Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 July 2019.
Forecasts: There was a time when weather forecasts were very approximate and when any particular forecast was made, people would assume that the opposite would prevail.
In the same way, economists developed their theories and models, collected their statistics and then made their forecasts, again often to general skepticism.
But these were both making forecasts – they were not fortune-tellers and they were not practicing some kind of magic.
When it comes to prophecy, there is something different again. This is about delivering God’s Word to God’s people in God’s time. It may be a word of encouragement, or of correction, and yes, it can also be one of judgment.
Amos’ vision was of a particular kind of judgment. It would be a famine of the Word of God. The people who had grown up with the law and the stories of how God had acted mightily for His people, and who had been comforted by the prophets and servants of God, would now be faced with silence.
And this was the outcome of their own indifference to the things of God.
The excitement and the immediacy of the Word and worship of God had given way to liturgy. And even the best-prepared and most sincere liturgy can give way to performance. And performance becomes routine, and routine becomes boredom and then indifference and then tedium and resentment.
And it was at this low ebb that the people had lost interest in their faith and as Children of Israel, their own kinfolk. They may have looked for the best profit but were indifferent to the suffering of their own people.
And so for a debt as petty as the price of a pair of shoes they would foreclose on their brethren.
Small wonder that they had stirred up the anger of God, who was going to give them over to their own deafness and blindness. The Word of God would no longer be heard among them and they would have to cope with the confusion of their lives and morals without it.
In the gospel we have Mary’s hunger for Jesus’ words.
Jesus was visiting His friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Martha wanted to give a good account of her hospitality, and to serve the best that the house could provide. Hence her distraction in her serving. She would definitely want to make a good impression.
The neighbours would learn about it and they would remember. But Mary was at peace and she was focused on what was central. Yes, visiting dignitaries would have to be made welcome but this was different and Jesus’ words were different as well.
And so she sat and listened, soaking up the atmosphere and the nuances in what Jesus was saying. The subtleties of the law and the prophets that He was teasing out, and comparing this with the real-life, workaday lives of the village.
In short, Martha’s feast would be long outlived by the glory of what Jesus had to say and do, so Mary stayed with it and Jesus was not going to deprive her of it.
Then in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he shows Jesus as the firstborn of all creation. He is above all things and powers, visible and invisible. It is by His word that the will of God was expressed and took form.
Jesus was active when God was creating the heavens and the earth, seeing the creation of Adam and Eve, and His path to the cross, the grave and the resurrection.
He was and is central to human history, the focal point of God’s active and extravagant love the world and the people He had created.
His was the voice that expressed the will of God in the 10 commandments and the law of Israel.
His was the body that was broken on the cross and the blood that was poured out there. Jesus was and is the cross-roads of human history, and human geography. Born into the Roman Empire which would fall, and living in a land that is between east and west, north and south. Specific in time and place but eternal in effect.
Take Jesus out of the church and you do not have a godless church or an empty liturgy, you have nothing at all. Substitute academic debating points for the reality and the penetrating glory of His words and again you do not have a scientific truth, you have a sterile vacuum, filled with noise and nothingness.
So yes, Jesus is Head of the body, the church. And it is a body which lives and rejoices, forms relationships and loves.
The alternative is an organization, with its procedures and its records, resounding in its own futility.
This is not the kind of life that Jesus came to bring or the kind of truth He came to share. It is not the kind of holiness and justice He came to implant.
But it is the kind of place where the voice of God is silent and where the word of God is ignored.
This is the kind of judgment that Amos was pointing to, but we do not have to sentence ourselves into its emptiness and rigour.