Sermon on Amos 5:14-15, 24 and Matthew 6:24-33 for Pentecost +23A, November 12, 2017

Amos 5:14-15, 24

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 in the gate;

it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Matthew 6:24-33

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?   Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’   For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.   But strive first for the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Vision and Longing

Last week in my Sunday school class we watched a video clip of a professor doing a   lecture that really could be called a rant.  He spoke with passion and strong language.  I sent the link to the video to someone who replied that his delivery was so powerful it was almost off-putting, but he spoke with such intelligence that his rant was compelling. 

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We only read a snippet of the prophet Amos, but Amos reads like a rant.  He feels passionately about issues so he uses intense language.  And because he is a prophet, and prophets speak for God, he makes it sound like God is ranting too. 

When we speak about God, we recognize that we are using human language, metaphors and analogies.  That is all we can do, as finite humans.  So, we speak of God as male or female, knowing that God is beyond gender, but is nevertheless, personal (at least, not less than what we understand as personal).  

God’s Emotions

We also speak of God as having emotions – even strong ones – because how can we imagine a person without emotions?  Amos (and other prophets) can speak of God even hating.  God hates what is going on.  The idea of God experiencing hatred is clearly an off-the-charts rant.  But the point is that what is happening is horribly wrong. 

I do not want to have hate as a part of my life.  But it easy to want to use the language of hatred at conditions that are severely wrong.  It is easy to think of hating the suffering that mass killings cause.  It is tempting to speak of hating the conditions that women endure from men. 

Amos used the language of hate to describe how God felt about the obscene gap between rich and poor in his day.  We are going to be reading several passages to get the flavor.

Listen to some excerpts:

2:6   Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7  they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way;

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He insults the people who live in easy luxury in the face of other people’s poverty, predicting that it will all come to their own ruin:

4:1   Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!”
2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness:
The time is surely coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
even the last of you with fishhooks.

Amos rants against the corrupt legal system that always works in favor of the wealthy – the legal system in those days was conducted at the city’s gates, so he says again, they are going to experience futility instead of the prosperity they feel entitled to:

5:10   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.

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Hating Religion

So, how does God feel about this?  Amos says that when people who are content to live with this kind of injustice go to the temple, and try to make God happy, it does not work.  In fact, the opposite; it makes God even angrier. 

5:21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Most of us did not grow up on the farm, nor have we seen the inside of a meat packing plant, so this image is a bit graphic for our modern imaginations.  In an age of animal sacrifice, there was a lot of blood that flowed down the sides of the alter. The contrast is powerful.  Instead of flowing blood, and religious music, God says,

“let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

Flowing Justice, Seeking Good

The prophets had a vision of a world in which there was justice, and justice means fairness.  It means nobody has an advantage over anyone else, and no one takes  advantage of anyone.  That was not the world Amos lived in, but it was the one he imagined, as a person of vision.  It was the world he longed for.   The goal of his rant was to motivate his people to long for the same vision because it is what God wants:

5:14-15 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you…
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….
24  …let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Seek good…love good.”  Be a person of desire – of strong desire – of passionate desire.  And turn the desire into concrete action:

“establish justice in the gate.” 

Establish justice” – make it happen.  There is no room for passivity; this must be our passion.  Why?  Because when there is injustice, people suffer.  They get trampled on.  They get pushed aside.  And God hates that.  So be passionate for justice until it flows as unstoppably as water does downhill.  And make sure the flow is not intermittent, but constant,

“like an everflowing stream”

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Because the spiritual principle at work is that when justice is flowing constantly, it means life and goodness for you!  Hear it again:

5:14-15 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you…”

Jesus and True Spirituality

Living with a passion for justice changes you.  It makes you more spiritually alive and aware.  You become a person conscious of the presence of God when you love what God loves.   This is true spirituality.

And this is exactly the kind of spirituality that Jesus taught us.  Look around; look at the birds, look at the lilies.   This starts out sounding like a call to passivity – the birds “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns  the lilies “neither toil or spin.   

But this not about being passive; it is a picture of living without the anxiety of longing for more than you need.  It is not that we are not to be striving, but that we are to strive for the right thing. What is it that we are to strive for? 

“strive first for the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Strive for God’s kingdom and God’s justice, and you will be given all you need.  It will be okay.  You will be taken care of.  The same God who watches over creation cares for you. 

So strive for justice because that is what the kingdom of God calls us to do.  Strive for a world in which no one has the advantage over anyone else, and no one takes advantage. 

Strive for a world in which men do not take advantage of women.  Strive for a world in which one race does not have the advantage over other races.  Strive for  world in which no one is being pushed aside or trampled on. 

And in that striving, you will find life, you will find contentment, and in that striving you will experience the presence of God. 

 

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