You are welcome to listen to Sunday’s sermon:
it is generally posted Monday, or read below.
Note: after the service continued a youngster (2 or 3) can be head saying “It’s mine, it’s mine” and a little later “I don’t want to.” Perfect behavioral metaphors. I wonder who heard?
Focus: The plumb, the sword and the neighbor.
Function: reaching justice by re-visioning our place in God’s Kingdom
Amos is a herdsman. And when he is not herding flocks, he is dressing, or trimming orchards, specifically Sycamore trees. Nonetheless God calls him to leave his home land of Judah (the southern half of the now divided Kingdom) and go to Israel (the northern half) and point out the injustices and the coming consequences. It is all unusual, and totally unexpected. Both Jeroboam, King of Israel and Uzziah king of Judah have been on their respective thrones for decades. That would indicate a time of stability, and prosperity. [i] Maybe so. The problem is, the stability and prosperity are coming in part from abuse of the poor, from social and economic injustice. Judgment is at hand, Amos says so, and the imagery involved, the plumb line and sword, are symbols of justice and judgment. Like “Lady Justice” with her scales of justice, and her sword of judgment. It’s a paring in tension, seen in many cultures, spanning millennia. Here is the plumb line, by which justice is measured, and the sword, the instrument of judgment, both are prominent in God’s instructions to Amos.
Following the images of justice and judgment, in dynamic tension, we hear from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. If he wrote it, academics are split and timing is difficult it seems to have been written after Paul’s martyrdom. There is even question if was actually to the church in Colossae, because the city was destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. [ii] No matter these details, the author is skilled and does point to issues similar to those on Galatia. New Christians, are being told there is secrete knowledge, gnosis, necessary for salvation, and they must follow a strict Torah piety. Paul, or pseudo Paul, says nope, righteousness and salvation etc. all come from Christ, and everyone who believes in his death and resurrection, thereby have righteousness. There is an argument about behavior, Paul is saying the knowledge of, belief in God in Jesus the Christ involves God pleasing, fruit bearing activity; but not work to earn God’s pleasure, rather we are able to act righteously because we are enabled by, empowered by reflecting on God’s presence, God’s action, in our lives. Moreover, opposed to gnostic, or secrete knowledge, that is given to only a few, the Good News of the Gospel is universal, given to any and every one.
Both the verses from Amos and the opening verses to the Colossians reveal a context that informs the conversation between the lawyer, and Jesus. The lawyer is not so much to trap Jesus; for undisclosed reasons, he wants to know how Jesus thinks you inherit eternal life. The term ‘inherit’ is important, because it reveals that the lawyer understands eternal life on par with other inheritable assets, land, wealth etc. Jesus asks him what he thinks. The lawyer recites the Shema, a classic combination of verses from Deuteronomy [iii] and Leviticus [iv] which every pious, every good Jews recites twice a day. Jesus says: You got it! You know what to. Get to it! The lawyer asks for further clarification: Who is my neighbor? that’s what lawyers do. Why? perhaps he sees the potential for an expanded vision and he is uncomfortable. Perhaps, he just does not want to Get to it. Jesus tells him the story of the good Samaritan, which ends with the question: Who is the man’s neighbor? Unable to say The Samaritan, that’s bordering on an anathema, he answers: The one who showed him mercy. All of us see who the ~ who our neighbor is.
That takes care of the definition of the noun. Underneath all that is the implied definition of the verb neighborly. (Ok ad verb.) And here we run into a double whammy. First of all, we see the unclean, the unacceptable person being neighborly to the clean, to the acceptable. Ouch, its supposed to be other way round. Then, since we are all among the clean, among the acceptable, we realize that we have received ministrations from the unclean, the unacceptable. We haven’t seen it, because we don’t look for it, or worse we expect it.
A simple example. I was with two others on a trip to San Francisco. To get back to our lodgings, we needed to buy a ticket for one stop to the next on the BART. The three of us, two with masters and one with a Doctorate, can’t figure it out. Buy a pass? yea; buy a round trip ticket? yea; buy a one stop ticket from this stop to the next? nope. Suddenly a bag lady appears in front of us, asks what we need, holds out her hand, we fill it with dollars; her hands fly across the kiosk key board, and wha-la we have three one stop tickets. We thank her, tell her to keep the change, and go one our way. We, the acceptable in this culture, were ministered to, heck, rescued by, an unacceptable.
Mine is a humorous story of the clean, the acceptable, being ministered to by the unclean, the unacceptable. Far more significant ministry happens every day, and it goes unnoticed, unappreciated, unacknowledged, and worse expected, a service due the worthy. It is a symptom of the injustice Amos is railing about. It reveals a division implicit in Colossians, those with secrete knowledge and pious behavior, are worthy of such attention. It’s a dangerous place for a society to be. Ask Israel, oh yea, you can’t, they were destroyed.
Does Amos give us cause to reframe, to rethink, to prayerfully discern the multitude of justice debates in our country. You know, the debates about: immigration, health care, marriage equality, banking regulations, agriculture subsidies, food stamps, access to education, voting rights, and more. You bet ~ they are all exactly that Amos is on about. Same is true for Colossians. All these debates are grounded in a division between the worthy, the 1% and everyone else, the now infamous 47%. But there is no division! ALL worth comes form Christ’s death and resurrection. Are there differences between us? Yes; the bible proclaims equality, not a rubber stamp sameness. In God’s eyes all human worth is derived from Christ’s ministry, and everyone, everyone, is a beneficiary, everyone inherits. That is a rub for the Lawyer. It’s a rub for us, with all our differing sorts, sizes, and sources of divisions.
So, there is work to be done, so that justice rolls down like water; there are changes to be made so we can see and be emboldened by the love and hope born of divine wisdom, revealed in the most unexpected people. And it is work, we know how to do. It is work we are capable of doing by the enduring power, and by the relentless presence of God’s love.
[i] Working Preacher, July 14, Amos,
[ii] Working Preacher, July 14, Colossians
[iii] Deuteronomy 6:5
[iv] Letiticus 19:18
Sermons that Work
8 Pentecost, Proper 10 (C) – 2013, Paying the price of mercy,
The Rev. Danae Ashley
Center for Excellence in preaching
Next sunday is July 14, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
Luke 10:25-37, Scott Hoezee
Amos 7:7-17, Scott Hoezee
Colossians 1:1-14, Stan Mast
Who Is My Neighbor? by David Lose
Luke 10:25-37 Michael Rogness
Amos 7:7-17, Karla Suomala
Colossians 1:1-14, Richard Carlson