Saturday, August 14, 2010

Amos, Colossae, and the Samaritan Sermon

I've been neglecting the blog for the past few months so I thought I should probably post the sermons that I've done this summer at the Church of the Saviour Episcopal Church in Clermont, Iowa. This is the July 11, 2010 sermon.

In every construction trade, in every business, there are standards of righteousness. By the term righteousness, in the context of construction, we mean being correct. Amos, one of the earliest prophets in Israel, used the plumb line as a metaphor for righteousness.

Israel was more than “a bit out of plumb” in the days of Amos and Isaiah.

The book of Amos records that two years after Amos received his visions, an earthquake struck the area. Josephus, the Jewish historian, believed that the earthquake happened at the same time as Uzziah’s seizure of the role of High Priest and his subsequent bout with leprosy. Amos lived at about the same time as the prophets Isaiah, Micah and Hosea.

Under Jeroboam II the kingdom of Israel reached the zenith of its prosperity. The gulf between rich and poor widened at this time. Amos was called from his rural home in Judea to remind the rich and powerful of God’s requirement for justice. He claimed that religion that is not accompanied by right action is not pleasing to God, and prophesied that the kingdom of Israel would be destroyed.

Because the rulers were not straight with God and the people, because even the walls of the temple (that is the religious establishment) was out of plumb, there would be a ruinous collapse. Of course the leaders in Israel did not want to hear this message and encouraged Amos to move back home.

Amos’ message was, perhaps understandably, unwelcome in Israel. Not only was he a foreigner from the southern kingdom, but his prophecies of doom were completely at odds with the prevailing political climate of hope and prosperity.

Much of the prophecy of Amos is directed at the heartlessness of wealthy merchants who ignore the plight of the poor, the lack of justice for the righteous, and the emptiness of religious ritual apart from true faith. Amos is a classical prophet, concerned with the well-being of the people and the purity of the faith

The central idea of the book of Amos, is that the Lord puts his people on the same level as the nations that surround it. God expects the same sinlessness of them all. As it is with all nations that rise up against the kingdom of The Lord, even Israel and Judea will not be exempt from judgment because of their unjust ways. The nation that represents God must be made pure of anything or anyone that profanes the name of The Lord. God must be exalted.

Now we turn to St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Colossae is a town in modern-day Turkey on the banks of the river Lycus, not all that far from Ephesus. In Paul’s day it was neither large nor important. However centuries earlier it had been very prosperous. It has been said that Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.

The Church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, because Paul concentrated his work in major centres, such as Ephesus. Many think it was actually founded by a co-worker of his Epaphras, who was described in Colossians as a native of Colossae.

Even though Colossae was small it was probably quite diverse, made up of people from the surrounding area, Greek settlers and Jews. Just like other towns in Asia Minor it is likely that Colossae had its fair share of pagan temples and shrines as Paul alludes to their pagan past in several places.

The reason for Paul writing this letter is not apparent in the opening chapter. Why? Because before he corrects, he encourages. Paul starts with praise, and sincere praise at that.

We read how he gives thanks because of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for the saints. And he gives thanks for their love was a love in the Spirit, in other words a love that springs up as a result of their faith. Paul encourages them by telling them what he has been praying for them.

I am encouraged that the book of Colossians is in the Bible. It reminds me that God is interested in the little churches as well as the large churches. God is interested in Churches like Church of the Saviour here in Clermont.

In Luke we heard the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

A lawyer was asking Jesus about gaining eternal life. As we look at the passage we see that there is nothing wrong with the lawyer’s knowledge of scripture. But even in Jesus' reply we see the participation in the knowledge that Jesus insists on “ do this and you will live. ” Now the lawyer being a smart man knows that it is very difficult for anyone to judge his heart or his relationship with God goes directly to the part that he sees would be most difficult. How do I love my neighbor that way? And in his question he asks Jesus to define or limit who his neighbor is.

But Jesus doesn’t answer the question, have you ever noticed how Jesus does that in your life, he doesn’t answer the questions you ask? But responds with a story.

A man is beaten and robbed as he traveled between Jerusalem and Jericho. The first guy to walk by this guy who had just been beaten , stripped and left for dead is a priest and he walks by intentionally not helping. It is possible that he didn't want to help because he would be considered ritually impure if got too close to a dead body and thus couldn't perform the required rituals in the Temple. Then a Levite walks by, someone that is actively involved in the order and leading of worship, and he doesn't stop either. And then this Samaritan walks by and stops. Samaritans were generally hated by the Jews at the time, why? Well, the Samaritans were descended from the people who did not get exiled to Babylonia several hundred years earlier. Probably because they were on the Babylonians side during that conquest. They had very similar religious views but did not recognize the religious authorities in Jerusalem. So that is the reason for the animosity between the two groups. Back to the story: This guy who is a Samaritan and who is not involved with all the religious stuff does stop to help the man. He Shows mercy in three ways:

He provides emergency care by bandaging the wounds and pouring oil and wine on them.

He makes a personal commitment by placing him on his animal thereby he’s walking he takes him to an inn and cares for him. He commits to covering the cost of caring for him. I like to think of this as the rehabilitative cost or the long term costs. The man’s life is no longer in immediate danger but he is far from healthy. Then Jesus asks the lawyer, which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor?

And the lawyer reply’s, “the one who showed mercy”

And Jesus leaves him saying “You go and do Likewise.”

What Jesus does is inclusive of all people where as the definition the lawyer was seeking was to be exclusive limiting who his neighbor is. And what Jesus does is make it clear that in terms of the kingdom of God you cannot define who your neighbor is, you can only be a neighbor by responding with mercy to those in need. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his great sermon on this passage was that the Priest and Levite where so concerned about what would happen to them if they got involved that they missed what the Samaritan saw, If I don’t stop and help this man, what will happen to him? And this is the question Jesus desires to burn into each of our hearts. If you don’t show mercy, What will happen?

My prayer for all of us is that we need to try to become straight as a plumb line, remember that God is interested in small Churches in small places, and that we need to show mercy and help all people in need, regardless of who they may be. Amen.