Justice for All
The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
“In the rainy Pacific Northwest, you might think water scarcity would be the last thing on the minds of members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Lynnwood, Washington,” a recent article read, “but when Trinity members discussed whether they should air condition the church gymnasium, Rick Steves, the well-known television travel host, pointed out that the same $50,000 could provide clean running water for five or six thirsty villages. Money spent on air-conditioning to be used only a few days out of the year, could provide healthy, clean water for villages whose women walk for water every day rather than do the parenting they want.” Rick Steves is quoted as saying, “It is not wrong to be comfortable; it’s not wrong to be wealthy but I think as Christians, we need to be honest with each other and speak up when we tend to think our suffering is worse than somebody else’s.”
Some of you have traveled with Rick Steves and know him. I listen to him on the radio and see him on TV and have read some of his books. His point is well-taken. As Christians we ask ourselves hard questions about comfort and use of money. As individuals and as a congregation we ask ourselves, what does God want us to do with our money and time?
This year, we have decided to take a break from our annual mission trip to Guatemala. Jen Herrera, director of Kids Alive Guatemala, wrote to us that this is leaving a gap in their program but more than that, they depend upon fees that accompany mission groups to help pay their local workers. I didn’t realize that part of the money our group gave to Kids Alive paid for Rodrigo and Luis and Domingo, three local Maya men who did much of the hard work of the projects. Jen asked us if we would at least be able to contribute their month’s salary. I hope we will do this—it even makes me feel better about having gone to Guatemala because sometimes I have had guilt pangs that we sure spent a lot of money traveling to do work that might better have been done by local people. Now I know that some of our cost was really to help these local young men gain skills that will carry them through life. The Oasis also got workers that they could depend upon month-in and month-out and not just North American workers who would come for a week or two and then leave. When we consider our spending plans both as individuals and as a congregation, it is my hope that we will consider the needy as well as ourselves.
|A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS:
“Hi Dick! Thank you very much for your assistance––much appreciated. You have made my life easier to manage. May the Lord richly bless you!”
Amos preached a message of judgment upon Israel because of how it treated the poor, the wretched of the land. He was a shepherd and farmer from the village of Tekoa just outside Jerusalem. But God sent him to the northern kingdom of Israel to prophesy. Amos saw visions and proclaimed the message of God. It was not a popular message that he gave in the middle of the eighth century B.C. during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. A message of judgment never is very popular. Amos was forbidden to preach by Azariah, the priest of Bethel, the cultic center of the northern kingdom and he was frequently beaten by the priest. But Amos continued to prophecy because God Almighty required His message be proclaimed and heard. Finally the son of Azariah the priest beat Amos so severely with a cudgel that he returned home to his land to die and be buried. It was two years before the great earthquake the Bible says—somewhere about 755 to 753 B.C.
I remember hearing sermons about Amos the shepherd and they were usually about how God would call witnesses and prophets not only from the educated priests and nobles but from humble, everyday people. It is encouraging to me that all God’s people are witnesses. As someone in our Bible class said this week, “We are the representatives of God on earth.” It is as we speak from our faith that others will come to know the love of God; it is as we live our lives with integrity and honesty that others will see that we believe. Each woman or man is called to follow the Lord Jesus. Each man or woman who follows the Lord is called to righteous living and blessed to be a blessing.
That was the problem that Amos saw with the people in Israel: these people said that they worshiped the Lord God and obeyed God’s commands but their lives showed they did not. God is not mocked and God would judge the people. In the fourth vision of Amos, God showed the prophet a basket of summer fruit. This basket of summer fruit represented Israel.
Now it is a simple illustration. I rather like it—it would be just what a farmer or shepherd might use and there is something compelling and clear about this. This week, Ingrid Carmichael gave us figs; Tom Murray our church custodian supplies us with produce from his farm—apples, pears, plums, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries. Such a wonderland of fruit here in Oregon! I brought a basket here today. What did the basket of fruit signify—the end of Israel.
I suppose you leave the fruit out long enough and the apples and pears and peaches turn soft, too long and they turn rotten. That was what was happening in Israel the blessing was turning rotten. God let them alone in their transgressions until the misdeeds of Israel were too strong to turn around. The end was coming. In Hebrew the word for summer fruit is Qayits and the word for end is Qets , a play on words that clearly represented what would happen to this northern kingdom of cheats and scoundrels who paraded their piety but whose hearts were hard. They masqueraded as believers but their actions spoke otherwise.
THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SHOWED ME—
A BASKET OF SUMMER FRUIT.
HE SAID, “AMOS, WHAT DO YOU SEE?’
AND I SAID, “A BASKET OF SUMMER FRUIT.”
THEN THE LORD SAID TO ME,
“THE END HAS COME UPON MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.
The Day of Judgment had come. And it did. The northern kingdom was utterly destroyed by Assyria and the people of the northern tribes were taken away and lost to history. It was about thirty years from the time Amos prophesied until the end of this people, the pride of Jacob. But it happened.
What did the people do to provoke utter devastation and permanent destruction? The merchants defrauded and cheated. The poor were trampled upon and the wretched were sold into slavery, the righteous for silver and the poor for the cost of sandals. Amos’ word from God is powerful:
HEAR THIS, YOU WHO TRAMPLE ON THE NEEDY
AND BRING RUIN TO THE POOR OF THE LAND
SAYING ‘WHEN WILL THE NEW MOON BE OVER
SO THAT WE MAY SELL GRAIN;
AND THE SABBATH
SO THAT WE MAY OFFER WHEAT FOR SALE?
What’s this about new moons and Sabbaths? The iniquity was not cultic. The people of Israel did not neglect their ritual duties of keeping festivals and the Sabbath day. Their words seemed to honor God but their hearts were far from God. The rich could not wait to open up their stores and businesses as soon as the Sabbath was over. And what about they sold? Well the traders made the ephah small and the shekel great. The ephah was a measure but they didn’t give full measure when they were weighing out the grain and they overcharged for what they sold. They defrauded with false scales. The weights and measures were false and they sold the sweepings of the grain—not quality produce but charged plenty for inferior wheat. The poor were driven by debt to sell themselves and there were those who were buying their brothers and sisters for silver or for a pair of sandals.
Rick Steves is right. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable; nothing wrong with having money. But there is something very wrong when the rich take money from the poor, when there is a great income transfer from those who have little to those who have much. The Bible says those who have been given much, of them much is expected; those who have, to share with those who do not.
Central Lutheran Church: We have been richly blessed but we are also a real blessing to others. I am sure that we will send the funds to help Rodrigo and Luis and Domingo work another month and take money home to their parents so those parents can by maize and cook on a stove with a chimney; so a little brother or sister can go to school; so these young men can leave work tired but with their heads held high. We give so Guicho can say “Ola!” to other groups who come down to the Oasis and my friend Alfonzo can play his guitar and glorify our God. Central Lutheran Church: We support the Eugene Mission and FISH, and First Place. We make prayer shawls and quilts to warm those in need, a tangible symbol of our love. We feed the hungry, we visit the sick, we support orphans, and we praise our God. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2007, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.