In and Out

The Transition Team and Executive have been meeting together over the past month in preparation for the congregational meeting after worship this morning. One of the exercises I did with them was entitled: What Does Your Minister Do All Day, it was in response to a casual comment made by one of them, who shall remain nameless, 😉. And it made me realize, once again, at how much of a minister’s work is invisible.

I won’t get into all of the details, but what became clear to them after we did the exercise is that a minister spends about 35% of their time preparing for and leading worship on an ordinary week, if there is more than one service or a funeral etc. that amount is obviously more! So, we lay that piece of knowledge alongside this week’s reading from Amos, especially the last part. But first, we need to bridge the gap from where we were last week to where we are this week.

Last week we heard about the prophet Elijah, who worked in the northern kingdom of Israel attempting to bring the king, and therefore the nation, back to God’s way. When God spoke to him in the silence on the mountain, God told him to go back to anoint a new king in Syria, and then a new king in Israel, and finally a new prophet to pick up his mantle and to carry on God’s work. Elijah did that, and passed his mantle to Elisha, who became a strong and famous prophet who spoke truth the community needed to hear and also performed miracles. But the kings persisted in their unfaithful ways despite the prophets’ work. Today we hear from the prophet Amos, who also worked in the northern kingdom, about a hundred years after Elijah, and is one of the first prophets to write down the word of the Lord. These prophets often wrote in poetry, as they sought to reach the hearts of kings and elites who thrived on injustice and corruption while ordinary people suffered. (Teri Peterson)

We read today from the book of the prophet Amos, verses from chapters 1 and 5.

1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years[a] before the earthquake.

2 And he said:

The Lord roars from Zion,

    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds wither,

    and the top of Carmel dries up.

14 Seek good and not evil,

    that you may live;

and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,

    just as you have said.

15 Hate evil and love good,

    and establish justice in the gate;

it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,

    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,

    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 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.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

24 But let justice roll down like waters,

    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,

    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Pretty disturbing words to people who gather each week to worship together and as one who spends a great deal of time preparing for and leading worship aren’t they? This is when and why it is important to study the history and context of the times in which these texts were written. And to look at how current events and context affect worship today.

Amos was preaching to people who had all the correct forms of worship, but did not let it inform their living. It did not shape them into people who showed justice and mercy and compassion for the most vulnerable in society. For those of you who think that talk of politics and social injustice have no place in the church, the Bible is full of that kind of talk. The root word of politics is polis, meaning the affairs of the city, basically how are we going to live together. Something like our Behavioural Covenant… it’s how we have agreed to behave with one another.

So what are we do with this reading that sounds so harsh to our ears? As I sat with it, read it over and over, listened to a couple of podcasts about it and also wrestled with it with a couple of colleagues AND drew upon my knowledge of other biblical texts, this is where I landed.

In the middle of the reading, Amos writes,

14 Seek good and not evil,

    that you may live;

and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,

    just as you have said.

15 Hate evil and love good,

    and establish justice in the gate;

Seek good… establish justice… that you may LIVE!

There are thousands of opportunities just outside our doors that are just waiting for a healing hand and heart. And I know you folks care… it’s demonstrated in how you volunteer at the Food Bank, it’s demonstrated in the smell of the meatloaf made by the UCW for Margaret House, it’s demonstrated in your sponsorship of refugees.

I even got a round of applause at Food Bank on Wednesday when I told them that there was no dress code here… that they were welcome, just as they were, no matter if they had never been in church before…

But you know what, for so many people today, Sunday morning simply doesn’t work. There are thousands of people outside our doors who are seeking something… community… a sense that they are loved… acceptance… We are being asked to care in a different, perhaps additional ways… to create relationships with those outside these church walls. Not relationships of charity, but partnerships. Our well being is connected to the well being of the community outside these walls!

After church today you are going to be voting on the recommendation from the Transition Team and Executive. Now, I know that some of you are going to say that you are too old, or too set in your ways or too something else to do anything to help heal the world. Scripture has lots of examples of people saying to God, NOT ME! If you are too set in your ways, please get out of the way of those who aren’t. If your health doesn’t enable you to actively participate, please participate by praying for those who are more active. The ministry of prayer is vital and important… the power of prayer to uphold and support those who are more active cannot be overstated.

No matter how you vote, there will be change. 

No matter how you vote, God will be present.

Let’s get back to those couple of verses that I found so jarring to my ears and perhaps to yours as well:

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,

    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Here is the word of hope for us in this. Worship is the inhalation of God’s spirit in order to enliven us to be part of God’s healing work in the world. And then, inspired by that worship, we are exhaled into our communities, enlivened to be part of God’s healing work in the world.

It’s not either worship or healing work, its both!

Without worship, without a connection to the sacred and something bigger than ourselves, we can be overcome by the immensity of the world’s problems. This communal experience we have, at its finest, can inspire, conspire, motivate etc.

Without being part of God’s healing work in the world, our worship is vain and self glorious and is not pleasing to God. 

It’s no different than breathing.

Inhale, exhale. They are both vital for life.

Or, as we sang in our opening hymn, ‘Worship and work must be one.’

Can we exist by only inhaling? No?

Can we exist by only exhaling? Again no!

It’s the relationship between the two that is important.

So, let us worship and work…

Let us live out our mission statement.

Faith that matters… love that matters.. community that matters.

Thank be to go for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.

Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

November 14, 2021 – SMUC

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