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Trinity 5, Yr C, Tr 1, Proper 10, 11/7/04, St Mark's
Amos 7.7-17: Amos, herdsman, ticks off Israel.
Ps 82: God judges; save weak & orphan, defend humble & needy, rescue weak & poor.
Col 1.1-14: bear fruit in every good work
Luke 10.25-37: Good Samaritan (1396-84=1312)
Collect: that your people in vocation & ministry may serve you in holiness & truth to your glory
Post Com; that this world may be so ordered that your Church may joyfully serve you in godly quietness
Summary: God fits his chosen; human beings are rationalizers, not rational: we need godly disquiet.
This morning I would like to share with you one observation and one conviction, and then we shall see what this may have to say to us.
The observation, which I have certainly preached on before, is that God does not choose the fit; he fits his chosen.
And the conviction is that at heart we human beings are not rational, but rather we are rationalizers. Which means that sometimes we say, "My mind is made up; do not confuse me with the facts!" That is, we are comfortable where we are, so don't upset the apple cart.
Now this morning we have two stories, our reading from Amos and our reading from Luke. Both of these involve people being made distinctly uncomfortable by those whom they consider to be unfit persons
First let us consider our reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos. Amos lived in the middle of the eighth century BC. He came from Tekoa, about ten miles south of Jerusalem, and he was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees. The job of the dresser was to pinch the sycamore fruit, for only when that had been done did it become edible when it ripened, and even then, the fruit was only eaten by the poor. On Amos' background and experience, let me quote Professor James Smart ['Amos', Interpreter's Bible]. He says, "The imagery of [Amos'] oracles reflects his life as a shepherd: the sound at night of the lion roaring over its prey, the plague of locusts that eat up the pasture, the seven stars and Orion that are witnesses to the creative power of God."
But Amos also knew the sights of the city. He knew, in Smart's words,
"the overfed, callous plutocrats at ease in their expensive houses, thinking only of how to amuse themselves,
the peasant burdened with debts and sold into slavery for the price of a pair of shoes,
the sanctuaries crowded with confident worshippers exulting in their good fortune,
prophets and priests with no word to speak to a swiftly decaying society."
Smart goes on to say, "With eyes sharpened by the frugal, austere life of his desert regions, by the insights of faith that came to him from earlier prophets, and by his own intense consciousness of God's justice, Amos examines the life of urban Israel and can form no other conclusion than that it is ripe for judgment."
This then, is the man who went to Bethel, the House of God, that is, the temple in the Northern Kingdom. There he delivered his judgement in the name of Yahweh. As you have heard, the priest ticked him off for daring to "tell it as it is", as we might say. We might say that the priest liked neither the message nor the messenger. Incidentally, this past week there was a similar reaction in some quarters, including a leader in The Times. This was in response to the private letter written by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to the Prime Minister about apparent British behaviour in Iraq and how it might affect Britain's standing as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian situation..
Now let's look at our gospel reading. The Jews were good religious people. In the Roman world they were admired for their morality, and many people hung on at synagogue without ever becoming Jews. These were the so-called "God-fearers", many of whom, incidentally, later became Christians. So the Jews had good reason to be satisfied with their faith.
The Jews didn't like the Samaritans one little bit. The Jews had the Law and the Prophets, but the Samaritans stuck to the Torah, the five books of Moses, and didn't acknowledge the authority of the Prophets. They also claimed that Mount Gerizim, not Mount Sion, was the appointed place for the temple. It would appear that they were deemed to fall outside that ethnic purity demanded by Ezra after the Exile in Babylon.
So it is a well-versed and well-satisfied lawyer who rightly sums up the law as calling one to love God and ones neighbour, and Jesus says he is right. Luke then says that the lawyer wanted to justify himself by asking the question, "Who is my neighbour?"
Jesus then tells his story of the man who fell among thieves. The priest and the Levite pass by on the other side so as not to defile themselves by touching someone who may well be a gentile and perhaps already dead. For if he is already dead, then they will have touched a corpse, which would make them ritually unclean for seven days. That would mean that they could not perform their religious duties in the temple. Then the Samaritan comes along, and Jesus draws out at great length all that the Samaritan does for the wounded man. He uses his own wine and oil and cloth to clean and bind up the man's wounds. He puts him on his own animal and walks with him to an inn. At the inn he takes care of the man. When the Samaritan gets ready to leave, he gives the innkeeper two denarii, that is, two days wages for the man's room and board, and promises to pay more if need be on his return.
You might say that it was a bit rich for Jesus to force the lawyer into a corner and make him admit that the Samaritan was the one who was truly neighbourly. I am sure that it made the lawyer feel quite uncomfortable.
In almost every field of human knowledge there are stories of resistance to change, and especially when the challenge comes from those outside the field. For example, it was a man who was not a geologist who put forth the idea of plate tectonics. It took another thirty years for it to be accepted. Our friend Ian Whaley told me about a university geology department a few years back where the students were ready to sit their final exams. The teaching staff told them that there was going to be a lecture that afternoon that they must hear. It would show that everything they had been taught was wrong. However, on the exam they must write what they had been taught. The lecture convincingly set forth plate tectonics.
As I have said, human beings are rationalizers. We don't like to move out of our comfort zone. Sometimes we simply deny outright the reality of something that doesn't fit our scheme of things. A bit further along the line, when the data is too obvious to deny, we squeal, "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts!" - thus putting off for as long as possible and by any means possible the necessity of change.
So the question is, how can you and I be freed to consider something that goes against the grain? How can we be freed to do so? And the answer, quite simply, is this: when we are held by enough love so that we don't have to hang on by the skin of our teeth, then we have the freedom to move outside of and beyond what we may call our comfort zone.
So let us hold each other with love that we have in Christ so that we may be ready to learn new things and new ways, perhaps from unlikely sources and perhaps from unlikely persons. Let us be ready to see where we may have so entrenched ourselves that we are not free to reassess and move on into pastures new.
We here at St Mark's are about to move into a new chapter, and there are bound to be changes, and probably some of them will not be easy.
In today's Post Communion we shall pray: "that this world may be so ordered that your Church may joyfully serve you in godly quietness". I am not going to change the wording, but I suggest that if we are truly to be open to what may lie ahead, we might better pray for a bit of godly disquiet.