“Caught in the Act”
[The Rev. John Thomas is the immediate past General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. He currently serves as Senior Advisor to the President and Visiting Professor in Church Ministries Chicago Theological Seminary, and is the chair of Churches for Middle East Peace’s Leadership Council. He preached this sermon on the occasion of opening worship of the 2010 CMEP Advocacy Conference in Washington, DC, on Sunday, June 13, 2010.]
Our Hebrew text tonight [I Kings 21:1-20], appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary, is for the preacher what in baseball parlance is referred to as a “gopher ball.” No matter which way you choose to swing, homiletically speaking, with this story of land thievery and dispossession in the Middle East you’re apt to clear the bases, particularly given the context of this conference. We could start with Joshua’s band and the Canaanites, or speak of the various conquests, occupations, and exiles under Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. We could consider the Byzantine Empire or the conquest by the Arabs and the rule of the Caliphs. Or we could consider the Crusaders, followed by the Ottomans and then, perhaps most cynical of all, the mandate of the Western powers after the First World War that carved up these vineyards of countless Naboths for absentee landlords clinging to the last gasp of European colonial rule.
Or, if we wished, we could turn our attention to generations of Naboths living in the urban ghettos and rural villages of Eastern and Central Europe, dispossessed regularly of property and life in the successive pogroms that led on the one hand to the rise of Zionism and, on the other, to the ultimate dispossession not just of land and life but even of culture and people-hood in the Holocaust. And from this, depending on your point of view, we could move on to more possession and dispossession in the eternal sanctuary of Statehood for some, the relentlessly recurring pain of the Nakba for others.