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.