Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
I love Job’s honesty: “Today, my complaint is bitter….”
It’s like that some days. What else can you say? It really doesn’t do anybody — neither you nor God — any good to pretend, when the skubala has done hit the fan, that things don’t smell! That’s no basis for an honest and open relationship, which is what God desires. Go ahead — tell God what you feel. God already knows it, anyhow!
The psalmist certainly gets what Job is saying; he has a bit of a complaint to lodge, himself. Not only do some of our days stink, they become really difficult to bear. It feels — sometimes — like God has left us alone!
But has God abandoned us? Jesus, of course, lays into this psalm on the cross — most likely too weak to speak all of its words, but also just as likely holding on to the psalm’s eventual words of hope. Real praise often comes in the midst of lament.
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Amos, the farmer-prophet, wastes few words. Today is a good day to seek the Lord — pretty much everyday is. But, be assured, if you don’t really want to seek the Lord and follow God’s way, you open yourself up to the consequences when God does decide to “break out” against what is evil in the world.
Taking bribes and pushing the needy aside in the gate and all such as that — those are not things that make God happy (just in case you were wondering!) Get on the side of good; get out of the way of what is evil. And, should you ever be momentarily confused and find yourself on the wrong side of said gate, remember that you can always turn back!
Verse 12 is a great prayer. “Lord, I know I’ve only got so many days — though I might tend to waste too many of them on foolish and fleeting pursuits. Would you please help me get a grip before they all fly away and I’m left with a pile of empty promises and a bucket full of broken dreams?”
Sharp, I tell you! God’s word is a precision instrument when it comes to exposing the “thoughts and intentions” of our hearts.
Jesus, the Living Word, knows all about our trials and temptations. Basically, he has been there and done that. So don’t go trying to tell him how hard it all is, and why you shouldn’t be held accountable for your weak moments. Instead, admit it when you need some help, and look for mercy and grace. They tend to hang around where Jesus is involved.
When you stop and think about it, the man’s question at the opening of this passage is misguided from the first moment. There’s not really anything you can do to inherit a fortune. It’s much more about who you are in relationship to the one granting the fortune!
Jesus knows the gentleman has tried awfully hard, and Jesus can see that he’s real, real close to the whole kingdom of God thing. But, like most of us, there is something that’s holding him back. Maybe just one little thing that, if we were asked by Jesus to give it up, we might well go away sad, too.
Oh, shoot…now this passage is going to “quit preaching” and is going to “go to meddling” in all our lives!
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
My grandfather Reid Chilton was treasurer of the Baptist church in our neighborhood from the late 30s into the mid-50s. He used to tell this story about the perils of raising money. As to whether it’s true or not – all I can say is – it’s true that he told it to me.
“There was this one time, back in the depression, that we was having trouble getting up the preacher’s salary. The deacons decided that a free-will offering wasn’t going to work, ‘cause as brother Arvid said, “They mighty free with their will, just not with their cash.” So, they decided I should go and visit people and ask for a donation. So I did. It was rough work. People really didn’t have much cash money available and they really didn’t like me asking for it. One time I was talking to this fella, we’ll call him Brother Bill, and he said he would love to give but he just didn’t have no money. I said, “Brother Bill, if’n you had a mule would you sell that mule and give half of what you got to the church?” “He looked at me and said, “Why of course, Brother Reid. I would do it in a heartbeat.” So I says; “That’s good, that’s good, Brother Bill. Let me ask you another question. If’n you had a sheep, would you sell that sheep and give half to the church?” “Brother Reid, I am a little hurt that you would ask me that. You know my heart, you know I would, if’n I had a sheep.” And then I says, “Bear with me Brother Bill, just one more question. If’n you had a hog, would you sell that hog and give half to the church?” At that Brother Bill’s face got red and he stomped his foot and said, “Now see here Brother Reid, that ain’t no fair question. You knows I got a hog.”
“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Mark 10:22
Two of today’s scripture lessons push us to think about and me to talk about a subject that most people really don’t like to discuss; money. At least they don’t like to discuss why some people have a lot of it and other people have so little of it. And they especially don’t like to discuss the idea that their money is getting in the way of their relationship with God and that perhaps they should give some of it to the poor. Yet we have all of this in Amos’ preaching and in Jesus’ conversation with the man who had many possessions.
The lesson from Amos is pretty straightforward and is much more overtly political than then the Mark story. Amos was a prophet during the time that the country had split into two kingdoms; Judah in the south and Israel in the north. He was not a trained preacher, he was a herdsman from the southern kingdom, yet God called him to preach to the leaders and the people of the Northern Kingdom. And he did. He especially called them out on their treatment of the poor; “You trample on the poor,” vs. 11 and “You afflict the righteous . . . and push aside the needy in the gate.” vs. 12. Amos thunders out judgement against those in power, “. . . he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire.” and “devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.” vs. 6
And as usual, the powerful didn’t like being told they were misusing their power and the King sent the High Priest to send Amos away, to deport him, he was an illegal after all, an immigrant who didn’t belong there; he was taking work away from legitimate prophets and teachers, ones who would not be so rude about the people in power, who had earned their place in the Northern Kingdom.
No, people don’t like to be told that there can be a problem with having wealth. In the Gospel lesson, a man comes to Jesus and asks a serious religious question. Unlike many conversations Jesus has along the way, he is not facing a secret antagonist, posing a trick question for political gain. This is a serious question from a serious and devout believer. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “Accept me as your personal savior.” or “Repent of your sins and be baptized and join my community, and while you’re at it – sign up for a small group and here are your offering envelopes.” No, not so much. What Jesus actually did was to first remind the man, and us, that life is a gift from God, it is not something any of us earns or can put ourselves in the position to inherit. It’s all of God. He then started talking out of their shared Judaic tradition of the commandments. The one’s he asks about are interesting. He did not ask the man what he believed about God; he asked him how he treated his neighbor. “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal,” etc. He also throws in one that isn’t in the Ten Commandments, You shall not defraud.” I wonder if Jesus knew something about the man’s business dealings that we’re not privy to. Anyway, the man profess to have kept them all “since his youth,” which means, “Since I’ve been old enough to know better,” as we say in the south.
Then, in a remarkably succinct line, Mark paints a picture of tough love, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing. . .” That is true Gospel love, to look at the other, to see exactly who they are, both their virtues and their faults and to tell them the truth about what they need to change about themselves. Jesus looked at the young man and immediately recognized that the man possessions were getting in the way of spiritual life. Taking care of his stuff was interfering with taking care of his soul and taking care of his neighbors, which are very often the same thing.
We, as Americans, as Christians in a developed country, all stand in one degree or another under the judgement of these texts. Compared to billions and billions of people in this world, we all have “many possessions.” I know it doesn’t feel like it, but that is because we compare ourselves to the super rich, instead of comparing ourselves to the billion people in this world who still live without electricity. We do have many possessions and Jesus is speaking to us today as much as he is talking to the man in the story. As people with the privilege to vote, to speak our minds, to call our congressmen and complain, we are the powerful to whom Amos preaches today, calling upon us to change policies and procedures that oppress the needy and trample the poor.
And here’s the good word. We don’t know what the man did. Mark says he, “went away grieving because he had many possession,” but he could have just needed some time to decide what to do. We don’t know about him, he may have decided to follow Jesus’ advice. What we do know is that the possibility of change is offered to us, we have options. Amos begins and ends with a grace note. Verse 6: “Seek the Lord and live, or.” “Or” he said. There’s an option to change. Verse 15 “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord . . . will be gracious.” “It may be.” Amos says. The story’s not over. God is not finished with us. What will we do?
Amen and amen.