Monday, 10 January 2011 00:00

“The Word in a Time of Peace”, January 9, 2011

“The Word in a Time of Peace”
Amos 1:1, 5:1-24
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 9, 2011
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

The story of Amos

Reader 1:    Hi, so glad to meet you.  Is this your first time here?  

Reader 2:    Yes, It looked like a nice place to worship.  

Reader 1:    Oh, it is.  I think you’ll really like it here.  We are all united in our love of God and our love and caring of one another.  

AMOS:    The word of God came to Amos, a shepherd.  “Hear this word of lamentation, O house of Israel: Fallen, no more to rise, is maiden Israel; forsaken on her land, with no one to raise her up. For thus says YHWH: The city that marched out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which marched out a hundred shall have ten left.

Reader 1:    It is so great to worship everything that our God has given to us.  We haven’t been at war in years, at least on our soil.  We have all of the creature comforts.  We’ve just voted in great leaders who make us feel good about ourselves (and of course bad about our enemies).  Nothing can stop us.  We’ve got the big mo, you know, momentum.

AMOS:     Wake up.  Seek me and live, says God.   I’m talking to you, the one who turns justice to wormwood, and brings righteousness to the ground!  I am God.  I made the Pleiades and Orion.  I turn deep darkness into the morning, and darken the day into night.  I call for the waters of the sea, and pour them out on the surface of the earth.  I make destruction flash out against the strong.

Reader 2:    Did you hear something?

Reader 1:    Oh, it’s just that bleeding heart Amos.  Ranting day in and day out.  I just tune him out.  Life is too short for that kind of lunacy. I mean who does he think he is?  He’s just jealous of us because of what we have.  We have this great building, our land is at peace.  There is not a worry in the world.  Doesn’t he know that our prosperity is because we are blessed by God?  

AMOS:     They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Reader1:     BORING. What I love the most about this place is that in here, were sheltered from the world.  We can ignore everything else and just pay attention to our personal relationship with our savior.  That’s what it’s really all about.  Yes, me and God, that’s what it’s all about.  Don’t you see?

Reader 2:     Well…    

AMOS:     Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Reader 1:    I wish he would keep silent.

Reader 2:    Maybe he has something important to say.

Reader 1:    Trust me, he doesn’t.  All of the important things you need to know come from right inside this building.  Don’t trouble yourself with this guy and his fantasies.

AMOS:    Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so YHWH, the God of hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that YHWH, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Reader 2:    Aren’t religious people supposed to take care of the poor?

Reader 1:    That’s what we pay taxes for.  Certainly we religious people have better, more noble priorities.  Just ignore him, that’s what I do.  Oh, do you see the cute hat Antigone is wearing?  I love it.

AMOS:    I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Reader 1:    Oh and the smell of the meat?  Yep, Zephaniah can cook up some good tasting sacrificial lambs.  

AMOS:    Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.

Reader 1:    And I love the gold leaf we’ve added to the temple here.  It sets off the teak, don’t you think?  Cedars of Lebanon, thank you for your sacrifice.  What nice paneling.  I tell you, we are the talk of the region. I feel so at home here, so close to God.

AMOS:    I hate, I despise your feasts….

Reader 1:    Did you see the vestments on our Rabbi?  Our knitting group made those.  Don’t you love our music?  We have the very best organ in the country.  Even special instrumentalists.    

AMOS:    Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Reader 2:    You know, you’ve got a really nice place here.  But I’m not sure it’s right for me.  I wish you the best.  

Reader 1:    Well at least take a mug with you.  
Some people are never satisfied.

The Sermon

I had a sermon all ready to be preached this morning.  It was all about the prophet Amos and how he had a hard word to share to the people in the time when everything was going great.  At least that’s what it seemed like on the surface.  There was peace in the land.  There was financial security.  There was a sense of purpose.  The people were prosperous.  All was right with the world, or so it seemed.


Amos was the prophet who said that there was something seething under the surface.  He called it idolatry, this thought that security meant that we did not need to give any critical thinking about our very lives.  God through Amos said that true worship is true peace, true justice, true compassion, true mercy.  That’s what God pays attention to.

Amos was their wake-up call.  And he was pretty much ignored.

We have had our share of Amos-like wake-up calls these past 36 hours or so.

Of course we think about the awful shooting in Arizona by a clearly deranged individual.  Was he egged on by those who called for political opponents to be taken out?  Certainly the rhetoric of demonization of opponents is a factor in this.  We mourn for all of the families of those lost and injured in this vicious attack.  But we also realize that there is a part of us that has been attacked.  Is it our complacency, our religion, our security, our safety?

Diana Butler Bass wrote in a blog yesterday, "Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans--how much we've allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we've allowed our discourse to become, how little we've listened, how much we've dehumanized public servants, how much we hate."

Amos says to let justice roll down like waters.  What will letting justice roll down look like?  Will it be just the conviction of the gunman, or will it be in the addressing the larger issues of violence and vilification of enemies.  When this vilification of enemies wears a Christian face, then it is truly sinister.  Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  This means creating a society where we can love and respect those with whom we disagree.  If we could set that as the norm of society, that would be a great use of our Christian ingenuity.

The second part of Amos 5:24 says “Let righteousness flow like an everflowing stream.”   Justice and righteousness are closely linked and compliment each other.  This means morality and ethics and right living.  Let righteousness, lour moral integrity never be compromised.  Don’t go down to the lowest common denominator.  Don’t demonize enemies.  Hold them accountable and hold their actions as warnings of how our collective moral compass is mis-aligned.  When we all live with justice and righteousness, it’s like a river of paradise, an everflowing stream that begets mercy, compassion and love—not violence, hatred and terror.  Love, said Martin Luther King, Gandhi and implied Jesus is stronger than hate.

Then there is our dear fellow member and Christian sister Jan who committed suicide on Friday.  What is the word in the midst of this?

We know that mental illness is a hard struggle.  And we know that Jan was really hurting and had been hurting for a long time.  We know she valiantly struggled to stay with us.  Many people in this church helped her and certainly her family did too. Ultimately she was unable to envision a life with this pain.  Her pain is gone now and she is in a place where pain and suffering are no more.  But whenever suicide happens, the pain gets transferred to those left behind.  And we end up scratching and clawing for a foothold on a surface that has been shattered.

What I notice is that this is not an isolated incident.  Suicide has touched all of us, probably more than we care to admit.  When I mentioned last week how my cousin had committed suicide on Christmas Eve, many of you came up to me with words of condolence and stories of people who have similarly struggled and also committed suicide.  And we live with those holes in our lives, those scars on our psyches.  We don’t talk too much about it.  It’s way too difficult.  It’s potentially toxic.  And yet it’s something many of us carry.

Jan was quick to say in the notes left behind that no one was at fault for her suicide.  All indications are that she planned it out a while ago.  But that doesn’t make it easier for us to deal with it.  We deal with survivors guilt.  What could I have done?  How could I have been a better friend, a better family member, a better church member?  How could I have saved her?  This is a part of the grief process.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross spoke about the stages of grief.  There is shock, that numbness that washes over us when we hear such news.  Then there is denial—this didn’t really happen.  I must have misunderstood.  I’m going to wake up from  this nightmare any time now.  This is followed by bargaining—If I had only done this, only said that, then this would not have happened.  Next comes anger—anger at the one who has died, anger at God anger at each other.  Finally comes acceptance.   They say that you need eight hours of telling the story to move from one stage to the other.  And even if you move through the stages, they can start up again at any time—often unpredictably.  We need to be tender with each other as we deal with grief.

I wonder what Amos would say about our desire not to talk about such things.  Might he say, stop with the singing and going through the rituals and get really into it.

So here we are as the people of God touched by violence, done to others, done to us.  How do we respond?

We’ll have the chance to celebrate her life and remember her on Thursday afternoon.  But for right now, I wonder if we might take an opportunity to reflect upon what all of this means in our context.

I invite you to call to mind those places of sorrow and those people who are struggling.  Call them to mind.  Hold them tightly.  Think of those places where you hold grief.  Hold it tenderly.  Surround that broken part of you and our community with compassion, modeling the very Christ that we follow.

One of Jan’s realities was that she was part of a recovery community.  It helped her as it has helped many people in the dark night of their souls.  People speak what is on their hearts and support each other in their struggles.  I’d like us to take a few moments here to talk about what is on our hearts and minds as we deal with these tragic events.  The usher will bring a microphone to you and let’s tenderly hold each other as we seek to give voice to our longings and our grief.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the 8th chapter of Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39)

I know that we cannot stop people we love from making such choices, permanent solutions to temporary problems.

But I know that if we seek to be the community of Christ, we can and do hold tightly those who struggle and hurt.  And by our presence, we can hold each other up.  I saw it in you last week as you held me up in prayer and support in my own grief.  I saw it yesterday at Dave and Ellie’s house where a spontaneous group of UBCers gathered to offer food, wisdom, support and assistance.

I see it here in the tears and in the hearts, broken and hearts open with the love of God.  It was that open heart of love that drew Jan here.  And that broken heart still holds each of us as we hold each other and we seek to be God’s people in the midst of this.

I don’t know what new challenge tomorrow brings, but I know that tomorrow brings people who will hold us up and hold us tight.  This is what real religion is.

Thank you, Amos for reminding us.

Thank you God for Jan.  May we remember her and learn anew the ways of compassion.  May love, mercy, compassion and even hope flow like an everflowing stream of your Grace.  Amen.