Karen and I traveled to Halifax back in 2009, and as we were walking through the city we were stopping to check out some local pubs and churches – a normal practice of ours, when we visit different places around the world. One church we saw in Halifax was an old Roman Catholic church, the first one in Canada to be named a Basilica. When we got inside we discovered that there was a Mass in progress. They were at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. Not wanting to be disruptive, we ducked back out and headed for the door when a sign on the wall of the narthex caught my eye. It said: “Enforced by the Halifax Police Department, NO PANHANDLING!” As I walked out behind Karen, there on the steps of the church, sat a homeless man. Now, I don’t think I can satisfactorily describe my emotions at that moment, the mix of anger, and disappointment, and shame, and disgust. I thought: “How dare these people call themselves by the name of Christ Jesus and post a notice like that on the wall of their church with a homeless guy sitting outside while they’re keeping the Lord’s Supper inside!” God help us all if we ever become so blind to what the Lord’s Supper means in terms of how it ought to form and inform our daily living and our daily meal keeping…
I wonder what Amos would have to say about that church and that sign.
In Amos’s day, people of means and power were taking advantage of the poor and weak among them. Amos describes the situation in Chapter 2, saying: “They sell… the poor for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth and force the lowly out of the way”
Now, lest we start to feel too good about ourselves, as if this in no way describes us, consider the many examples of, not only inequality, but of rank injustice we face in our society today, not least of which is gender inequality – things like the unjust practice of paying men and women differently for doing the same jobs. Or the glaring differences in how African Americans are far more likely to end up incarcerated, or to receive harsher sentencing, than their white counterparts for committing the same crimes. As God’s people, we must be consistent in echoing Amos’s call for justice, measuring things against the plumb line of God’s righteousness and God’s desire for equity and justice, and God’s call for us to actively love our neighbor.
I saw a very telling cartoon recently – you’ve probably already noticed it as a bulletin insert, but go ahead and look at it. It demonstrates the difference between equality and justice.
What God’s calling for through the prophet Amos, and what I’m convinced God wants to see in our world today, is not so much about equality, as it is about justice. You see, giving everybody the same sized box to stand on is equality, but it’s not just. The fact of the matter is that, for no reason of their own, some people simply have more opportunities and better opportunities, because of things like who they are and where they’re born. As God’s people, especially in light of the many social statements of our Church, the ELCA, we ought to be speaking up and speaking out, boldly, faithfully, and regularly on these issues, and crying out for justice! We need to be crying out for everyone to have the size box they need based on their particular situation.
Letting injustice continue unchallenged, or worse yet, claiming injustice as a right of those in power and refusing to speak up and speak out, has serious consequences in God’s eyes. Look at what God says through the prophet in verse 8 of Amos 7: “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” In other words, God is saying: “I will not turn a blind eye to injustice.” And if God won’t turn a blind eye, we had better not either! People who turn a blind eye to injustice, or, worse, try to claim their privilege as some sort of divine right – you know, rationalizing it as if: “God gave me this power, so I have the right to exploit it, and to take full advantage of it, even if it hurts the less powerful!” – such people need to know that God will not turn a blind eye forever…
Now, from time to time in my ministry, I’ve had people tell me that they think I’m too political, that the faith shouldn’t involve politics, and to those who might be thinking that even today, let me point out the examples of Amos and John the Baptist from our readings today, and Jesus, elsewhere, where he confronts the powers that be, both religious and political. Look, it is absolutely our place to speak up and to speak out, to call on those in positions of God-ordained authority to do what is right – to do justice!
- Amos does not remain silent in the face of Jeroboam’s unjust treatment of the poor
- John does not remain silent in the face of Herod’s exploitation, of his brother’s wife and her daughter, and of the many others who were being taken severe advantage of in order to sustain Herod’s unjust rule as a puppet-king of the oppressing Roman invaders.
- Jesus challenges the religious and political authorities throughout his ministry, and in his passion.
We who are called by the name of Christ cannot be silent when we see injustice in our land, for to turn a blind eye to the unjust treatment and suffering of those experiencing poverty, to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the weak ones, the little ones, the marginalized, the outsiders in our society, to turn a blind eye to such suffering and exploitation, is to turn a blind eye to the crucified Christ himself…
I started today, with that story about the Basilica in Halifax, and with thinking about Eucharistic practices, and how they ought to form and inform our everyday meal keeping practices. And here we find the deepest connection of all. It is the crucified Christ who is both our host and our food in the Eucharistic meal – the bit of bread pressed into our open palm and that sip of wine taken from a common cup are the very body and blood of Christ broken and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sin. Here, in this holy meal, Jesus is revealed as the One who is most intimately connected to all of this world’s weak and exploited ones. Here, in this holy meal, Jesus connects with us all, rich and poor, weak and strong, big and little, feeding and forgiving us all, so that when we are sent forth from here to go in peace and serve the Lord we realize where, and in whom, we encounter that same Lord we are called to serve:
- Not in the temples of the kingdom
- Not in the halls of power
- Not in the high places
No, we encounter our Lord in the remnants of an ancient meal practice where those who preside, are the servers, and where those servers eat what’s left over after everyone else has been served. And the most astonishing thing of all is that everyone is welcome to come to this meal, to be fed and nourished, refreshed and forgiven, strengthened and sent out to share what we have received with others. That’s what our keeping of God’s meal together should look like, and it’s what all of our meals and our everyday living should look like:
- No one left outside on the steps
- No one threatened if they reach out for help
- Everyone gathered at God’s table, in God’s name and by God’s invitation, experiencing the steadfast love, grace and forgiveness of God, as we keep this holy meal together, and all of us going forth, then, fed and nourished and empowered by the Spirit to do what we promise in Holy Baptism: to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Amen.