Sunday Service 19th November
Survival of the fittest
Call to worship
Hymn 246(JP): There are hundreds of sparrows
Time for all
Hymn 260(JP):Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Reading 2 Kings 9: 30-37. Margaret
Hymn 192: All my hope on God is founded
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 461: How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
Welcome to our reflection for 19th November.
We are living in a time that sometimes you feel it is the about the survival of the fittest; that times are so unsure and that we need to look after ourselves first and then think of others.
But what kind of life does that give us?
We will consider that after our readings from Margaret.
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Jezebel’s story is a long one in the Bible.
And she is not looked upon favourably.
To the extent that even the name is an insult.
When I first arrived in Alva I had a pet cat called Judith Jezebel.
When she was good she was called Judith, most of the time she was called Jezebel.
And she was called Jezebel because she did whatever she wanted to do.
The main problem was that Roseanna ignored Jezebel.
Roseanna is not a pet person, but I had Jezebel as a pet before I had met Roseanna; in the same way that she had two boys, Ross and Alexander, before she met me.
So both of us came into the marriage with a bit of baggage.
And Roseanna’s way of coping with a problem is to pretend that it didn’t exist.
So most of the time Roseanna just ignored the cat and pretended that she didn’t exist, and to be honest Jezebel did much the same with Roseanna.
Except hat when Roseanna cooked food, she has had a habit, and still does, of letting meats cool down so she can let any fats solidify and then scrape it off.
Which was great for any cat what happened to be wandering about near the kitchen and could jump onto the worktops and help themselves to whatever meat was left lying there.
I don’t know how many Christmas turkeys we lost, how many joints of meat we lost, how many chops we lost...all because Roseanna forgot that cats act like cats.
Safe to say Roseanna very rarely called Judith Jezebel; Judith.
And the name has stuck.
Call someone a Jezebel and you are not complimenting them.
But the story of Jezebel is a complex one.
She appears in 1 Kings being married to King Ahab who was not a pleasant man.
A typical incident in his life is when he sees a neighbour’s plantation and is so impressed that he wants to buy it.
But the neighbour believes that his land is a gift from God to be left to his children and future descendants.
King Ahab goes into a sulk.
And under the guidance of Jezebel he frames the neighbour for treason, has him killed, and then claims the neighbour’s land as punishment.
Under Jezebel’s influence king Ahab starts to worship the god Baal and the prophet Elijah then has a running feud with the king and queen which results in a famous battle of the gods on mount Carmel where God wins and 400 prophets of Baal are killed.
Jezebel then threatens to kill Elijah and he goes into hiding.
In time King Ahab dies, and the prophet Elijah is replaced with the prophet Elisha, but the feud between the queen mother and the prophets continue.
The end result is the reading today where a new king decides to get rid of any opposition, including a queen mother he thinks is a potential threat and has her flung off the walls of the palace to her death, then leaves the corpse out for dogs to eat.
So what are we to make of this?
In the theology of the Old Testament and the way they looked at life; God made sure that what happened to you was what you deserved to happen to you.
So in their eyes Jezebel got what she deserved, therefore she must have been a really evil person.
The trouble with that, and even in the Old Testament they saw this, is what about the neighbour of Ahab who lost his life because the king was jealous of his garden?
Did he get what he deserved?
To be honest in the first century, that idea of theology was used to justify why Jesus could not have been the Messiah, because God wouldn’t have allowed the Messiah to die in such a cruel way, no Messiah would have deserved that way of death.
The more complex theology of a God who, in love, would be willing to sacrifice himself for the world was still to take hold.
The problem with both theology, and Jezebel, is that we like both to be simple; black and white, good and evil.
Because then we are always good, and others are always evil.
But theology is rarely simple, and maybe Jezebel is more complex than we think as well.
As a queen she was no more than a political pawn. Sold to the king to make sure he didn’t invade somewhere else.
We see this even in those we would regard as good kings like David and Solomon, the women were used as objects to be used, kept only as long as they were useful.
So someone like Jezebel lived a precarious life which was dependant on the strength of her husband.
If Ahab was sulking after a neighbour had refused to sell his land to him, who would he take it out on? Who would he beat up? Who would he abuse? Who would feel his wrath?
Probably Jezebel, so in fear and quick thinking she diverts Ahab’s wrath so that someone else dies.
If Ahab agrees to a contest between gods and the end result is that Ahab’s prophets are wiped out that could be seen as a sign of great weakness.
Ahab’s gods can’t protect him, can’t protect his armies; it may be a sign of instability that other countries need to inspire an invasion.
It might be a sign to other pretenders of the throne that Ahab is ripe to be attacked and his crown taken over...if Ahab is killed in a coup, so will Jezebel.
So Jezebel’s retaliation to kill the prophet Elijah may be her way of showing to everyone that King Ahab is still a force to be reckoned with. It keep Ahab alive, it ensures her chances of staying alive are higher.
It all comes from a heart of fear and insecurity.
In the end, when she sees her death is inevitable, you have to admire how she faces it, she gets dressed up, makes sure she looks her best, and faces it head on.
Because in the end if you are going to die anyway, then at least face it head on.
And maybe that is our lesson or today.
Jezebel spends her life afraid and attacking others first before they could be a threat to her.
I imagine that was a lonely life.
But that is the way she saw life, survival of the fittest.
The sad thing is that too often I see us living that way.
The way people talk about their churches, they compare them with other churches and often try to lessen other churches so that their looks better, better enough at least that when some higher body is reviewing which church building to close that it is the other church that goes rather than ours.
What is going on in Ukraine just now?
What is going on in Israel-Palestine just now?
Survival of the fittest.
Each side justifies what it does on the grounds that they are under threat and have to attack their enemy.
Each side accuses the other of crossing lines of decency and humanity; that the other side have lost the moral high ground and they don’t deserve to survive, they should be punished for what they have done.
I am not going to condemn Jezebel for the life that she lived.
I don’t know what I would have done if I lived in a world of constant threat.
In the same way I am trying hard not to condemn the Palestinian’s for what they did and the Israelites for what they are doing.
They have been living with mutual distrust and threat for about 70 odd years now.
I don’t know how I would react if I had lived like that.
But I know that there is another way;
the way of that God who did sacrifice himself on a cross to show that he wasn’t trying to threaten us, but show the depths of his love for us.
the way of a Son who lived a life where he lived for others rather than himself,
the way of the Spirit who constantly is offering us gifts of wisdom and comfort and strength so that we can live a life of joy and hope, of love and peace.
But our life has to be more than just accepting these gifts from God for ourselves.
If we do that then how are we any different than Jezebel and Ahab that took all the gifts of power and wealth of the nation for themselves?
We are given the hope of God, so that we can be a hope to others.
How would Jezebel’s life be different if she had a confidence that God was watching over her;
maybe she could have been generous to others rather than be scared of others and taking from them,
maybe she could have inspired people to acts of love rather than inspired them in fear, maybe she could have encouraged a tolerance of other faiths rather than have them fight to the death.
We will never know, because she didn’t have anyone in her life to show her a different path.
But we have seen that different path, we have benefited from that different path, and we can encourage others to follow that different path.
It may not change the whole world, but it could maybe change the world of someone nearby, someone we love, someone who we care for.
But that will take time and effort: that will take sacrifice from us.
What if we are too busy, to shy?
I heard a story the other day where this charity has a lot of money and isn’t too sure what to do with it.
So they get people to compete with reasons as to why the money should be spent in various ways.
And this man talks about how they should build a school and spend no expense on the most kindest of teachers to inspire the children.
He finishes with the words, ‘If even one child is saved from moral depravity, it will justify all the cost and labour invested in an institution like this.’
Later a member of the charity said to him, ‘Do you not think you went a bit overboard with your presentation. Would all the cost and labour of the charity be justified if it was used to save just one child?’
And the reply came, ‘It would if it was my child.’
I am not asking you to save the world; God is not asking you to save the world.
But God is asking us to save those we love from a life lived as if it was survival of the fittest.
God is asking us to show them a different path, where they see and know and live, as if they are loved by God.
Jezebel never had someone in her life that loved her enough to show her a different path no matter what the cost was.
Do you love someone enough to show them that path, no matter the cost?
Let us pray
God of many names,
you are the good shepherd who knows each of your sheep by name.
You not only know our names, but also where they came from, what they signify:
our ‘Sunday’ names, and the name that friends and family use;
the names that have changed and the ones that have stayed the same;
the name we were given, or what was fashionable at the time of our birth;
what our parents were thinking when they named us; and how we feel about it now;
because it’s not just the name that you know, but the person behind it.
You know us better than our friends do, better even than we know ourselves.
God of many names and none,
we pray weekly for your name to be kept holy,
but it is not.
It is tossed about casually as a swear word, or a cry of frustration, and that’s not right.
We’re sorry if we have taken your name ‘in vain’.
We can’t imagine, most of us, what it is like to have a name that is famous, or even infamous.
How does it feel to be a Beckham or a Kardashian, a Hitler or a Stalin, a Putin or Trump?
Are they looking on from somewhere, folk like Jezebel and Judas and the rest, wondering how they came to be remembered and wishing it could have been different?
God of many names,
help us to live in a way that is worthy not only of our own name but of yours.
If we choose to call ourselves Christians,
may our lives be marked out by kindness, goodness, generosity, integrity and grace.
And if we’re not there yet, as we most certainly are not,
may it be our life’s work to grow ever closer to the goals that Jesus set and the standards that he lived by,
so that others, looking at us,
may think well of him.