Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 14/7/2019
Amos 7:7-17; & St Luke 10: 25-37
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
The Call of Mercy
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. These words, used by Baptist minister Martin Luther King as a rallying cry in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America, are taken from Amos 5:24. Although this verse is not the passage in today’s lectionary reading, if I were to choose one verse which sums-up the central message of Amos, it would be this one.
Amos was a prophet and contemporary of Hosea & Isaiah, during the reign of Jeroboam II around 750 BC. Amos was concerned with how systems of injustice crush the weak and the poor.
According to Amos, the God who liberated the children of Israel from 400 years of slavery in Egypt will not hesitate in bringing judgement on them for their complicity with power and their disregard of the poor.
The language & imagery used is stark: in verse 11 Israel is threatened with exile from the promised land, and when priest Amaziah instructs Amos to leave because he is not exactly enthusiastic about his message, Amos prophesies (look at verse 17) that his wife will become a prostitute, his sons and daughters will die by the sword, and he will die in an unclean land, and Israel will be exiled.
Harsh words indeed, coming from a prophet of Israel; but regardless of how we may struggle to digest the severity of these words, which are framed with the customary ‘thus says the Lord’; Amos’ central message is clear: God’s people, having been liberated from bondage, and sent forth into the world to be a blessing, to embody mercy and justice especially towards those who are crushed and trampled upon by the cruel systems of our world, where power, wealth a might ensure the structural injustice under which our world is straining; are called to stand up for justice. To not do so will result in the most terrible outcome (not just for the poor who are abandoned in their poverty); but for those with power who choose to use it for their own ends.
Amos uses the image of the plumb line, a tool used to check if a wall is straight. The warning is stark, God’s judgment will come upon those of us who embrace the status quo, which fuels injustice. We, the manifestation of God’s body here on earth, are called to stand up against injustice and to call it out, wherever we see it.
In the dark years of 1930s Germany, whilst much of the German church capitulated to Nazi pressure, and failed to denounce the horrors that were beginning to cast their long shadow over one of the darkest episodes of human history; it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fellow pastors who refused to be silent; and they started the Confessing Church; which resisted the Nazi dictatorship. Bonhoeffer was to pay dearly, and was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and was executed by hanging in 1945. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer had written the words:
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…
Meanwhile, in a church near a railway line that transported Jews to the concentration camps; sang the hymns as loud of possible, to block-out the screaming they could hear coming from the cramped carriages. Two contrasting responses from the German church. There is always a cost, when standing up for justice.
How can we be a prophetic voice in such as world as ours? How can we stand up for all who are oppressed, occupied and crushed? How can the church today be a force for good, in a world where the structures of injustice seem so impregnable?
It all starts with each and everyone of us. The structural injustice we see out there, is an extension of the sin of greed, hatred, violence and self-centeredness that each one of us harbours in our own hearts.
Our gospel reading from Luke 10 tells the story of the good Samaritan; a story so well known that it has almost become a cliché. But we would be wise to heed to its message; for like the Amos passage, it is the religious (like us) who come in for major critique.
When the man is lying by the side of the road, wounded after being attacked by thieves on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; it is both the priest and the Levite walk on by, without helping the man. The religious figures in this story to not embody the love of God. But the Good Samaritan stops, binds up the wounds of the injured man, sets him on his donkey, takes him to an inn to rest, and ensures that he is looked after.
The Samaritans were despised by the Jews and considered their enemies, and yet it is a Samaritan who shows real compassion and mercy.
In a world such as ours, where we so readily dehumanize and categorise the other, because we believe that they hold different political opinions to our own, or who don’t share our values, or are responsible for x, y and z; the story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that all are made in the image of God, and anyone who is living out of a heart of mercy, compassion and grace, can be God’s hands and feet in our hurting world.
We too, as followers of Christ, are mandated not to only to love those who are part of our tribe, but we are instructed to love our enemies, and to reach out in healing compassion to all.
Last Friday I had the privilege of being invited by some friends to their synagogue and afterwards to a Shabbat meal. It was a beautiful evening of deep sharing; and I got talking to a young man who had not long finished his 3 years of compulsory military service here in Israel. He told me how he had been posted to Hebron, and on one particularly hot day, he and his fellow soldiers had been instructed to stop every car and search for knives (this was back in 2015 when there were a spate of knife attacks on the part of Palestinian extremists). He told me of how they tried to do this as quickly as possible, to allow the cars to go on their way; but as the hot afternoon wore on it took longer than he had hoped, and cars were queuing-up. Tempers began to fray, and some youths started throwing stones out of frustration. This young soldier refused to use tear gas, but just tried to work more quickly. As tensions rose and the soldier was concerned that the situation would spiral out of control, and elderly Palestinian man walked up past the stationary cars. He spoke to the youths who were throwing stones and managed to calm the situation down. He then took a plate of Kenafe, and offered it to the soldiers searching the cars. The whole atmosphere changed in an instant, and the young soldier told me how it was one of the most beautiful memories of his time as a soldier.
An act of kindness in an unexpected place, from someone who would be expected to do otherwise; and a young soldier who refused to use tear gas on a crowd of youths; both, in their own way, seeing the humanity of the other, and in some small way, trying to do what is right.
Christ is calling his church to stand up for justice in our world.
He is calling each one of us to dare to love the stranger, and to reach out to those who may represent everything that we despise and look down on; for it is in reaching out beyond the walls and barriers of hatred and prejudice in love and in compassion, that the Kingdom of God is established here on earth.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and evermore shall be. Amen.