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The Moods Of Faithful People

October 14, 2018

THE MOODS OF FAITHFUL PEOPLE

October 14, 2018 (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church,

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Amos 5:6-7


6 Seek the Lord and live,
   or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
   and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. 
7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
   and bring righteousness to the ground! 

Amos 5:10-15


10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
   and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
   and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
   but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
   but you shall not drink their wine. 
12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
   and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
   and push aside the needy in the gate. 
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
   for it is an evil time. 


14 Seek good and not evil,
   that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
   just as you have said. 
15 Hate evil and love good,
   and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
   will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. 

Teach us, O God, 

in these moments of speaking, hearing, and pondering, 

truths that call, challenge, comfort, and confirm us

as your people of divine grace, 

prophetic truth, resurrection hope, 

subversive joy, 

and liberating peace.  Amen.

 

Like faithful people across the world and in every age, you and I struggle to manage many moods.  

 

We deal with the mood of amazement and adoration because we sense that we are part of an awesome creation of space, land, water, and creatures.  We are creatures produced somehow by an awesome Creator.  Our Creator has set in motion and maintains the whole creation for a purpose that includes us – yes, each of us.  We are amazed at being somehow part of a vast community of souls, places, creatures, and other things.  

 

Each of us struggles with the many moods associated with personhood.  At some point we begin to realize that we are not only part of a vast community, but are unique beings – persons – with thoughts, feelings, hopes, flaws, and all the other stuff that is part of our “somebody-ness.”  

Meanwhile, we must deal with moods associated with the realities of power. At the same time that we are amazed to be part of a vast creation community and dealing with our individual realities of personhood, we realize that we have power to interact with others and others have power to interact with us in ways that can be healthy or hurtful.  Depending on those interactions, we feel free or oppressed, accepted or ashamed, hopeful or downcast, confident or confused, joyful or afraid, peaceful or distressed.  

 

These realities are true for people everywhere.  Faithful people – meaning people who somehow believe and trust themselves trace our existence to and base our hope on God – also hope that the purposes of God will be served by our living.  We hope that God’s purposes will somehow be served by the way we interact with others. We hope God’s purposes will be served by the way we face the ups and downs of living.  

 

This brings us to the Scripture passages we read from Amos 5.  Amos, like you and me, was a faithful person determined to serve God’s purposes by his living.  So Amos left his homeland and work as a farmer and livestock herder in Judah (the Northern Kingdom) and embraced the life and work of a prophet in Israel (the more expansive and affluent Northern Kingdom) for about ten years (probably around 760-750 years before the Christian era – BCE).  

 

At the time, Israel was experiencing national prosperity under Jeroboam II.   Wealthy landowners were enjoying the comforts of their affluence, controlling prices, driving small farmers into debt.  Inability to pay that debt resulted in small farmers losing their ancestral farms, and forced their families and communities into poverty.  In other words, Israel was an affluent society with a minority group of wealthy people who controlled and imposed oppressive conditions on the majority of people who were struggling because of income inequality.  Does this sound familiar?

 

Israel was an affluent society where wealthy people lived in fortified cities (think of gated communities).  Israel was also a religious society where shrines were erected and festivals were observed.  Meanwhile, Israel was an unjust society where political and religious leaders either partnered with wealthy landowners in oppressing small farmers and other less privileged persons, or were unwilling to condemn the obvious oppression they saw every day.  Conspicuous and oppressive prosperity went hand-in-hand with pompous shows of piety in a society where poor and disadvantaged persons were mistreated, exploited, disregarded, and unprotected.  

 

Amos, the farmer and livestock herder from Judah, traveled north to Israel to preach against what was happening.  Think of Amos as an Eighth Century BCE version of Martin Luther King, Jr., William Barber II, and Traci Blackmon!  Amos showed up in Israel to protest, denounce, condemn, and warn the political, social, and religious elites of that society about their unjust ways.  His message to the Israelite society and its oppressive political and religious leaders was plain, simple, and unpopular:  change your ways or suffer divine judgment and societal downfall 

 

That message is set out with vivid clarity at verses 10 thru 13:

 

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.  Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.  For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.  Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 

Several moods of that message appear in the passages we read today.  We read messages associated with the mood of alarm at Amos 5:6-7:  Seek the LORD and live; or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will destroy Bethel, with no one to quench it.  Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!  Those words were not uttered to make the powers that be in Israel comfortable.  They were words of a threatened downfall.  

 

Those words show how God sends faithful people to warn oppressive people about their evil ways.  Amos was to Israel what Moses was to the society of Egypt in Exodus.  Amos was to Israel what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was to Germany during the Nazi regime.  Amos was to Israel what Martin Luther King, Jr., Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Jim Wallis, Jeremiah Wright, Jr., James Cone, Walter Brueggemann, Cornel West, Alice Walker, Emilie Townes, Traci Blackmon, James Forbes, and William Barber II have been to the United States.  

 

Righteous anger and alarm inspire faithful people to proclaim prophetic condemnation and warnings of divine judgment about unjust situations and conditions in a society.  Like Amos, we proclaim and show that we are in touch with the heart of God whenever we insist on speaking about and against unjust situations.    

 

We proclaim and show we are in touch with the heart of God when we are angry about people being exploited.  

 

We proclaim and show we are in touch with the heart of God when we protest people being denied access to healing because they are not wealthy.  

 

We proclaim and show we are in touch with the heart of God when we protest immigrant adults and children being treated like criminals.  

 

We proclaim and show we are in touch with the heart of God when we speak up and against billionaires being given blank checks to build sports arenas and industrial and technology parks so they can make more money, while working class and poor families are left with run down school buildings, over-worked and under-paid teachers, and closed parks, and food deserts.  

 

Be wary of people who profess to be pious yet seem to never get vexed or angry about injustice.  Beware of people who are so hellish in their professed holiness they somehow express no anger at the outrage of people using their power and privilege to oppress others who are vulnerable.  

 

If God could express anger concerning Cain’s violent treatment in murdering Abel, how is it that people who claim to love God lack the capacity be angry when armed law enforcement officers slaughter unarmed people, claiming they did so out of fear for their own lives?

 

If God could express anger concerning the economic oppression of vulnerable people facing debt and oppressive creditors, why is it that some people who claim to love God are unable to be angry about predatory lenders?  

  

Beware of folks who are so hellishly “holy” they never manage to become righteously angry about injustice!  They are more like the priests and other religious folks in Israel with all its shrines and festivals.

 

Faithful people are not only moved with righteous anger to proclaim warnings about the risks of divine judgment on oppressive people and unjust situations.  We are also moved to hope for repentance and God’s promise of renewal for the remnant of people who turn from injustice to embrace God’s call that we live with mercy and justice.  

 

We must always remember that prophetic condemnation of and warnings about judgment on unjust situations and societies are always joined with God’s hope for repentance and promise to renew repentant people.  The good news of God’s love always involves prophetic call for repentance and the equally prophetic promise that God will restore and renew repentant people.  

 

That good news comes through in this lesson from Amos 5 in clear ways.  We read that promise even while reading God’s call for repentance in the following words:  Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.  Hate evil and love good, and establish justice at the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.  

 

There is a good reason why God’s condemnation of injustice always includes calls for repentance and promises of renewal.  That is because God is passionate, always, about right relationships among people and right relationships between people and God.  God is not only passionate about it, God is obsessed about it.  God hopes for it.  And God’s hopefulness comes through as we read the words from Amos that called an unjust society called Israel to seek good and not evil, that you may live; … hate evil and love good, and establish justice at the gate….  

 

 Establish justice at the gate was a call for fair relationships in the marketplace.  It was a divine call and prophetic hope that wealthy people would sense a holy call on their lives that would move them to care about the well-being of their less prosperous neighbors so much that they would not use affluence as a weapon.  

 

Amos dared to express God’s hope for a remnant because God promises that all is not lost, no matter how unjust a society may become.  All is not lost, no matter how many people refuse to repent.  All is not lost, no matter how long it takes for things to change.  All is not lost, even though change may require a society to experience the pain of divine judgment.  God’s hope for a remnant flows from God’s awareness that all is not lost.

 

In the same way we should beware of people who somehow never manage to become righteously angry about injustice yet profess to love God, we should also beware of people who somehow never manage to demonstrate God’s hope that unjust people – and even unjust societies – can repent, even if repentance only comes after they have suffered setbacks associated with divine judgment on their sinfulness.  One cannot read the writings of the Eighth Century BCE prophets without finding calls for repentance and promises of renewal and restoration from God to repentant people.  

 

One of my former pastors shared after the death of an elderly member of our congregation that left a lasting impression on me across the years.  While preparing to deliver the eulogy for this woman the pastor found something she had written in her the front of her Bible:  “There is nothing more unpleasant than a bitter old person.”  This saintly woman had known her share of losses, tragedies, disappointments, and other painful experiences during her long lifetime.  Yet, she lived with a tenderness that was tough and toughness that was tender.  She was not bitter because of the bumps and bruises she suffered across her lifetime.  She lived with a hopefulness – not bitterness – that reminds one of the words Jesus prayed at Calvary:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

 

That hope becomes part of the mood of faithful people.  That hope becomes part of how we make it through situations and seem impassable.  That hope moves us to see beyond tragedies and trials.  That hope lifts us from feeling abandoned when the powerful use their strength to help one another rather than the needy.  

 

That hope is our sense that God is our help.  God is our keeper.  God is our rock.  God is our salvation.  God is our liberator. And we are not alone.  That’s the constant and supreme mood of faithful people – hope!

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018