Seventh after Pentecost
July 15, 2007 VII Pentecost (RCL Proper 10C) Amos 7: 7-17, Luke 10: 25-37
In the Old Testament reading of our new lectionary cycle we have a new King this morning, Jereboam, a successor to our old friend King Ahab and his lovely but disturbing Queen Jezebel—and a new prophet, Amos, a rustic type who bursts onto the scene here in dramatic continuity with the likes of his predecessors, Elijah and Elisha, to call the king and the ruling establishment of political and religious leaders to account for their stubborn unwillingness to return in their leadership of the people to the integrity of obedience to God’s ancient demands for faithfulness and justice.
Again the pure religion of God is tainted by foreign influences, and again the covenant demands of justice and mercy are ignored in a culture of greed and oppression. And we have this famous image of the plumb-line, this ancient but effective engineering tool to prove the level balance of a structure. Here an absolute measure that reveals what is out of balance, a relentlessly honest measuring rod.
Amos is not going to preach a gospel of cheap grace and easy second chances. No free passes. God is a God of love, but the context for that love is justice and faithfulness and integrity of relationship. And as every parent knows, love without accountability is inevitably a recipe for catastrophe. So what there is to say is the truth: that actions have consequences, that a people and a nation built on a false foundation will inevitably collapse, that lovely liturgies at the Royal Shrine and magnificent ceremonies and stunning vestments and all the flowery language in the world cannot hide for long what is rotten to the core. They live in a world of self-delusion and denial, and all Amos has to do is put up a mirror and force them to look, to see who they really are, underneath all that they pretend to be.
Prophets never bring new information. They simply tell us what we already know is true, force us to face facts that we already know are facts. As we are called to live holy lives, with a sense of the potential that we have, as God in his goodness has created us, not wasting or polluting that potential, but treasuring it, aspiring to live into it with everything we have. As we are called to live in holiness and righteousness in our relationships with one another, with compassion and respect for the dignity of others, and with an ever deepening spirit of loyalty in our relationship with the God who has revealed himself to us. The prophets don’t need to give us any new information. Just to hold up a mirror is all. A plumb line. And we can preach the rest of the sermon to ourselves. Or we can run the prophet out of town on a rail. But either way, we know what we know. And as Amos said so clearly: what goes around comes around, and we will generally get in the end what we were asking for.
Turn the page to the gospel this morning, Luke 10, and the great questions from the lawyer to try to get at what Jesus was saying about life, about God, about how we are to live and who we are to be: questions about eternal life, about the character of the divine purpose, about ethics and responsibility. And then of course the famous question, “and who is my neighbor?” Not all that different from the question Peter asks in another place, “how often should we forgive?” And the opportunity for Jesus to paint one of his memorable sermon illustrations, in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I confess that when I’ve thought about this story in past years I’ve generally identified myself with the priest who moves to the other side of the road. I mean, I am a priest, after all. Like him an official identified with the religious establishment, and of course as was true for him it would be true for me that you could fill a volume the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica with all the critical opportunities that I’ve taken to dodge my responsibilities and commitments and openings for the practice of faithful witness and ministry--and instead to take the easy road to the next appointment of my busy day.
However, my perspective on the story widened on the evening of December 17, 2005, when my brother-in-law Mike Johnson and I were walking home after a lovely Christmas concert by the Pittsburgh Camerata, and when we were suddenly and with incredible violence tackled from behind by two men, our assailants beating and kicking and cursing at us as we momentarily resisted and then ripping our wallets from us, leaving us bruised and bloodied and lying on the icy, snow-covered street.
For me and for Mike I know a pretty profound experience in those few seconds. Not much thinking going on. I know I look back on it now and am just amazed that I was so foolish as to offer resistance, not remembering that I am Bruce Robison, not Bruce Willis, and I suppose just giving thanks that I didn’t get stabbed or shot for my efforts, as easily might have happened.
But in any case, for me to read Luke 10 now I can still find a place with the priests, of course. Those are my people. But I find myself also thinking about what it was like in those few seconds, by the side of the road as we lay there stunned and bleeding, before we dragged ourselves up off the pavement to find help. And I see that traveler in the parable, stripped and beaten and left half dead--and now, well, now I find something of myself in him also. Been there, done that.
And how about you? Hearing this story this morning. Maybe also beaten up or beaten down, hurt, abandoned, left for dead. Either literally, as was the case for us that night, or in spiritual ways. There are lots of ways to get beaten up and beaten down, lots of ways we are left for dead, sometimes literally and sometimes in even deeper and harder ways. Maybe you’ve been there too.
And then I remember who you were for me, for us, in those hours, the days after, my good St. Andrew’s Samaritan friends. That same night Lani from up the street brought by a plate of cookies, and in the days to come there were all those cookies and loaves of bread and bottles of wine and cards and phone calls and visits and letters and e-mails and hugs and tears. And in the comfort of that embrace, my wounds and our wounds were healed, and we were lifted up and encouraged in such a beautiful way that it changed our lives. No question about it. God’s goodness just pouring out and overflowing and abundant, compassion, generosity.
Doesn’t mean you can’t still get mad at me, disagree with me, find all kinds of good reasons for frustration and exasperation. But no matter how hard you try, you people of St. Andrew’s, you can’t fool me. And when I watch that Samaritan traveler get off his donkey and come to see what he can do, that’s what I think about now. I’ve seen you. I know who you are, what God is doing in you. And it’s a pretty neat story.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.