Sermon 3rd Sunday after Pentecost — Amos
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!
Today we celebrate the Holy Prophet Amos. Amos came from Judah, but he proclaimed his prophesy to Israel (the northern kingdom). Jeroboam II, and his father before him, had conquered much of the neighbouring territories, including parts of the kingdom of Judah, and initiated a time of relative peace and prosperity. He was not careful with his conquering and the pagan practices of those lands he conquered began to influence the people of Israel. Israel, like us today enjoyed relative prosperity, and relative ease . . . but it was a prosperity that only some enjoyed, a prosperity that was built on the backs of the poor. There was a great disparity between the rich and the poor, bribes being paid to pervert justice, cheating in business.
He confronted the people and the king about their unjust behaviour. He was not an “official prophet” and the official prophet took offense at Amos and his words of repentance, and told Amos to go back to Judah. And so he went back to Judah and wrote down his prophecy, becoming the first of the written prophets. But before he left, he told the king of Israel and his professional prophet that Israel would be wiped out.
In Israel the rich used their riches to take advantage of the poor. Mighty and wealthy people behaved the way they wanted to, and the poor just had to get in line and take what was dished out to them. This inequity Amos denounced. . . . Jeraboam II’s father set up altars for the recently conquered to their gods. Amos decried the cult of prostitution that became a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The religions of the neighbouring people did not care for the poor and the afflicted the way the religion of Israel’s God demanded. People treated the poor badly and still pretended to worship God on the Sabbath.
Amos’ famous lines have been oft quoted, about how worship of God means nothing if one behaves unjustly towards the poor: “You turn judgement into wormwood and leave off righteousness in the earth. . . I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.. . . . But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” He was saying that if we have no justice in how we treat one another then it makes our worship of God meaningless. And because they did not turn from their evil ways, God allowed them to be obliterated. Within 30 years, Israel was no more a nation.
Amos starts his book of prophesy by reminding the neighbouring countries that they are not exempt from God’s demands that they behave justly. We must look at our nation, and how we live in relative ease, and also how the rich live off of the misery of the poor. The words of Amos 2600 years ago still apply to us. If we allow the poor to be afflicted and do nothing to help them, we too could be obliterated as a nation.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us about our darkness. He warns us that if we think our darkness is really light, then our self deception increases the darkness. . . . And when we are in darkness, we are really bad judges of what is darkness and what is light. . . . . . and . . . most of us have some degree of darkness in our mind — our νοῦς — that part of us — our mind that intuitively can see God’s glory, once we bring our darkness to God and let Him heal it.
A man cannot serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.
What good is any of our external finery if we are blind? What can we see of it? How can we take pleasure in it?
Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God, or be enslaved by our passions. Jesus particularly singles out greed and how it enslaves us to wealth. For the anxiety that comes from worry over wealth, wounds our vital parts.
St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in our sufferings.” Our world has a hard time hearing that our sufferings can work for our healing. But this is what a physician does: he or she prescribes medicine, or surgery, or exercise or diet that may not be comfortable and may make part of us suffer. Rejoicing is hard, sometimes; it requires us to look at our sufferings in a different way than our culture does.
Instead, our world tells us to care about status, material things, stuff — rather than the health of our own soul, or even the health of the world at large. Our culture encourages us to be selfish, to please ourselves, to look at what serves ourselves — but that is destructive both of ourselves and those who are wounded by our selfishness.
The Christianity-ish-ness of our culture likes to pretend that we CAN serve two masters; so, when our culture runs at odds with God, we are told that it is somehow “OK”. And there are many who will justify why it is “OK”. But it is not OK. What is an abomination to God is always an abomination to God, regardless of whether it moves someone’s agenda forward or not.
How do we live the Kingdom of God in this Mammon loving world? — we love; we live in a healing way for ourselves and those we encounter; we Live the presence of God, in us, in those we meet — Putting aside hate, fear, and anxiety. We see other people as created in the Image of God, and our way of treating others is how we treat God.
We are anxious about much. Jesus doesn’t say “don’t concern yourself with the bodies needs.” For, as St. John Chrysostom said: Though the soul needs no food, it cannot endure to remain in the body unless the body is fed.” But there is much about our body that we cannot control; how tall we are, how long we live, whether we go bald or not, what sickness we may have to endure. Yet Orthodoxy teaches us to make the body serve the mind, spirit, and soul, and not the other way around. This is why we have a fast right now.
Yet in spite of what we must endure in this life, Jesus tells us to seek His Kingdom first, above all. This is why we are here. This service is about the Kingdom of God. When I invoke the Kingdom at the beginning of the service, the Kingdom comes to us for this moment. For the duration of this service we stand in Eternity. We worship with the angels. When we leave this service, the challenge is to bring that touch of Eternity into our everyday lives, to our work life, our family life, our playing in life. . . to actively live the grace of God . . . the grace that changes us
To Him whose grace that is, be all Glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.