The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost: September 29, 2019
Let’s have a little fun first, for things get heavy fast in today’s scriptures. Allow me a contemporary rewrite of the prophet Amos’ words to the leadership and upper classes of Zion:
“And for those who are at ease in the United States, and for those who feel secure in Okatie, Bluffton, and Beaufort;
Alas for those who lie on beds of high thread count sheets, and lounge on their finely upholstered couches, and eat aged beef flown in from Nebraska, and oysters and fresh fish from the sea;
Who sing idle songs streamed from Spotify, Pandora and iTunes, and like Taylor Swift auto-tune on instruments of music;
Who drink fine bourbons from leaded cut glass, and anoint themselves with the finest bath salts from Bed, Bath and Beyond, but are not grieved over the ruin of the least and lost of the world fleeing Central American violence, being destroyed by climate change, and losing jobs in Appalachia;
Therefore, the irresponsible rich will be the first to be deported, and the partying of those inattentive to the poor shall pass a way.”
See, I told you it would get pointed very quickly, reminding us that in the USA, if you own a home, you are more wealthy than 92 percent of the world’s people. Most of us are “the rich.”
Amos’ prophetic words would have been uncomfortably challenging to the people of Israel in his day. His place in scripture contains a clear emphasis on social justice, as he understood Israel’s religion, at its best, to be one that embraced the interconnection between our relationship to neighbor and our relationship to God. Amos was speaking truth to power, calling out those with abundant resources for treating the disadvantaged as they wished, and forgot the teaching that comes in covenant with God.
Even more, he spoke against those engaged in the suppression of truth-telling, those giving a deaf ear to the prophets, even trying to silence those who would risk speaking God’s bold truth. His dire warning, and he could be severe, was to those secure in their riches, not able to see beyond themselves, having forgotten the call of God on them for attention to the most vulnerable, and closing with the warning that those who deserve deportation are the idle rich, not the least of these.
With that, we can gaze upon the Gospel story in Luke that portrays similar truths. The great question posed by that account is, will the five brothers and the readers like us follow the example of the rich man, or heed Jesus’ teaching and that in the Hebrew Scriptures like Amos about the care of the needy, and thereby be children of Abraham?
This is serious stuff, yes? Let’s pose the question another way. How are we going to occupy this life and use the resources and gifts God has given us? Are we going to be fierce seekers of truth, or are we going to be contentedly complacent and thereby complicit in the harm being done to God’s people in our own cities, state, country and world? We can’t do everything and it can seem overwhelming, but we can do something. It is Amos’ and Jesus’ challenge to us.
Here’s one bold example. Have you heard of 16-year old Greta Thunberg? She appeared before the Swedish parliament more than a year ago and now has spoken before the United Nations and assemblies and symposiums around the world to voice her concerns about the threat of climate change. I don’t know what you think about that whole issue, and that it is not my point. My point is that she attempted to get off her couch and speak the truth as she sees it out of concern for the health of the entire world.
I believe in this case she is a kind of Amos, speaking truth to power and those who could be described as the most fortunate. She is calling them, us, to neighbor love, for we know that the changing climate disproportionately affects the poor and disadvantaged. It already is. Shockingly, in some quarters she has been ridiculed and told to go home and be “a good little girl” as she holds up the science before us. In some cases world leaders and political commentators, you can look up who, have attempted to shame her on newscasts and social media by attacking her appearance, her autism, her youth—all in an attempt to discount her truth. I’m not talking about politics here. This is Gospel work. In Timothy’s words, “…storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
I hope you can see here that today’s scriptures are not anti-rich. I Timothy tells us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Not money itself—it’s how we use it. Likewise, Amos never says it is wrong to be rich. It is how we use it, or in that case, how we don’t use it for the good of our neighbor. Jesus teaches the same. The rich man is not faulted for his wealth, he is judged for his lack of compassion, for trivializing the plight of the suffering poor and the failure to offer the mercy extended to him while living.
It is impossible to store up contentment. We are called, however, to place our hope in God and nothing else, the place we find real and sustaining life. The Gospel again reminds us of the great reversal, the shocking paradox that the last and the least enter the Kingdom first. We know and proclaim that it is God who is enough for us all. This is the promise of Jesus. All is gift. We brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing out of it. How will we live while on this earth?
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.