Saturday, September 28, 2019

O seer, go, flee away, Year C, Pentecost 16, Amos 6.1a, 4-7

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
It’s not profitable to be a prophet.
True prophets don’t win a lot of popularity contests.  And rarely are they welcome in the King’s courts.
Amos was one such prophet.
Later on in the book of Amos, Chapter 7, we hear this exchange between Amaziah, the Priest of Bethel, and Amos:
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel. '”
Amos had a very unpopular message.
He preached against the economic injustice in the land of Israel.
And he warned about the judgment that was to come, the destruction of Israel and the deportation of its people. 
One of my college professors posed a question.  “Why do you suppose that we have the book of Amos in the Bible, and not the book of Amaziah?  Why, when Amos had such a harsh word of judgment against Israel and Judah, did they in the end view his words as holy, and not Amaziah?”
The answer is that truth endures.
History is the judge between false prophets and true.
A true prophet’s words stand the test of time and are validated in the events that follow.
The reason we have a book of Amos is that the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed as he said it would be.  His words proved to be true.
What does he have to say to us, today?
And were he here in our midst, would we want to listen? 
Probably not.
Prosperity is one of our gods, afterall.
Bill Clinton once famously declared, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
That’s what concerns us.  Are we doing well?
One sermon that could be preached on this text would focus on issues of economic injustice and inequality in our land, as the rich just keep getting richer and the poor, poorer.
One example:
The average wage of a McDonald’s crew member is between 8 and 9 dollars an hour.
The average profit from owning a McDonald’s franchise is one million dollars a year, per store, per location.
Some would lift that up as a prime example of the disparity in our land between rich and poor.
So there’s one sermon.
And all four of the assigned readings for today deal in some way with the issue of poverty and riches, and economic justice.  Those are hard words for people such as us who live in one of the richest nations in the world.
Many would maintain that economic justice is not an appropriate topic for the Church, in spite of the focus that the Bible has on it.
We want to hear a message about love and forgiveness, not justice and mercy for the poor.
Alas, alas, alas for us.

Another question we might ask when dealing with the prophets is “who are the prophets in our day that we should be listening to?”
There are those of us preachers who would like to think that the message we have is a prophetic voice that needs to be reckoned with. 
I mean what preacher does not in some way want to declare “Thus saith the Lord!”
But the chances are that the true prophets will not be found wearing fine robes and earning a salary and benefits package.  And rather than aspiring to be a prophet, the word they carry is most often a burden. 
Amos said, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel. '”
I think we may have one such prophet in our midst, though only time will tell.
She might say:
“I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s daughter, but I am a child, a sixteen year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, who has been given a word to share that the adults in this world don’t want to hear, but that they need to hear, because everything depends on it!”
I am talking about a Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg.
She began her quest to raise awareness and action on climate change by staging a strike, skipping school one day, and sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament building.
That simple act, and her message has ignited a movement, both of those inspired by her and who share her concerns about our earth, and also of those who hold disdain for all talk of climate change.
Whereas last year she sat alone outside the parliament, this year millions around the world joined her climate strike.
And she spoke at the United Nations.  Here are a few of her words:
"My message is that we'll be watching you.
"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
"For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
"You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe. . .
"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
"We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
"Thank you."
Is Greta Thunberg, the great grandchild of a well respected Lutheran pastor and teacher from Sweden, a prophet in her own right?  Is her calling to bring to us a message of warning, that we refused to listen to when it was Al Gore carrying that message.
Time will tell.
History will be the judge.
The risk for us all, though, is that we are dealing with serious consequences if the entire globe on which we live is at risk.
There is another issue regarding climate change that resonates with Amos’ prophecy.
Climate change is also an issue of economic justice.
This is the issue:
The poor, who contribute the least toward global warming, will suffer the most, while the rich who consume most of the fossil fuels that result in the warming of our planet, will suffer the least. That’s troubling.
I have firsthand experience with that.
My employer provides the cabinetry for an ocean front development in the Bahamas.  These homes range in value from a few million, to 20 to 30 million dollars.
They were hit hard by Hurricane Dorian, that category 5 hurricane.
But they were not the ones that are truly suffering.
People who can afford to build a 20 million dollar home, can afford to rebuild it.
It’s the poor people on the island that lost their lives and homes, and livelihoods.
The poor are also the most vulnerable to climate change.
Others will suffer as well.  I talked with a farmer back in my home town of Wessington Springs lately.  “How’s it going?” I asked.
“Well, if the rains would just stop.  .  .”
Climate change is affecting the weather in the Midwest, the bread basket of our country, and in turn, the productivity of the land.
But why talk about such things in Church?
The reason is simple:  God cares about our lives and our well being.
God created this world, and God cares for this world, and God has given us dominion over this world.
It’s a God thing to be concerned, then, about the health of this world. 
A few final thoughts:
I don’t know all the answers.
But I know I am part of the problem.
I also know, that all those windmills that dot the landscape across eastern Washington are not causing me to suffer, but are part of the solution to global warming.
I know that I need to repent.  And to do my part to improve the world in which I live.
I also know that the Church has obsessed over many things.  But perhaps nothing is more important than the health of our planet.
And finally, this may be the one thing that we are judged on, both by history and by God, for so much is at stake.
Is Greta Thunberg a real prophet, or a false prophet?
If what she says is true, we damn well better listen because the future of the world depends on it.
If not, what harm will have been done if we have devoted time and energy to development of clean energy and healthy environments?
That’s the thing.  We can care for the planet that God has created, and still thrive.  If fact, our wellbeing and the planet’s wellbeing go hand in hand.
To care for the world in which we live, will in the end, benefit those of us who live in this world.

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