Sunday, July 11, 2021

Year B Proper 10 2021 Turning Toward the Light

Year B Proper 10, 11 July 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Turning Toward the Light”

Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Amos 7:7-15

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

'Jeroboam shall die by the sword,

and Israel must go into exile

away from his land.' "

And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."

Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine

8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together; *

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him, *

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Good morning. I rarely speak from the Old Testament passages for my Sunday sermon, but today that is where I am being led. Last week I talked about our country and where it is going and where it is growing. I spoke of competing revolutions, and the inner and societal problems that are and will increase before we are able to move on. I offered hope and a direction, but not some tangible steps.

That hit home this week. I need to address the How-To of it all. It is time to pull up our bootstraps, something this country is known for, and to do the hard thing. Will everyone’s motives be pure? No. They never are. But can good come from good people doing the best they can? Yes. And God will be a part of our journey and will bless it. I believe that. As our Psalm says:

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Ps 85:11

And when heaven and earth agree on anything, especially Truth and Righteousness, no power on earth can stop it. So let us turn our attention to two things that are needed for us to move forward.

Amos was a farmer, a herdsman and a fig farmer, not pig as they are not kosher, but fig. The sycamore-fig of Palestine is a bit different from the ones we are used to, and need special attention, but he was definitely not a prophet full-time. He was not and did not want to be, but for a season he had to be about the Lord’s work.

And the vision he received was one of something very simple, a weighted plumb line, something builders have been using since they started building. A true vertical, so walls are straight, and buildings sure. We want to be straight. “Let me be straight with you!” we say. We want to live in the “straight and narrow.” We want straight teeth, ortho- meaning straight, so we have orthodonture. We want straight beliefs so we have orthodoxy. God is holding up a plumbline against Israel, and saying that they are crooked when they are called to be straight. The plumbline shows all.

And it will not be easy. John the Baptizer held up a plumbline to Herod, and look what it got him!

But if a plumbline were held up to our country, what would be askew? I have been heartbroken listening to the debates over Critical Race Theory. And what is being said critically is too often judgment before knowledge, pre-judging, or there is a term for it, prejudice. I heard a radio interview where someone denounced CRT, but then said what he would prefer was a rational look at the truth of where we came from. The interviewer then said that is the definition of CRt. It is an attempt to acknowledge the truths of our founding and the prices paid by so many to put our nation where it is, and naming those truths so we can get to a more perfect union for all. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that men,” meaning people, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That plumbline shows that this statement has not been, nor is it yet, fully true. The plumbline reveals the hypocrisy. The plumbline speaks the truth so we can straighten things out.

And the only way to get to a place of healing, reconciliation, and growth is to speak truth and seek forgiveness. I have brought this to light before, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Apartheid in South Africa was a pivotal event in human history. Speaking Truth and Seeking Forgiveness as a governmental policy was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Anglican headed the Commission. In reflections for a magazine article in 2004, he wrote this.

“For our nation to heal and become a more humane place, we had to embrace our enemies as well as our friends. The same is true the world over. True enduring peace—between countries, within a country, within a community, within a family—requires real reconciliation between former enemies and even between loved ones who have struggled with one another.

“How could anyone really think that true reconciliation could avoid a proper confrontation? After a husband and wife or two friends have quarreled, if they merely seek to gloss over their differences or metaphorically paper over the cracks, they must not be surprised when they are soon at it again, perhaps more violently than before, because they have tried to heal their ailment lightly.

“True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done.”

-Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Truth and Reconciliation”, Greater Good Magazine, 1 Sept. 2004


I hear the Psalmist echoed in the Archbishop’s words:

Mercy and truth have met together; *

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *

and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him, *

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The Psalmist and the Archbishop, as did John the Baptizer, they all confront us with something we too easily ignore, to our detriment. Sin. We have sinned. By those things done, and by those things left undone. As a people, not living up to the ideals we declared to the world, we have sinned! We said it, and yet did not do it, not equally, not to all men, or women, or any and everyone. It is hard to hold up a mirror and let it show you the truth sometimes. Yet it speaks the truth that the worst and most pernicious of lies is Self-Deception. And when we are confronted it is hard, uncomfortable, and even painful. But it is necessary for things to get better.

We are being held accountable that our words and our actions are and have been out of plumb. The prophets of our day are like Amos and John in theirs. Speaking truth to power, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

But if you study the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, God deconstructs through holding people accountable, but then God offers hope and a path forward. I believe we can have both. Critical Race Theory and other efforts to acknowledge the sins of our past do so in the effort to honor those that suffered, and move us all to where we can and should be.

There is a dawn, and one day it will come. We need to keep our eyes open. We need to move forward, even in the darkest of days.

If you have ever had sunflowers, I have always loved sunflowers, they are called that because of what they do. They follow the sun. Heliotropism, the movement of plants in the direction of the sun. Sunflowers are fascinating in time-lapse photography because they follow the sun across the sky, it is wondrous and beautiful. But what about night? What do sunflowers do when the sun goes down? They do what I am calling us to do. They turn themselves around, they get themselves aligned for the sun that will arise in the East. If sunflowers can do it, so can we.

Friends, we as a nation and in some ways as a community, and in some ways personally, need to get ourselves straight and await the dawn that is on its way. We are striving for these changes because God wants us in relationship with him and with one another. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  That is what all of this, all of life, is about. 

Archbishop Tutu closed his article this way.

...the wholeness of relationships. That is something we need in this world—a world that is polarized, a world that is fragmented, a world that destroys people. It is also something we need in our families and friendships. For retribution wounds and divides us from one another. Only restoration can heal us and make us whole. And only forgiveness enables us to restore trust and compassion to our relationships. If peace is our goal, there can be no future without forgiveness.” -Desmond Tutu, ibid.

Friends, when days are dark, remember where the light comes from. When people are crooked, remember there are plumblines that can show us the straight and narrow. And remember that we are being loved and enabled to take those first painful steps from the Truth of what was and is, and the Reconciliation of what can and should be in God. As I said last week, may God bless you, and may God bless America! Amen 


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Blessings, Rock