A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Called Out: Sermon on Amos 2 June 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 13, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. We continue our sermon series on the prophet Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters.

The texts were:
Amos 2: 6-16
Mark 11: 15-19

Young Friends Message: Gather the younger members together (if you’re doing that right now!) and tell them that you have 11 fingers. They will tell you that you are wrong. But do the old trick: “See I’m going to count them! One, two, skip these three, (start counting fingers on the other hand) four, five, six, seven, eight, (move back to the three fingers you skipped), nine, ten, eleven!” They will probably get all riled up and tell you that you did it wrong. You can egg them on a little and do it again if you want! But in the end, let them teach you that yes, you do only have 10 fingers….(unless you really have eleven and then congrats!) Talk about how you are grateful that they taught you how to count correctly and sometimes we need someone to tell us when we’re off course. Our Amos and Mark stories are about this. It was more serious than just counting, the Israelites were not treating each other very well and needed God to point it out. Amos was the person God sent to them to point this out and of course, God sent Jesus too! Jesus not only told us what we should do but showed us. Jesus actions in turning over the tables and wanting to stop people from being cheated and losing their money that they needed for food tells us that sometimes you have to not only need words but actions to show us how we can learn differently and do better. We’re going to talk a little more about that.

I heard a song this morning from Cold Play called Clocks. A line in it always hits home for me: “am I part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?” One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life, is how to be wrong. Maybe it is for you as well, but as a self-proclaimed, always in recovery perfectionist, it is really quite devastating to not know something or to get something wrong. To be wrong on one thing, to me, feels like negating everything I do know, or the things I do get correct. As I look around the social media and even just the mainstream media landscape, I don’t think I’m alone. And what I have learned is that there are times when I NEED to know that I have messed up, to hear the truth that I have harmed someone, that I have made a situation less safe or have been unhelpful. To only give me participation trophies doesn’t help me either. Some of the most difficult learning I have had to do has come in the past couple of years around my privilege as a well-educated, white upper middle class woman in the US. When someone first made me aware of this, I bristled. My immediate response (that thankfully I didn’t voice out loud) was one of indignance, to list off the ways I have had to work hard, make smart choices, lift myself up by my bootstraps and to defend that my privilege wasn’t an obstacle for me to unlearn. I mean, I didn’t grow up rich, I’ve had some sort of job since I was 12 and I worked really hard in school to get good grades. I deserved everything I have, right?
Well, maybe not so fast, I have since unraveled. Through classes where I had to confront my whiteness and economic privilege, to immersion experiences that revealed how much I didn’t know, to personal conversations where friends of color loved me enough to tell me the truth of what they were experiencing from me. All these situations were indeed uncomfortable, devastating in some cases, and they were necessary. I had to hear the truth, to be reminded that the privilege isn’t who I truly am, that someone’s lack of privilege and resources isn’t who they truly are either. And all these situations are ones that I now know were holy ones. Holy in that they were set apart, consecrated experiences where God’s Holy Spirit could find a crack in my façade to invade me for the sake of transforming my thoughts, words and actions into ones that told the true story of who I am as a child of God, part of God’s work on earth. And as part of that true story, I also have accountability to tell it, to live it. I’m not saying that we have to earn God’s love and grace, oh no, far from it. I am saying that in order to honor God’s love and grace that God so generously and with abandon pours out on us all, we have something at stake in responding to it in kind. Often, this is where I fall short, where I don’t want to do the hard work of living in a way that honors other people’s dignity and human flourishing. I want what is cheap, easy and fast, even if it is to the detriment of someone else, and it often is.

We have the current public debate if this is “call-out culture” or “cancel-culture.” People’s feathers get ruffled when they are held accountable for actions and words that publicly disrespect or harm another human being. I mean, they said or did those things before with no consequences. Why does it matter now? I personally think the move towards holding people accountable for their actions and words is a good and healthy thing. Without consequences and accountability, we lose the ability to live in true community where life flourishes for all, not just for some. And we must possess the humility to realize when we are the ones that need to be held accountable and experience consequences.

Amos knows that the people of Israel would have a hard time with this call-out of their actions and deeds. It’s why, as we read last week, he started with the other nations, circling around Israel and zeroing in like a bullseye on the northern kingdom. Israel might have had a sense of satisfaction as they heard Amos skewering their enemies for war crimes. When they heard the oracle against their kin nation of Judah, they might have been a bit more nervous, but were still ready to point the finger at them. And then the boom lowered here in chapter 2, verse 6: And for three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not revoke the punishment. But instead of a list of crimes that they have committed against other nations, like what was previously stated, it was a long laundry list of how they were treating each other in their own nation. They were abandoning the covenant in the commandments, those with privilege, voice and status were not caring for their neighbor but were getting richer, ensuring self-comfort, and securing their own futures at the expense of fellow Israelites. High taxes on wine, keeping cloaks from people who were in poverty and would sleep outside at night, worshiping at other altars, denying justice for those without means, perverting family relationships. Amos reminds them of their identity, who they are and who’s they are: God’s. God who freed them from slavery, who protected and cared for them in the desert. God who brought them to the promised land, God who gave them all that they have. God whom they now ignore, neglect and want to relegate to only one day a week, and a few festivals throughout the year. God wasn’t going to let them off the hook; God loved them too much for that.

The consequences were coming, and they would be severe. We have to be clear that God isn’t causing the consequences, the people of Israel were, just as we cause the societal consequences we are experiencing today. God uses Love and Logic parenting, i.e. natural consequences. When you don’t take care of those who need it, eventually, you too will need care, and there won’t be anyone to help you. A society that refuses to acknowledge and reconcile the harm perpetrated on any segment of the population, is setting itself up to be conquered eventually. Perhaps not a military conquest as in the history of Israel, but conquered by hate, fear, division, greed and perhaps the deadliest, our egos. We send ourselves into exile. We cause our own demise. We think that we can prepare: create an army, build a wall, drive the stock market higher, hoard our finances, deny our vulnerability, or the vulnerability of the environment, or outsmart, outwit and outplay God. But God is clear that none of those things stand a chance against the truth of God’s power in the world for love and wholeness. Nothing can bear the magnitude of God’s grace.

God sends Jesus right into the thick of humanity’s injustices to call us out to another way. Not to let us off the hook, but to call us out to respond to God’s love and grace for us. Jesus calls us out-for God simply won’t stand by while we literally kill ourselves and each other-God cares too much about us all to let that happen. Jesus calls us out and we listen and then respond. We respond-not with defensiveness and contempt for the messenger but with humility, love and grace. We respond how Jesus showed us to respond: with actions that yes, might put our actual lives on the line, by giving up our comfort, our status quo, our standard of living, our privilege, our ego, to give up everything we might know. To flip the tables on our own thinking, words and actions, so that we can flip the tables of society to live as God envisions. As followers of Jesus, we are indeed called out, called out for justice, called out for love, called out for grace, called out for mercy, called out for hope in the Kin-dom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

Loaded Words: Sermon on Amos 1 (Beginning of our sermon series on Amos)

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 6, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. It is week one of our sermon series on Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters

The texts were:
Amos 1:1-2:5
Mark 6: 1-6

Young Friends Message: Have the first verses of John 1 (as many as you need for the number of children/youth you have or solicit some adult help! I only used the first two verses.) printed out. I broke them down into small phrases and numbered the phrases 1-6.  Distribute them to the children/youth randomly. Make sure they are not in numerical order! Go around your circle or group randomly and ask the children/youth to read their phrase. It will be all jumbled! Then ask them to read in numerical order. It will make sense! We have to start at the beginning for things to make sense, and sometimes that’s hard for us! But God always starts at the beginning with us, which is the story of life that is about love and wholeness for all. We’re learning about Amos for the next few weeks and we’re starting with his words on how God is the Lord of all nations, everyone no matter what. It’s a good place to start and a reminder for us that God is STILL the Lord of everyone in the world, and loves us all. We’re going to talk more about how we can tell the story of God’s love for the world, even if the words are hard and might sound scary.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start isn’t it? There is so much that you want or need to say that it’s hard to not blurt every thought inside your head out at once. Particularly when there is a lot of emotion involved, or when it’s words that have been welling up inside of you for a long time and the dam that is your filter can’t contain them anymore. The last time I preached on Amos was kinda like that! I love the prophetic literature in the Bible so much that I get really excited when I get to preach on them. I fancy myself a solid preacher/writer but even I forget basics from time to time. When I was on internship, Amos 5 came up in the lectionary on my week to preach. I was fresh off of a class on the prophets so I had ALL THE WORDS about Amos. I felt the pressure of having to say everything, to convey the importance of it all at one time. And to the chagrin of the congregation, for about 25 minutes, I indeed told them all the words on Amos. After church my dear, supportive, husband, looked at me and said, “that was a fabulous sermon SERIES on Amos.” Yes, I had preached a whole sermon series in one sermon…not recommended by the way. We have since referred to it as the “Amos incident” and when I muse that I am concerned my sermon might be too long, Mike will say “it’s not the Amos Incident again is it?” He’s looking out for all of you! I promise that this sermon won’t become a hostage situation. The good news for you is that this IS a sermon series on Amos for the next six weeks so I don’t have to tell you everything today! I can filter all my words.

The gift of a prophet, as we see in our biblical literature, is that they too often filter their words, they speak to a specific people, in a specific time, with a specific message. They actually don’t try and give people all the information all at once and it’s why God sent multiple prophets. Each one has a message from God that only they can tell with their particular personality and skill. Prophets have laser focus that cut through the curtains that veil the people’s vision from seeing what God sees and what God wants the people to see. Prophets offer a lay of the cultural landscape, a truth telling that is hard to hear and hard to ignore. And true prophets speak hard things out of love and concern for people, not out of spite, hate or division. Prophets tell people what is really happening, even if the people don’t like it, even to their own risk, demise and ostracization. We are blessed with many prophets throughout the ages into today. Amos, Elijah, Isaiah, Paul, Martin Luther, MLK Jr. Lenny Duncan, and more.
Like most prophets in the OT, Amos wasn’t a full-time religious person. Amos was a 8th century BCE, middle-class herder, and orchard owner. He knew a bit of the geopolitical landscape around him, but he was basically an ordinary person who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Amos heard the voice of God, heard words from God he couldn’t ignore and a message that was too important to keep to himself. He had a loaded message of repentance and devastation for the people of God. His very name hallmarks this as Amos means “to load or to carry a load.” Martin Luther said of Amos: “He can well be called Amos, that is ‘a burden,’ one who is hard to get along with and irritating…” Prophets, as Jesus said, are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house. Amos, like most prophets, was probably not well-liked for his messages. Amos did prophesy in Israel, not his own country of Judah, but Judah and Israel are siblings, still connected by the common identity of worship of Yahweh, the Torah, and the Commandments. Amos’ words from the Lord, were to bring the people back to this truth, this reality and were to point out where they were falling short on this basic of their communal lives.
            At this time in history, Israel and Judah were experiencing relative peace and prosperity, or at least the upper echelons were. Yet, Israel and Judah had grown complacent in their worship, in their prosperity, confident that their security was due to their own abilities, skill and doing. Israel and Judah were more interested in being like other kingdoms in the ancient near east, more interested in their own well-being, wealth, and military might, than in being the people of God. Worship focused on self-gratification and affirmation, and rituals were acts of piety for performance. They had abandoned their true identity as God’s people and the real tragedy was who was being oppressed, harmed and marginalized because of this lack of identity. They didn’t care for the orphaned or the widow, they didn’t provide for the poor, they didn’t welcome the stranger. They were striving to fit in with the nations around them. This is why Amos starts his proclamation by pointing out the transgressions of the kingdoms around Israel, including Judah. God is indeed interested in Israel, but God is also the Lord of all kingdoms. Israel is supposed to be the beacon, the witness, the example to the other nations, not assimilate to them.
But it’s hard to see wealth, status, power and not want that for ourselves. It stokes our egos; it provides momentary contentment. Until, as Amos will point out, it is not contentment for all. Wealth, status and power in our world for some, tends to mean a lack of those things for others. When wealth, status and power are shared, we get itchy as we worry that there won’t be any or enough for us. Jesus came to proclaim that God wants wealth, status and power evenly distributed to and for all people and those with wealth, status and power didn’t like it. It is loaded with all kinds of implications that mean a change in how we all live together, particularly those of us who can admit that we have a disproportionate amount of wealth, status and power. We forget that when we share wealth, status and power, it increases not diminishes. Diminishment leads to diminishment; abundance leads to abundance. Jesus had a hard time offering healing power to people who didn’t want it shared. It was too much for the people to bear that Jesus proclaimed a message that went against conventional wisdom of hoarding. Unbelief is not wanting to see what is true, what is real and what is healing. Unbelief is turning away from the loaded message that is a hard burden to bear.

But God doesn’t give up. God’s word that we need to hear, even if it’s hard, comes to us, embraces us and doesn’t let us go. God is willing to bear the burden of the message, all the way to the cross, for the message of healing, wholeness and justice to roar through creation like a lion. A message that shakes us to our core, shakes us out of complacency, shakes us to action for belief in what is true, shakes us to also bear that message to the world. And this is where we begin each day, where we start: open to the word of the Lord that is loaded with transforming implications not only for the world, but for us and our lives. Thanks be to God!