The Adventurous Lectionary – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
No doubt you’ve seen the battle of bumper stickers. A popular evangelical bumper sticker proclaims, “Honk, if you love Jesus.” To which a contrasting bumper sticker responds, “If you
love Jesus, seek justice. Any fool can honk.” Today’s lectionary readings encourage a holistic spirituality, embracing prayer and protest, study and social involvement, contemplation and creative transformation.
Amos would have appreciated the theology of the second bumper sticker. Faith and ethics are intimately connected. Worship is dead – in fact, deadly – if it is divorced from concern for the poor and from practices that promote the well-being of society’s most vulnerable members, so says the prophet Amos, who proclaims that God blesses our worship when we “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) This is surely a matter of personal ethics, but for Amos and the prophetic tradition, it is much more than individualism. It also involves citizens committing themselves to creating a just political and economic order.
Amos 8 is terrifying in its prophetic realism. Those who trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land will experience a “famine of hearing the word of God.” They will have beautiful worship services, lively praise music, mega-buildings, properly performed sacraments, and think themselves orthodox, when in fact God has abandoned their houses of worship. Such words leave me feeling, as Thomas Merton notes, like a “guilty bystander.” Like most Americans, even among many of those who think they are disenfranchised, I benefit from unjust business and investment practices, taxes that benefit wealthy corporations and individuals, and practices that destroy the ecological infrastructure.
Recently controversy emerged about whether or not Donald Trump had accepted Jesus as his savior. While I am in no position to judge Trump’s inner spirituality, it is appropriate to ask if his faith has changed his attitudes on race, gender, and refugees. It is also appropriate to look in the mirror, as the preacher, to explore our own apathy, hopelessness, or contentment with political and economic practices that destroy families and communities and our delicate ecosystems. We can ask ourselves, “Is there a famine on hearing God’s word in the United States?” Despite our numerical religiosity, some of the most religious among us are also the most racist, sexist, polarizing, and hateful toward outsiders or members of the LGBTQ communities. Just look at the invective from certain pulpits following the massacre at Orlando At the very least, we need to live in the pathway of Jesus, beginning with a respect for those with whom we differ and a willingness to recognize the finitude of our own positions.
Psalm 52 challenges those of us who take refuge in our riches. The Psalm does not exalt poverty, but in anticipation of Jesus’ words about how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter God’s realm, the Psalm reminds us to put God’s way first and let it be the standard for our personal and political lives. Economics matter to the poor, and they matter to God. While our quest for justice will be messy, we can look for ways to be faithful citizens in a religiously pluralistic society.
The words of Colossians connect theology, ethics, and hope. Christ is the creative and unifying power in the universe. The reality present in Jesus reveals the moral order of the universe, an order that seeks to reconcile and unify all creation in its wondrous diversity. In Christ, we are reconciled and have left behind evil. Living Christ-like lives involves for us behaviors that reconcile others. The wall of separation has been broken down: words and actions, whether by politicians, in daily life, or Facebook, that polarize are not worthy of those who proclaim the fullness of God in Christ. But, in the midst of messiness and our imperfect efforts at creative transformation, there is hope – there is a great mystery, “Christ in us – the hope of glory.” God’s glory is ours, not just in the future but now. Let us live as saved persons committed to saving the world as God’s healing companions.
Mary and Martha together represent a holistic spirituality. Faith and works go together. Faithful spirituality embodies daily life with holiness. Committed works brings holiness to our social and personal relationships. We would benefit from the wisdom inscribed on a bench at Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania, “picket and pray.” Each of us has gifts, and our spiritual orientations need to be honored. Still, spiritual maturity invites us to deepen both aspects of the Christian journey – contemplative prayer and acts of love. We need, in our congregations, to nurture the Mary within the busy Marthas and encourage Martha to come forth in contemplative Marys.
Justice and earth care require prayer and action, and the willingness to hear the cries of the poor, and sacrifice for the well-being of all creation. Today’s passages challenge us to move from self-interest to world loyalty for our own good and for the good of creation.