Amos 6 by Shea Berbaum

shea-bearbaumShea Berbaum

Amos 6,

1 Tim 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31

 

LET US PRAY,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Amen.

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I meet with a group of boys that live near my teaching parish church, St. James, in Lexington. A couple of weeks ago, the vicar and I decided to play a game with the boys to work on teambuilding and communication. We had the five boys line up at this one spot in the hallway and told them that we would give them five dollars each if all of them could travel from one end of the hallway to the other, using pieces of paper like stepping stones because now, the floor was lava. They could not slide on the paper like snow shoes, and if their foot came off of a piece of paper, I would snatch it up. Naturally it took the boys a while to figure out a working strategy, but eventually they started making their way down the hallway and one of them crossed the line, making it to the other side. Their strategy involved having two people go across at a time; one placing the papers on the floor to walk on, the other picking up papers that had already been used so that I wouldn’t take them away. When the first kid made it across, his partner was left with a choice. Cross the line now, or go back for his friends. He chose to cross the line, taking all the papers with him. So, they lost. They had forgotten their friends on the other side, being content to finish without them.

This is what Amos is talking about in our text for today. Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, is sent by God to prophesy to the kingdom of Israel because they have forgotten their neighbors and were not only content to live without them, but were  oppressing them for their own personal gain. God is a God of justice, and as God’s people they should know better. Instead of grieving for their neighbors who have been left behind, they “lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves out on couches. They eat lamb and veal, and sing, and drink wine by the bowl full.” So God sends them into exile.

Amos’ prophetic words speak to us, here, now despite their being written 2,776 years ago. We have heard this same theme in our country not long ago in Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ Letter from Birmingham Jail written in 1963. King writes,

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. King urged us 53 years ago not to forget our friends on the other side, and be content to live without them.

I am convicted by the words of Amos and Dr. King. For the past 400 years our country has been content to live without and even make our living off of our brothers and sisters. Slaves built our houses and grew our crops. After a civil war that ended slavery, half of the country created laws that legally oppressed African Americans and robbed them of their constitutional rights. After the battle for Civil Rights, we declared a War on Drugs that has led to the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color. Black men are dying on our streets every day while we stretch ourselves out on couches, sing songs, drink wine by the bowl full and declare that “All lives matter.” When we see a sports star take a stand for justice by refusing to stand for our anthem, we participate in that same lukewarm acceptance that Dr. King write about. We do not grieve for the brothers and sisters that have been left behind, we are content to live without them.

But maybe that is not right. In Luke chapter 4 Jesus quotes Isaiah saying:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

If this is the goal, the end of the game, maybe it is us, we who have forgotten the plight of our brothers and sisters, and we who were content to live without them, we who made our way across the lava floor on pieces of paper, taking them with us as we crossed the finish line… we have been left behind. This is the scene we are given by Jesus in today’s parable. Lazarus, a poor man, sick broken, battered and dying is welcomed to the bosom of Abraham himself while the Rich Man is condemned to torment. Even in death, the rich man cannot see the point of the game. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to fetch some water for him. Abraham responds, “I’m sorry. I can’t. Lazarus, I mean

Michael Brown,

Eric Garner

Freddy Gray,

I mean Fernando Castille

I mean Sandra Bland,

No, I’m sorry,

Terrence Cutcher

Lazarus is at rest here with me. And besides You’re all the way at the other end of the hallway and you took your papers with you.

The Rich man still doesn’t get it. “Send that boy Lazarus to my kin so they he can warn them what it’s like over here on the other side. Abraham says, they have Moses, Amos, and all of the prophets. Let them listen to these. And how many more do we have Church? We have the words of Jesus Christ himself. We have Paul and Timothy and Martin Luther! We have Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, James Cone, Malcom X and Martin Luther King. And yet we still stretch ourselves out on couches, sing songs, drink wine by the bowl full and forget our friends on the other side, content to live without them.

And yet, despite all of this, God keeps God’s promises. God first promised Abraham and all his descendants that he would be their God and that they would be his people forever, period. At the end of Amos chapter 9, God remembers God’s promise:

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,

And they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;

They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,

And they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

I will plant them on their land,

And they shall never again be uprooted

Out of the land that I have given them.

In baptism God has entered us into that same promise. The water that covered our heads to cleanse our hearts cannot be unpoured. That oil cross marked on that baby’s head can not be rubbed off. That seal of the cross of Christ is for forever. The promise made to Abraham and his descendants is made to us. God will be our God, and we will be God’s people.

We confess every Sunday that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We ask God, for the sake of his son, Jesus Christ, to forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in God’s will, and walk in God’s ways, to the glory of God’s holy name. We hear that God forgives us, and has promised to send us his own spirit that will bear fruit in us. Fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. God will not forget us on the other side of the hallway. God is never content to live without us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Community out of Crisis (Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

As previously mentioned this morning’s service is a remembrance of the fatal shooting that took place on June 17, 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. The shooting was and is remarkable for a number of reasons not the least of which is the congregation’s show of love and forgiveness, that kept the shooter’s intention of causing division and hostility from coming to fruition. It is the juxtaposition of the intentions of the shooter and the response of the congregation that makes this reading from Galatians appropriate for this morning’s sermon. Paul addresses the church at Galatia, who are having some difficulty with the notion of freedom. They obviously were having questions about what it means to live in Christian freedom and Paul writes this letter to them to provide an answer. It is this portion of Paul’s letter that informs our response, as we remember the Emanuel 9 this morning. It is only through the proper understanding of Christian freedom that we can create community out of this crisis.

Our reading today begins with Paul’s theological statement and focal point of the entire letter. Paul writes, for freedom Christ has set us free. Only a few words but packed with significance. First and foremost, it is done. Our freedom has been won completely once and for all on the cross. We are free though not all of us are living in this freedom. We are free though many mistake worldly freedom with Christian freedom. Freedom can be understood as choosing from several different options. As Americans we are used to having choices; we walk into a grocery store and there are four or five different brands of whatever product we are looking for from toothpaste to soup. Many equate the ability to choose with freedom but Christian freedom actually limits our choices. If we would live in the freedom that Christ offers, we are no longer free to go off on people; we give up our freedom of speech so that we speak as we are led by the Holy Spirit with patience and love. We give up our freedom of religion submitting ourselves to the only true and living God and pledging our allegiance to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exclusively. We are freed but not for the sake of self-indulgence; not for the sake of doing whatever we want, living totally unrestrained. Paul says that living a totally unrestrained life is to subject ourselves again to the sinfulness from which Jesus has set us free. He frames this argue based on the dichotomy of either living by the Spirit or living according to the flesh. Flesh here is not to be misunderstood as Paul saying that the human body is inherently bad or evil. For Paul, flesh is shorthand for being self-centered and individualistic as opposed to being God-centered leading to loving and caring about others. For Paul, the works of the flesh include both material (fornication, drunkenness) and spiritual (sorcery, idolatry) desires. Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit has spiritual benefits but also helps us in our relationship to the material stuff of this world. So there is not a body/spirit opposition in Paul’s argument, he is not making a case for giving up material possessions and desires but rather it is the conflict created by disordered desires. The natural longing for God becomes idolatry; the natural longing for sexual intimacy becomes fornication. When disordered desire or living according to the flesh takes over we begin to act out of rage and anger; our zeal, our deeply held beliefs become the cause of factionalism and division. But whereas the flesh causes hostility, strife, and division the Holy Spirit creates community. The two are diametrically opposed to each other. You cannot live according to the flesh and according to the Holy Spirit simultaneously.

This opposition between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit has reared its head on numerous occasions in the church in general and in what becomes the United Methodist Church in particular. The church in general and United Methodism in particular has failed to live according to the Spirit. Colonial and early American preachers used Holy Scripture to support and justify the institution of slavery in this country. In the Methodist Episcopal Church this would result in a split between the Methodist Episcopal Church North and Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1840. The church missed an opportunity to bring community out of crisis; missed an opportunity to lead the country by setting an example of how to live according to the Spirit even when we disagree. Who knows if the different denominations had been able to work through the issue of slavery perhaps there would not have been a Civil War. The church failed again with the reunification of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1939. This unification included the creation of the Central Jurisdiction, the only jurisdiction not based on geography and instead created based on race to satisfy Southern Methodists’ and their refusal to accept African American members into their annual conferences; again another opportunity for the church to set the example of living by the Spirit and eschewing the tendency to fulfill our self-indulgence; the church could have been at the forefront of the civil rights movement and the end of racial segregation and discrimination but it is not until 1968 and the unification with the United Evangelical Brethren to create the UMC that Central Jurisdiction and racial discrimination in the United Methodist Church came to an end from a disciplinary and policy standpoint. But at this year’s annual conference a pastor stood up as we were debating a resolution addressing racism to recount how at his previous appointment members of his congregation stood at the door to prevent African Americans from entering the church. He did not say where in SC this was but he refuted the notion held by some that racism was not as serious a problem in SC and definitely not in the SC Annual Conference of the UMC. It is unwise and much too speculative to try to draw a line from colonial times to the massacre that occurred June 17, 2015 during the Bible study hour at Emanuel AME Church. However, as Dylan Roof walked into this Bible study intent on destroying community; acting out of self-indulgence with a plan to destroy this gathering of God’s children we are reminded that the church has to be the leading voice if we are ever going to live in the unity and harmony promised by God the Holy Spirit. By Roof’s own account, the love that he encountered at Mother Emanuel almost convinced him not to go through with his plan. He almost decided to walk away but he was controlled by his flesh. Dylan Roof’s beliefs had created such a zeal within him that he acted according to the flesh; he acted out of anger, malice, and divisiveness. He acted out of his enslavement to a belief that he had the power and authority to take human lives; that somehow destroying these people would give him victory. He is not the first and unfortunately as we see from more recent events in Orlando he is not the last of people who have been formed and shaped by this notion that they have unchecked freedom to take life; to destroy community, to do whatever they want to do. However, Paul makes it clear that attempts to destroy others will lead to our own destruction. “If…you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (v. 15) We get an image of two wild animals tearing and ripping at each other with claws and teeth believing that there is a victory to be had when in actuality with each blow inflicted on the opponent they are destroying themselves.

This is the message this morning, we need each other. God has created us all in such a way that we cannot survive without the help and support of others, there is just no two ways about it. Paul in his list of the works of the flesh lists, quarrels, strife, enmity, dissensions, factions among others but these point to the ways the works of the flesh promote division and a scattering into isolated individualism. The fruit of the Spirit on the other hand, creates unity bringing us all together in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is easy to hate Dylan Roof. That is what I want to do. I want to be self-indulgent and wallow in the hatred and anger and rage that I felt when the realization of what had occurred hit me with full force. That this fellow could sit through an hour of Bible study, pray with this group of people and still take their lives in cold-blood. But to be self-indulgent is not to be self-loving. To give my self-control over to the passion of anger is to deny the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide toward unity and wholeness. We are freed from these passions in Jesus Christ. That is not to say that there will not be conflict. Indeed, it was the openness of this congregation to unquestioningly welcome everyone who enters their doors that made it possible for this young man to do what he did. To live according to the Spirit is to live in the vulnerability that is found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus loved without restraint; Jesus not only sought out those who were oppressed and abused but he also sought out the abusers and oppressors. Jesus did not condemn as he corrected; instead he constantly called to everyone to all who would listen giving every man, woman, boy, and girl a chance to experience the healing and wholeness he offered. If we are going to be followers of Jesus Christ we have to have a different understanding of freedom and power than those who do not follow Christ. Whenever, conflict arises and it will, we are charged by the power of the Holy Spirit to meet it with generosity meaning a humility that makes a space for others, patience that bears with those who sin differently than we do, kindness that seeks what is good for everyone, and faithfulness that will not let us walk away from this community God has given us. This is not optional or a suggestion but is a command. To meet this crisis or any crisis with hate and anger is to feed into the death and division that was intended by this horrible act but to be the church to be followers of Christ is to take seriously our responsibility to bring community out of this crisis. How can we, led and guided by the Holy Spirit turn what was meant for evil into good? How can we get beyond the initial coming together for prayer vigils and walks, which are good but only temporary? How can we see how God is creating a more permanent and intimate community out of this crisis? Hear me clearly, we are not in this alone; the Holy Spirit is with us to empower and sustain us. As Paul continually reminds us and the church in Galatia with the imperatives to walk by the Spirit (v. 16, 25), live by the Spirit (25a), be led by the Spirit (v.16, 18, 25b). Through these imperatives Paul asserts that we are either led by the flesh leading to unrighteousness, death, and destruction or we will be led by the Spirit leading to righteousness, life, and creation. We are called to action while being totally dependent on the Holy Spirit so that we are able to live in Christian freedom and bring community out of crisis.

To God be the Glory.

 

 

Meeting God at the Table (Luke 8:26-39)

It was a Friday night January 27, 1956, that changed the life of Martin Luther King. It was this prophetic moment that would give Dr. King the strength to carry on his march for justice. King slumped home after another day of meetings and tension over racist practices. He walked around the house thinking and pacing about the events of the day. Then the phone rang, a sneering voice on the other end: “Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.” King’s fear surged; he hung up the phone, walked to his kitchen, and with trembling hands, put on a pot of coffee and sank into a chair at his kitchen table.

Here was the prelude to King’s most profound spiritual experience. He describes it in his book Stride Towards Freedom.

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

While sitting at the table, King had an experience with God. It was this seminal moment that would forever fuel him in his fight for justice. Just days later his house was bombed and his family nearly killed. He would state, “Strangely enough, I accepted the work of the bombing calmly,…My religious experience from a few nights before had given me the strength to make it.” As crowds of angry people appeared in the streets, he spoke of the need to love those who hate you even more now. One year later King would awake to find twelve sticks of dynamite on his porch. It had not exploded and his family was not killed. But as he stood on the porch he recalled the moment when God meet him at the table.

In the Gospel of Luke, we encounter a similar situation of meeting God at the table. Jesus has been invited to the house of Simon who is a Pharisee.  Even though some religious leaders did not agree with him, Jesus do not cut them off. While at the house of the Simon, a “women of the city” comes in the house. This would strike some of us as odd. Here you are having a special dinner with God and in walks a woman who has been marked as an outsider. Now, the scriptures does not mention what her particular indiscretion was but she was considered a sinner. Some have labeled her a prostitute but that is not situated in the text. The only thing that is detailed is that she “was a sinner.” It specifically says in verse 37, “ behold, a women who was a sinner.” Though Simon sees her as a sinner in verse 39 (presently), the scriptures proclaims this was not her present condition. Because of her past, whatever that may or may not be, Simon continues to hold her captive to those sinful events.

It is unjust to be simply known by your past.

After hearing that Jesus was at Simon’s house, she crashes the party and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipe them off with her hair. She then begins to anoint his feet with the oil. Usually, people would anoint people’s head and not their feet. This woman’s appreciation of meeting God at the table gave her the courage to make a bold act of worship to Jesus. She is in intruding in a space where she was not invited, with a possession that a woman like her should not have had in the alabaster box ointment, and to top it off, she is, at least in the customs of that time -fondling the Christ. She also has her hair down, an action that theologian Joel Green denotes is similar to being topless in public. It would appear that this nameless woman is breaking all the rules in order to get a moment of forgiveness and love from the Lord Jesus Christ. She is willing to relinquish her valuable possession of self-worth for a moment at the table with Christ. I don’t know her desperation, needs, wants or desires but we do see in the scriptures that she was willing to be ridiculed and to break tradition in order to worship Christ.

So much so that her actions began to change how Simon saw Jesus. Simon replied to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Simon is now questioning rather Jesus really who he says he is because he is attending to this outsider. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus because of who he thought he was but then changes his mind because Jesus was actually being the Christ. Jesus then asks Simon a parable: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” I think it is fair to surmise that this is a picture of salvation. We being sinners are forgiving of our sin debt by Christ’s death on the cross. We are justified–brought into right standing with God—by the love of Christ and his work on the cross. Jesus is highlighting a valuable point that we have a debt that no sinners will ever be able to pay… but he took it upon himself to pay the sin debt and became the sacrifice for our sins. Is that not a special Love!!!

He concludes the parable by saying that those who have much to be forgiving for never miss the opportunity to show that appreciation for that forgiveness. But, you Simon never offered to clean my feet, did not offer me sign of hospitality with a kiss, nor did you anoint my feet… but this women, this stranger, outsider did all of that and more. He says that her sins are forgiving and that her faith had saved her. Jesus did not mean that she had earned great forgiveness with her great love. But, that her love was the result of, not the reason for, her forgiveness- it was an expressive response to an inner joy.

This women having such appreciation for God that she broke the norms of society in order to meet God at the table. Dr. King was in the midst of trying times and meet God at the table. Every Sunday we get the opportunity to meet God at the table. We get to meet God at the table where the bread represent his Body that was beaten and broken on our behalf. Where his blood was shed for the remission of our sins. We get to meet God at the table where race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disabilities or denominations all take a back seat to the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the table we get to meet the Lord and Savior, who looked past our faults and say our needs. The table, the place where God in Psalms 23 prepares for us in the presence of our enemies.

It was at the table of my Great Grandmother where I meet God many days….  It was at this table as often as we meet, we entered into sacred places of peace with each other and had a meal.

The Query of an Obscure Stranger (Acts 16:16-34)

In 2013, World Council of Churches took the call for unity to task by writing a historic document, The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV). Their objective, highlighted in their 2012 bylaw, suggests that they exist

to serve the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ , through witness and service to the world, and advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.

Simply, it is this “mutual calling” that serves as an urgent push to embrace perichoretic moments that seek to stabilize the church.  Exactly, what are perichoretic moments? (I am glad you asked.) A pericherotic moment represent episodes when “we are tolerable but yet celebrative, for one another, giving one another open life-space for mutual indwelling. Each person is indwelling and room-giving at the same time.” (You have the room to be yourself in all your fabulousness and I have the room to be myself, in all my fabulousness) Ultimately, what the WCC is hoping for is that the church enters into  a weighty call to attend, the needs of the stranger.  Paul Collins writes, “The ‘Other’ may be seen in terms of the difference as in stranger/foreigner, whom ‘we’ might welcome or reject. Another might be in the terms of the opposition of friend/foe. This in turn leads to the drawing of borders or boundaries and begs questions of how the ‘Other’ is to be assimilated…The question of the relationship of the church to the ‘Other’ also impinges upon the theology of the church itself…”  (So how we treat strangers is akin to how we see God.)

Dr. Mitzi Smith of Ashland Seminary denotes in her defining of other(ness) as a “description of interaction.”  Difference is constructed in order to distinguish ourselves from proximate others. Our constructions of the other generally function to subordinate the other to us.”  When I am not seen as being different than you, I have the potential to challenge you for your power and position. By highlighting difference, now I do not have to share my place of power, privilege or space. I just have to accentuate that you are different- the other, the stranger. In the kingdom of God, we are all obscure strangers that have been allowed a sit at the table.

In Acts 16: 16- 34, two examples of strangers are introduce to us.  The first examples are Paul and Silas and their companions. As they are moving through the city on their way to the “place of prayer”, they are met by a slave call. This girl being possessed by a pythonian demon begins to follow Paul and Silas. While following them she begins to shout these men are the servants of the Most High God., who proclaim the way of salvation. As she continues fellow them for many days, the apostle Paul becomes annoyed and commands the demon to come out of her. Once the demon leaves, the owners of the slave girl take Paul and Silas to court for interrupting their corrupt money making scheme. Through the medium of the demon the slave girl was able to tell fortunes with these great abilities. These abilities provided her owners with wealth that has now be brought to a halt by Paul. So, the owners take Paul and Silas to court and accuse them of being Jews and disturbing “our” city. The very use of “our” indicates a boundary –this is mine and not yours; I am an insider and you are an outsider. Even in our contemporary setting, it is quite astounding to see the reaction: when outsiders start to delve into insider business.

As with Paul and Silas, they are accused of being Jews when in actuality they are Roman citizens. So, even when you are an insider, if you choose not to follow the rules of the other insider nation…you may be considered an outsider.

The rest of the story continues, as Paul and Silas are convicted, beaten and thrown into jail. While in jail they are praying and singing hymns to God which is followed by an earthquake. The earthquake breaks open the jail cell from which the prison guard assume they had escaped. When he begins to take his sword out to kill himself, Paul screams out to him not to harm himself. From this ordeal the prison guard ask what he must do to be saved. The guard and his household were saved that night as Paul and Silas shared the word of the Lord.

 

The second example of a stranger is the slave girl. We have talked about her story but let’s take a closer look at a few things. First she is a slave. She is the property of others but she possesses an ability that produces wealth for her owners. When Paul and Silas arrive she follows them and broadcast throughout the city they are servants of God, which eventually brings Paul to a place where he commands the demon to leave her in the name of Jesus. As stated before the owners are furious because their money making scheme is over. Ironically, the welfare of the slave girl is non-existent. Honestly, she is not mentioned again after her brief introduction into the story. This slave girl stands as an obscure stranger. Yes, she had been freed by the Apostle Paul but forgotten in the story. We do not know whether she was ever saved like Lydia and the prison guard. We do not know whether she ever got another job because now she is unemployed. This is all speculative and leave much for us to ponder: What ever happen to the slave girl. But there is one thing that we can be certain about…that God loves the stranger.

 

We were all what Ephesians 2:12 calls “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  We were all in a place where we were the outsiders. But thanks be to God that we have been allowed a seat at the table. We have been invited to partake of the feast called communion. As obscure strangers of God, we are given the grace to be a part of the beloved community if faith. What a beautiful privilege to be able to take everything to the Lord in prayer. What a beautiful privilege it is to be able to kneel at the alter with other strangers and partake of the meal of Christ. Yes, at the table of Christ we are all strangers, outsiders, and sinners displaying thanks for a continual well of love that has been pour out toward us. Thankful that God did not set boundaries that would isolate us from the promise.

“What’s Up” (Guest post by Jared Lee)

This first appeared on Jared’s Theology Journey

This sermon was preached to the people of 

Word of Hope Lutheran Church in Lexington, KY on
Sunday, June 28th, 2015.
 
The text for the sermon was Lamentations 3:22-33
I have to begin this sermon with a confession.  I unapologetically love 90s pop music and one-hit wonders.  It’s taken me a long time to make peace with this fact, but there it is.  There’s just something about that music that speaks to me.  Often times, these catchy and usually fun songs are able to lift me up when I’m feeling down.  And yet, at other times, I find myself drawn to a song over and over again but it’s trying to tell me something or speaking to my soul.  And over the past four weeks or so, I have found myself humming or singing the 90s one-hit wonder by 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up?”

4 non blondes

Don’t know the song because you don’t share my love of 90s music? Let me help. The chorus goes something like this:

“And so I wake in the morning and I step outside, I take a deep breath and I get real high, and I scream from the top of my lungs, What’s going on?”

I think the reason that I keep humming or singing out loud this chorus is because every time I turn on my computer and scroll through my Facebook news feed, every time I  glance at the headlines in the morning paper, and every time I turn on the news, I find myself asking

“What’s going on?”

What is going on in the world today?

And so, perhaps I have another confession.  I am tired.  I am world-weary and perhaps even downright exhausted.  And while I’m tired because of a lot of things, physically, perhaps what I’m most tired, emotionally.  You see, I am tired of turning on the TV, tired of logging in to Facebook, signing on Twitter, of turning on the radio, or glancing at the headlines of the newspaper.  I am tired of these things most of all because they stir up in me more things that I am tired of.

I am tired of living into my privilege.  I’m tired of being guilty as part of  a system that I did not create.  I am tired of watching my black sister and brown brothers persecuted and oppressed.  I’m tired of people explaining away crimes of hate using words like “mental illness.”  I’m tired of the debates about the Confederate flag.  I’m tired of seeing violence against women.  I’m tired of listening to debates regarding marriages.  I’m tired of watching news stories about ISIS.  I’m tired of not knowing what to say, tired of wishing something could be said.  And at the end of the day, I think I’m tired of being tired.

And in my state of being tired, I have become angry and irritable.  I’ve snapped at my roommate more than I should and I’ve lost patience with my dog when he wants to cuddle and sleep right next to me.  I am filled with anger that started with hurt and heartache and is fueled daily by my exhaustion.  And as I’ve said before, that one-hit wonder has been speaking to my soul, and there are times when I’m not singing and I’m actually screaming

“Hey! What’s going on?”

And in these moments, I think that what I’m really doing is singing, well screaming, to God.  I demand to know from God what’s going on? Where are you, God in all of this?  Why isn’t something being done to prevent the hurt and the pain and the tragedy and the anger?

This song has helped direct my anger and frustration away from the people that I care about and can actually hurt and lets me feel angry at God.  Because a wise friend once told me that God can take it.  However, being angry at God, which I think happens from time to time for many of us, does not lend itself to any of the lessons this morning, unfortunately.  I did not want to preach on God’s faithfulness and mercy and grace.  So that wise friend reminded me gently (or perhaps not so gently) to go back and read the rest of the book of Lamentations.

This book is filled with an author’s anger and grief and frustration that is directed at God for failing to act, for failing to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem. This book is much more in tune with the feelings of many Christians in America today, I think.  This grief and frustration that our world isn’t perfect and the feeling of helplessness to change the system that has caused these imperfections.

In fact, these few verses are the only ones in the entire book that profess God’s faithfulness and the idea that God will keep God’s promises.  It would feel a little out of place, if we didn’t know that God tends to work in surprising and unsuspecting ways.  And so, because that’s how God works, I think that it’s here we need to spend time this morning.  It is this author’s declaration of God’s enduring steadfastness and faithfulness; the ideas of God’s never ending love and refusal to let suffering go on forever.  There, there is where America meets God in the Bible this morning, and every morning.  We hear, “great is your faithfulness” even though we feel that God has abandoned us.

Oh what a wonderful message to hear.  Oh what a terribly hard message to take to heart.  It is so easy to say that I will trust in the Lord, but when you’re angry and hurt it’s a very different thing to actually trust in the Lord.  We want to believe that God doesn’t cause pain or suffering and does not enjoy it when we feel hurt or betrayed.  That God suffers when we suffer.  But, there’s a voice inside us in the midst of pain and tragedy that wants to say,

“you did this, you made this happen, you brought this upon yourself because you aren’t good enough, now God is punishing you.”

So sometimes we believe that instead because that voice is loud enough and speaks long enough and we’re just tired enough that it makes sense.  It’s easier to believe that God is punishing us than acknowledge that bad things happen because the world is broken and is in the process of being healed.  So we need a reminder now and then, especially when we’re tired that God is faithful and just, God pours out love and mercy now and forever, and that God has not abandoned us.

But not even God expects us to be able to lay out our griefs and sorrows and then “get over it” just like that.  Lamentations goes on for two more chapters where the author continues to lay our grievances before God.  And then it ends.  There’s no resolution.  There’s no divine action.  There’s no immediate healing.  This author just lays out griefs, frustrations, and fears, while acknowledging that God is not going to leave things the way they are, and then it’s over.  Not because the grief and the pain has gone away, but because the words have been carried to God and there is a certain trust that things are in God’s hands now.

This text serves as a reminder that it’s ok to get angry with God, God can take it.   We too, have permission to give voice to our fears, our frustrations, our grief and our pain.  We can tell God that we’re hurting because of systemic racism, we’re hurting because of how men view women, how America views other nations, and how other nations look at America.  We can tell God that we feel angry when our loved ones die too soon.  We are allowed to take all of these things to God.  And we can know that God suffers our pain with us.  God knows our grief.  God feels angry with us in our anger.

But, as these few verses from Lamentations say to us today, we cannot stay stuck in our self-pity or anger.  We cannot allow ourselves to continue to vent and complain with no purpose or end.  It is one thing to lift up our weariness and frustrations and griefs to God, but it is another to make that all we say or think about.  Lamentations gives us permission to voice these things, yes, but the author does not give us permission to stay stuck within these feelings of helplessness or despair.  The author takes a break in the middle of his rant to remind himself and us about who we are talking to.  The author does not allow himself to stay in this place of despair, instead, the author reminds himself and us of the hope that we have in God.  That in the midst of all the darkness we feel, God is still present with us.

Yet, in all of these very real griefs and frustrations,  we still believe that God’s faithfulness is great  God continues to love us and forgive us, even as we struggle to forgive ourselves..  God continues to teach us what justice is, even as we look out into our broken world and see injustice upon injustice.  God continues to listen to our pain and suffering; God even sees us in our exhaustion and God promises that one day it will be no more.  God will continue to strengthen us and empower us to make small changes to fight unjust systems.

Because that list of things that I’m tired about?  There are things that I can do to help God in the process of bringing justice to the world.  There are things that we together as the church can do to take a stand against oppression and evil in this world.  We have been freed through the waters of baptism to stop living into this oppressive system and live into God’s system of justice that is mercy and grace.   God, through us, is there to help us as we try to stop telling and laughing at racist jokes.  God will help us as we try to stop objectifying women and men and start seeing them as sisters and brothers.  God will help us as we struggle to find the words to speak; saying yes to second chances and no to the evil that is very real in this world.  And, I believe that God will give us energy when we are tired.

For God is faithful.  Even as we struggle to believe it, we gather as one church to remind each other of God’s presence as we see God’s presence all around us here today.  And we will gather at the altar to join in the bread and wine that becomes Christ’s body and blood connecting us not just to one another but to all of those who have come before, are present across the world now, and will come after us.  And for that, even we who are tired, can give thanks to God, even as we lament.  Amen.

 

jared Lee

Jared Lee is a recent seminary graduate from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary who will be starting his first call at the Word of Hope Lutheran Church this year.