Stewardship Sermon: Amos on Integrity


 

The thing I love about real relationships is that they can get fiery.  There are some people in my circle of acquaintances with whom I am always polite and deferential.  But my friends, real “friends” are the only treasure of my life.  Real friends have real hard conversations.  They fight and make up.  They speak when hurt.  They are open and honest and direct.

We are ten days away from a night in which this nave will be transformed into a wonderful party! We will sing to Sinatra.  We will glob creamy pasta onto each other’s plates, reaching past candles and bread and wine.  We will celebrate the power that money has to provide mission for our ministry to the poor and the marginalized – the spiritually poor and the financially poor and the circumstantially poor.  We will be the best of the church and the best of our selves and God will love that night at least as much as God loves this morning.  God clearly states that God loves it when we love each other.

But as quickly as we race through the fires of Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah to get to the ice-cream of Matthew, Mark and Luke – we face, this morning, an angry prophet.

Prophets are wonderful because they are entirely un-credentialed.  Prophets are poets and what is frustrating to power is that poets are hard to silence. They simply scream out a longing for what seems not yet to be.  Sure.  We kill them. But then another one pops up. And then another.  And then another.  Prophets keep the pious honest …or at least on their toes.

Through the Prophet Amos’ rant this morning, we hear a God who is trying to be clear about the expectations of relationship. God is setting up the paradigm for what is ok and what is not. God seeks wholeness – the inter-weaving of our life and our spiritual practice so that they fit together – so that they touch – like lovers and not diplomats.

The word INTEGER is crisp.  It is mathematical.  It is distant in the way formulas are distant and intellectual.  Mathematical equations are not warm and fuzzy like the sayings on a Hallmark greeting card. And in fact the word “integer” is literally “untouched,” from in- “not”  and tangere “to touch”.

Smell, touch, listening.  These are the way God gets the attention of the hearers of Amos’ prophetic call for integrity.  Smell, touch, listening – these are the way we connect with each other. They are how humans make love and they are how humans worship.

There is a time and a value to lingering with the prophetic texts like the one we face in Amos today. I see the prophets, semi-out-of-their-mind with anger and frustration – as simply trying to get our attention

–     like a parent screaming at a child as they run joyfully after their ball into the street as a speeding car approaches;

Integer – is a word to convey wholeness.  We see it all the time.

–       Two parts of a broken heart

–       The warm embrace of lovers reunited

–       Spiritual icons whose lives and speech are seamless examples of kindness.

Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.  And integrity is your life being in step with what you say when everyone is listening.

And today’s Hebrew scripture reading from the prophet Amos is all about integrity – wholeness – full of watching, listening, touching.

In chapter four, Amos’ theme is the people’s love of worship.  And yet now, in this chapter, we hear that God’s anger is not about idolatry or insincerity.  God’s anger is about integrity.  The people to whom the prophet is speaking are doing all the right things in their worship– their festivals are lavish, their music glorious, their prayers elevated and their processions long.

 

What God rejects is that worship is sufficient for relationship with God.  How do we know God is angry?  Because things get very physical in the text.

God’s response to worship practices which are not balanced with the integrity of other aspects of life is sharp.  It is delivered in the first person.

When God says “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” The Hebrew word “delight in” is actually “smell.”  Every dimension of Israel’s worship life is condemned.

Amos says that God says “I will not look upon your worship. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen.”

God is citing all the human senses: looking, smelling, hearing; to get the point across that

-if what we do with our prayer books does not fit together – does not have integrity – with what we do with our speech, our money, and our things, then we become God’s enemies.

-If what we do with gold crosses and purple silk does not fit together – does not have integrity with what we do with our hands and feet as we care for the dirty and diseased, then we become God’s enemies.

– if what we do with our silver, wine, bread and music does not fit together – does not have integrity with what we do with our incomes, influence, time and possessions, then we become God’s enemies.

What Amos is saying to us is that our worship, here and at home, must be of one piece with our really, human, daily lives – that our prayers and our pledges must have integrity – must touch.

What Amos is saying is that our bank accounts must be read alongside our robust hymn-singing.

And what Amos is saying is that God’s anger, when God is angry, emerges out of God’s great desire to be with us, and for we to be with God – touching one another.

 

Amos 5:18-24

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as 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. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even 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. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

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