Sermon for Proper 11, Year C, July 21, 2019

Amos 8:1-12,  Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42

          During the season after Pentecost, we have two options for Sunday readings: Track 1 and Track 2.  This year, I decided to use Track 1, which is also referred to as a semi-continuous reading of the Old Testament without regard for whether or not it fits with the New Testament.  After using Track 2, also known as the Gospel track, for the last two years, I decided it would be good for us to read parts of the Old Testament that we would not otherwise read.  You may have noticed that a miss-communication meant the wrong reading was printed in last Sunday’s Bulletin, but I preached on the reading from Amos anyway.  So today we continue our reading from the book of the prophet Amos.

          Amos is not one of our more comforting and inspiring prophets; his book is filled with the Lord’s displeasure with the people of Israel and we hear the Lord promise their destruction.  All the prophets can be depressing, presenting God in ways that don’t fit with the God we proclaim we follow – a loving and forgiving God who is filled with mercy and compassion.  I certainly believe we are called to follow the way of love – not because we need to fear punishment, but because loving our neighbors is not only the right thing to do, it is how we find the peace we seek to experience in our lives.

          Therefore, I would like to share with you a way of reading the prophets that has helped me understand why these books of the Bible are so important.  The prophets are not fortune tellers.  Their purpose in the Bible is not to predict the future, it is to remind the people of their covenant with God – a covenant that can read like a contract. 

          As the chosen people of God, the people of Israel have committed to living a certain way – and, like us, they often fail to do what God wants.  Prophets function as the religious conscience for the people.  In addition, when things go wrong, the prophets help them understand they, not God, are responsible for their current state of affair.      

          In today’s reading from Amos, the prophet can be seen as the prosecutor in a lawsuit brought against the people for a breach of contract, their covenant with God.  God promises a good life to those who live according to his law, but the people are ignoring God’s law.  God has been wronged, and God is serving as the Judge in this trail.

First, the Lord recites the crime the people have committed: “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” Specifically, they have engaged is business practices that have taken advantage of the poor and the needy.  The prophets are almost always calling attention to the people’s guilt of not caring for the poor and those in need. 

So, the Lord declares the sentence for their crimes, “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. … I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.”

Last week we heard the Lord declared their kingdom will destroyed.  And, perhaps even worse, than that, the Lord declares:

The time is surely coming, … when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

To be unable to find God and know what God wants of us, is to unable to find peace in your soul. 

Is God abandoning the people that they may never again feel God’s presence in their lives, experience joy, or know that they are loved?  No.  As we read in all the prophets, there is always hope for redemption.  The first 9 ½ chapters of Amos are all about the sins of the people and God’s judgement against them.  

We only read a portion of the eighth chapter, so I want to share a verse from the end of Amos where we find hope for the people.  It is where we can finally understand that the point of this book: God will never abandon the people of Israel.  Listen:

On that day [the day of judgment] I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this.

Living where we do and when we do, it is difficult for us to hear what is written as a person from Ancient Israel would hear it.  Individualism is a modern-day, western notion that did not exist then. 

          Everyone contributes to the faith of the people.  Like a sports team, they succeed or fail as a tribe.  So, for a remnant to survive is a win.   Not an earned win, but a win nonetheless.  Yes, the people will suffer and many may die as a consequence of their failure to care for one another and follow God’s commandments – but ultimately, God will not abandon their tribe.  God’s mercy will allow a small group of their faithful to live, to rebuild, and to prosper, “as in the days of old.”

          The words of the prophets were often ignored until it was too late.  The battle is lost, the kingdom has fallen, or the people are in exile.  That is when the people remember what the prophets have said and they are then able to recognize that they had abandoned God, not the other way around.  They know, too, that there is hope, their relationship with God can be restored – and as a people, they would survive. 

          Most of us can also look back on our lives and see the time when we shut God out, and remember when we experience God’s forgiveness.  In our gospel, Martha, we are told, “was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to [Jesus]” and complains about her sister.  Jesus responds saying, that it is Martha distracted, and that “Mary has chosen the better part.”  This is to say Mary’s priorities are right.  Listen, then act.  We must first listen if we are to understand our call and do God’s will.

          There is hope for us, too.  There is always hope, for God is patient, compassionate and forgiving.

Let us pray.

          God of grace and God of glory, help us not be distracted and selfish.  Help us to hear your word and do your will.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.