Sermon for Proper 10, Year C, July 14, 2017

Amos 7:7-17                       Psalm 82                                              Colossians 1:1-14                              Luke 10:25-37

          How do you measure up?  We live our lives being judged by others.  Whether it is by our grades in school or selection for a job, others evaluate our performance and, if we do well, we get the grades or the job.  And, if we don’t do well, well . . ., we can try again. 

          Many would say that our failures are not what is important, it is what we do next.  Do we regroup, work harder, blame someone else, and/or do we settle for less?  In the book of Amos, the prophet bears the bad news that the Lord has issued an unfavorable judgement against the people of Israel and their king. 

          As background, Amos says, “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.’” So, the Lord is checking the work of the people of Israel to determine whether or not it the wall built to code?  Is it straight?  The answer is no, the Lord says, “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.” 

          The Lord has judged the work of the people of Israel and they are not getting a passing grade.   The kingdom will be overthrown and destroyed. Amos shares this news with the priest of Bethel who then tells Amos to go away and prophesy in another kingdom.  Much like shifting the blame, the priest tries to make this problem go away. 

          We already know that the people of Israel have failed, over and over again.  After failing, they repent and return to living according to God’s law. But it often takes more that the words of a prophet to get them to change.  This is one of those occasions; the words of the prophet are being dismissed and ignored.

          Amos does not quit, however.  First, he tells the priest, “I am no prophet, not 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.’”   Amos is responding by saying to the priest who tells him to leave he is there because God sent him to Israel.  Amos does not and will not quit and go back home as the priest requests, instead he continues to share prophesy after prophesy of the impending destruction of Israel.

          Keep this in mind as we consider the gospel reading for today.  The story of the Good Samaritan is one that most of us know well.  Jesus uses it to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  In this story, it is not the priest or the Levite who stops to help the man who was beaten and left beside the road to die.  No, it is Samaritan, who, to the people hearing this story, is someone they would not associate with – an outsider.   

          When I was in seminary, part of my preparation for the priesthood was to complete CPE – which stands for Clinical Pastoral Education.  Most seminarians do this by working in a hospital setting where they are called upon to support patients and families in all sorts of situations.  Whether it is to help with families when a trauma presents, to be with patients who have received bad news about their health and potential (or lack of potential) for recover, or to say prayers with the family after someone has died, seminarians are placed in situations they will likely face as ordained deacons and priests. 

          Since I had worked in a hospital, hospice, and home health, I elected to complete my CPE with a homeless program in Atlanta.  It was definitely an experience for me that was outside of my comfort zone.  One day, I witnessed something that I have thought about often.  There was a waiting room where clients waited for us to help them find a shelter, receive a token to ride the Metro to or from a job, or get food and clothing.  A man had arrived too late for the noon meal that was served and asked for something to eat.  We typically had some food left over that was made into sack lunches and given out – but we were out of these, so the director told him we did not have anything for him.

          Hearing this, a woman who reminded me of the image often shown on TV of a person dying of starvation in Africa, stood up and said, “I have some I can share – it was just given to me.”  She then began looking into her bag of food and pulling some out to share with this man.  She was the Good Samaritan in the room; she was the last person I expected to give food to him.

          I think of her in times like this, when I read about the Good Samaritan.  I also think about her when I read the story of the poor widow who places a coin in the offering and seeing it, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on (Luke 21:3-4).”

          I was moved by the generosity of this homeless woman and ashamed for the times when I had something I could share and chose instead to keep it for myself.  The scriptures are clear, we are to share what we have with strangers and those in need.

          In Amos, the people of Israel failed the test of the Lord because of the injustice in their land.  In our gospel reading today, Jesus is not only answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus is calling attention to religious leaders who both ignore the needs of the people and who profit from the poor.   Social injustice is responsible for the downfall of the people over and over again. 

          It is a lesson that we need to consider today, for there are people at our borders being held in grossly overcrowded detention centers.  Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not speaking to whether or not they should be let into our country, only to their basic needs as human beings that are not being adequately addressed.  The social injustice that Amos is speaking of also applies to the needs of people in our community who are in need of adequate food, shelter, health care, and clothing.  We know Jesus teaches us to care for them as our neighbor, so I want you to ask yourselves this question, “What am I doing or what can I do, to make a difference?”

Let us pray.

          Lord Christ, you have taught us to love and care for our neighbor.  Fill us with your Spirit, that we may open our eyes and see those in need.  Then give us the strength and courage to help.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.