his feet, eieio
With a perfume here, and a perfume there,
Here a fume, there a fume, everywhere a perfume,
Our man Jesus had clean feet, eieio

The Pharisee did not approve, eieio
He thought Jesus would not too, eieio
With a scowl over here and huff over there,
Here a scowl, there a huff, everywhere a scowl, huff
That old Pharisee thought it wrong, eieio

Our man Jesus told him this, eieio
That her sins he would forget, eieio
A debt paid here, a debt paid there,
Here a debt, there a debt, everywhere forgiveness
Our man Jesus loved them all, eieio

Here again, we have a story of clashing ideas about the future. That Pharisee reminds us a bit of old man Naboth. The Pharisee didn't have a vineyard, but he did have his laws and traditions, and he knew that allowing a sinful woman to wash your feet was not something a real prophet would do. This Jesus fellow must not be who he says he is, because this is outlandish and illegal behavior. If this was the future Jesus was talking about - this realm of God thing - then he wanted no part of it. To think - a lowly, poor, sinful woman like this would be treated with the same respect - and perhaps even more respect than himself - a rich, pious man who has worked hard for, and deserves, every shred of wealth he has? To be valued less, or heaven forbid, the same as this lazy, sinful woman who was probably living off of government handouts - why, what kind of fresh hell is this prophet promising? True justice? True equality? This is not a future the Pharisee was imagining. His imagined future meant more money for him - more pleasure for him - and nary a thought for those less fortunate.

Indeed, the only person - other than Jesus - in all these stories who understands what it takes to imagine ... a new future, is this sinful woman washing Jesus' feet with ointment and tears, and drying them with her hair. It is only this outcast - this misfit nobody - who gets it. What does she know that Naboth, Ahab, and this Pharisee don't? She realizes three things.

First, you can only imagine ... a new future when you have a sense of awe and wonder. In this hurry-up-and-get-it-done-yesterday world we live in, we have no time to indulge in the luxury of awe and wonder. We're too busy getting dressed in the morning to be awed by the sunrise anymore. We're too busy driving to work to see the beauty of the clouds scudding by in the sky. We're too focused on where we need to be next that we don't take time to make faces at the beautiful, awe inspiring, baby in line with the woman in front of us.

We say things are "awesome" but we don't even know what that word means anymore. We don't take time to just be in awe of the world around us - the colors, the scent of the air, the feeling of that air in our lungs, the feeling of a human touch, the amazement that we are even able to be here right now - fed, clothed, and comfortable, when so many of our brothers and sisters are starving, naked, and suffering with dis-ease.

Breathe deeply.

But this woman - she knew the meaning of awe. She knew that there was more going on here with this Jesus fellow than met the eye. The Pharisee couldn't see it. He was Mr. Business-as-Usual, waiting to see if Jesus would break a law or two and earn his condemnation. But, this woman saw it - the awe and wonder of this future realm of God that Jesus came to proclaim. A world of justice - a world of peace - a world of unity - a world where there is no division - no them - only us - all of us.

We cannot create a new future unless we approach our world with awe. Without awe - we can only see right now - and even though we may not like what we see, we can't see anything new. It is that awe that inspires our imagination - that gives us the vision we need to create a new future - distinct from the past and the present.

This woman also knew that awe was not enough. To imagine ... a new future, she had to let go of the past. This is Naboth's problem - the traditions that he revered would eventually be the death of him. If we hold on to old traditions and old beliefs, especially those that don't serve us any more - we will never be able to imagine ... a new future. I'm not saying all tradition is bad and should be tossed - that would be silly.

But, Naboth's story invites us to have a look at our old thoughts and traditions. Are they truly serving us? Are they truly helping us get to a better future, or are they holding us back and killing us spiritually? If those old traditions are no longer giving you life - discard them, or else you'll never find a way to imagine ... a new future.

The third thing this woman knew was that new futures cannot be created unless we repent of past wrongs and accept God's forgiveness. This is Ahab's problem. In I Kings we read that Ahab grieved over the situation with Naboth - but his grief was not over his own wrongful actions. Instead, he grieved because God had caught him and now he had to face the music. There was no repentance on Ahab's part - and no forgiveness - because all believed he did wrong was to get caught.

This woman knew, though that it is only as a forgiven people that we can live with our hearts open wide to the world. In this new future envisioned by this woman at Jesus' feet, there is no "us" and "them" - there is no division. She understood Jesus' vision of the world - where it's some of us for all of us. That means everyone is included - Naboth and his traditions, Ahab and his greed, and the Pharisee in his self-righteousness. No one is left out of this new future - even those poor who abuse the system and get more of their fair share. They are one of us. Even those rich, cunning capitalists who abuse the system and get more than their fair share - they are one of us.

Y'know why we complain more about the poor welfare queens than we do about the rich welfare queens? One day we aspire to be the rich welfare queen. And you know it's true.

These are the ingredients for a new future - awe, letting go of the past, and accepting our place as God's forgiven children. We don't have to wait for anyone else to create this new future for us - we are the ones that we're waiting for.

Breathe deeply.

There are differences we cannot hide
Yet we are all one spirit deep inside
Finding out our past has been denied
Now we can tell our story and start to question why
Climbing out from under fear We'll know what we're doing here, Brothers and sisters

CHORUS: We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we're waiting for

BRIDGE: Who built this pyramid, a hundred years ago
Cause we're trapped inside a grid, While they feed us what we need to know
The scientists keep telling me, That we are all what we agree
So I agree to let you be, Anyone you want to be

CHORUS: We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we're waiting for

So, who do you trust to imagine a new future in this world? The traditionalists like Naboth who want to take our world back 100 years or so? The capitalists like Ahab who believe greed is good and will stop and nothing - even our dead bodies - to get it? The pious believers like the Pharisee who want nothing more than everybody toeing the line like they believe we should?

Or, can we imagine a new future, led by the outcast - led by those rejected by society as not good enough, not rich enough, not pious enough? Can we imagine a new future where there is no "them" - there is only "us" - loving each other equally even if we don't truly like each other all that much.

The only true way though, to imagine a new future is if we really want to. If we're okay with what we have now - with the greed, the injustice, the inequality, the suffering, the despair - then we have no motivation to change. We may as well stick with the devil we know. We have be honest with ourselves and admit that many of us don't really want a new future. We like to complain about our present, and relive our past, far too much to want to really create anything new.

We like being Naboth - reveling in our past, clinging to deadly traditions. We like being Ahab - getting something for nothing.

We like being the Pharisee, condemning the sins of those around us. If we're honest - we like it here. New futures make us nervous. They demand more from us than we're willing to give right now.

So, I leave you with a choice - a question to ponder. Do you want to imagine a new future, or are you okay where you are now?

Jubilants, you must decide, eieio
Will justice be your guide, eieio
With love over here, and peace over there
Here a love, there a peace, everyone in harmony
Jubilants, now is the time, the future begins now ...

CHORUS: We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we're waiting for

BRIDGE: Every stranger you see is a part of you, Teaching we are the ones
We are all there is, We are the all that is
We can get through this, We are the ones

CHORUS: We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we're waiting for

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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