September 29, 2019
Amos 6:1-7; Luke 16:19-31; I Timothy 6:6-19
There are times when I think maybe my own agenda might be creeping into my words in the pulpit more than it should be. I’m human. I have my own beliefs and opinions. And sometimes those beliefs have a real place in my sermons because I feel God’s Word has shaped those beliefs. But when I preach, it should never be my agenda leading the way. Never. And so, if I feel like maybe I’m moving in that direction, then I know it’s time for a lectionary sermon. With the lectionary I don’t get to pick the scripture passages I use. In that way it’s a spiritual discipline. I have the texts dictated to me by a set structure. I actually really appreciate using the lectionary and am hoping to rely on that for sermons more this fall. Anyway, I know I’ve been hitting the whole injustice/economics/poverty theme pretty hard for the last number of months. And I have been faithful to scripture throughout. But, as I thought ahead to this sermon, I was ready to shift gears a little and allow the lectionary texts to send my thoughts in a different direction. So I determined to use the lectionary no matter what the passages were and then I turned to read them. Hmmm… We have Amos denouncing idle wealthy folk in Israel. Luke gives us a rich man writhing in the flames of hell. And then we have a passage from I Timothy that is all about the sins
of the wealthy and includes the verse, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Really God? Are you kidding me? I guess the reassurance I got was that it wasn’t my agenda after all.
There is a really inconvenient truth about this Holy Book we revere and that is how it repeatedly and consistently lifts up to the light voices we really don’t want to hear. Ideals we don’t want to think about a whole lot. Sins that hit uncomfortably close to home.
And so instead, we often go looking for the issues, the shortcomings, the ethical conundrums we can speak about with comfortable detachment knowing ourselves to be honorably removed. It feels good to decry sins we aren’t guilty of, never mind that those issues, and there are many of them, are really treated only in passing in scripture as a whole. But this whole idea of justice, of the lifting up of the oppressed, of the blessing for the poor and the marginalized and the downtrodden, those themes are so prevalent in the Bible. One online site I trust said these themes are mentioned over 2,000 times in scripture. I didn’t take the time to verify and make sure this was true. J
But I’m guessing it is. You can usually only go a couple of pages before you trip over the next mention. Sometimes, as in the case of the Old Testament prophets or the gospels, these ideas are often hammered home multiple times on a single page.
And I guess my feeling is, before we start pointing fingers, we really have to make sure our own house is clean. It’s the whole removing the log from our own eye before we start hollering about the splinter in someone else’s. And it seems to me, this is the front and central issue, the glaring sin that is consistently confronting most of us who attend church in this country today. In fact, this seems so glaringly obvious, it makes me wonder to what extent we simply pay lip service to our faith and to what extent we really believe what’s written in these pages. Because the disconnect is real.
I want to just make a few comments on each of these three passages. Amos. Amos is a farmer, a sheep rancher to be specific. Not someone with a ministry background. And when he gets the call from God, he goes around speaking some really unpopular truths. Things that just aren’t said. In the process, one can only imagine the damage he does to his business relationships and personal relationships. And yet, Amos is also clearly a man who cares about people, who cares about his country. In chapter 7 he intercedes powerfully with God on behalf of the people, pleading for mercy, for forgiveness. But here’s the problem. Life is good in Israel. Working now from the Believer’s commenta