Sermon: Temple of the Kingdom

Stone paving a remnants of stone walls on a hilltop.

July 14, 2019
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 7:7-17

by Eric Anderson

There are definitely days that I could skip right over the Book of the prophet Amos without regret. Actually, I could spend most of my days not reading the Book of Amos without regret.

Because I usually regret reading from the Book of the prophet Amos.

Amos always seems to talk about the here and the now. He always seems to talk about the comforts of some and the disregard of others. He always seems to talk about the suffering of the powerless and the price to be paid by the powerful who oppress them. When he talks about these things, I become intensely aware of my circumstances, my privilege, my power.

We’ve heard a little from Amos. Let’s see if we can endure a little more:

“Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals – they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.” (Amos 2:6-7)

“I struck you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” (Amos 4:9)

“Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.” (Amos 5:11)

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

That’s hard to hear.

As John C. Holbert writes, “Amos is tough; Amos is blunt; Amos says things that no one wished to hear 2800 years ago, things no one much wishes to hear today.”

And so, surely enough, Amos ran afoul of the local pastor. Imagine, for a moment, that you arrived here on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week, for that matter), to find a strange man decrying the evils of the county, the state, the nation, and the church. You might find yourself in agreement about some of the evils, but probably not all of them. More to the point, the guy simply won’t be quiet. He keeps talking. First to you. Then to him. Then to her. Then to them. He talks to the pastor for a while, who’s clearly trying to get ready for worship.

It starts to get on your nerves.

Trust me, I’m the pastor, and I’d be the one getting the brunt of it. I promise you that Amos would have gotten my goat for sure.

And things weren’t even that bad. Karla Suomala writes, “From reading the book of Amos — filled with dire predictions of Israel’s future accompanied by oracles of judgments — it’s hard to imagine that Amos is actually living in a time of relative prosperity and peace but this appears to be the case in both kingdoms.”

Like now. We’re doing pretty well, all in all. We’ve come back from the great recession, unless of course you work for minimum wage and are trying to pay rent, or the job you lost in 2008 was replaced by a job that pays substantially less, or if you entered the work force in the last ten years and have started with the lower salaries and wages of the recession. Well, the stock market is climbing (not that it reflects the general population’s experience of the economy), the unemployment rate is falling (but why are nearly 27 million people working multiple part-time jobs without benefits?), and we live in a functioning democracy (don’t we?).

Amos demanded that the kings and the priests recognize the reality beneath the surface of stability. He demanded that they recognize the ways poor people lived, worked, and died being exploited by the wealthy and powerful. The abuses 750 years before Jesus will probably sound somewhat familiar: establish a monopoly, raise prices, and charge high interest rates. Adulterate your products with cheaper, less reliable (or in foodstuffs, less nutritious) additives.

Minimum balances make it extraordinarily hard for poor Americans to maintain a bank account. Without a bank account, they have to pay fees to cash their paychecks – and to write checks for their bills, they have to purchase money orders. The most affordable food in our grocery stores tends to have the lowest nutritional value. God help the person who can’t pay the fine on a traffic ticket. In some jurisdictions, they’re likely to be jailed – making it even less likely that they can pay because of loss of wages and possibly even their job.

Amos would recognize our era.

When Amaziah told Amos to go away, that this was the king’s sanctuary, and a temple of the kingdom, Amos didn’t say what I would have said. Amos told Amaziah that he wasn’t subject to his authority. Amos, summoned to the prophetic task from a life with the sheep, wasn’t part of the established structure of priests, prophets, and temple officials. Amaziah had no authority to command him.

Well. That was true. But it isn’t what I’d have said.

I’d have said, this sanctuary is not the king’s. It is not the nation’s. This sanctuary belongs to God and God alone. Here the words that should be spoken are the words of God. If those words do not support the greedy interests of the king, so be it.

This week the Vice President and a group of Senators visited a detention site in Texas, where nearly 400 men shouted to reporters that they’d had no showers and could not brush their teeth. A pool reporter described the stench as “horrific” according to the New York Times. Neither the Vice President nor those with him spoke with any of those imprisoned men. They accepted the word of those they’d instructed to hold them in detention that everything that could be done was being done.

Did you catch that? The people I told to do this thing, that created this suffering, have assured me that we’re doing the very best we can to avoid the suffering, so that’s OK. Everything is OK.

Amos would be livid.

Nobody – so far – has attempted to make this church into a sanctuary of the king. We are on track in this nation, however, so that someone very well may. Churches are being used – and some are happy to be used – to justify injustice, to moralize immorality, to excuse the inexcusable. Robert Jeffress; Jerry Falwell, Jr.: these are our contemporary Amaziahs, eager to sacrifice the demands of God for the privileges of royal favor.

That choice may come to us. It came to the churches of Germany in the 30s. Some responded with the Barmen Declaration of 1934, declaring that the Church was not an arm of the state. Two years later, some leaders who had signed that declaration urged the Nazi party to end its interference in church governance, end its anti-Semitic policies, and behave more like Christians. As a result, hundreds of pastors were arrested, church funds were confiscated, and congregations were even banned from accepting offerings.

Hanns Kerri, the Nazi’s Minister for Church Affairs, said this: “Positive Christianity is National Socialism … [and] National Socialism is the doing of God’s will…. Dr. Zoellner … has tried to tell me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the Son of God. That makes me laugh … Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed …. [but] is represented by the Party …. the German people are now called … by the Führer to a real Christianity …. The Führer is the herald of a new revelation.”

Miriam Adelson believes that we should add a “Book of Trump” to the Bible.

God’s sanctuary or the ruler’s sanctuary?

That choice may come to us. I pray it does not, but if it does: then let this be a sanctuary of God.

Let this be a sanctuary of God.

Let this be a sanctuary of God.

And the king can go whistle.

Amen.

Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Temple of the Kingdom

As you might expect, the sermon as preached differs from the prepared text. With the very first words, in fact.

The image is of ruins in Beit El (Bethel) that are believed to be the remnants of the shrine described in Amos. Photo by Deror Avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57195042

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on July 14, 2019

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