20th Sunday after Pentecost

October 14, 2012

Summary

Monday to Saturday Living

How’s your week been? The world has had an interesting one.

The news channels have kept us up to date. If politics is your thing then in the US people are talking about debates, here in the UK about political conferences, and in Australia about how the female Prime Minister launched one of the most scathing attacks ever on the allegedly misogynist Leader of the Opposition. Capturing hearts and minds were two girls – one in Wales and one in Pakistan. If you owned a Toyota you were checking whether it was being recalled. If you were aware of the deceased entertainer Jimmy Savile, you are wondering what history – and yourself – will now make of him.

These and many other events have grabbed our attention. And so the world spins. Success. Failure. Politics. Church. Society. Home, Education. Entertainment. The news reflects our battles and our hopes and aspirations.

We are all involved in the fabric of our society in numerous ways – particularly as cogs in some part of the economy and citizens of our country. We are subject to pressures from those to whom we are responsible – often they are our bosses or supervisors – and we are subject to pressures for those for whom we are responsible – maybe they are our customers, our clients, our dependents, our employees. It seems to me that we can think about the world in terms of ‘out there’ with its war and destruction, peace and justice, self interest or community care and it is not connected to us except in an abstract way. It seems to me that we don’t think of our lives as news – or ask the questions: have I contributed to war and destruction, peace and justice, self interest or community care?

How’s your week been?

Now, I don’t know what you thought about your past week but I would expect that few of us, if any, have sat slumped with the thought – Yes, that’s me – in my business / family / organization – I waged war to get my own way and to show everyone that I have the power over them. I am willing and able to destroy so that I win. If you did think such thoughts – then you need to do some very serious thinking.

But I think most of us would have thought that we worked for peace and justice (even if that means we didn’t actively pursue war and destruction!). And if we have been in conflict through the week – with boss, underling, customer, supplier, public servant, teacher, student, whomever – then we will have constructed the conflict in terms and ways in which we are right and they are ‘not as right’ or we have the authority and they don’t or we write the minutes and they have to accept them.

Few of us would also put up our hands and say that we were definitely into self interest and definitely against community care. Again, when we do receive perks or benefits, we are usually much more sophisticated and either claim some sort of privilege or special circumstance or simply use the system we’re in to justify our actions. We know this happens because people today are increasingly cynical about double standards within organizations and the flexibility of words. Self interest seems here to stay.

Amos comes along and says: “Make it your aim to do what is right, not what is evil, so that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty really will be with you, as you claim he is” (Amos 5:14). Amos was a shepherd who was moved by God’s irresistible word to go to the northern kingdom and speak it. He was not a social commentator and he was not into social justice for social justice’s sake. Rather, he was directed north to King Jeroboam II whose kingdom was enjoying prosperity after long oppression from the Syrians. His prophetic message was clear and it got him into considerable trouble with the king, the high priest Amaziah, and the government officials who were enjoying some peace, quiet, and prosperity. Nobody wanted to hear that God was sending judgement upon Israel – Jeroboam will die and Israel will be exiled. Go back to the southern kingdom Amos, leave us while you still can, we will worship our bull idol at Bethel knowing that God is blessing us – look at our prosperity.
It is a familiar refrain among the prophets of the OT – Israel and Judah, remember who you are as God’s chosen people, live as God’s people. The cries against false worship, pride, the seeking of security through military alliances and strategies, injustice, corruption were cries against unbelief and idolatry which manifested themselves in the way the rich treated the poor, the haves treated the have-nots, those with power treated those who didn’t have power. Sins against God are so often felt on the bodies of others.

Amos, in particular, spoke against those with wealth and power in this prosperous time not because they were wealthy and powerful (Amos was not a socialist as we understand socialism) but because they used their wealth and power to pervert justice, rip people off, and oppress people using the system of government and business against those who couldn’t fight back. The Torah of the Old Testament applied to all the people of Israel; there were no rules for the rich and others for the poor because it was assumed that rich and poor would live in harmony because they all saw themselves as beggars of God’s grace and blessing. The people failed. The people didn’t live in a relationship with God – even if they went to worship at Bethel and said that God was good – because their Monday to Saturday lives revealed the truth. Instead of loving God through loving and protecting people, they loved themselves and protected their institutions / businesses / even their false religions.

God was coming. The people’s guilt of the present could not be denied and the judgement of the future could not be escaped. And so Amos went north with God’s judgement – which paradoxically was also an act of mercy – with God giving still more time and opportunity for the people to return, repent, be restored in a relationship with God.

It is interesting to ponder – God’s coming means judgement. That’s what Amos was saying. That’s what the prophets were saying. That’s what the last of the OT prophets, John the Baptist, was saying (Luke 3:17). God’s presence means judgement in which God tells it like it is – no more other perspectives, no more interpretations of rules, no grey areas – human beings who rebel against God and break, batter, and bruise other people in their attempt at making the world in their image will be destroyed. Even when God came among people as a human being, so did his judgement. Cursed be he who hangs on the tree according to Deuteronomy (cf Gal 3:13). Jesus suffered and experienced the judgement of God. We can’t get past the reality that the cross is a method of execution. It judges a person a criminal and puts them to death painfully. Jesus claimed to be one with the Father – that is something we can’t see. Yet despite this claim Jesus looked pretty sinful – he was baptised by John who only baptised sinners who were repenting – he was always in trouble with the Pharisees and other religious leaders – and no matter his miracles or maybe because of them Jesus was finally charged with blasphemy and that is something that is evident – clear – and so he died on a cross. So between Amos and this dead Jesus, we certainly hear and see the judgement of God.

And the world’s response? You’d better roll up your sleeves so you don’t cop the judgement like that Jesus. You heard Amos – do what is right, don’t do evil – and God will be with you. Amos is not talking about being nice at church on Sunday but doing what is right and just on Monday to Saturday at home, in relationships, and especially at work.

Now if you were the person at the beginning of the sermon who slumped and said, “Boy, have I done some warring and destruction this week, I’m dead”. You’re right.

And if you were those people who regarded their week as pretty good then I wonder what God would say about how you treated people. I believe God could drag out self interest from under almost any action or deed we care to name. Even if we don’t want to hear it, God will find us guilty. So what’s the point of rolling up one’s sleeves?

To try and avoid the judgement? No. That won’t help you at all.

Humanity is trapped. And then when you least expect it – there’s Jesus alive and there’s another news item. There is hope and good news for Jesus who died on the cross has been raised to new life never to die again. God took his own judgement upon himself so that you and I might live in a relationship with him. Even God’s act of judgement reveals a mystery – God is gracious and merciful towards you. He doesn’t have to be – no one is forcing him – but God has chosen to suffer your judgement, your punishment for being a tiny tin god, and to give you new life. Behind that apparent sinner Jesus, and that horrible cross, and that feared judgement of God is a God who is for you, not against you and who through baptism has given you life and through Holy Communion and the Word nurtures that life. This lifestyle with Jesus – walking in the shadow of the cross – is one that is freed from trying to find salvation in politics, capitalism, wealth, business, or any human scheme.

Instead, the followers of Jesus now look at the world as an opportunity to share God’s divine life through Jesus with others as one lives in the world God has made. This means that Jesus’ followers consider very carefully their locations, their relationships, their occupations and seek to serve in those concrete situations. Christians have not been sent into the world to wander about. Rather those in Christ will work for justice and peace, for the building up of people as they work in business, the police, schools, politics, the military, the media, the arts; and as they live in their relationships.

Luther said that if Christians genuinely exercise their calling as parent, spouse, child, butcher, baker, candlestick maker (or nuclear physicist and every other occupation in between) then the cross will find us. Our Monday to Saturday living gives us continual opportunities to serve God by serving in our responsibilities motivated by God’s love, rather than by the law, money, prestige, or self interest.
Being a Christian Monday to Saturday is not about saying ‘God loves you’ every 10 minutes but is about serving people in our places in life so that this world – that is the people around us – experience justice and peace. Profits – if that’s your thing – quotas, deadlines, targets still are important but not as important as people. This makes Monday to Saturday living dynamic and difficult. The Christian never gets it right – but refreshed by God’s forgiveness and strength – returns to the world and the stations and positions in it with a renewed desire to work for peace and justice so that people might know the providence of God and the salvation of God.

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Bible References

  • Amos 5:14