The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11
July 17, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
It was a beautiful summer Sunday, not unlike today. My sister and I had a nice day planned as we were having a friend visit us from the City. I was all of 17 and my sister 15.
We met Rob at church camp earlier that summer, and so invited him to come out to our suburban house for a visit.
In our small town, the walk from the bus stop to our front door was all of fifteen minutes. So we expected Rob around 2 pm. But 2 came and went. The minutes passed by. And then an hour. We wondered what had happened.
Around 3:30 pm the doorbell rang. It was Rob.
He apologized for being late. “It couldn’t be helped,” he said, and explained what had happened. “I’m used to it by now,” Rob added, “so don’t get upset.”
What was common in Rob’s experience was not in mine or my sister’s. It was like discovering a dark secret that had been lying in plain sight all along.
Rob was stopped by the police three times in that fifteen minute walk from my home-town bus stop. The second time he was taken to the station for questioning.
His crime? His offense? He was black – African-American – and our town was 100% white. Looking back, I suppose it seen as a suburban refuge from the troubling problems in the cities surrounding us.
That memory has been re-surfacing a lot likely.
Perhaps, like me, the first thing you do in the morning is to get some coffee and catch up on the news.
Lately, that routine is something which has become tinged with dread.
On Friday, I woke up to the news of the latest terrorist attack in Nice, France, where scores of people were killed following a fireworks celebration on Bastille Day. This on the heels of the deadly ambush of police officers in Dallas; the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; the slaughter of 49 in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Our world seems beleaguered with these acts of violence being reported by our 24/7 social media.
Like that experience I had at 17, the world seems so divided by race and culture and religion. The differences among us a source of consternation rather than celebration; a source of anxiety and fear rather than hope.
With that in mind, I think our first lesson from the prophet Amos speaks to our situation.
We might think of “prophecy” as something other than what is represents in Scripture. We might see it as something Nostradamus did–telling the future before it happens or something we might read about in the pages of supermarket tabloids. “Prophecy’ is often understood as foretelling the future – without any moral dimension.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In ancient Israel, prophecy was a form of social critique. So in today’s words from Amos, we have just such a critique – and a very biting one.
Amos sees a society in which people are seeking only their own interests. Those at the margins of society are ignored and trampled on by those in power.
People assumed that God was approving all this. They were blessed. After all, they were prosperous and happy.
Amos presents a vision with an image of a basket of summer fruit. Summer fruit is a great symbol of plenty and blessing, but in Hebrew it’s also a play on words. It doubles as a reference to an “end.” What looks like prosperity is actually a rotting core. Why? Because that prosperity is not extended to everyone. The poor are exploited, and because of this God will bring an end to the-way-things-are.
It is a very different world than the one Amos lived in, and yet his words can still sting. They remind us that our faith cannot just be a private matter. That our faith cannot become a place where we can hide or escape the world. The prophets teach us that our faith communities cannot become insulated.
Amos, and the prophetic tradition he represents, warns us about the consequences of injustice.
None of this makes waking up mornings to troubling news any easier.
Amos – and prophets old and new – expose the truth. Even when it is painful. Even when it is resisted. They bring attention to things we would rather not dwell on. They expose those dark secrets that sometimes hide in plain sight.
The good news is that we are not alone left pondering a long litany of bad news. We are not left helpless or hopeless.
We are united as people of faith in seeking justice. In promoting peace. In building bridges among us, rather than walls.
Hard truths are met by a God who never stops inviting us to become the people we are meant to be.