The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 9 – July 21, 2013
Texts: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Today’s readings abound in possibilities, including the possibility that we will suffer serious consequences if we deviate from God’s vision of Shalom. According to the readings from Psalms and Amos, there is both a promise and threat in our relationship with God. Openness to God’s vision opens us to lively and transformative energies and contributes to the healing the world. Closing off to God’s vision dilutes and weakens the divine energy available to us. We may consider ourselves spiritual, religious, or both but be heading away from God’s vision for our lives and our world.
Amos has harsh words to say to the upper classes of his nation. His vision of divine retribution seems all too human, too anthropomorphic, and yet it nevertheless gives us pause in light of our own role in planetary destruction. God will wreak vengeance on those who turn away from justice. Sadly, much of the nation’s waywardness is intentional. The lenders and proprietors know exactly what they are doing when they fix the scales, foreclose on farms, and drive farmers and their dependents into poverty and servitude. Their greed deadens them to the pain they are causing. Perhaps, they justify it with phrases such as “nothing personal,” “just business,” or “if I don’t do it someone else will.” There is a cost to such waywardness: worldly success, based on the sufferings of others, will boomerang back on the perpetrators, eventually destroying their souls as well as their largesse.
Amos speaks of a famine of hearing the word of God. Persons will seek God. They will attend workshops and retreats, donate to congregations, attend services, and learn spiritual practices, but remain spiritual famished. Authentic faith involves seeking justice as well as attending worship services and supporting your church. Without justice seeking, even the most beautiful worship centers and religious services are shams.
Recently, I saw a sign in a Cape Cod art boutique announcing “honk, if you create good.” This is a newcomer to a series of bumper sticker conversations, initiated by “honk, if you love Jesus” and then inspiring “if you love Jesus, seek justice; any fool can honk!” Amos would align himself with the first and third maxims: faithfulness to God involves creating good, and creating good involves seeking justice for vulnerable people.
The words of Amos and Psalm 52 are unsettling to affluent churchgoers and spiritual seekers. Many of us don’t intentionally contribute to the impoverishment of others. Still, we are part of a system which rewards wealth and punishes poverty. While the prophet would surely support effective and efficient governmental practices, the prophetic vision challenges any governmental, economic, or institutional practice that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society. Our current penchant for reducing programs for children, unemployed persons, and single parents living on the economic bubble would scandalize Amos and should scandalize us as well. In contrast to many of today’s political leaders, Amos would likely support tax breaks and reductions for upper middle class and wealthy persons only if poor and vulnerable are first supported and have reached a modest, but reasonable, standard of living, housing, health care, and education. The needs of the poor come before tax benefits for wealthy corporations or individuals. Amos would be revolted by impersonal foreclosures and plant closings that benefit stockholders while leaving communities in chaos.
Similar to Proverbs 8 and John 1, the reading from Colossians 1 joins cosmology and Christology. Christ is global as well as personal. Christ is the principle of creativity, novelty, and evolution. The cosmic Christ joins natural causation, moral order, and spiritual maturity as intimately connected in the creative process. Christ’s presence in our lives, to take a page from John Wesley, joins prevenient and sanctifying grace. God in Christ is ever-present as the power of personal and communal transformation, enabling us to experience God’s glories in our lives as a result of our ongoing resonance with God’s vision.
The story of Mary and Martha describes the contemplative and active aspects of faith. Martha gets the short end of the gospel straw in the gospel passage, but without her Jesus would not been fed. The problem is that her action adds to the anxiety she and others experience. It gets in the way of an enjoyable evening among friends. She is distracted about many things. In contrast, Mary is totally focused on Jesus. This is her, and perhaps Martha’s, calling in the present moment. Martha is so fixated on details of dinner that she, like many hosts and hostesses, forgets the reason for the meal altogether.
The gifts of Mary and Martha are both necessary to authentic spirituality. Without the spirit of Martha, Mary’s spirituality can become naval gazing and irrelevant to the needs of the world. Without the spirit of Mary, Martha’s agency becomes anxious and polarizing. Holistic spirituality involves action and contemplation, social concern and personal spirituality.
Pastor and congregation alike need to take Amos and Psalm 52 seriously and balance them with the more philosophical and contemplative passages from Colossians and Luke. Together they remind us that we need both yin and yang, prayer and protest, to energize our vocations as God’s companions in saving the world locally and globally.