This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 20, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
We are continuing our sermon series on Amos. The texts were:
Amos 5: 18-27
Mark 7: 1-23
Young Friends message OOOO look at this new sponge I have! It’s so shiny and new and clean! I love a clean sponge. I think I’m not even going to use it to keep it clean. I’m going to set it in this basket and look at and think about how clean and great it looks. Is that what we get sponges for? No, what do you use a sponge for? Yes! To clean! When we clean with a sponge or a rag, what happens to it? It gets dirty! Does that mean it’s useless if it’s dirty? Nope, it can be washed and used again. A cleaning rag is only useless if it doesn’t do it’s job that it was made for. I was thinking about this with our bible stories today. God doesn’t actually care if we get dirty. Sometimes we think that we have to stay “clean” for God don’t we? Say the right prayers, go to church, what are other ways that you think about being clean for God? Adults do this too-we think that to be clean for God means reading the bible enough, praying everyday in a certain way, only listening to Christian music, but Jesus tells his disciples that those things are fine, but we were made for so much more than those things, God made us out of dirt because we were made to get dirty! We were made by God to go and help people and the earth-like the sponge! How can you people or the earth? Yes! Those are all good things and we’re going to talk a little more about that together.
This week we gained a new federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day. It’s a landmark indeed as many have advocated for this to be recognized for decades as part of the difficult conversation on race in this country. It was signed into law on the same day that we in the ELCA commemorate the Feast Day Emmanuel 9, a day of lament, confession and commitment to our anti-racist work in our denomination. (Just to refresh your memory, 6 years ago a young man born and raised ELCA, walked into a bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charlotte, NC and killed nine people-including two clergy trained at an ELCA seminary. the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, the Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, and the honorable state senator and pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. I’m struck by the juxtaposition of those two commemorations and our Amos text for today, that was famously quoted by Martin Luther King Jr. in his iconic “I have a Dream” speech of August 1963. I’m activated and convicted by the words of the prophet, both Amos and MLK, that we can’t simply set something aside, declare a festival, a holiday, a feast day and think that is enough. For me, it’s not enough to get a day off of work, to speak beautifully written words and allow poignant imagery to wash over me. It leaves me feeling useless, like this sponge and aware that pageantry without the work is like showing up to the Olympics opening ceremony without any training in your sport. I know that it’s hollow, I know that it’s just all noise, I know that I’ve missed the point. The point isn’t a holiday, the point isn’t the prayer, the point is to do the work of loving our neighbor. The point, is to get dirty with doing God’s work.
Amos shares with the Israelites that God knows that they love their festivals, their worship services, their holidays, their burnt offerings, their hymns and instruments. The people love to participate in these events and love to make a show of them. Who would want to miss the musicians in the Temple? Or the Passover meal with the family? Why no one, of course! And isn’t that what God wants? Isn’t going to Temple once a week and on important days and sing the ancient hymns of praise what God wants? Isn’t making sure that they were ritually pure what made them God’s people? It seems the answer to that is no.
It’s not that God minds those things, and music and community at the Temple is good, but the Israelites didn’t know that God was listening in, observing and taking stock of their activities the other six days a week. God saw the pageantry, but also saw that they weren’t living the lives for which they were created. Worship isn’t a place to go, a purity rituals to perform, a song to sing, a scripture to read, an hour to plan. Worship is how lives are lived: the hungry are fed, the poor are supported, the sick receiving care, the foreigner, stranger are welcomed, kind words uttered. Those are the rituals that God loves. Worship is about getting dirty.
Jesus reiterates this prophetic theme in Mark 7, that who we are and who’s we are as God’s people means that we will get dirty. The pharisees and religious leaders were more concerned about their hands being clean than their hearts. But Jesus clobbers them with the truth that cleanliness on the outside means nothing if what we do everyday harms other people, denies their basic human rights, dignity and elevates ourselves. We have to be willing to take a hard look at ourselves, get to the nitty gritty reflection on whether the ritual, celebration, the commemorations, the worship, aligns with God’s call for all God’s children living in abundant life and love together. We need to stop worrying about our own cleanliness and know that God will take care of the washing. God will wash us with the waters of grace, mercy, justice and righteousness and will sweep other people into the stream with us.
We are swept into God’s rolling waters of justice and stream of righteousness that floods the world with actions, intentions that fill us with God’s gifts, cleans our hearts and then we get our hands dirty with the actual work of ushering in God’s kingdom. We get our hands dirty with the work of racial justice through advocating for justice in policies, and institutions that dismantle our caste system. We create space for Black ,Indigenous, People of Color voices and talent, in this church in the ELCA and in our community. We get our hands dirty by living our theology of Christ’s radical love and grace that transforms hearts and communities. Jesus is with us as we get our hands dirty, because it’s not the dirt of the work of the world that defiles, it’s the separation of ourselves and our hearts from that work that defiles. Jesus proclaims that God’s justice washes away any barriers from justice and righteousness. God’s waters wash away our biases, our prejudice and egos. God’s waters wash away our rituals in worship, or our art, hymns/songs that exclude images of God other than white and male. God’s waters wash away the defensiveness of us white folks, so we can humbly listen and believe people of color’s experiences with institutions of housing, education, policing, and workplaces. God waters wash away any of our excuses for not getting our hands dirty to ensure our neighbor has what we do.
God loves us so much that God hates anything, rituals, prayers, traditions, and yes even worship that keeps us from getting dirty for the sake of God’s love in the world and for the world. Love that doesn’t sit on the sidelines to stay pristine and clean, but love that isn’t afraid to get dirty. We get our hands dirty and trust that God’s love will wash us with justice that rolls like waters. Amen.