Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 10, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; St. Luke 10.25-37.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When I first looked at this morning’s scripture texts, I was fairly sure that I would preach on the Gospel story about the Good Samaritan. It’s such a classic story of our faith, and it offers us a lot to reflect on. And so my thoughts were centered on the question of what it means to be a good neighbor.
This theme was in my mind every day this week… every time I received a call from Kenya I heard what the country is going through and how people are struggling to put a meal on the table for their families. I did my best to offer what I could. I listened, I prayed, I comforted and encouraged. I directed towards help and I handed out a fair amount of financial assistance to help.
I felt, as I often do, a mixture of frustration and guilt that I could not do more, as well as a good feeling too, because I often felt that what I was able to offer did seem to help, to support, and to strengthen some families and individuals who really were in trouble and in need.
But on Thursday I turned back to the scriptures for today, and I noticed the prophet Amos and his angry words against King Jeroboam II and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos didn’t hold back his righteous anger against Israel and their king, and instead ask them politely to consider following the laws and commandments of God.
It was somewhere around the year 760 BCE, in the middle of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, and it was probably the most prosperous time that Israel had yet known – Prosperity built on trade in olive oil, wine, and possibly horses, with Egypt and especially with Assyria providing the markets.
But the prophets, of whom Amos was probably the most harsh, condemned the materialism and selfishness of the Israelite elite of their day. In the book of Kings, King Jeroboam is said to have “done evil in the eyes of the Lord,” meaning both the oppression of the poor and his continuing support of the cult centers of Dan and Bethel, in opposition to the temple in Jerusalem.
What is striking about Amos’ words is both the passion of his concern for the oppressed, and the power of his language. He declares that God is measuring things up, like a plumbline that checks the straightness of a foundation wall. And when God finds that the wall is not perfect – that Israel and its king are led by greed and selfishness and corruption, God is going to destroy them. God is going to send the wall crashing down. It’s going to be the end of an Israel that has failed to live up to their high calling as God’s chosen and beloved people.
Now, biblical history tells us that Jeroboam II’s reign comes to an end in 745 BCE, and by 722, the Northern Kingdom of Israel does come crashing down when it is conquered by the Kingdom of Assyria. And the prophets interpret that military victory for Assyria to be God’s doing because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and injustice towards the poor and oppressed.
People of faith today are much less likely to interpret the outcome of wars and conflicts between nations and peoples as related to God’s judgment and condemnation of one side or the other.
But what the prophets made clear, and what must be just as true today, is that God is not at all pleased with the continuing greed and materialism and selfishness and oppression of the poor that plagues our world today just as much as it gripped the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The psalmist in our reading today says that God was taking his seat in the divine council, that God was making his judgment over the “gods” (with small g) that seem to rule the world. God asks, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” And then God instructs, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; Maintain the rights of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
The psalmist is sure that the “gods” of the world, in Kenya they have coiled the word “deep state” to refer to them, have no real power. “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” Yes, God is sending them crashing down. God’s kingdom of love and peace and justice is coming. It is being established in our midst.
As I think about the Kingdom of God, I think about Jesus who came to proclaim its coming, who came to show us what it would look like, who came to usher it in and to empower people from all tribes and nations to participate in making it a reality.
There are only a few instances in the Gospels when we read about Jesus sharing the righteous anger of Amos against those who would oppress the poor and misrepresent the priorities of God. I’m thinking of the day that Jesus stormed into the temple, overturned the tables, and drove out the money changers.
Perhaps there are some appropriate times for people of faith to get angry… when women and children are abused and have nowhere to find help and safety, when medical care and food are not made available to all, when despite having welfare and disability programs, there are still so many people who have nowhere to turn to for help.
But Christ, whom we have been called to follow, was not just another prophet or a political activist. He proclaimed with his words, and enacted with his life, the truth that God’s Kingdom of love, justice, and peace was coming. Indeed, it had arrived.
The people of his time could see that kingdom coming as people were healed, lives were transformed, hungry bellies were filled, enemies were reconciled. With parables like “the Good Samaritan,” Jesus taught the common people and the elite alike to look for God’s Kingdom coming through the most unlikely people and situations. And he showed them that they were being called and enabled to participate in bringing that kingdom to its fullness.
I am sure that even after reflecting on these things this week, I am going to have moments when I get angry over things that are not really that important. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Amos and his righteous anger. And I also know that even after reflecting on these things, I am still going to have moments when I get angry over things that are important – over child labor and human trafficking, over terrorism and war, over racism and discrimination, and over the systemic oppression of the poor and powerless. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Jesus. I hope I will remember that he got angry too. But that he was not overcome by anger. He was not led by anger, but he was led by love.
Jesus said, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” He told the story of the Good Samaritan, and then he said, “Go and do likewise.” May God’s Spirit fill us, encourage us, and empower us, to be God’s faithful people and to live as Jesus taught us.
In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.