23 Pentecost/Proper 27/Ordinary 32 Year A November 12, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Amos 5: 18-24 + Psalm 78: 1-7 + 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It was my senior year of seminary and I found my self unexpectedly without any income and a suddenly single parent of two kids who were still at home. The seminary and synod connected me to a tiny little congregation as a Sunday supply pastor, which brought in a little bit of money. But not enough. So, I knew that I would need help in order to feed my children.
When I applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, or as they are more commonly known, food stamps, I had to make an appointment, to which I was required to take the following: My Social Security card, pay stubs, income tax returns, driver’s license, a copy of my lease, the latest utility bills, a copy of the court orders, and proof of my seminary enrollment. I waited for approximately a half hour before my hour long interview with the case worker, during which she confirmed all of my documentation and my situation.
It would have been far easier for me to purchase a gun than qualify for food stamps. And if I’d gone to a gun show it would have been a cake walk to walk out with one. Not to mention how unbelievably simple it would have been to buy one privately.
And this is how we have come to this place today. Again. Only thirty one days passed between the shooting at Las Vegas and last Sunday morning when Devin Kelly walked into First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas and shot those who had gathered to worship.
Some of you have asked if we are safe here this morning. Some in this community chose to stay home. And some of you are wondering why I’m preaching about this instead of the Scripture readings assigned for today.
So, let’s have a look at them. Specifically let’s look at the word from the prophet Amos. Amos brings this word from the Lord: “I despise and reject your feasts! I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies! When you offer me burnt offerings, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle! Spare me the racket of your chanting! Relieve me of the strumming of your harps!” Wow. Basically….all of the elements of worship are rejected by God. This was no small thing. If we were to hear this as it might relate to us, here in this place, it might say something like: “I am not impressed at all by this Sunday morning worship service. When you pass the offering plate, I reject it, I refuse to look at the bread and wine you bring forward. And that singing….just forget about it! Not to even mention the organ and piano.”
This doesn’t even make sense considering that we worship God. Why would God reject outright our worship practices?
The answer to that question is in one little word: Instead. In the NRSV and even in the King James the word is But. But. Instead. Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an unfailing stream.
In no uncertain terms, Amos tells the Hebrew people and us that God is not satisfied with only our worship. God wants us to get out there and work for justice.
Or to put it in words that are more relevant today: Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. Thoughts, prayers, songs, offerings….that’s not going to cut it. Instead. But. Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Still. How can we work for justice when we are just trying to figure out how to keep ourselves safe? How can we be prepared if something like what happened in Las Vegas or Orlando or Columbine or Sandy Hook or Aurora…(deep breath) or Sutherland Springs happens here? How can we be ready?
The answer is, we can’t. There was nothing…no program, no usher, no screening, no metal detector that would have kept Devin Kelly from bursting through those doors last Sunday morning. The only thing that might have saved those lives was if he had not been able to acquire those guns. It’s just that simple.
But aren’t we supposed to keep awake? Be ready? Be prepared? Isn’t that what the Gospel reading today is all about? Aren’t we supposed toave enough oil in our lamps? It’s worth noting that when the bridal party returned ALL of the attendants were sleeping. No one could stay awake. You see, for the believers of Matthew’s time, they had to address the reality that Jesus hadn’t returned. The bridal party was late. They’d expected them long ago, and in the waiting they’d fallen asleep.
We know that Jesus is coming again. Frankly, I wish he’d hurry up. The letter to the Thessalonians tries to imagine exactly what that day will be like. All of the early believers fully expected Jesus to have returned long ago. So, they spent a lot of time grappling with his ongoing absence.
Until Jesus does return, though, we have this truth that ought to form us every single day: we are the body of Christ in the world. The world sees and knows Jesus through our actions and in our words and in our response to what is happening in the world.
We can’t keep the events in the world “over here” and our faith “over here.” Those are the things God despises and rejects. Spare me that racket, God says. Work for justice instead.
But oh, beloved community, that can be so hard. We risk offending our friends and family. We risk being called names. We risk so much. Why can’t we just sit safely in our comfortable homes and go to work or school and be safe? Is that too much to ask? That we are safe when we go to work or school or, most especially, church?
I get this. We believe churches are supposed to be safe places. Children we love and our wise elders we love are here. It is sacred space. And so we are right to mourn; we are right to grieve because it would seem there are no more safe places left in America today.
The real problem we face is not security. The real problem we face is that we have forgotten God’s call for us to work for justice and righteousness.
“Since 1968, 1.5 million people have been killed by guns in America, more than all the wars in American history combined. Since 1980, almost twice as many people have been killed by guns in America than have died from AIDS. Gun violence is a public health crisis and an epidemic on par with war and AIDS. It is a uniquely American epidemic.” It is a justice and righteousness problem.
Until Jesus returns, it is our task as followers of the Prince of Peace to address it in active ways. We are going to have to look this thing squarely in the eye and call it what is: sin. We have placed our hope and our security in weapons that have not made us safe; they have taken our neighbors from us with mind boggling regularity.
So until Jesus returns, the time is here for us as his disciples to pray and to act. To act for the reform of a system that allows and enables the senseless slaughter of God’s children who are dying in staggering numbers right before our eyes even as we continue to say that there’s nothing we can do. But there is. God has told us through the prophets what we can do: that we can do justice and love kindness. That we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks and our guns into garden tools.
Beloved, we must be prepared to be the relentless workers for justice and righteousness in the world. And we must come to worship, not because God needs it, because God is God, with us or without us. We worship because we need it. We need community in these dark and difficult days. As the hymn text this morning reminded us: pilgrim clasps the hand of pilgrim, stepping fearless through the night. And we need to remember that God is God. That God loves us enough to become one of us in Jesus. And that that love compels us forward for the sake of our neighbors.
On this day, fear does not have the final word, and neither will the oppressive violence that has taken the lives of so many beloveds. God will have the final word and it will roll down like water, and like ever living streams.
Thanks be to God. Amen.