Bronze skin. Salt tinting the air. Succulent strawberries. Living our days poolside. Kids running through the neighborhood all day and night. Fire-flies lighting up the night sky.
Things are quiet. Things are calm. Everything is a bit more relaxed.
Even church is more relaxed. Polo shirts replace ties. Half the congregation is on the beach. . . Somewhere.
And the lectionary gives us wonderful, cute little portions of Holy Writ. It’s all shepherds and lambs, stars and colored coats. Everyone goes home to their air-conditioned fortress with a smile on their face and a feeling Of contentment in their souls.
A basket of summer fruit.
Our lesson begins with a beautiful image, so appropriate to the season. A basket of summer fruit that God sets before His people.
Ah, isn’t all right in the universe?
“The end has come upon my people Israel;I will never again pass them by.The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”says the Lord GOD;”the dead bodies shall be many,cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Oh. Oh dear.
On that day, says the Lord GOD,I will make the sun go down at noon,and darken the earth in broad daylight.I will turn your feasts into mourning,and all your songs into lamentation;I will bring sackcloth on all loins,and baldness on every head;I will make it like the mourning for an only son,and the end of it like a bitter day.
Well, there goes that sweet summer feeling.
I’d be so much lovelier to just talk about Mary and Martha, and maybe just skip the Old Testament lesson altogether this week. But, then again, is there any good time to do Amos? Is there any good time to turn feasts into mourning?
But… really… is there ever NOT a good time to talk about God’s justice? Because that’s what this passage is about. It’s not just the wrath of God for wrath’s sake. God is so angered because His people are acting unjustly in overt ways.
Prior to this section in Amos, the prophet foretells doom to all of Israel’s neighbors. They’re all going to he’ll in a hand basket. And, you can imagine that as each pronouncement of doom was levied, Amos’ Israelite audience was quite content nodding their heads and wagging their fingers at everyone else. “Those people” were evil, and just what was God ever going to do with “them?”
And then Amos brings it home. It’s not just “them.” We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.
And there’s some real vitriol here because it’s these very unjust practices that God had rescued Israel from in the Exodus. Pharaoh subjected the People of God, and God had delivered them from that.
And how do the People of God repay such kindliness? They subject others.
Nothing ticks God off more.
And honestly, as a father of two little girls I understand it. When my youngest daughter screams and complains because her older sister is mistreating her in someway, I come to her rescue. But, when she then turns around and mistreats her older sister five minutes later I look at her incredulously!
This passage begs us to examine the ways that we participate in unjust practices – both an individuals, and as a part of a societal system which perpetuates injustice.
Right now at St. Mark’s there’s a small group working through the Beatitudes using The House Studio’s “The Kingdom Experiment.” This week we’re working through “blessed are the poor (in spirit),” and we’re being asked to experiment with poverty in some way. We’re either finding some way to alleviate poverty in some form, or we’re finding a way to intentionally experience poverty in some form.
Some of us will fast for a portion of the week to come. Some of us will give up something that is dear to us. I’m going to sleep on the floor – joining with the billions of people in this world who don’t have the privilege of sleeping comfortably in a bed.
Maybe you too could find some small way to intentionally experience what the majority of our neighbors in this world experience every day due to unjust systems and practices in this world. It might be a buzz kill for a week of summer bliss. But, it might make Amos’ prophesy go down a little smoother.
We may even find ourselves joining with Amos’ prayer that God’s justice would come with great might and speed, as it did in Egypt.
(I took the accompanying photo of the Tor at Glastonbury, England last week. I did some funky stuff with it in Photoshop using a TTV filter made by Craig Grossmeier, found on Flickr.com I thought the product looks a little like doom and judgment.)