Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 July 2016
Proper 10 Year C RCL: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Remember the scene in The Titanic when they first see the iceberg? Recall the utter horror of their realization? Think of the desperate efforts of the Titanic’s crew to stop that ship, to change course. It is too late.
Human pride to show off how this ship can reach New York faster than anyone ever has brings on this disaster. Many wealthy passengers ignore the situation, refuse to wear life vests, refuse to get into lifeboats. They are sure they can keep doing what they do, not change their course of action & all will be well.
We see Amos face this challenge in our 1st reading. Using a plumb line, God shows Amos the problem: God has built this wall – this people – designed to live aligned with God's love, God's justice, God's mercy.
The people live totally out of line.
God sends Amos to tell the power structure what it does not want to hear. We hear Jesus challenge the lawyer to change, to live aligned with God’s will.
Change is difficult. Bestselling author & college professor Rhoda Janzen talks about changes she experiences through cancer & through leaving her Mennonite roots to worship in a Pentecostal church.
In her book, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?, she says she thought changes in her life automatically changed her.1
“But change doesn't work like that. Altered circumstances give us only the opportunity to change. We actually have to do the work. We have to make the decision to get things moving, & then we actually have to move them. We can't sit around & wait for other people to do our work for us. We can't even sit around waiting for God to do our work for us.”2
She says: “Change means I have to do something different!”3
Doing something different is the problem for people in Amos' day. Like the people on the Titanic, they do not stay the course to live as God calls them to live. Amos lives in a time of “military might, security, & economic & national prosperity”4.
Not a professional prophet,5 Amos shines the light of truth to show that the country lives with wide disparity, social injustice, cheating in the market place, & “shallow, meaningless piety6.”
We hear this shallow, meaningless piety when the king’s priest, Amaziah, says Bethel “is the king's sanctuary...it is a temple of the kingdom." The king's sanctuary? A temple of the kingdom?
It is supposed to be God’s sanctuary, God’s temple.
It is supposed to be like this beautiful place where we worship: This beautiful Body of Christ that we call St. Francis is God's sanctuary, not mine, not one particular family's or special insider group's.
It's God's place where all are welcome.
When we reach out in love, open to God’s grace, we live aligned with God's Love.
This is the problem Amos must address to the power structure. As a paid professional in the power structure, Amaziah knows it is safer to tell leaders what they want to hear.
Amos is free to speak for the forgotten people, to speak truth to those who oppress the powerless7 & deny justice to the poor.
Amos makes it clear the power brokers neglect what we ask in our Collect today: that God let us know & understand what we ought to do & have the grace & power faithfully to accomplish it.
This is what Paul commends to the Colossians as he encourages them to hold to the truth & new life they have through Jesus, to stay the course. What they do matters.
What we do matters: within these walls, in our individual lives & beyond. This is what Jesus helps the lawyer see in today's Gospel:
God's love is for all people, all nations.
“...(A)cts of love are the final requirement of the law.”8
The law keeps the lawyer stuck. Jesus works to shift his perspective so that he can change course. The former Mennonite Rhoda Janzen speaks to this kind of change.
She says her core beliefs about church & people's role in church (are) “based on many years of scholarship, (and)...unlikely to change.9
“But,” she says, “I could assign them a different level of importance...God works through imperfect people,...imperfect churches,...imperfect faith.”10
She says: “I still (believe) that the idea of divine calling transcends the very barriers we use...categories of ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation.” She asks: “How (can) we call it a divine calling if it (doesn't) supersede our own human categories?”11
Jesus helps the lawyer & us see beyond our human categories, to see that God's love, mercy & justice supersede our categories of who are acceptable people we will help & who are outcasts we can convince ourselves to ignore.
Sometimes change is uncomfortable, as Janzen says. It can be
hard to let another perspective supersede ours, as we hear in this erudite book on philosophy, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. It says:
The lookout on a battleship spies a light ahead off the starboard bow. The captain tells him to signal the other vessel, "Advise you change course 20 degrees immediately!"
The answer comes back, “Advise you change course 20 degrees immediately!"
The captain is furious. He signals, "I am a captain. We are on a collision course. Alter your course 20 degrees now!"
The answer comes back, "I am a seaman second class, and I strongly urge you to alter your course 20 degrees."
Now the captain is beside himself with rage. He signals, "I am a battleship!"
The answer comes back, "I am a lighthouse." 12
Lighthouses withstand storms, rough waves, strong winds.
Lighthouse have to stay aligned.
Lighthouses have to be tended* to keep shining light, to keep others safe in the winds of change.
Jesus is our lighthouse*, shining forth God’s love to guide us. Jesus calls you & me together & as individuals to shine the light of God’s love.
Like Amos, we are to shine the light of truth on the disconnect between the power structure & people, the disconnect between what God says to do & what we do.
We are change agents. Like Jesus, like Amos, we are to (proclaim that) “the world can be organized differently.”13
The world can be organized differently.
* We must tend our relationship with Jesus, our Lighthouse.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes. New York: The Penguin Group. 2007.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plumb%20line Accessed: 6 July 2016.
Janzen, Rhoda. Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems. New York: Grand Central Publishing. 2012.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2001.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Poitier-Young, Anathea. Old Testaments Prophets class notes. The School of Theology, The University of the South Advanced Degrees Program. Summer 2010.
1 Janzen, Rhoda. Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems. P. 125.
2 Ibid. Pp. 125-126.
3 Ibid. P. 126.
4 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 1107.
5 Class notes by Dr. Anathea Poitier-Young for Old Testaments Prophets class. School of Theology, The University of the South. Summer 2010.
6 New Oxford Annotated Bible. P. 1107.
7 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 1180.
8 New Oxford Annotated Bible. P. 1260.
9 Janzen. Does This Church. P. 128.
10 Ibid. 128-129.
12 Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes. P. 179.
13 Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. P. 55.