June 12, 2016

4th Sunday of Pentecost

1 Kings 21:1-21

Galatians 2:11-21


No one can read or hear news nowadays without reading or hearing about Mohammad Ali. But if you have been away from planet earth lately, let me tell you this: Mohammad Ali has passed away. Yes, one of the boxing legends, the greatest of all time, some people argue, had finally succumbed to his illness.

But Ali’s greatness was found not only when he was in the ring, but also outside of it. He had been an ambassador for peace for many years. To use the words of his daughter, Hana Ali, he used his fame towards "a relentless effort to promote peace, tolerance and humanity around the world."[1]

He had visited dictators like Iraq’s Sadam Hussein and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He had secured the release of many American hostages from countries like Lebanon, Iraq, and, recently in 2015, Iran. In 1997 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was named the United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998. He travelled to conflict-ridden places like Afghanistan to help children in there and promote reconciliation.

The most remarkable thing about him was that he did all these even though he was unable to speak any longer. He suffered Parkinson’s disease that damaged his motor skill and ability to speak coherently. But his wife, Lonnie Ali, once said, “he can speak to people with his eyes. He can speak to people with his heart, and they connect with him,".[2]

The thing is, as you would guess from his name, Mohammad Ali was a Muslim. He was a follower of Sufism, a movement in Islam that is famous for its peaceful approach.  Sufism believes that “to purposely harm any person is to harm all of humanity, to harm each of us and to damage the world.”[3] Ali’s life was a reflection of this doctrine.

Nowadays, when people say that Islam is a religious of peace, most people won’t believe it because of militant groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. But people will believe it when they think of someone like Mohammad Ali.

Indeed, friends, we can learn from Mohammad Ali because the way we live our life truly reflects what we believe in life. Indeed the way we treat other human beings reflects the relationship that we have with God.

Let’s look back to our reading from 1 Kings. The event that we read this morning happened in Jezreel, which literally meant “God planted”. Indeed the area is considered as a place of great blessing because it is tremendously fertile.[4]

But even in this place of great blessing, there were rules considering the land; rules that bound all people from the King all the way down to the peasants. In ancient time, land was not only a place where people built a house to live. For ancient people, land was their source of income as well as their bank account, their retirement plan, and their home. Through their land people grew their food, earned enough money to pay their taxes, sheltered their family, and were assured of a decent livelihood. That was why land was considered as a gift from God and was rarely purchased or sold unless to one’s own family.[5]

What Ahab and Jezebel did to Nabot and his land, therefore, was not only a violation against Nabot and his rights, but a violation against God. This was not a surprise because Ahab and Jezebel were considered as the epitome of Israel’s unfaithfulness towards God. Ahab, the King of Israel, had followed Jezebel, his Queen, in worshiping Baal, the gods of the Canaanites. Their life was the reflection of their idolatrous faith that gave birth to their idolatrous life, which was in contrast to the ideally faithful life that Yahweh demanded.

We find a similar thing in our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul’s understanding of the Gospel was reflected in the way he treated the Gentile Christians. For Paul, through their faith in Christ, the Gentiles were now God’s children just like their Jewish brothers and sisters. That means the Gentiles did not need to follow the Jewish religious law any longer to be accepted as fellow heirs with the Jews because their faith in Christ was enough. Therefore there should no longer be separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, or the non-Jews, in the Church. Later in his letter Paul says that there is no longer Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female because all is one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

Peter, on the other hand, had not been consistent. In some occasions, he seemed to have no problem whatsoever in sharing the meal with the Gentile Christians. Yet, under pressure from the Jewish Christians who believed that Gentiles must be circumcised before they could become Christians, he baulked. In their presence, he separated himself from the Gentile Christians. And by acting like that, he showed that he implicitly supported the kind of gospel that these Jewish Christians proclaimed.

Indeed the way both Paul and Peter understood the Gospel had an impact in the way they treated their fellow Christians.  Likewise their treatment of other Christians spoke of the kind of gospels that they preached. Their action in life was a reflection of what they believed.

Indeed, friends, we cannot separate our social life from our spiritual life. What we do in our social life is a reflection of our spiritual life; of who we are spiritually. People will see Christ through the way we live because our life is the reflection of God whom we worship.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that he liked Christ, but he didn’t like Christians because Christians were unlike Christ. I can understand why he made such comment. Gandhi was once refused to enter into a church because of his race. And he lived in India under the colonial occupation of the British Empire, who claimed itself as a Christian nation, yet was often brutal towards the indigenous population.

Indeed, friends, we need to remember that whatever we say or do in our horizontal relationship with other human beings does not only reflect our vertical relationship with God; it affects it as well. When we violate the rights of another human being, we are violating God who created him/her in God’s own likeness. When we do something wrong to others, we have God to answer to.

When Peter refused to eat with the Gentile Christians, for example, he did not only offend these Gentiles; he offended Christ himself who had died for these people. By not acknowledging the Gentile Christians as fellow members of God’s family, Peter did not only fail to acknowledge the Gentiles; he failed to acknowledge God who had adopted them as God’s children through Christ. By showing in his action that there was still separation between the Jews and the Greeks, he had offended Christ who had joined everyone through his blood.

So remember friends, our life is a reflection of not only who we are, but whom we worship in our life. If we want other people to know Christ, to come closer to him and accept him as their lord, our life must become not a wall, but a bridge that helps them to find him. Amen.

[1] Steve Almasy, Muhammad Ali: Boxing legend, Activist and 'The Greatest' to A World of Fans, on http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/04/world/muhammad-ali-obituary/ (Updated June 4, 2016)

[2] Steve Almasy, Muhammad Ali: Boxing legend, Activist and 'The Greatest' to A World of Fans, on http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/04/world/muhammad-ali-obituary/ (Updated June 4, 2016)

[3] Conor Lane, Muhammad Ali: Five Things You Never Knew about the Boxing Legend, on

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/28/sport/muhammad-ali-five-things-boxing/ (Updated April 28, 2016)

[4] Roger Nam, Commentary on 1 Kings 21:1-10[11-14]15-21a, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1713 (June 16, 2013)

[5] Roger Nam, Commentary on 1 Kings 21:1-10[11-14]15-21a, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1713 (June 16, 2013)