Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
Election Day has passed and we are struggling to come together as a country, wondering about where we go from here. Most of us worry about our nation’s future. Regardless of our joy or sorrow at the election, we have work to do. Our nation is in dire trouble. Last month’s west coast forest fires are part of a greater fire, the fires of climate change, racial injustice and national incivility and divisiveness.
And we ask, “Where do we go from here?”
In the eighth century, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was prosperous and that prosperity was celebrated as a sign of God’s favor. The Southern sibling Judah was also doing well. But were both nations truly healthy and prospering? In Shiloh, the Temple preachers said, “God bless the Northern Kingdom.” In the South, they sang “God shines on Jerusalem.” In this time of apparent prosperity and security, a sensitive farmer and shepherd, not expecting to be a leader or prophet, hears God’s call, “Cross the border and prophesy to the wealthy and powerful of Israel.” And so Amos crosses the border, camps out near the Temple and begins to preach words of judgment and doom to the royalty, priests, and wealthy.
“Go back to where you came from, you don’t belong here,” say the high priest and court prophets. But God’s truth knows no boundaries. Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. Poverty anywhere puts at risk people everywhere. When kings focus solely on themselves, the nation disintegrates.
Prophets, like Amos, are revealers. They don’t predict the future, but they tell us what’s really going on and what will happen if we continue on the same path. Amos spoke words that pierced the spirit of the Northern Kingdom. God is not interested in your theological orthodoxy or your well-funded worship services, your high temple and lovely music. God wants justice and care for the poor. God wants us to put the vulnerable front and center. To hear their cries and respond by changing our personal and political agendas. So that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
Pandemic and protests, and forest fires, militias and incivility, reveal something’s unhealthy with our body politic and we need to repent and take a new course.
Jesus’ parable of the women in waiting is a warning to us all. “Be awake, be prepared. See the signs of the times. Don’t miss the celebration! Don’t sleep like Rip van Winkle through a revolution.”
On Cape Cod, it’s easy to miss the signs of the times. We are off the beaten track and we aren’t powerful. We are tempted to let politicians decide things; we are tempted to believe we can’t make a difference. Yet COVID cases are rising and we are worried about a bleak winter and wondering if – or when – we will cancel in-person worship again.
Now twenty-seven centuries ago, Amos spoke to the wealthy and powerful, to the religious and political leadership. He told them, “mend your ways, or your faith and nation will collapse. Your temples become rubble. Your wealth can’t save you, your military can’t save you, if you turn from God’s way.”
Amos cries, “Wake up, see the consequence of farm foreclosures, evictions, the growing gap between wealthy and poor, and religion that blesses political leaders as God’s chosen ones. If you don’t wake up, you will sleep through your worship services, and there will be a famine of hearing God’s word and the future of the nation will be in peril.”
Think of a sunburn at the beach, you don’t notice it till you’re looking like a lobster. The thing is – with cable and network news and social media feeds we do notice it – we notice racism and white nationalism on the rise over the past 4 years, we notice the environment turning against us, we notice politicians who are interested in power and not the common good of the nation or the planet, we notice that the world a generation from now will be very different for our children and grandchildren, with storms, drought, and forest fire, rising seas as the new normal, if we don’t make significant changes. It’s clear as day, but what will we do?
Will we sleep or wake up? There is not much we can do individually. But remember, the small group that followed Jesus had no power or privilege and changed the world. We are small and the sea of politics and government is large, but with God’s guidance we can turn our challenge racism, we can scale back our consumption, we can call our leaders to promote justice, civility, environmental care, the common good, and we can make our church a hate free zone. We don’t need politicians to lead us but we can be the change we want to see in the world.
In our 225th year, we can be a light to the world: a haven for seekers, our steeple can radiate love in the community with every tolling of the bells. We can decide what our legacy will be for future generations. We can feel integrity when the younger generation asks, “where were you grandpa? where were you dad and mom when the choices were made?”
And beyond political party or ideology, we can stay awake and be part of God’s vision – let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.