Rev. Megan Huston
November 16, 2014
18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. 20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
It was the day before the Bazaar and the church was full of women working hard to get things ready in the final stretch. Ladies formed assembly lines making pimento cheese & turkey salad sandwiches. Others labeled and arranged items for the silent auction. Some folded napkins.
Debby probably went upstairs to prepare something for Sunday School or children’s worship. And Sharon had stepped out of the office for a moment. So when the phone rang, I was the first one to answer
The woman called with a question, so I cheerfully prepared myself to tell her the details of the Bazaar the next day. But it was no time at all before I realized that this was not our average inquirer. She told me that she had seen a woman on the news that morning talking about the Bazaar. But she explained that she was just a little confused because she said she was an elder.
Me- deep breath. Angry woman continues, “I guess I just don’t understand because clearly the Bible says that only men can be elders.” Insert some prooftexted verse about wives of elders which clearly means that only men can be elders.
Me- another deep breath, “Well, mam I am actually the pastor.”
Pause. Angry woman, (getting angrier)”Oh, you are the pastor?”
Me- “Yes mam, I am. Is there something I can help you with?”
Angry lady inserts more Bible verses. So I tell her, “Well we invite women into all aspects of leadership in our church. I think we have just a little different interpretation of those texts.”
Angry lady, “Well you must have a different Bible than I do.”
Me, “Well, is there anything I can help you with today?” Angry lady, “I guess not.” Me, “Well, have a nice day.” And dial tone.
I could not find the scriptures that the angry woman cited, although I have a few ideas of the theology she was taught through some of the epistles that often give women different roles than men in the life of the church. Maybe she was right, though, that we are reading from different Bibles. Because for some crazy reason, I have been led to believe that this book is one that is about justice, deep & abiding love, and grace. And I cannot for the life of me figure out how our faith as Christians could turn us into the kind of person who is so angry & mean spirited that she would call up a perfect stranger and insult them on a Wednesday afternoon.
Amos is addressing God’s chosen people who were so sure they had all the right answers that they were looking forward to seeing their enemies suffer. They, like that mean old lady, probably had made the phone calls & warned those other sinners that they were dead wrong and so they were just counting down the days until they got their due.
So Amos turns the chosen people’s faith on its head when he boldly proclaims that God hates, even despises their festivals. It is deeply cutting and personal. The people are going through the motions, participating in all the right rituals, but they have forgotten the heart of their faith which is about love of God and love of neighbor. “ But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”
I do not suppose that our church gets it all right all of the time. We have a million ways that this scripture can stare us in the face and if you hear it today and feel warm & fuzzy inside then I haven’t done my job. Amos is a prophet which means he “speaks the truth that no one wants to hear.” No matter how good we are at worshiping or getting kids to church or building community, if we forget the poor and if we do not speak up for the oppressed, we are missing the boat as well. And if we are honest both individually and communally we miss the boat every day.
But worship is the place where we can come and be who we are. We can admit our mistakes and open ourselves up to God with hope that we might do better. It is not the place where we come to be rewarded for good behavior and it is not a place we come because we have earned our way in. It is a gathering of misfits who are crazy enough to believe that the power of God could transform us.
That’s the thing about having an authentic faith is that sometimes it isn’t perfectly pretty and sometimes it doesn’t sound good and sometimes it isn’t the easiest to get into a short sound bite for the world to hear. But in coming together week in and week out and being honest about who we are and who we believe God could be, transformation is possible.
Of all the gifts of our faith, I think authenticity ranks among highest on my list. I am so sick and tired of the face of our faith looking like close-minded, angry Christians who think that they have all the answers and everyone else is wrong. I don’t want to become angry like them, but I also kind of think it is time we get upset about the way our faith is represented.
The culture we live in is full of empty promises and false advertisements. Unlike generations before us, young people are being advertised to nearly every minute of the day. And so these young people have learned to distinguish the difference between what is real and what isn’t.
The reason that I feel so strongly about participating in this church family is because I believe we are offering something that will stand the test of time. The things we teach in youth group like the power of community and what happens when we serve together, those will be guiding principals that will stand up to the test of time and the trials of life that our kids are already facing and will continue to face.
I believe that what we are doing here is so important because I think most people think that angry woman who likes to call and harass people on Wednesdays is the face of our faith. So we must work even harder to tell a different story.
Because we live in a world where we are all too familiar with the darkness. We have fled from our demons and encountered new ones instead. We have reached out for a break only to be stung by new loss. There is no recipe of faith that makes us immune from the pain that comes with living in these earthly bodies. But there is an invitation to tap into the deep well of joy that comes from being alive knowing love.
So often, though, we try to skip over all the ugly stuff within ourselves in order to get to the promises of our faith. We keep our own flaws wrapped up in order to pretend that everything is perfect on the outside. We may choose to point out someone else’s flaws in order to distract ourselves from our own gaping wounds.
So as we celebrate the gift of authenticity today, I would invite you to consider what it is that you keep wrapped up. Is there something that you disguise with a pretty bow in order to keep people from seeing who you really are? Are there things you are afraid to admit, even to yourself? Are there parts of your life that you would rather not present to God?
Our scripture in Amos challenges us to get our priorities straight. It encourages us to let the ugly parts out. That worship tied up in pretty packages doesn’t always work. That we better come to worship with all of who we are or we might as well just not come at all.