A sermon for Proper 10; Amos 7:7-17, Psalm 82, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
This past week has been all jumbled up; July 4th was the 5th and the 5th was 4th. Our family was here the 6th to the 8th; all three grands 18 months, 24 months and 7 years were frolicking around. The 6 adults were outnumbered. However, Angie and I had a great time even as we were left exhausted.
Friday afternoon the time came to write my sermon for today, and I experienced tabula rasa, a blank tablet, no ideas, not even after an inspirational nap. On Saturday morning I discovered that although I prayed office daily, I had not done my customary reflections; this is one more reason I was emotionally and spiritually drained. Nonetheless the divine muse in gracious.
This year our family celebrated the Declaration of Independence by excising our independence. Our oldest and family are moving ½ way across the country so she can start CRNA School. They travel on safe roads free of fear of prowlers. We gathered at our home cars parked askew ventured forth to get whatever we needed whenever we needed it. We entertained ourselves and grands with all sorts of available gizmos, videos, movies, and. music. Come Friday morning our daughters and families went on their way, and we had no concern for they safety.
Of course, all our blessings are in multiple contexts: our independence, the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the shootings of police in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri (fox 2 now). And these events are in the larger context of: 57 Law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty this year; 26 by shootings (Officer Down); 509 people killed by police so far in 2016 (Fatal Force); 179 mass shootings (which is defined as 4 or more victims) in which 712 people were injured, and 256 people were killed (Gun Violence Archive); in a country with 4.4% of world’s population and 22 percent of the global prison population (Lee). Generally, there have been two ever increasing virulent reactions to all this: demands for more gun control, and demands for more defense of the right to self-defense in the form of carrying a weapon. In addition, the Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter mini-movements have evolved into movements which do and do not say the same thing.
What I have come to realized is that none of what these movements, positions, stories or statistics are what we think they are or think they are about causality. The truth is all the above are symptoms of far deeper more troubling problems; both of which are addressed in today’s readings.
Amos lived in the reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah in the mid to late 700s BCE. It was a period of unprecedented economic growth and political stability. The growth of economy brought about changes in the demographic pattern. The elites controlled the trade, so they were the beneficiaries of those lucrative enterprises. Everyone else was oppressed by taxes, indebtedness predatory creditors and corrupt courts (Sakenfeld). The Plumb Line Amos sees is a complex interpretation which could also be ‘tin’ or ‘plaster;’ however, the significance is clear. God will no longer overlook the failures of Israel, primarily economic oppression (Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-12; 8:46). The image is a warning about Israel’s self-delusion (Gaventa and Petersen).
Amaziah is chief priest Bethel, a long established Temple. Amos prophesies the destruction of the Temple and Israel
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword (Amos 7:9)
Amaziah tells Amos:
[Go] away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom. (Amos 7:12)
Amaziah cannot see that Israel has become a pagan land (Bratt). A truth revealed in his claiming that the Temple is the King’s and the Nation’s which means it is not God’s. It is disturbing to realize Amaziah believes he is doing his sacred duty (Parsons). This raises two deeply profound questions. As professed followers of Jesus, whose interest are we really serving? As a self-declared Christian nation whose interest are we really serving? There is a widely held belief that biblical ethics have nothing to do with politics (Epperly). There is a more widely held belief that biblical ethics, beyond concerns of sexuality, have nothing to do with politics, economics, justice, health care, education, national defense or any other governance concern. Whose interest are we serving?
It is deeply disturbing for the church that Amos claims he is not a prophet or son of a prophet. This is not a statement about his lineage it is a proclamation that he is: not a professional prophet; not a member of the court; not a member of the prophet guild (Bratt). Amos’ rejection of official structures challenges the Church, in all her many forms to give up our privileged positions within the culture and speak the deadly truth. We should not be fooled, the decline in church attendance is not necessarily a sign of declining privilege. This story calls us to embrace the prophetic role that speaks the truth that decreases the distance between our competing cultures and God. It requires reducing resistance, including ours, to change (Jolly) especially change of our views of others. People who live in poverty do not choose to live in poverty. People who live in poverty are not the subjects of divine punishment for some sin. People live in poverty because We the People choose not to see them as the image of God they are.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is even more difficult to hear. First, we have to get by the misadventure story. Then we have to get by the character development story. It is only when we get to the exploration of the parable as literature that we can glean the fullest truth. Everyone expects that the priest and Levite will stop and render aid. Like Amaziah, they are the professionals of the Temple and Court. Like the Lawyer we see the Samaritan’s abundance of compassion. And like the Lawyer we miss his abundant wealth; he has a donkey and leaves two day’s wage with a stranger with an unlimited promise to cover whatever the stranger’s needs are. The Samaritan also gives from freely from his abundance of wealth. And remember wealth is supposedly a sign of divine blessings. We read that the Samaritan is “moved with pity.” (Luke 10:33) This phrase is used only 3 times in all of Luke. The other two times it is Jesus who is moved with pity (Luke 7:13, 15:20). The Lawyer describes the Samaritan’s action as an act of mercy (Parsons). In Luke, acts of mercy are always associated with God or God’s agents (Parsons). Jesus tells the lawyer to “Go and do likewise.” in essence, he is telling the Lawyer – a very pious and proper Jew to go be a Samaritan.
Both readings redefine traditional boundaries and move them further than we typically think. The Samaritans are not just our neighbors; we are the Samaritans’ neighbors (Wright). It is more than loving our neighbor; it is accepting love from our neighbor (Gaventa and Petersen). Both readings offend the status quo; they upset the deeply held values of socio-political thoughts; both Republican, Democratic, or whatever. Amaziah cannot see that Israel is half dead. The Lawyer cannot see that Israel is the man in the ditch (Wright). Both readings give us cause to stop and look not at what we say, not at the accouterments of position or titles but how we behave, to towards each other, and especially to the outsiders.
When folks ask me “How are things going?” I frequently reply: “If someone is not angry with me, I’m not doing my job.” My trouble is no one is near angry enough with me. Today I am realizing just how deep that truth is for all of us. Today I realize just what that reveals about my behavior, and our behavior as individuals, as a church, as a community, and as a nation. There is work to be done change to accept change to make.
One commentator wrote about FDR’s efforts to hide his paralysis. Some efforts were extreme, like building ramps his car can drive up on. Some efforts were subtle, like painting his braces the same color black of his suit pants. There was one exception. FDR always was in his wheelchair when he went to visit veterans’ in the hospital. There he knew the calling was to share the truth of his life.
We can follow FDR’s example. In fact, we can expand it. We can change our behaviors and share all the truth of who we are. And when we have done that, we can be vulnerable to change, vulnerable to our neighbors closing the distance between ourselves and God.
After the end of WWII, the Anglican Communion realized it needed to change the relationship between the United States & the Church of England and other provinces. One effort was titled Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in Christ. It sought to live into the Christian ideal that we are all mutually responsible and interdependence to each other in Christ.
- Amaziah and Amos are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- The Samaritan, the man in the ditch and the Lawyer, are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- Black and Whites, rich and poor are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- Christians, Jews, Muslims and all faiths are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- Police and citizens are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- Bomb-wielding terrorist and drone flying armies are mutually responsible and interdependent.
- Banks, Corporate Executives, the one percent, the ten percent and the shrinking middle class and the persistent poverty classes are mutually responsible and interdependent.
The truth is all the world has claimed what is God’s as ours; all the world is in the ditch. God is calling more than one prophetic voice to speak the truth revealing the way back to the divine-human intimacy God desires. All the world, all nations, peoples, tribes, cities, villages, families, and individuals are called to cross our unapproachable boundaries. As we speak to truth to strangers who do not want to hear it; and hear the truth from strangers we do not want to trust; share from our abundance of wealth and grace, with others many declare as undeserving and as we receive from the undeserving their abundance of grace and wealth we will begin to notice God’s gift of intimacy, which comes to us through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. From there we will just simply go and do likewise.
Bratt, Doug. Proper 10 Amos 7:7-17. 10 7 2016.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Fatal Force. 9 7 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 10 Luke. 10 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Jolly, Marshall A. “Are We Ready to Hear the Truth? Proper 10 (C).” 10 7 2016. Sermons that Work.
Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. The Washington Post. 15 4 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/04/30/does-the-united-states-really-have-five-percent-of-worlds-population-and-one-quarter-of-the-worlds-prisoners/>.
Lewis, Karoline. The Need for Nearness. 10 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Officer Down Memorial Page. 9 7 2016. <https://www.odmp.org/search/year>.
Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:25-37. 10 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Police say officers have been targeted in Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. 8 7 2016. <http://fox2now.com/2016/07/08/police-say-officers-have-been-targeted-in-missouri-georgia-and-tennessee/>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Amos 7:717. 10 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Wright, Tom. Twelve Months of Sundays: Years A, B and V. New York: Church Publishing, 2012.