Join a Legacy of Compassion for the Needy

In the words we heard today, the prophet Amos has a fourth vision come to him from the Lord.  It’s a bowl of summer fruit set before him.  The fruit would be ripe at the end of the season just before the coming of Autumn, and it signified the end for the people of Israel whose time was now ripe too.  Their time was drawing to a tragic close because they didn’t engage in the work God had set before them.

God has had enough of their greediness and their disrespect of the less fortunate.  “You trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land, desiring for the festivals to be over so you can sell grain again while utilizing deceitful practices.”  There were local blue laws it seems that forbade the selling of goods on the sabbath and on holy days, and yet the wealthy ones couldn’t wait until they could once more take advantage of those who had barely enough to get by.  So God declares that God will bring days of bitterness on the wealthy because they cared only for themselves.

A sermon based on Amos 8:1-12.

While I’d much rather rarely hear from the prophets, they speak to people like us.  We are generally those with power possessing a good education, a nice place to live, and an income level putting us above a chunk of our fellow Americans where the median household income is about$56,000.  The question is where might we fall in this indictment from God?  Are we like those people of Israel trying to get one more dollar out of the needy by inflating the prices, or have we heard God’s word and are we working to help those in need?

157 years ago on an August day that I hope was less stifling than today, the cornerstone of our church was laid in a service that would make any Episcopalian proud.  The families providing the resources and land for a small country parish wanted to offer two things: prayers and worship to the living God, and a church that anyone could be a part of.  This house of worship was not preserved for only the few wealthy folks who could afford a pew as so many churches did at that time.  Neither would anyone be turned away who came to worship be turned away at the door based on their race, the color of their skin, or their station in life.  

St. Mark’s was founded on the belief that all were welcome here to worship the living God.

And that legacy has encouraged many to take a stand and to help others.  I’ve heard stories about one of my predecessors Gene Goll who marched for civil rights in the 1960s, and I know members of our parish did as well.  Over 60 years women in our parish decided to create a thrift shop which regularly clothes those who could afford shops at the mall, and then donate proceeds to further outreach or back to our parish. Our community refused to turn a blind eye to the food insecure who live in our town and has been feeding them through the Southborough Food Pantry for years.  Over the past 7 years we have given away thousands of dollars through our open plate offering program to shelters for women and children, for clean water in Africa, to support the incarcerated by offering them hope, in providing backpacks for needy students, and in so many other ways.  Many of you live the Christian faith by teaching English to recent immigrants, or spending time with the families of those who have begun hospice care, or participating in events to raise money for others. In just a week, 18 members of our youth program will head out to South Dakota to serve and learn from the Native American Sioux community there that has too often been disenfranchised.

We do these things as the ones living into the legacy of St. Mark’s to see no distinction in anyone else because we are all children of God.  And we seek to help others who may need it because we have been so blessed by God, recognizing that when we do so, when we offer a cold cup of water or a meal, we do it Jesus himself.

On that front, I want us to be buoyed and encouraged by what has been done in the past, continues to be done in the present, and will be done in the future.  And I also hope that we do not solely rest on our laurels when it comes to being a community that welcomes and seeks to help others without regard to their wealth, race, color or station in life, because friends, this week has surely showed us there is much work to be done.

However you parse out the words that have been bandied about in our national conversations these past days, I am certain that those who have immigrated to our country, those whose skin color is darker than mine, or those who have recently come seeking refuge have heard the recent rhetoric as hurtful, dismissive, and vile.  I will not mince my own words: the things that have been spoken are racist and intended to incite hatred and violence against those who are different.  And it works.  Hate crimes are up in our country.  People of color are anxious.  Those whose home languages are not English are being targeted unfairly by others.  

Let me be clear: this is not about political parties.  This is about common decency.  This is about following the living God and calling things as they are when sin and darkness emerge.  God is very concerned about the poor, the refugee, the disenfranchised, and the orphan.  God sides not with the powerful when they use that power to denigrate and harm others, but God stands alongside the ones being shunned and harmed, just as God has always done, and will always do.

The choice before us is now ours.  Will we hear the Word of the Lord brought before us through prophets like Amos and allow it to impact our lives so that we might continue to make a difference?

On June 23, 1940, the day after France surrendered to Nazi Germany, a humble protestant minister in the small village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the South-Central mountain region stood before his congregation of French Huguenots.  Pastor André Trocmé  said, “The responsibility of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences through the weapons of the spirit. We shall resist when our adversaries will demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel.  We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hatred.”  Given the circumstances of the previous day, the seeds sown by the minister’s words took hold in the hearts of that congregation.  They had endured a history of religious persecution—living as protestants in largely Catholic France had caused them to face oppression—and so when the first Jews began arriving into their sleepy village and knocked on their doors, they did the most unassuming thing: they let them in.  

It isn’t clear if what happened next during the German occupation of France during World War II—some 5000 Jews finding refuge and being hidden among the 5000 Christians in Le Chambon—was due to that sermon or their own experiences of discrimination.  It didn’t really matter.  They had heard the Word of the Lord and engaged the Weapons of the Spirit, as the documentary exploring their tremendous work is titled.  They opened their lives freely to all, without regard to that person’s wealth, race, color or station.         

And so can we.

We are a generous and loving community.  We are people who seek to impact our world for good, to share the love of God with others, and to welcome in the stranger, the hungry, and the ones who are alone.  God’s word to us is to continue doing that work and to stand up for those who are  being taken advantage of by others.  That’s the word that Amos proclaims even now.  But as theologian Donald Gowan put it in his commentary, “If we ignore the word God has set before us, what more can God do for us?”  

Let us choose love and the gift of compassion handed down to us from generations before.  Let us not ignore the calling of God on behalf of those who are being targeted with hate.  Rather act once more with love, not becoming weary in doing what is right.  And let us continue to be the people of God in this place and this time who have received a generous legacy to recognize all people as the beloved children of God no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.  Amen.

Photo Credit: andy michael2012 Flickr via Compfight cc

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