Alleluia, Christ has risen!
R: Christ has risen indeed, Alleluia!
Perhaps you think that I am so liturgically inept that I am unaware we are entering the seventh week of Pentecost. However, if we are truly Resurrection People, why not issue this bold proclamation every Sunday? If Iâm too far off base, Pastor Derr can correct me when he returns. Speaking of our beloved Senior Pastor, I would have loved to accompany him on the first leg of his trip - to Norway - especially as a respite from this scorching weather we have been enduring. However, I was not invited to tag along. In the second place, just between you and me and the sorry state of our economy, I simply could not âaffjordâ it.
Today our first lesson and the Gospel shows us two pictures of two prophets separated by about eight hundred years - Amos in the 8th Century B.C. and John the Baptizer in the early years of the 1st Century A.D. Amos of Tekoa, one of the so -called minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, was probably a wealthy landowner in the Southern Kingdom of Judah who made his living from breeding and trading large herds of animals and from tending groves of sycamore fig trees that grew in the warm
lowlands by the Dead Sea.
However, Amos content as he was, was jerked away from his commercial concerns by God and commanded to âGo, prophesy to my people Israelâ in the Northern Kingdom. The message that Amos was given to deliver was that God was going to bring an end to the Northern Kingdom. God had set a plumb line in Israel which had long been ignored. A plumb line is a measuring device, a strong cord with a weight on on end which was and is still used by stone masons and carpenters to make straight rows of bricks, straight walls, and square corners. You see, Israel had become off-center and thus crooked - not upright - not square with her covenant with God. Instead, under the reign of King Jeroboam II, many of the Israelites prospered economically, enjoying the sweet life which provided them sumptuously furnished, elaborate dwelling places, pleasant leisure time, and wild merry making. They felt, with all of this prosperity, that they were richly favored by God. But they were never more wrong.
They had disobeyed Godâs covenant commands. They had become totally indifferent toward their poor neighbors who suffered under debt and slavery, injustice in the courts,
and cheating in the marketplace. God had forgiven Israel time and again in the past, but now his patience has run out. He would ânever again pass them by,â or give them a free pass. King Jeroboam would die in battle and Israel would be taken into exile in Assyria. That was the message that Amos was sent to announce in, of all places, Bethel, where King Jeroboam had his royal chapel with its two golden bulls that were to represent the invisible presence of the Lord of Hosts. Amosâ preaching, therefore, was a direct challenge to the rule of the King.
King Jeroboam doesnât need or heed Amosâ proclamation of doom. For he has his own self-appointed spiritual advisor - Azaziah, his chief priest. Azaziah does not consider Amos to be a prophet sent from God, but rather a trouble maker trying to stir up the people and perhaps incite a riot. He tells Amos togo back home to Judah and prophesy there if youâre a prophet. But Bethel is my town and the Kingâs sanctuary my domain and we do not allow some wild-eyed rabble-rouser to contradict rule and upset the people. Itâs state power versus divine power and we know who wins out - for the moment.
But Amos defends his right to prophesy in the name of the Lord. He does not belong to some prophetic guild like the âsons of the prophets,â not a professional religious person who earns his living by prophesying. He is simply under a divine command. That Amosâ words were fulfilled is one of the reasons that his book was preserved in our canon.
In Markâs gospel we see another wild-eyed prophet, John the Baptizer. John was a nuisance to another king, Herod Antipas. But Jon was even bolder than Amos. John got up close and personal with King Herod, calling the king an adulterer for taking his brother Phillipsâ wife to be his own, and moreover calling the Kingâs newly taken wife, Herodias, a whore. Herod did not like Johnâs words but his wife Herodias was furious and wanted John killed. Herod, who spent most of his life trying to please people decided to lock John up in prison, keeping him away from the public.
âThings came to a headâ if you will pardon the expression, when Herod threw a lavish birthday banquet for himself. The entertainment for the affair was provided by the royal family winner of the recent Roman Idol Contest - Herodias who boogied up such a
storm doing her best âLady Gagaâ impersonation that King Herod promised that she could have any wish that her little heart and other attributes desired.
Well, Herodias, got her wish after prodding her daughter to demand John the Baptizerâs head on a platter as Herod could not afford to lose face in front of all his friends and dignitaries present. Of John Jesus would later lament, âThere is no greater prophet!â
The message of Amos and later John the baptizer comes home to us quite clearly. Our prosperity in our land, our good life our comparative comfort are no guarantee that God looks favorably on our ways of living. Nor is our frequent worship, regardless of how hip, creative, or renewing it may be, any shielding substitute for obeying the will of God. The Lord has given all of us the responsibility of caring for our neighborâs life and welfare - for establishing justice in our courts and commerce, and for worshiping him sincerely and in truth as the Lord He is, rather than relying on our self made idols.
The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell, a Presbyterian pastor and teacher in North Carolina wrote in
an article recently that are allâcloset Christians.â While the expression âcoming out of the closetâ is primarily regarded as referring to oneâs sexual orientation, Pastor Webb-Mitchell contends that the metaphor is also highly applicable to the life of all churches. In the Church as the body of Christ, there are those who live in their own closet of fear and shame over a host of issues. In many ways, a church is an assemblage of closets where culturally constructed categories keep people imprisoned. For example, while some congregants hide in closets of homophobia, other parishioners hide in closets where only racists dare to dwell. Still other gatherings of Godâs people wrestle with the Holy in closets or issues of class warfare or discrimination against people with disabilities. Many erect closets in which they hide their encrusted prejudices based upon ethnicity or hide dangerous political ambitions.
Well, what releases a person from these suffocating closets in not us, for the closet doors are nailed shut or either locked from the inside and outside. Instead, it is often Christâs Spirit among us today, which, by grace, breaks us out of our self-created closets and leads us on a pilgrimage of wholeness. What does the
resurrected Christ do with our locked windowless closets? Just what he did with the sequestered group of disciples on that first day of the week: He simply walks through locked doors, thick walls, and shuttered windows, stands among them and us, and says âPeace be with you.â This is the power of of resurrection and resurrected lives: there are no barriers between the resurrected Christ and us. This Spirit can enter wherever and whenever the Holy chooses. There are no more closets or doors that can be locked to kip the spirit out of any part of our lives. Today, the Spirit is moving and breaking open closets of all kinds, and merrily confusing denominational politics across the Church as well as in other communities of faith.
May the Spirit, the Spirit of Easter, the Spirit of Pentecost, continue to work among us, always nudging us to be the broader and more inclusive living body of Christ. Peace be with you. Amen.