This is the text of the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 14th July 2019, the fifth Sunday in Pentecost in Year C.
Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14
The Word for this week has been a delight to peruse. That sounds happy doesn’t it? It’s a bit odd really though, because as you know I tend to write my services about three weeks or so ahead, and so even though I’d standing here in front of you today happy and hearty, if not a little dusty after a week at Family Camp with the Servi Church mob, when I actually wrote this I’d just spent a week feel less happy and hearty, and a lot more dusty fighting off my second bout of Man Flu for 2019. I had missed an important church meeting in Ararat because I’d been a) too sick to want to get up at stupid o’clock and minus stupid degrees Celsius to drive there, b) too sick to be out in public where I might contagion all over other people and make them sick, and c) too sick to pay much attention to what was being said anyway. I was even too sick to get a Flu jab. So when I finally sat down on my first day out of bed before ten o’clock, “delighting in the text” wasn’t on the agenda so much as “get something down because you’re going to be at Camp and you’ll not have time to write then”. It was also KSSM council that evening so not only did I have to get something written that day, I didn’t have all day to do it. Praise God for great Bible passages and inspiring messages from the Word in all God’s forms.
In our reading from the Hebrew traditions we come across the prophet Amos. Now when I say prophet that’s more about hindsight than highlight, because Amos was nobody special in his day, and even in the action of what we read this morning he’s still a bit of a nobody. Anyway, in the course of his being a nobody Amos sees and hears God in the act of testing Israel: God is doing a prophetic thing wherein Israel is being compared to a well-built wall and God is checking the angles and edges with a plumb-line. Bad news for Israel, and for Amos who oversees the examination, God finds that the wall (and hence the nation) is askew and God declares that it shall all be knocked down. The nation of Israel shall be utterly destroyed, its king shall be slain, and its people shall be exiled. Israel is broken beyond repair, it cannot be repaired, it never will be repaired, and so God is going to knock it all over and start again. Cheers for listening Amos, says God, now go and tell the Israelites. Bad news for Amos eh? Well yes it is, especially since the religious elites and the professional clergy don’t like all this defeatist language and they tell Amos to take his words of judgement and go pronounce them against some other nation; Judah for example. He is to clear out of Bethel because Beit-El, literally the House of God is the royal worship space and the religious elites and the professional clergy don’t want the king to be upset. Amos’ response is that even as a religious nobody God has called him to speak truth, mainly because the religious elites and the professional clergy don‘t listen for God, they refuse to hear and therefore they cannot speak God’s message, and that because of this the whole nation will fall. So to put all of that into one dot point, God will speak to God’s own people, but if the professional listeners won’t listen then God will tell someone humble enough to listen yet bold enough to speak. For me as a leader, even a leader with clogged ears and a blogged doze, I need to notice when I am no longer hearing God speak because it might mean God has stopped trying to get though my facade of priestliness and is speaking to one of you, or even one of them, instead. Good to remember.
Inspiring eh? Well it was for me in my week of weakness because it reminded me that God has not stopped speaking to the Church, even if God needs to speak through someone lower down the pyramid.
The Psalm we read this morning is a demand for justice, but it needs to be read carefully. The first time I read it I missed it, I missed who it was who is actually doing the talking, I didn’t see the 66’s and 99’s where they are and I thought this was another one of those “how long must we wait O Lord” prayers. You know the ones, c’mon Lord the wicked are getting richer, the faithful are getting poorer, and it’s your job to intervene. Good stuff, worth praying, is usually relevant. But not always, and not this time, no this time it’s Godself doing the “how long must I wait O people”, declaring that it’s about time the people of God started to punish sin and wickedness and to vindicate and liberate the innocent and the good of all classes and nations. This passage is a covenant lawsuit, it’s a contractual claim by God as one party upon the elders and rulers of the Abrahamic tribes as the other party to hold up Israel’s side of the covenant. “You know better, so why are you allowing this gut-rotting oppression and suppression by the wicked of the faithful to set in?” asks God. Israel is supposed to be God’s example of a true nation, they’re meant to be just and peaceable and to display the nature and character of God in the world, but God has found them to be corrupt and violent, exploitative and cruel, and certainly no better than the other nations even if they aren’t actually worse. God has set us apart to set an example for the world, the plumb-line was set against the Church at its inception so as to be a straight and true representation of God in the world and each of us agents of the Kingdom. What has God seen of Christians in recent times? Is the Church light and salt? If not, why not, and what are we going to do about it? And what would happen if we didn’t? The connection between Amos 7 and Psalm 82 is the plumbline, not the outcome; I know that many within the wider Uniting Church in particular disagree with me on this, but I don’t think God is about to destroy us and exile us. However I do think we have got wonky and shifty, and I believe we need God to call us back to order, to attention, to straightness and steadfastness, and we need to listen to those down in the ranks who are declaring the words of God because those at the top echelon are not listening.
Inspiring eh? Well again yes, God is still speaking to the Church and God is calling us to account for our discipleship. Our issue is not that we are failing to meet together or that we are not doing enough Bible Study, singing, tithing, or even evangelism, but that we are living in a dark and cold and cruel world and at the very least we are doing little to remedy it and at the very worst we look dark and cruel and cold ourselves. God’s word to us is simple: love and be more loving in the way you go about it. That’s a command I’m busting to follow.
Our story from the Christian tradition is the culmination of this push toward faithfulness as evidenced in the brightness of the light we shine. In the opening thoughts of his letter Paul is thankful to God for the people of Colossae and especially the loving-kindness of the Colossian church (Colossians 1:4). He speaks to them about their reputation particularly because he has never met them: Paul never went to Colossae, so he’s using his reputation as an apostle to presume to write to them, and he comments in opening on their reputation as a bit of an ice-breaker. “Okay mob”, he says, “so we’ve never met each other, but we each know about the other and here’s what I know about you, your reputation is a good one and especially so in the areas of hospitality and hope. I don’t know your actual names and I’ve never been to your town, let alone your church, but I do know this one fact about you, I know that not only have you heard the gospel you are now living it out. Onya! The gospel that is flowering all across Asia and Macedonia is flowering also in you: praise be to God and thanks be to Epaphras who told you about Jesus. You listened, you learned, and now you are living and leading in life. Onya! And may the odds be ever in your favour, because trouble will come.”
The key characteristic of the Colossians seems to be their hope, that’s what Paul knuckles down on in his praise of them. Not only do they love each other and not only are they diligent in the discipleship tasks of prayer and fellowship, they are keenly so as people with everlasting, abundant hope. The Colossians seem to be to be John 10:10 people, people who are living abundantly because they know that they are loved by God, a God who will never abandon them and who is directing their present toward a glorious future. This seems especially so, says Paul in Colossians 1:13-14, in the case of sins which might otherwise hold us back in life. The Colossians alongside all Christians are forgiven people, freed to pursue God and the fullness of life in God because of Christ and their trust in Christ’s word and work.
So what are we to do? How much of this are we to take to heart here, today, in Kaniva and Serviceton? I think the answer is all of it, we are to take all of it to heart and we are to overlook none of it. As I say I don’t think Amos’ prophecy to Israel applies to us directly, God is not about to exile us and slay our kings, but the prophetic symbol of the plumbline and the prophetic declaration of the wall being skewed is noteworthy. We are not as tall or as square as we should be; the Church is off kilter and it has been for generations. For all of the vitriol we see in the media, secular and religious, for all that generates vast amounts of heat and chafing but very little light, there are truths in the rumours. The Church has let down families, let down children, let down Christians, let down the world, let down itself, let down God. Not every priest in all of Christendom is a paedophile, much as it seems that Twitface seems to suggest it at times, but the gut-ripping truth is that many priests were and some still are. Sinners are damned without Christ, no matter the nature of their sin, but all are received with grace and such an indescribable bounty of love if all they do is lift their eyes in longing to the one who saves through the cross; but Twitface only reads the first three words (sinners are damned) and the cross is pilloried. Is this Twitface’s fault? In the sense of its users, yes, there is a lot of intolerance in the world and the secularists are just as militant as the inquisitors and the crusaders were back in Christian past: but with the stories of the Inquisition and the Crusades, and without the story of the cross and the empty tomb, what do we expect? Honestly and really, I’m not the black armband type and I don’t believe that the Church has brought upon itself everything it is reaping right now, but when even God holds a plumbline against us and we are found divergent, crooked, bent, and…you get the point…what hope does our light have?
Our only hope is that our light, like the light of Amos and the Colossians, is the light of God. Shine brightly people of God, do not allow yourself to be extinguished because God demands our luminescence: but God is also our own love and hope, and so long as we shine with Christ then Christ will shine for us.