Go and Do Likewise

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.

 

References

n.d. 9 7 2016. <http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/export-finished?filename=public%3A//export-f8e3d5e9-6fc2-41a1-91d6-8fca42201976.csv&uuid=0484b316-f676-44bc-97ed-ecefeabae077&gt;.

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&gt;.

Fatal Force. 9 7 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/&gt;.

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&gt;.

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/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. The Need for Nearness. 10 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Officer Down Memorial Page. 9 7 2016. <https://www.odmp.org/search/year&gt;.

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/&gt;.

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/&gt;.

Wright, Tom. Twelve Months of Sundays: Years A, B and V. New York: Church Publishing, 2012.

 

 

The presence of God

A Sermon for Proper 10

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 24, Psalm 85:8-13, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

No one knows what happened to the Ark. It is not in the inventory of loot taken when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and took everything and everyone back to Babylon. It is not a part of the Second Temple’s furnishings; by the way, that is the Temple of Jesus’ day. There are many occasions when it could have been destroyed, captured or carried away for safe keeping by either human or divine means. (Sakenfeld) No one really knows when or how it got lost, or where it may be, not even Indiana Jones. I am sure you remember Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you do not, it is worth watching. Spielberg and Lucas did a great job of storytelling about finding the Ark. And they actually got reasonably close to the power and the danger of the Ark in the scene on the Island when the bad guys open it just to be sure it is not empty. Everyone and everything there is destroyed, except Jones and Miriam, who kept their eyes closed and did not look on the presence of God. The movie’s last scene, when the Ark is hidden away, forever lost in a bureaucratic jungle, is a nod to the unpredictability the Ark.

Last week David was anointed king over all Israel. Since then Israel has defeated two Philistine attacks after David consulted with God about what to do. We do not know chose idea it is to go get the Ark, but David does. It may be a deliberate attempt to join his reign with Israel’s ancient religious traditions. The Ark is the home of the Ten Commandments, and God’s footstool on earth. In Moses’ day, Israel took it out in battle, against his wishes, because God will not be with you, and they are defeated. (Num. 14:43) Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land, with the Ark heading the procession. When the Ark is carried into battle, even the Philistines are afraid. Eli’s sons carry the Ark into battle and in a disastrous effort are killed, and the Ark is captured. The Philistines take it into their temple, whereupon the statue of their god falls over, breaking its hands off, and plagues begin to break out. So the Philistines put the Ark on a new cart and set it off, with golden gifts for appeasement. It stops at Kireath-jearim, for twenty years. That is where it is when David goes after it. (Sakenfeld)

In the beginning, things go well enough. The Ark is put in a new cart that Uzzah and Ahio drive. David leading, the procession dances towards Jerusalem with songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals accompanying. Today’s appointed reading skips the verses where Uzzah reaches out to stop the Ark from falling off the cart because the Ox shook it, and dies. We frequently skip over these sorts of uncomfortable verses; they complicate our vision of God. The story goes:

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:7 (NRSV))

It does not seem fair, Uzzah was trying to protect the Ark. I did a little word work in Strong’s Dictionary. The root word of the Hebrew anger means face, the root word of the Hebrew aroused also means glow or blaze, the root word of the Hebrew struck means struck. (Strong’s) So maybe touching the Ark is the same as seeing God’s face, always considered dangerous, which blazes forth, striking Uzzah and killing him. This may make us a little more comfortable, with the unfortunate results of an unintentional act. Still Uzzah is dead as the results of an encounter with God. It is a stark reminder that God’s presence is as dangerous as it is gracious.

Back to the story. David is angry and afraid and leaves the Ark with Obed-edom a Gittite. Remember a Gittite is from Gath, the same Philistine city as Goliath.  (Holman Bible Dictionary) After three months, during which Obed-edom’s household is blessed, David decides the Ark is as much a blessing as it is a danger and returns to complete the journey. There is another procession, which David leads while scantily dressed, perhaps showing he has nothing to hide before God. This procession is also replete with offerings. After their arrival there is a final round of burnt offerings, which are sacrifices to restore relationship with God or atone for sin, (Holman Bible Dictionary) and wellbeing offerings, which are a celebration of peace, or fellowship, part of a covenant agreement or a greeting. (Sakenfeld) After all this all Israel is feed with cakes of flour, cakes of rain and meat.

A couple of observations: David leads the sacrifices much the same way Saul did. Saul’s behavior provokes God’s wrath; David’s does not. This is likely because David is not violating God’s command, we do know David seeks God’s counsel. Secondly, we should not overlook that God blessing is given to Obed-edom a Gittite, a traditional enemy of Israel, God’s chosen people.

There are three elements to this story I want to touch on. First, the religious, political connection. We do not know whose idea it is to go get the Ark. As I mentioned, it might be David’s effort to gain credibility for his reign by connecting to Israel’s ancient religious traditions. We do not like the political implications in scripture. We use the Constitution’s prohibition of the state establishing an official religion as an excuse to separate politics from religion and faith. We cannot read and apply scripture to our lives faithfully without acknowledging the political dimensions in scripture and in our lives.

Buried within a complicated journey story and the story of legitimizing of David’s reign is a story of God’s blessings. I am not at all sure Obed-edom is delighted to have the Ark dropped off in his custody. He must have seen the tragic death of Uzzah and know the danger of the Ark. Nonetheless, the Ark is left on his land. And he and his household are blessed. That is not far from us hearing an irrefutable story of divine blessing upon Iran. It is a stark reminder that God’s grace is God’s, and God’s bestows it upon whomever God chooses. We have got nothing to do with it, and I rather, no I believe we ought not to get angry about it. David does not; in fact, it is Obed-edom’s blessing that shows David that the Ark can be a blessing.

Finally, we have convinced ourselves that God’s presence is all about grace and salvation. However, David Lose says:

… the presence of God on this earth is always a dicey proposition. … the intersection points of the divine with the human can be fraught. … We dare never be casual when it comes to the presence of God. We are right to be thoughtful about how we speak of it and approach it and ponder it. (Lose)

There two elements here I want to consider this morning. The first that God’s grace is God’s, well I suspect I have said enough.

Secondly, what we tend to speak of as God’s grace, our wellbeing, physical and material accoutrements are not grace; they are the results of the complex interactions of how we are a part of the socio-political-economic structures of the world, our country, state, county, and city. Our wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s presence in our lives. Others’ lack of wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s absence from their lives. God is wholly other, and God’s presence is wholly other, never as simple as we desire and always touching and relating everything to everything else. Uzzah died, and every day people die who should not, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. Obed-edom’s household prospered, and every day people prosper, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. The difference between prosperity or death is not God’s presence and grace or lack thereof; the difference well some of the difference is our perception, but especially our judgment of others from our faulty perceptions. There is a sense in this story, that when we stop judging and live fully exposed before God, then everyone can be feed. That sounds a lot to me like the Kingdom come to earth. AMEN.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2015. 12 7 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 6:15, 12b-19. 12 7 2015.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 2 Samuel 6,” 12 7 2015. Working Preacher.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Lose, David. Pentecost 7 B: A Tale of Two Kingdoms. 12 7 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net&gt;.

Petersen, David and Roberts Gavenat Beverly. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. e-book.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

What an unexpected blessing.

I own a dog, but that doesn’t qualify has being a herdsman. And I nearly fell out of the last tree I was attempting to trim, and I standing on the ground at the time, so being a dresser of sycamore trees is absolutely out of the question. As to writing in the style of another in an effort to continue the proclamation of the Gospel, well, I’m not exactly sure what my style is, and my tendency to free flow, would make epistle writing a risky venture. Therefore, I am off the hook, no drastic prophecies to pronounce to the rival kingdom, and no epistolary expectations.

However, I do live in a community with nefarious divisions. There are ‘false’ teachers proclaiming alternative ways to true living, mostly to do with “I” this or “I” that, and what values each individuals chooses as it fits the moment. And, there are folks who are in a ditch, by accident, by consequences of their own unfortunate choices, and as the results of falling among robbers.  Therefore I am drawn by the parabolic answer to the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbor?” not only to preach and teach, but also to reach to and off assistance.

I am also taunted by the lawyer’s answer to Jesus’ question “Who was the neighbor?” i.e. “The one who showed him mercy.” Which turns the table, turn the relationship around. As the parable begins it is a (presumably) one from the proper class who falls among robbers. The answer to Jesus’ last question is paraphrased “One of the not so proper class is neighbor.” I.E. proper folk need to be aware of from whom and when they receive the ministrations of the not so proper folks. And as we weave together today’s reading from Luke, and Colossians we begin to understand there is no proper and not so proper the is just folks, so everyone needs to be aware of whom they receive ministry from.

 

Herds and orchards aside, there is some prophetic work to be done. Not so apocalyptic as Amos (I hope), but uncomfortable none the less. Looks like I may be enmeshed in this herding, dresser, epistolary quagmire after all. What an unexpected blessing.