Sermons

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost - Year C - 2019

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost - Year C - 2019

    Jul 14, 2019

    Passage:Amos 7:7-14

    Preacher: The Venerable Chris Wrampelmeier

    Category: Hospitality, Justice

    Keywords: justice, hospitality

    Summary:

    Archdeacon Chris Wrampelmeier explores the implications of the prophet Amos' "plumbline" for us today.

    Detail:

    Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

    St. Andrew’s Church

    July 14, 2019

    The prophet Amos captures well the tension created when people of faith bring God’s outlook into how we see and discuss our world. Amos lived in the Kingdom of Israel after Israel and Judah split into two kingdoms following the death of Solomon. King Jeroboam II reigned for 40 years in the middle of the 8th century B.C., during which Israel reached the height of its power. These years were comfortable years during which the nation grew wealthy and expanded its lands almost to the boundaries of Davidic empire. The Israelites had reason to believe the Lord favored them and that they had won that favor by their devotion to the Lord’s sanctuaries in the kingdom. Much of the wealth the upper class acquired, however, was through the exploitation and oppression of the poor. 

    Amos was not a native of Israel. He was born in the southern, smaller kingdom of Judah. Amos was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees. (A sycamore tree in the Holy Land bears a small, but edible fruit.  The dresser punctured the fruit days before the harvest to help with the ripening process.) Amos did not belong to the king’s court and the priestly hierarchy. Instead, God called on this foreigner to preach uncomfortable words to a comfortable ruling class.

    In the beginning of the nine chapters that form his book, Amos, speaking for the Lord, condemns Israel’s neighbors one-by-one for their misdeeds. But while Israel, being the Lord’s favored, may have expected the Lord to treat her differently, Amos goes on to make it clear that this favor means the Lord expected even more from Israel than from her neighbors. Amos devotes most of his denunciations for Israel: 

    • They have rejected the law of the Lord and not kept his statutes.
    • They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.
    • They hate the one who reproves at the gate and abhor the one who speaks the truth.
    • They have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood. 
    • Even the women—the cows of Bashan—oppress the poor and crush the needy.

    Israel’s devotion to religious ritual will not spare it. The Lord demands more; he demands that the Israelites live in right relation to each other, that the powerful not take advantage of the powerless. Social justice and piety are inseparable. “The foundation of justice is the right worship of God, and worshipping God rightly requires promoting justice in the world.” Amos relates the Lord’s fury:

    I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

    The Lord is raising up against Israel a nation that shall oppress the entire length of Israel. Those most comfortable and self-assured in Israel will be the first the Lord sends into exile. 

    While twice Amos pleaded with the Lord to spare Israel and the Lord relented, in our lesson we see the Lord has lost patience with the house of Jeroboam and pronounced its doom. The plumb line reveals that the wall is fatally flawed and must be torn down. The Lord will destroy the sacred places of Israel and the house of Jeroboam. 

    The priest of the royal sanctuary at Bethel loyally informs his king that Amos is plotting against the throne. For Amaziah, Amos is not a prophet, a teller of truth, but a seditious foreigner, stirring up the people against their ruler. Amaziah acts to defend the state and its places of worship, telling Amos to return to his own country and stay away from Bethel. Amaziah’s first loyalty is to his king, not to the Lord, for which he and his family are cursed.

    That curse is mirrored in the fate of Israel. Jeroboam II finished his long reign, but six months later, his dynasty ended with the murder of his son and successor. A series of coups followed in which king after king is overthrown, weakening Israel until it became a vassal of Assyria, losing part and then all of its land to that fiercely aggressive people from the north. As prophesized by Amos, Israel ceased to exist. The leaders of the Israelites were scattered across the Assyrian empire and lost to history. The Assyrians replaced them with other subjects, from whom the people known as Samaritans developed.

    From Amos, we see that God may not always let matters slide. Sins exist. Men do evil. God will judge a community for its sins, not just a person. It is not enough that I be the best person I can be. I may not take comfort like Jonah that, although surrounded by sinners, I am a godly man and God will spare me. God will judge how all of us—our city, state, and nation—treats the poor, the weak, the sick, the outcast, the woman who will always be a burden, the man whose presence makes us uncomfortable.

    For these reasons, God calls us to progress beyond our private piety, our personal beliefs and good works, to talk about the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world with others in our communities. God calls to advance beyond our political lenses—Republican, Democrat, Libertarian—those conversation-stopping labels. God calls us to move the discussion past differing economic theories of capitalism, socialism, and a mixed economy, past whether we should espouse nativism or globalism. God calls us as a people of faith to look to his truths found in the Bible, particularly in the gospels and the books of the prophets, and in our rich Christian tradition. God calls us to take those truths and to share them with others, to add the word of the Lord to the debate about who we as Americans are and who we should be, a debate that will never end so long as this nation exists. But so long as this nation exists, it will never—and should never—stop trying to improve how we treat our neighbors. We need to add our Christian voice, our Episcopalian voice, to that discussion.

    We may find talking about our faith intimidating. We may find the experience of telling truth to power unnerving. When we speak out like Amos for social justice, we call on our nation to address its systemic poverty and its concentration of wealth in a tiny fraction of the population. As with the Kingdom of Israel, that concentration of wealth threatens the very foundation of our state but even discussing that concentration can lead to accusations of disloyalty. In response to any criticism, we as people of faith should emphasize we are not radicals. When we talk about social justice, we carry forward the words of the prophets from 2,700 years ago. When we talk about social justice, we declare that our government and our society should reflect our traditional Judeo-Christian values, values of caring for our neighbors, of ending the exploitation of the poor and laborers, and expanding justice to all.

    The discussion and the challenges are complex and hard. Answers are not easy. Like Amos, we are not professional prophets. It is tempting to be like Amaziah, rationalizing how support of the status quo is the right action. But God is a God of creation and re-creation. God calls each of us, as he called on Amos, to transform his world. God calls each of us to engage in our words, as well as in our deeds. 

    Amen.

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    Amos 7:7-17

    This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said,

    "See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

    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."

    Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

    `Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile 
    away from his land.'"

    And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee 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."

    Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'

    "Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.

    You say, `Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and do not preach against the house of Isaac.'

    Therefore thus says the Lord:

    `Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, 
    and your land shall be parceled out by line;

    you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
    and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"