I Kings 21:1-26

“Let Freedom Ring”

July 2,2017

 

My country ‘tis of thee,

sweet land of liberty,

of thee I sing:

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims’ pride

From every mountainside

Let freedom ring!

           

So are the words of the familiar patriotic song. 

 

            This song – – although written long ago – – is still popular for us and its sentiments of love for country – – love for God – – and love of freedom are still sentiments that we share today.  I am sure that everyone here today – especially 2 days before July 4th when we celebrate the birth of our great nation – – is proud to be a citizen of America – – the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I am sure that everyone would agree that freedom should ring from every mountainside in our country in a great celebration of what we enjoy as Americans.

 

            But before we get too carried away with our patriotic fervor here – –  let’s remember what today is.  It is not only 2 days before July 4th — it is Sunday. 

            Sunday – the day when we gather together to worship God and give praise to God.

            Sunday — the day when we focus on God and what God has done for us. 

            So it is not just a day for patriotic fervor – – but it is also a day to reflect upon God – – and our country – – and God’s will for our country. 

 

            What do we mean when we sing: Let freedom ring!

            What freedoms are we referring to?

            What freedoms do we enjoy as Americans?

            We enjoy freedom of speech – – the right to express our opinions, even if they may not be the opinions of others. We enjoy freedom of movement from one place to the next without the government imposing restrictions. We enjoy freedom of religion – – the freedom to choose for ourselves how we will worship God instead of having the government dictate a particular way to us.

            These are great freedoms.

            It is great to have these freedoms, along with others we enjoy as Americans.  The freedom to elect our officials, the freedom to work in jobs that suit us.  These are great freedoms, and to these I indeed say: Let freedom ring!

 

            Democracy, and freedoms that go along with it, are indeed great gifts we have as Americans. But democracy and the freedoms that go along with it have not always been enjoyed by all, have they?  The cry of “Let freedom ring” has not always been a celebration of what the people had, but more a call for what they needed. 

 

            Our scripture passage for today is a story of what happens when freedom does not ring, and when there is no democracy or concern for those who are in need. 

           

The story we have here is indeed one of political intrigue and dirty-dealings by top government officials. It would be a major scandal if it happened today. You may be wondering why I choose this passage for this day. It seems to be ancient history.  It may be an interesting story, but nothing to really make us sit up and take note of. The passage does, however, serve to remind us that the blessings of freedom, of democracy, the freedoms we hold so dear need to be protected so that liberty, democracy, and freedom can can ring from every mountainside.

           

In this story from 1 Kings we have the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom of the Hebrew people, depicted as anything but a democracy, especially during the reign of King Ahab and his Queen, Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel were used to doing what they wanted to do, and usually what they wanted to do was at the expense of someone else.  They didn’t care if what they did or what they wanted might hurt someone. If they wanted something, they would take it, regardless of who it actually belonged to.  They were in control and everyone, and I mean everyone, did as Ahab and Jezebel directed.  Not much room for freedom. The ringing of freedom did not sound throughout the land.  So, it was really pretty typical when Ahab was walking around the grounds of his palace one day and noticed a beautiful vineyard next door. It was also pretty typical that he decided he wanted it.  So he approached Naboth, the owner of the vineyard, and asked him to give him the vineyard.  But Naboth refused.  No amount of money and no swap of property would convince him to give up his ancestral plot of land.  The vineyard had been in Naboth’s family for many years, and he was not about to give it up. But, as I said earlier, Ahab was used to getting his own way.  In fact, when he didn’t get his own way, he pouted.  Jezebel saw her husband pouting and when she asked what was making the king pout he related to her the story of the vineyard and how Naboth would not let him take it or trade it. But Jezebel had a plan. She sent letters to the rulers in Naboth’s village and they came up with false charges against Naboth and had Naboth killed. Now the vineyard was available, and when Jezebel informs Ahab that Naboth is dead he cheers up because he can what he wanted to do all along and he takes the vineyard.

 

          End of story, right? The wicked rulers go to whatever expense to take whatever it is they want. Once again evil has triumphs over good, the will of the privileged few over the will of the people, the will of the privileged few over the rights of the people.

           

Yep – seems to be the end of the story.

           

            But not so fast, my friends! There are two more characters in this story we have yet to hear from. There is God and there is Elijah. Ahab and Jezebel may have thought they had the last word here, but God proves them to be wrong. Through His prophet Elijah  God tells Ahab that he has done wrong  and he will have to pay for taking advantage of the poor like Naboth. Not long much later Ahab and Jezebel meet violent deaths.

           

God indeed has the last word here. 

 

            The death of Naboth and the taking of his property is vindicated after all.  We want to cheer for God and Elijah as Elijah pronounces the last word upon Ahab and Jezebel.  God indeed has the last word.  Freedom indeed rings. 

           

This is indeed a good story, but as with all Biblical stories, there is more than just a story here.  There is a message for those who will listen.  There is a message for you and for me if we will but listen.             What is the message here? Simply this: freedom and democracy, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and that we want ring throughout our land, are special gifts.  They are gifts that God has given to us.  They are gifts we have to protect and work for and ensure for all people. We may sing: “From every mountainside Let freedom ring.” But does it? It’s up to us to ensure that it does, and to speak out when it doesn’t. It is up to us to be prophets as it were, prophets like Elijah. We need to make sure that all people in this great land of ours are enjoying the freedoms we enjoy, and that God wills for them to enjoy. It is up to us to ensure that freedom indeed rings from every mountainside of this great land of ours. It is up to us to ensure that freedom rings in our land, in our homes, in our communities. Yes, it’s up to us to ensure that freedom rings in our land.

 

            We get excited about our country, and justifiably so. We are proud of our country, and justifiably so. But what happens when there are some who are denied the rights and freedoms that are basic to God’s will for all people? What happens when people are denied the right of freedom, of health, of food, of shelter, the very basic things we should enjoy as Americans, – the basic things God wills for all God’s people everywhere? What happens when there are too many Ahab’s taking from too many Naboths – and not enough Eliahs standing up and saying: “this is wrong!”

 

            Where are our commitments? Are they to our country, no matter what , or are they to God? Do you remember what Jesus said when he was asked if it was lawful or not to pay taxes to Caesar? Do you remember what He said?       “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors – and to God the things that are God’s!”

 

Well, what do we owe our country?  We owe our country our support, our love, and joyous celebrations of our freedoms and at times the willingness to put our lives on the line to protect our freedoms. 

 

What about the things that involve our loyalty and commitment to God? We owe God our ultimate loyalty, our ultimate love, and all our energy and  strength. We owe God our very lives.

 

            Do you think the fact that Elijah had the courage to speak out against King Ahab make him less of a patriot than those who did not dare speak against the King? No, the way I see it, Elijah’s courage to speak the word of God in a situation desperately in need of God’s word made him even more of a patriot. His courage to stand for God and God’s will over against the will of King Ahab made him a patriot in the truest sense of the word. It made him someone who was willing to make the country more the way God wanted the country to be. Elijah was someone strongly committed to God’s will of freedom for all. He stood and said: “Let God’s will ring! Let freedom ring!” We need more Elijah’s today. We need more Elijah’s in our country, in our community, in our Church and in our families! We need more people willing to stand up and say that we need to turn back to God!  As a nation, as a community, as a Church, as individuals, we need to turn back to God so that God’s will and God’s desires and God’s great gift of freedom can indeed ring in all places and for all people. We must seek God’s will for our country, our community, our Church,  and our lives, and we must take a stand for God against the greed, against the poverty,  against the apathy and against the lack of commitment to God’s ways that runs rampant today.

           

We must all learn to stand together and say: Let freedom ring! Let God’s freedoms ring!

Friends – I challenge you today to love America, but to love America enough to speak out against the things that are wrong with America while working to make them right. I challenge you to believe in America, but to believe more in God and God’s will for our country, our community, our Church and our lives. I invite you to commit yourself to being an Elijah, someone who is willing to stand up for God’s ways and be God’s instrument in our country, in our community, in our Church, in your family and the world.

 

If we will commit ourselves to God’s will and commit ourselves to standing up for and working for God’s will, we truly can say:

           

My country ‘tis of thee,

sweet land of liberty,

of thee I sing:

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims’ pride

From every mountainside

Let freedom ring!

 

Amen