A Sermon for Proper 11: Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
Monday my attention was on the march on the bridge in Memphis. Then Thursday night I read about the terrorist attack in Nice France. After all the previous mass tragedies or terroristic events, I felt the horror of those events. I’ve grieved for the losses of people and families. But I was not concerned nor afraid. Thursday night, for the first time, my emotions were somewhere between fear and concern. I was not afraid nor concerned for myself. I was, and still am, deeply aware that people who I believe can take a moderate, thoughtful approach are going to have to DO something that at least begins to visibly reduces threats; or more radical forces will gain, default, social approval to DO something, and all indicators are it will be overly drastic. The truth is; I was more than a bit off center. Friday morning’s Episcopal Café – Speaking to the Soul posting (L. Walsh), which drawn from Romans (12:9-21).
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
For those of you who are long timers in the Diocese, some verses may sound familiar; they are part of the blessing Bp. Maze pronounced. But it is verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. that caught my attention. For the first time, I saw Do not be overcome by evil is not about being overcome by an external evil force. It is about not being overcome through unthoughtful, prayer-less, reflexive actions to horrific terrors of the world; some of which may be the perversity of numbers; some of which may well be evil. And overcoming evil with good is not a battle strategy, it is a matter of ethics. In the United States ethics is classically about making the right decision; or after the fact, evaluating if the best decision was made and the unthinkable still happens, i.e. your loved one is among the .1% who suffers from a severe or a mortal side effect of a product or some random event. Another ethics methodology begins with an event that draws our attention and then asks two questions
- What contributed to this that can be eliminated?
- What is to be done from here for those who are affected?
It turns out today’s lectionary readings speak to the subject of our response to police shootings & abuse of force, the shooting of police, mass shootings, and to terrorist attacks that may or may not appear as any of previous.
Amos has something to say about not being overcome by evil. Remember he is prophesying in Israel. Times are really – really good. If you want to get an idea, read the books of Kings and Chronicles. It is best to read them in parallel to each other because they are written from opposing sides of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, Southern Kingdom. But beware, the flow of the story is not comfortable. Many of today’s social, political, economic, and religious concerns are apparent in these stories; which is where Amos’ comes in.
Today we heard him challenge the behavior of the prevailing merchant and well to do classes.
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
He quotes them saying:
We will make the ephah (which is a unit of measure, about a bushel (ISB)) too small and the shekel (a weighted out unit of money – maybe $400 – $500 (truthsaves.org)) great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.
In short, it was accepted practice for those with the ability to cheat everyone else; you know the modern business practices I’m referring to. It is accepted to manipulate the circumstance to take unjust advantage of a person, or people of another status. For example, the colonialism practice of stripping mineral wealth of a colony or occupied country. Amos is blunt; there will be consequences.
I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head;
Turning feast into mourning is Thursday night in Nice when the celebration of independence is turned into the mourning those killed by a terrorist attack. Turning songs into lamentations is having your favorite concerts become funeral dirges, like Orlando. But what is really condemning is the prophecy that
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.
God will no longer speak to Israel. I want, I need to hear the Word of God.
The most difficult part of determining what contributed to a horrible tragedy that can be eliminated is the honest appraisal of our own complicity. As President Bush said in Dallas
Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions (Time).
Also in Dallas President Obama said:
We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid, … We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and co-workers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts (NYT).”
It will not be easy to change. Nonetheless, I believe change begins with us, and that we can change; and as we say in our Baptismal Covenant: “We will with God’s help.”
When we have been honest, and when we have identified actionable behaviors, our and others what are we to do? Martha and Mary share an unexpected insight.
We all know Martha is busy tending to Jesus and her guest. We forget such hospitality is culturally mandated. From a strict cultural perspective, Martha is right; and Mary is a slacker (Hoezee, Proper 11 Luke10:38-42; Parsons; Lewis). So what is Jesus saying when he tells Martha … there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part. The language is complex, and thanks to my colleague Steve who unpacked it all. It seems Martha is completely distracted. Body and soul she is in turmoil, filled with anxiety (Pankey). Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, in her audacious act, of putting herself in the exclusive role of a male, she is at peace; not because she chooses to act against tradition or law, but because she is focused on Jesus, the Word of her God. So when we have identified actionable behaviors, we must keep our focus on Jesus, the Word of God. Paul shares a couple of reasons why.
First, though it is the last phrase we hear this morning, is that our purpose is the same as Paul’s to make the word of God fully known. We cannot make the Word of God know if we are distracted by any of life’s turbulences, be they the demands of hospitality or the threats of mass shooters, terrorists, wildfire, tornados, or thunderstorms that knock all the power out, or whatever. Staying focused on Jesus, the Word of the Lord will empower us to see the with wisdom and to do what needs to be done. Paul also refers to Jesus as the firstborn of all creation, and of the dead. In the ancient Jewish world, the character of the ‘first’ of anything is imputed as the character of all that follows. Jesus is first of all, thus all of us, all humanity are agents of God, as Jesus is the agent of God. We and all humanity stand before God, as Jesus stands before God.
As we begin to believe this of ourselves, we are able to ~ well you’ve heard the benediction “do what others claim cannot be done.” As we believe this of others, we begin to see them as the agents of God and respect and relate to them as the agents of God. In this way, we can respect the hurtful experiences of others. Then we can change our behaviors. Next, we can work to eliminate social traditions, legal and judicial obstacles so We the People, all created equal, may find the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness the work of the grace of God.
Bratt, Doug. Proper 11 Center for Excellence in Preaching Amos 8:1-12. 17 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Couey, Blake. Commentary on Amos 8:112. 17 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 17 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 11 Luke10:38-42. 17 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
—. Proper 11 Colossians 1:15-28. 17 7 2016.
Hoffacker, Charles. “Passionate Spirituality, Proper 11 (C).” 17 7 2016. Sermons that Work.
ISB. “EPHAH (2).” INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA. Ed. James Orr. WORDSearch, 2014.
Lewis, Karoline. No Comparison. 17 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
NYT. obama-dallas-attacks-speech. 13 7 2016. <http://http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/us/politics/obama-dallas-attacks-speech.html?_r=0 m/2016/07/13/us/politics/obama-dallas-attacks-speech.html?_r=0 >.
Pankey, Steve. “Unprecedented levels of distraction.” 11 7 2016. Draughting Theology. <https://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/unprecedentedlevelsofdistraction/>.
Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:3842. 17 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Time. george-w-bush-speech-dallas-shooting-memorial-service. 12 7 2016. <http://time.com/4403510/george-w-bush-speech-dallas-shooting-memorial-service>.
truthsaves.org. the-value-of-a-sheke. n.d. 15 7 2016. <shekel – http://truthsaves.org/articles/the-value-of-a-shekel/>.
Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 1:1528. 17 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Walsh, Laura. Speaking to the Soul: Overcoming Evil. 15 7 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-overcoming-evil/>.