Friday, July 16, 2010

Sermon for July 18, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Amos 7:7-17
“Uncomfortable God ”
July 11, 2010

Feel good movies and summer time, a wonderful mix. A fun comedy, a bag of buttery popcorn, a large ice cold Pepsi, a theater full of people laughing along with the antics on screen. One of my favorite feel-good movie experiences was when I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

It’s about Tula and her large, loud, Greek family living in Chicago, the kind of family where everyone lived near one another, knew each other’s business, fought and laughed in decibels.

When the father finds out Tula’s in love with Ian, a non-Greek, he gets mad, yells, and sulks. But when he realizes their love is real, the father hosts a gathering in which Ian’s kissed, hugged and treated as one of the family.

They pass around shots of licorice liquor and shout “Oop-ah!” with their glasses raised. The audience I saw the film with were so into the celebration that they also shouted “Oop-ah”!

There’s a scene right before the wedding where Tula’s sitting on the bed, worried. Her mother comes in, “Tula, what is wrong?” “Is my marriage killing Dad?” Tula asks.

Her mother sits beside her. “Tula, your father is your father, he just wants you to be happy...listen to me Tula. My village, so many wars. Turkish. German. They all made a mess.

“And my mother, my mother she said ‘We’re lucky, we’re lucky to be alive.’ And I thought we’re not lucky to be alive, we’re, we’re not lucky when they’re telling us where we should live, what we should eat. Nobody has that right.

“And then, I see you, and I see Athena, Nicco. We came here for you, so you could, so you could live.

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”

I gave you life so that you could live it. That is a perfect summary of the entire Bible.

Let us hold onto that sentiment, for today’s sermon is perhaps the most difficult one I’ve yet to prepare. What makes it so difficult is that the book of Amos is about the wrath of God, the angry side of God that threatens to melt the earth and crush people with crumbling buildings.

The idea of God’s wrath is a topic that I’ve never preached on. But you can not ignore it. It’s there, in the pages of the Bible, in the stories of Exodus, in the Psalms of praise, in the visions of John.

So what do we do with it? Do we silence those voices? Do we pretend they’re not there?

Not if we are to be true to our faith, not if we are want the scriptures to direct us towards a greater understanding of God.

But how does one preach about this destructive idea of God, when our bulletin says that God has a passion for us and a compassion for all people?

It makes me uncomfortable. But as a peer once said, the more uncomfortable something makes us feel, the more we can learn about God and ourselves. So let’s begin this journey.

Amos was a revolutionary prophet, the first to preach a message of destruction to an entire people. There were prophets who spoke against individuals or groups of folk. But Amos was the first to tell a whole nation that God was unhappy with them and would destroy them.

Since Amos was the first to speak such words he had no examples or guidelines to follow. The result was that he went all out, describing in excessive detail God’s angry disappointment.

For so long the people had seen God as patient and slow to anger, but this is an image of God having it up to here, refusing to take it anymore.

So what was making God so upset? They were living during prosperous times, the Gross National Product was at its highest, but only 5% of the population benefitted.

Merchants overcharged the poor, the courts were corrupt. The king dominated the temple and seized people’s farms.

What made this all so despicable was that the people knew better. After all they were God’s treasured jewels, former slaves who God had chosen to care for, freeing them, fighting for them, leading them to the promised land.

God’s intentions was that they were to be a healthy community where they lived in harmony, caring for the earth and those less fortunate.

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet you killed pregnant women so you could have more land, (1:13)as though what I had given you was not enough.

“I gave you life so that you could live it”
Yet you sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. (2:7)

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet your wives act like spoiled cows, oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. (4:1)

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet you come into my sanctuary with fake offerings and hypocritical prayers, when what I want is for justice and righteousness to roll down like waters and non-stop streams. (5:21-24)

“I gave you life so that you can live.”
But this, this is not living, and I am so angry. Hear what I am going to do: your places will be desolate, you will go into exile and the king shall die by the sword.

The local priest tells Amos to go away and never come back, because this is the king’s temple.

To which Amos says “Because you have told me to preach elsewhere the Lord says your wife will become a prostitute, your children will be killed and you will die in an unclean land.”

Those are harsh, uncomfortable words to hear and say. This is God speaking murder to a king, whoredom to a wife and slaughter to children.

How is this compassion? How can this have any good news? Where is the part in which we can raise our licorice liquor and shout out “Oop-ah!”?

I thought about it, discussed it at our Tuesday bible study group. Nothing clicked. Then I came across information that Amos’ prophecy about the king did not come true. What did this mean?

Did it mean that Amos was wrong or that God is a liar? I thought some more.

Amos was prophesying about the exile, an event that wouldn’t happen for another 50 years. Which meant that when the exile did occur the priest’s wife would have been dead or at least 70 years old. It’s hard to imagine someone being a viable prostitute at that age.

And not only would his children been grown ups, they would have qualified for AARP membership.

I wrestled some more, thinking of the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” How much he sacrificed for the family he loved, how coming from a destroyed village must have impressed upon him the value of tradition.

Was it from that place of love and pride that his anger came from, and though he acted mad, was this his way of staying in relationship with Tula and dealing with what was going on?

The other option would have been to quietly disown and desert her.

Is that what is going on in Amos? Does God have such love for this family that because of their choices God is hurt and refuses to hold it in, unleashing angry thoughts?

Perhaps God did not really mean what was said, but needed to say it to get it off God’s chest, and by spitting it out, God created a space for the people to make amends.

Yes, the images and words are hard to hear, but at least God is honest about being disappointed and angry, because such feelings are part of what being in a true relationship is about.

God’s love and desire to be in a true relationship with us are so strong that God’s not afraid to say the uncomfortable things.

God is not going to play passive aggressive and walk away, because in a true relationship you don’t just leave, but you try your hardest to work it out, even when it means saying the things you may not like to say.

I think of my own relationships. My brother, how we’ve said harsh things to one another, but we’ve stuck it through, because we love one another and that’s what families do.

Or my cat. When he annoys me or plays stubborn I get to the point where I threaten to toss him in the stockpot and cook him up for dinner. I don’t mean it, but it feels so good to say, and it’s better then dropping him off at the pound.

But what about those people no longer in my life? I think of my former best friend who drove me crazy: she was never on time and always changed plans at the last minute. For 20 years I said nothing, until one day I just stopped calling her.

Would it have been better I had gone a little Amos on her and said “I hate that you’re always late, it makes me want to never see you again.”

Perhaps if I had given voice to my anger, she could have made amends and still be a part of my life, instead of just a number in my cell phone.
How many of us have belonged to an organization that made us so mad that instead of sharing our concerns we left without saying anything? What if we had shared our thoughts, giving them a chance to address and learn from our viewpoint?

At least God was willing to express how the people were making God feel.

Now, here is where the good news comes along, the chance to say “Oop-ah!,” because if we really want to know how God ultimately feels about us, all we have to do is look towards the resurrection.

If God was truly the God of wrath out to destroy us, then the resurrection would have been the perfect time to unleash violence.

Yet even though Jesus was unjustly nailed to the cross, when he was resurrected, Christ did not use that opportunity to seek revenge, annihilating everyone who hurt or deserted him.

Instead, the Risen Lord met two wanderers on the road and broke bread with them.

Instead, the Risen Lord appeared to a questioning disciple and invited him to touch and believe.

Instead, the Risen Lord cooked breakfast on the shore, inviting those who deserted him to join in a meal.

Instead, the Risen Lord led his followers to a hill and promised “I will be without you always.”

...“I gave you life so that you could live it.”

The Good News is that in the resurrected Christ we find the purpose of God is life, not death; to build community, not to destroy it; to restore all of creation, not to watch it destroy one another.

In conclusion, today’s scripture is a reminder that to have a real relationship with God means that we will be uncomfortable from time to time and that God does hold us accountable for our sins.

But it also means that in God we can find comfort and assurance that we are part something bigger: a family that embraces life, a family in which everyone is welcome. A family in which we all get to raise our glasses in a toast, shouting out “Oop-ah!”.

How real will you let your relationship with God be? How will you live the life that God has given you?

All thanks and honor be to the Spirit that gives voice to our words, to Jesus that wasn’t afraid to speak harshly from time to time, and to God, our eternal Father who will never forsake us.

Amen and amen.

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