Sunday, July 10, 2016 – Sermon on Amos 8:4-7

You can listen to the sermon here.

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the living God. Amen.

“Injustice distorts us all.” Whether you benefit from it or suffer underneath it, injustice distorts us all.[1] Those are the words of a friend and a colleague, spoken in the shadow of this past week.

You know, after inhaling all the articles and the posts and the bloody videos like they were the only air around me. After having my thoughts and my opinions change with the wind of every new blog post and every new tweet. After being told by celebrity theologians that I as a preacher had better preach a meaningful sermon today and lead you all to a great awakening. After being told to proclaim that black lives matter (which they do), and told to proclaim that cops lives matter (which they do), and told to proclaim that all lives matter (which they do). After hearing that these black men were murdered and then hearing that we don’t know that yet and we cannot rush to any judgment. After the call rang out to rise up and be angry and fight and after the call rang out to slow down and be calm and to love. After accepting the ever-present sickness in my stomach and after verbally processing the heck out of these events with numerous friends. After weeping in that office over there yesterday, clueless as to what could possibly be said to all of you today…those words of my friend were the ones that finally got to how I am feeling.

Injustice distorts us all.

That is how I feel. Distorted. Twisted. Caught. Bound up. Immovable. Paralyzed.

And really….scared. Because all of what’s happening doesn’t feel like a blip on the radar screen. It feels like it’s really important. And we have to do something to solve this. And I don’t have a clue as to what that is.

And all of this is a pretty privileged position I realize.

It’s a pretty privileged position to be in when I’m not part of a whole community of people who is afraid of not surviving a routine traffic stop.

It’s a pretty privileged position when I’m not the one with a badge getting crooked looks from people or the one hearing sniper fire ring out around me and seeing my colleagues fall to the ground.

But that’s where I’ve been in the past few days. Feeling distorted. And maybe you can relate.

And I ask myself, “When will this be over?” When will this panic, this fear, this distortion, this confusion go away? When will things go back to normal?

I don’t know if you noticed, but the same question is being asked in our Old Testament reading from Amos. The context is much different, but I think it connects. You see, Amos, God’s prophet, is speaking to the people of God who are causing injustice. “Hear this,” Amos, says, “you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land.” Which rings out for me because while yes we are trampling on the poor and the needy, it feels like we are trampling on everyone. It feels like we can’t stand up for anything without standing on top of someone else.

But so Amos calls out those who are trampling others, so all of us need to listen up. Amos says, “You who say, ‘when will this new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale. We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the sweepings of wheat.”

What’s Amos saying here? He saying that the people of God are asking, “When will this be over?”

When will what be over? The Sabbath, when no one is to work.

Why do they want it to be over? So that they can get back to business as usual. Back to cheating the people through corruption.

You see what God’s people are doing, what the sellers in the marketplace are doing is cheating their customers by using different weights and measurement (the shekel and the ephah) to sell their products in a way that benefits the seller. The people of God looked forward to “buying the poor with silver and the needy with sandals,” which meant the people of God were looking forward to enslaving those in debt, even those who only owed a pair of sandals. And the people of God were looking forward to selling the sweepings of wheat. But here’s the thing, you weren’t supposed to sell the “sweepings of wheat” because that was supposed to be left for the poor and the hungry. But they sold them anyways and filled their pockets with cash.

When will this be over, they asked. When will the Sabbath be over so that we can get back to business as usual? Which is daily corruption and oppression. And the prophet Amos is calling them out on it.

When will this be over, I ask. When will this sickness and this fear and this worry be over so that I can get back to business as usual? Which I fear is putting my head in the sand around the ways I contribute and benefit from everyday racism and privilege. Which I fear is putting my head in the sand to the everyday dangers that police officers are exposed to. And maybe this feeling is God calling me out on that. On these injustices that are distorting not our reality but our humanity. An injustice that distorts us all.

When will this be over? You know, I don’t want this to be over. Yes, I want the shootings to be over, but I don’t want this feeling to go away. I don’t want the distortion and the sense that something is really wrong to be over. I don’t want to be set free from this moment of feeling bound and caught and paralyzed. I don’t want someone to simply cut the cord that is wrapped around me so that I can stretch out my privileged limbs and let the ache fade away. Because I think the Holy Spirit is trying to speak through it all. And I want to listen. And that doesn’t mean that I have to know what the Spirit is saying in a span of 48 hours so that I can post it on Facebook.

You see that is the other problem, I think. In these days of instantaneous news, it feels like we all have to have an instantaneous, well thought out, well-crafted, definitive opinion on what’s happened, and a solution for it. Which only exacerbates everything. We are talking about long systemic racism with a long reach back into history. We are talking about complicated and dangerous and human-based (meaning flawed and broken) situations that needs no rush to judgment or decision-making, but only heartache and more love. This is long steady work of the church. Of listening and expressing and I don’t think we can make it happen instantly.

So, I don’t want this feeling to be over. Because the media will fade. The names will fade. But I pray that this feel won’t. Because I think God is trying to wake us up and get our attention. And what God is saying is not very clear yet, except that God is saying, “My people are dying and I will never forget this moment.”

Did you hear that voice of God at the end of Amos? After Amos calls out those who are trampling on the needy and the poor, it says, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

Which is to say that God will never forget what we’ve done to each other. Which can sound like a threat, but today it sounds like good news to me. Because to say that God will never forget what we’ve done to each other, yes, means that God will never forget what we’ve done. But it also means that God will never forget what has been to us. And I use that word “us” as meaning all people, all the children of God. The body of Christ. Because what hurts one part of the body hurts the whole body. Which means God will never forget the scars on the human body, of lives cut short by prejudice or rage or fear.

God will not forget because this matters to God. You matter to God. Every single person beyond these walls matters to God. And this grief we feel is the grief of God. Heartbroken over people destroying people. And God will not abandon us in it. God will not forget, even when we do. God will never stop working on this, to bring resurrection out of this crucifixion, to bring life out of this time of death. God the potter will never stop re-shaping our self-distorted image back into the image of God we were made to be in the first place.

God will not forget, even when we do. But I hope this feeling won’t be over. Because if we chose to and if we are in a place to, we can partner with God to heal this in faithful love for the world. As our catechism says, the kingdom of God is coming whether we pray for it or not. But we pray that it would come to us and through us.

Which means we can do something. We can love each other like crazy.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by googling campaign zero and reading what the Black Lives Matter movement is seeking. To see that the protestors are not just trying to disrupt your commute by lying in highways. But that this movement has very real requests for us to look into in our own communities, that are worth learning about and exploring.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by inviting our own police in to talk about Northfield policing policies and how we can support them in the work they do.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by feasting on the little resurrections abounding in this life that bring us hope and fill us up. We can celebrate babies being born and baptized. We can rejoice together that Andy Nelson is cancer free. We can be overjoyed at our congregation being paired with a refugee family of 9 people finding refuge and love and support here in MN and in our care. We can weep with gladness over people who will bike across the country to raise $12 million dollars for people with disabilities (bikers who rolled through Northfield this past Friday). And once we’ve refueled on the daily graces of this life we can get back to facing the injustices of this life and heal this distortion, all in the name of God who loves us as we are and loves us too much to leave us that way.

Now, if there is anything of God in the words that have been spoken, may they settle and take root in our life.

Amen

[1] Said by Eric Barreto in a digital conversation.

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