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Stoning Naboth

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity

Have you seen the papers? That celebrity – you know, THAT one – has really done it now. The photos are there in the press of him with THAT woman. He must have been drinking heavily. He must have been taking drugs. Anyway, his career is over. That’s the end of him.

[PAUSE]

In the past few years, we have seen several people fall from grace. Scandals have emerged. Some people have been quite rightly prosecuted. On the other hand, some have had to resign their positions because something they said in their teens has come to light. We live in a society now where even an accusation of wrongdoing can destroy a career, a reputation, or even a life.

The example of Naboth is an instance of how a few unscrupulous people can manipulate the crowds into destroying an innocent man. Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard but Naboth won’t give it to him. So Ahab gives him a high honour to set him up for a fall and then produces false witnesses to accuse him of treason whereupon the people follow the law and stone poor Naboth to death. Naboth is very much set up for a fall.

But we live in enlightened times. This sort of thing doesn’t happen today, does it?

[PAUSE]

We must be wary of conspiracy theories regarding the circumstances of people’s guilt or innocence. By and large, if someone is convicted of an offence by the due process of law, then we should be confident that the law has got it right. It has to be said, though, that it isn’t always the law that is putting people on trial.

In these days of social media, we can express our thoughts and feelings with almost immediate effect. We can say whether we believe someone to be guilty or innocent outside of any courtroom. We are now beginning to hear phrases such as “trial by television” and “trial by social media” which should frighten us.

Why?

Give a lot of people a little false information, a bit of fake news, one small lie dressed up in the truth and you can control their opinions. The general population will not be privy to all the facts and yet will still pronounce sentence. Everyone acts like judge and jury without the legal training. As the Son of Sirach says, “For many are deceived by their own vain opinion; and an evil suspicion hath overthrown their judgment.”

[PAUSE]

At work in the downfall of Naboth are the wickedness of his accusers, the ignorance of the people, and the ill-considered demand for justice. All these come together to use the law as a weapon to destroy the innocent.

The trouble is, as Christians, there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do to prevent the destruction of innocent people at the hands of those who have the power to use the law against them. Or is there?

 [PAUSE]

We know that we are not always in possession of the facts and must reserve judgement until the facts become clear beyond reasonable doubt. We know that men and women all fall but, through the death of Christ, all must be offered the opportunity to repent. We know that sinners deserve the opportunity to be forgiven. We know that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

The Lord’s command is clear. We must love our neighbours as ourselves in practice and not just in theory. This means that saint and sinner alike are all worthy of love. It means the innocent and guilty alike are worthy of respect as human beings so that no-one is demonised.

Yet, if we are honest, there is no way we can save Naboth. Even if we refuse to pick up stones to kill him, others will.

But this brings us to another power that Christians have – trust.

We Christians are foolish little people because, in this day and age of suspicion and intrigue and conspiracy and cloaks and daggers, we dare to trust. We trust God Almighty. We believe that Our Lord will come again to judge the quick and the dead and that his kingdom will have no end. We have to trust that, in the return of Our Lord, all miscarriages of justice will be put right, all wrongs will be righted, all injuries healed.

But we have to live out that trust by refusing to demonise those whom the law declares guilty and still looking for the image of Christ in the eyes of those behind bars. We have to refuse to take part in witch hunts. We have to be loving in what we post on social media. That is how we do not take up stones against Naboth.

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