There are some days where it is easier to walk up here than others. I wish I could stand before you today and preach about something warm and fuzzy. After all, it is summer time… and we just finished an amazing Vacation Bible School. Time to relax right? But, as is so often the case, God had other plans; today’s reading from Amos serves as a reminder that the world is not a particularly healthy place right now, that despite all of the warning signs, the human race still hasn’t figured out a way to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. This past week at VBS, we had guests from many different religions come and share with us about their faith and traditions. We heard from a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jewish person, two First Nations women and a Sikh, all of whom shared the same belief in loving our neighbour as ourselves. Our Sikh friend reminded us that kindness is the foundation of every religion. Yet we all mourned three days ago when we heard that in Nice, France, a man plowed a truck through a large Bastille Day gathering, killing at least 84 people and injuring over 200 others, adding to the growing list of mass attacks in France in the past couple of years.
Often times, when we identify things that we fear or hate in others it is because they mirror something of ourselves that we fail to see. This terrible act is a sign of the ill health of the human family as a whole, where people are inspired for one reason or another to act out in this way. And, like it or not, we are all linked together, even with those people who commit these shameful crimes. It is not sufficient for us to brand these people as a Lone Wolf or an Islamic Terrorist or some other black and white buzzword that allows us to focus our fear and hatred, allowing us to distance our own humanity from theirs. Instead, it is important to recognize that the entire human family is related and it is suffering a collective psychological problem. We have heard about many shootings in the United States recently and we thank God that it doesn’t happen here and we sometimes feel superior to our neighbours … but it does happen here sometimes. We risk absolving ourselves from collective responsibility when distancing ourselves from the greater problem, when we point the finger and say “that’s the bad guy,” but I am the good guy. How many more warnings from God do we need before we realize that these problems are everyone’s problem?
Just this weekend, we saw a failed military coup attempt in Turkey where hundreds were killed and many more wounded. Turkey being another country with a growing list of mass attacks recently. This is a country that is in deep crisis, right on the door step of the Syrian refugee crisis, with over three million refugees flooding across there border, a two front war ongoing, diplomatic tensions on many fronts. There is a complex network of actions and reactions which lead up to these events, and we don’t know who is right or wrong. What we do know is that suffering and violence beget suffering and violence. If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves we must also take responsibility for them as well because what happens in France, what happens in Turkey affects what happens in Canada. If we disassociate ourselves from these situations, view them as someone else’s problem, we can inadvertently make the situation worse. Amos could have said, sorry God, not my problem, get someone else to do it, I have to tend to my herd. But he didn’t. Moved by the Holy Spirit he could do no other but walk toward his own fear. He wasn’t swayed by personal threats or propaganda, his strength was in his faith and God was with him.
We have to be smarter than those who would tempt us into fear and violence and look at the root causes to better understand why these acts of violence are becoming increasingly common. Read past the catchy headline, read between the lines, and identify what it is that we are not being told. Question everything as they say. Know that there are always many layers of information that we do not hear. As Canadians, we often overlook the link between our abundance and the poverty of others, not only around the world but in our own back yard. We can sometimes feel helpless that the problem is so big and we are so small, but if there is anything the Bible teaches about the human experience it is how powerful the seemingly small really are. God doesn’t deliver his message through a king or a president, or captains of industry; God typically shows up where we least expect; to a lowly shepherd in a small town far away from the capital and the temple. I’m sure Amos would have preferred to go on tending his herds and minding his own business, but there he found himself, a prophet in his own time, calling out the king and the establishment for their sins against God.
God comes to us today through Amos to remind us of God’s displeasure with the way humans have shirked their responsibilities; not only as stewards of the planet but as neighbours to each other. As I began to read today’s reading I felt optimistic as it started out, a basket of summer fruit sounded nice. But then I soon realized that the image that Amos used was a euphemism for God’s judgement; the summer fruit meant that the time was now ripe, no more would God withhold his judgement on the people. God gives the people many chances in the Bible, chances to turn away from their reckless paths; and calls them back to faith, to renew their spirit. In chapter four, Amos lists a variety of warning signs that judgement was coming; environmental distress, lack of bread, lack of rain, poor harvests, locusts, war, death, misery. Are we content if those things only happen to others and not to us? Ironically, having so many chances, as each day seamlessly blends into the next, we begin to assume that God will reserve judgement forever. We start to forget. The church is not immune to God’s judgement either, and in many ways we have institutionalized some of the very sins that Amos warns us about. Perhaps this is why the church finds itself in the midst of crisis.
In the Book of Amos, those actively working against God’s will, the rich and powerful in particular, put on a great show in public, doing and saying the right things; but in their hearts they were looking past God’s commandments, looking past the Word, eagerly awaiting the end of Sabbath so they could carry on as they were, exploiting people. Amos warned about a coming famine; not of bread, or thirst, but a famine of the Word. A spiritual famine where people no longer cared about God or one another. It is frightening to imagine God withdrawing his grace and mercy from us because we would be truly helpless if that day ever came. The people will wander from seas to sea, north to east. There are many places in this world today where all hope is exhausted and people are fleeing, wandering aimlessly, unable to find peace and relief.
However… despite the destruction and depravity that we inflict upon each other, there is promise in the summer fruit; the fruits of the spirit; a future in the seeds. In chapter 9 of Amos God follows through and enacts the destruction of Israel. But God also promises a future. In Verse 9 it states that “on that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old.” This is another reminder to us that God is more powerful than us and has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins and give us another chance. Having said that, let us be mindful of what Jesus taught when he said “do not put the Lord, your God to the test.” We still have a chance to take God’s warnings, Mother Nature’s warnings, and turn away from our own self-interests.
As it is we still have great hopes for a better world. I know personally that there are many great people in this room doing great things to help make the world a better place. This past week for example, several of you took the time to visit our Local MP on behalf of our refugee family; to deliver the petition that many of you had signed, one hundred signatures. Justus, David, Karen, Pastor Henry, Bob, Jim. A series of small acts which had a big impact. We might not have saved the world from itself that day, but we showed the family members who came that we cared about what happened to them. And they were so grateful and happy that the people of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada cared about what happens to a family of five fleeing the Syrian Civil War, stranded in the United Arab Emirates, unable to work or go to school. You cared enough to collect clothing and grocery gift cards for when they finally arrive.
Or at VBS this week, we had over a hundred volunteers help out, committing the equivalent of a full work week to sharing the Gospel message of God’s love with over sixty children. For others, like Heidi and Stephanie, I’m sure it was much more than a full work week.
Or Pastor David, in the midst of the hectic week, set aside his own list of pressing things to get done to spend time with a woman came to the church asking for help. Pastor David did not offer a quick and easy hand out, rather he gave his time and let this person into his heart, acknowledging her humanity.
I could go on but I won’t. Keep doing these things. God commands it of us.