By Bruce G. Epperly

photo courtesy of betbele via C.C. license at FlickrEighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 18, 2010

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Today's scriptures speak to the spiritual lives of North Americans today. They diagnose our condition and provide a pathway forward. With the "perfect storm" of a massive oil spill, economic uncertainty, continuing foreclosures, the ongoing two-theatre war, the threat of global climate change, terrorism, culture wars, growing racism, and shifts in geopolitical power, many people wonder if government or business can fix anything. Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety are in the air for baby boomers whose visions of globe-trotting retirements have faded into simply hoping to hold onto a job until 67 or 70. 

Perhaps Amos' listeners felt the same way. They believed that the old religious and political ways would save them, and were shocked to discover that they and their leaders were at the mercy of forces beyond their control. They turned to God but that didn't even do any good. God appeared to have withdrawn and may even have been punishing them for their injustice and apathy. There was still food in the pantry, but a famine on hearing the world of God. 

The prophet connects injustice with the ability to encounter God in meaningful ways. If we close our hearts, minds, and ears to the cries of the poor -- and worse yet, directly or indirectly, participate in unjust actions, foreclosures, and profit-seeking at the expense of justice -- we will also close ourselves to God's inspiration and comfort.

Now, it is important that we avoid saying certain things such as 1) economic collapse is divine punishment for our injustice, and 2) God is working through natural catastrophes to get our attention and challenge us to mend our ways. In contrast to the threatening language of Pat Robertson and others who connect divine punishment through national and natural catastrophes with America's acceptance of moral evil (ironically, not corporate behaviors), I would suggest the very real connection between behaviors and outcomes.  This is not linear or deterministic but causal insofar as irresponsible economic activities, shoddy products, cost-cutting at the expense of safety, and concern about profits over people, have serious and long-term consequences. 

The gulf coast cries out against injustice; unemployed people witness to corporate greed and mismanagement; and the homeless and evicted unmask irresponsible lending practices. These behaviors have spiritual consequences: when we are out of alignment with God's vision of the world, we lose touch with God's vision for our lives. We can no longer -- or barely -- hear the "still, small voice" beneath our shouts of greed, individualism, and empire. 

Though they deem themselves spiritual people, adherents of the new age text The Secret and the conservative Christian prosperity gospel alike focus on individual success, rather than corporate responsibility and social justice. Proving God's existence because you've found the closest parking place pales in comparison with real spiritual issues such as poverty, racism, and ecological disaster. Truly holistic spirituality hears the groans of creation and the cries of the poor as well as our own spiritual yearnings.