WELCOME to this worship post for mid-November. Instead of a simple ‘spectator sport’ – watching a whole service on video – the text and video here can allow you to work your way through the service as outlined in the Bulletin, as an active worshipper at home, or wherever you may be.
PRAYERS of the People: Father, in my life I see, You are God who walks with me. Now, we pray, not on our own, not just side-by-side, not just listening to one pastor’s voice, but together. Walk with those in our prayers. God, walk with those who are challenged in their workplace this year. We think of folks serving at Tideview Terrace, for instance, and our local hospital. Nothing is easy, Master: help each and every staff person.
You hold my life in Your hands. May others, many others, know you hold their lives also, God. Our friends who live at Tideview Terrace, in long term care in Annapolis, in Mavillette, in Waterloo, and elsewhere. Also our friends who are having medical treatments now, or therapies, procedures, surgeries, tests, or medications. God, hold in your hands the lives of those who need more than physical healing, but healing of the mind and heart, of the soul, of the memory and of relationships.
Close beside You I will stand. Jesus, our prayers are for those who try to stand with You, but need help. For others who are not interested in being Your disciple. And for those who make themselves enemies of You and Your Good News. We want to help people draw closer to You: make us do this for their sakes, and not ours. Also, Master, teach us all to be humble when Christians fail and get a bad name for themselves.
I give all my life to You, help me Spirit to be true! We pray for all of life, and all the world today. Creator, we give our thoughts and actions about the earth’s climate to Your provision. We give our concern for the poorest of the poor to Your generosity. We give our care for those unjustly treated to Your freedom. We give our longings for healing from COVID to Your healing. We give our unanswered questions to Your wisdom. All in the name of Christ: Our Father…
SERMON: Just, Right. (Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 18-24) Since September we have been marching – rather quickly, through the story of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Creation. The beginning.
Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac. ~2000 BCE
Isaac’s son, Jacob, sees a stairway to heaven. ~1950
Moses gets his mission from God to lead the Hebrews to freedom and into a Promised Land. ~1250
The Israelites complain in the wilderness soon after.
The boy Samuel hears from God in the days when the people were governed by judges. ~ 1100
Young David is picked out to be the King. ~1000
The next great king, Solomon, has the Temple built in Jerusalem. ~950
The prophet Elijah flees from enemies, in the days when the Jews had split up into two kingdoms. ~ 875
This Sunday: Amos, who preached during the 750s BCE. Like a hot blast of wind from the south came Amos the prophet, up to the northern kingdom, Israel. This fig farmer and shepherd from Judah felt compelled by God to go north and denounce the royal rich folks who were so prosperous, and so unjust. The economy was booming. The poor were being ground into the dust of the earth! (A 2:7)
The quest for justice, the challenge of righteous living – these have been struggles throughout the millennia. The 2,700 year old words of Amos could be re-spoken today:
Hear this word, you cows of Bedford, who are in the mansions of Sackville, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring us a drink!’ (4:1)
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the statutory holiday be over, so we can sell junk food again? And the holiday, so we can cheat people? (8:5)
Oh you who turn justice to poison ivy, and cast down righteousness to the earth! (5:7)
As the scriptures prompt us to consider what our real injustices are today, we wonder, at times, what difference we each can make. What can I do against corporate greed, to battle massive clearcutting, to support under-funded healthcare, to decolonize everything we Europenas took over the past five hundred years?
Our God will help you and me to start small. To take our next best step. To learn – as a disciple of Jesus – our next skill of compassionate living.
The Monday Study Group has just worked through James Bryan Smith’s A Spiritual Formation Workbook. Among the ideas and exercises listed at the end, are fifteen about the ‘Social Justice’ tradition in Christianity. Here are the first five; perhaps one will be helpful to you:
- Write a supportive letter this week to someone you feel may be needing a word of encouragement.
- If you live with others, help out around the house. This may seem minor, but household chores are usually done grudgingly. Your willingness to do more than your share of work will be a real service to the others in the household.
- Spend an afternoon working at a local [food bank] or soup kitchen. Your help is sorely needed, even if you can only sweep floors.
- Donate blood. We are giving the gift of life when we give blood. Call Canadian Blood Services and set up an appointment.
- Recycle your trash. Caring for the environment is an issue of social justice. Recycling what you throw away increases the next generation’s chance for a bright future.
Even these small, seemingly mundane actions can be the training ground for our habits, our conscience, our sacrifice and courage. Take a new step in the right direction, and the Spirit of God will use your cooperation to do more than you actually tried to do on your own. It’s a bit of grace: a bit of ‘more than you can do alone.’
The resounding call of Amos, from 8th century BCE Israel, rings true in our own neighbourhoods. It is a warning with hope. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant. (5:14-15)
So, it is possible to seek good, not evil.
It is possible for God to be with us.
It is possible to get the right things happening where decisions are made.
It is possible that there will be grace – good things we can’t make happen will happen.
Cooperate with the God we worship together here. Your next step of faithful living will be beyond your recent bits of obedience. Perhaps there is a new challenge on your horizon, one that takes a bigger bit of generosity, of courage, of risk, of vulnerability on your part.
Here are five more ideas for social justice; one of these might be a new thing God is calling upon you to do:
- Help a friend in need. Do you know someone who needs assistance? If so, help that person, whether the task is hanging wallpaper, grocery shopping, helping with a move, or fixing the roof. Volunteering to help is a simple way to care for your neighbour.
- Write to your member of [Parliament or the Provincial Legislature] and share your views. Is there an issue that you feel strongly about? Be sure that you have the facts straight and are expressing genuine Christian concern,not just prejudice.
- Join a prison ministry. Contact a group and go with them to visit the inmates, who often feel forgotten in their isolations. Jesus told us that when we visit inmates, we are visiting him (Matt. 25:31-46).
- Address an injustice with compassion. Is someone being treated unfairly? Do not be silent when your words could make a difference.
- Practice the service of hiddenness. Do a kind deed (for example, shoveling snow from a sidewalk, or calling on nursing home residents) without being asked or expecting recognition.
Of course, the greatest dynamic of Amos’s preaching was the warning that called for repentance. He’s not comforting to the converted, he is condemning the guilty! Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire… and devour. (5:6) To add some new goodness & compassionate actions to our lives we must get free of more of our unjust and greedy habits. It is all rooted in a change of heart – inner examination, forgiveness from outside ourselves, and renewal. All miracles, miracles we see offered by Jesus.
About Jesus… we heard from his mother this morning. We recited a modern translation of Mary’s words when she celebrated her pregnancy – she would bear the Messiah. It is well-loved Bible poetry, and has been put to music thousands of times in many languages. But Mary’s vision of how God does things is so strong. She knows a God of justice, who upsets the applecart we privileged people are hauling! (The Voice translation, Luke 1:51-53)
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
The rich—God has dismissed
with nothing in their hands.
She sounds just like Amos, of old. Do you notice how very practical and earthy are these Jews, from whom we get all our scriptures and tradition… and the Messiah? It’s not all pie in the sky when you die. It’s nutrition and compassion in the nation.
Now, here are the final five social justice exercises and ideas. Do you see an opportunity in any of these?
- Serve others with your words. Protect people’s reputation and speak well of others as a way of serving them. Kind words are great deeds.
- Serve others by letting them have “space.” We sometimes overwhelm people or consume their time or usurp their freedom with our expectations. Make a concerted effort to give people space. Ask them what they want to do or if they want to be alone or if they are free to talk before imposing your expectations upon them.
- Serve others by letting others serve you. Are you guilty of not letting other people do things for you? Hold a door? Buy a cup of coffee? Make a photocopy? This is a sin. It is a gift to others to let them serve you; do not deny them this joy.
- Read a book that discusses social justice issues. As an example,The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder forces readers to ask hard questions. You may also want to read Donald Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Though you may not agree with everything these authors say, they should stimulate your thinking.
- Write a one-page response this week to the following questions: What is the most pressing social justice issue today, and what position should I, as a Christian, take? Share the paper with the other members of your [small group].
These ideas are personal and individual. Of course, we are also called into the Church, Christ’s Body, to serve together compassionately. Over just the past month or so, I have been excited and proud of you. I seem to hear people asking, out loud, ‘What are we doing for our community? How is Digby Baptist helping?’ Be it about sudden needs when a family loses their home or loses a loved one. Be it about people’s needs at Xmas and in the oncoming winter. Be it about the stresses of this multi-year pandemic time.
So here we are, having given away a bunch of very nice of winter clothing yesterday. (It had been three years since we’d done this.) How wonderful to have this happen again, for the people who got things!
Here we are, making polar bear decorations covered in birch bark: raising funds for me to spend on people in need who come to me.
Here we are, looking at how to give some moral support to the staff at Tideview Terrace, who are stressed to the max. They could use some thoughtful cards sent to them, or batches of cookies, or be told we pray from them. So we will organize this too.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
God is just, and does justice. God is righteous, and makes right things happen. So may it be with us, the Body of Christ, here. Here we learn to do justice, and keep it rolling. Here we learn to make things right, and let that keep flowing.
This is the compassionate life. Not all sweet and lovely dovey, but strong and true, like the prophet Amos of old. The promise of Jesus, that His mother knew, is still arriving. God’s mercy is on those who fear Him, revere Him, draw near to Him, from generation to generation. God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds. The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.
PRAYER after the sermon: God of justice, may the words of Amos challenge us to realize our failures and be humbly improved. With the words of Mary may we remember and rejoice in how right You are and Your ways. And by the words of Jesus may our faith and confidence grow, and come alive in the ways others are helped by us. In Christ’s name. AMEN.