Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pentecost 7B 2012: Blessed desolation

Proper 10 Lectionary: Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

COLLECT: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…

I love the prophets! To me they are like artists, painting doorways to the truth with the brushstrokes of their prophecies. Like other forms of art, it often takes some education to fully appreciate their work.

Amos is known as the prophet of social justice, which he considered essential, indispensible, for those who held themselves to be chosen ones of God.

Amos was a herdsman and farmer who lived in Judah. This was during the time that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. God sent Amos, to prophesy to the people in the northern kingdom of Israel where Jeroboam was king.

The northern kingdom of Israel then was kind of like Galilee was in our Gospel reading, and kind of like Hollywood is for us today: a place of earthly excesses, sometimes even decadence, populated by circles of rich, materialistic cosmopolitans, who believed they earned their own fortunes and, therefore, deserved the enjoyment their fortunes afforded them. They showed little to no mercy for those in need among them. They had lost their sense of righteousness, mercy, and duty in the name of God.

It was to them that Amos prophesied in Chapter 6: “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and …improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (v 4-6)

Amaziah, the priest of the temple, begged Amos to leave and prophesy somewhere else. Stop saying bad things about us, Amaziah said. This is the king’s territory and we are beloved, favored, and chosen of God. That’s why we have it so good.

Amos responded, yes, you are! Which is why you, of all people, should know how you are to live in relationship to God and one another. You have gotten lost in the satisfaction that comes from earthly wealth, power, and privilege. You believed that you deserve it, that you earned it, that it belongs to you and you can do with it whatever you will.

But your power and privilege is an illusion. And when the illusion fails, you’ll realize that you have nothing.

That’s because living life in the absence of God, there is only nothingness and Amos uses prophetic language to describe this nothingness saying, your wife will be sold into indignity, your kids will have no life in them, you will lose all you hold dear – including your land (which, for the people of Israel, meant their identity). You will even lose the dignity of your life and your death.

But God, who is steadfast in love and mercy, responds to our hubris, offering mercy and a way to go. In the vision of the plumb line, God asks Amos, ‘What do you see?’

‘A plumb line,’ answers Amos.

Right, says God. “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” (v 8-9)

In other words, by the mercy of God, all that the people cling to, all that seems desirable to them but leads to their destruction must be removed. All will seem lost because those things – the luxuries, the power and wealth, the success, and the approval of the others in their elite circles – had seemed so important, so supremely important.

But God, who loves us with steadfast love, knows that these things are to us humans like pills are to an addict. They are a lie and they lead us to death. They trick us into believing that we are satisfied and happy even as they destroy our relationships with God and one another. They cause us lose sight of the suffering of our needy sisters and brothers – those who are hungry, homeless, infirm, and alone – because we are too focused on ourselves and what we think we need/want/deserve. They also lead us into error, tricking us into believing that we are the source of our success, our wealth, and our happiness.

Detaching from these things is a lot like detoxing from an addiction – it’s painful at first. The body and mind fight against it. We cling to the lie which is preferable to the truth that is coming into view – the truth that in their absence, all that’s left is emptiness, nothingness. It feels like desolation.

And, in fact, it is desolation, blessed desolation: complete emptiness, the utter destruction of a false reality we had constructed for ourselves. It is only in that complete emptiness, in the stark, cold, darkness of the tomb, that the people of God (then and now) stripped of our illusions of power and self sufficiency, can discover what is truly important – what is true at all – life in the presence of God.

From that place of desolation we call out to God who is always there waiting to save, remembering again, or finally, that it is only God who saves. We believe that our salvation is in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, God, who came to live among us, to minister among us, and to give his life for our salvation. Jesus did it and it has been done – once, for all. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. No amount of obedience or good works can save us. Indeed, they are the fruits of our salvation, not the means to it.

We need to remember that if we do anything good it’s because the grace of God has been lavished upon us, compelling us to do our part in Christ’s continuing work of the redemption of the world. If we do anything good, it’s because the Spirit of God lives in us and touches the world through our grateful hearts and willing hands. If we do anything good, it’s because we have “heard the word of truth,” believed it, and surrendered ourselves and our lives to it.

Therefore, no matter how many modern-day Amaziahs ask us to stop speaking the truth, we won’t stop. No matter how many of them condemn us for welcoming all into the Church, all into presence of God, we’ll keep doing it anyway. And no matter how impossible or desolate the path ahead seems to earthly minds, we’ll continue to pray for and gratefully receive the grace and power to do what God would have us do.

I close with a prayer from Sir Francis Drake:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.


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