Eclipse of the Son

Transcribed from the sermon preached August 20, 2017

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Amos 8:1-9, 2 Corinthians 4:1-12, John 8:1-12

There are a few members missing this morning. They’re kickin it where the sun don’t shine.

“Copernicus’ parents might deserve some of the credit for his great discovery. Apparently at the age of twelve they said to him: ‘Copernicus, young man, when are you going to realize that the world does NOT revolve around you.’”

I recently listened to a sermon by a popular preacher in response to recent national events. He said sometimes when people come, they want to know whether we are liberal or conservative, left wing or right wing. He said, we are neither, we want the whole bird, both left and right.” Now I respect that. It is important that we are not so arrogant as to narrow God down and stuff him into our political party.  God is bigger than my political views. God’s grace is for everyone. This is an important truth. This popular preacher also said that he and his church would not take specific stands on specific political issues or policy. Now there is very good reason to be careful again about committing God to specific policy or bills. Policy is made by political communities and we are not all righteous, all knowing and all just, no matter who we are, no matter how much we want to be or try to be. Humility is always in order. He who has not sinned cast the first stone.

But then the preacher went on to say, that preachers have no biblical mandate or wisdom to speak to specific policy, that there was no commandment in the bible to criticize the government and that Jesus didn’t get involved with politics. When I heard those statements, my mind just slammed on the brakes.  I understand the danger of risking specificity in speaking on current issues, I understand the temptation to arrogance and self-righteousness, the danger of making God as small as ourselves, but is he reading the same bible I am?  The same prophets?  The same Jesus?  How about the policy of making the ephah small and the shekel great?  How about the policy of money changing in the temple? How about tithing mint and rue and neglecting justice and the love of God? How about the policy of condemning the blind and handicapped as sinners or unclean?  How about health care on the Sabbath? How about the policy of Samaritans as bad hombres rather than neighbors?  How about the death penalty for adultery? Granted they had to bug and pester Jesus, and he does resist writing out specific law or running for political office, but he lays down some pretty serious commentary in which he offers no change of the law which calls adultery a sin, but uses specific context to alter the earlier biblical precedent on punishment. So there is a bunch of wisdom of Jesus that speaks to the direction policy should point. Ok, I will admit, he doesn’t say there should be no death penalty.  He only says in this particular case, “He who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

Amos is denouncing a very specific set of people and a very specific set of policies. Jeroboam the king of Israel got word that Amos was conspiring against him and sent Amos a message in chapter 7:12, 13: [12] And Amazi’ah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there;
[13] but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Don’t go to Washington, or Charlottesville to protest racism. Don’t go to Wall Street.
[14] Then Amos answered Amazi’ah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees. [15] And the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go prophesy to my people Israel.’

Amos is a common shepherd but he gets fed up.

Bob Coote notes in his book Amos Among the Prophets that “The plight of the peasant in the unjust social order addressed by Amos in the eighth century Israel was the direct result of two main factors.: 1) the shift from the predominance of patrimonial domain to prebendal domain, and (2) the role of the ruling elite in encouraging, manipulating, and profiting from this shift.”

Patrimonial domain is exercised by persons who inherit ownership or control as members of kinship groups. Prebendal domain is exercised by officials of a state by virtue of grants from of a king who holds ownership of the land.

Coote and other scholars believe patrimonial domain became a part of Israelite society before Saul and David united the tribes through a peasant revolt and land reform – so with a broad distribution of land ownership peasants controlled their own means of production. Then in Amos day Jeroboam was superseding patrimonial land ownership and giving peasant land to other elite as political favors. The landlords develop a system scholars call rent capitalism where they profit off each aspect of production Peasants went from being land owners to being tenant farmers, and from tenant farmers to landless peasants, and from landless peasants to debt slaves.  (Coote. P. 26-29)

Amos is one of those peasants done wrong and he says:

[4] Hear this, you who trample upon the needy,
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
[5] saying, “When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
[6] that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and sell the refuse of the wheat?”

The sun is going to go down at midday for these ruling elite. God’s judgment is coming Injustice creates anger and conflict like a river that rises up to wash the state away.

Jeremiah 6:14 denounces the privileged preachers who are afraid to denounce injustice.: They offer superficial treatment for my people’s mortal wound: They cry peace, peace when there is no peace. Ezekiel 13:10 says when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash. We are to point out clear discrimination and injustices but we are to retain our Christ power.

In times of difficulty and strife in our personal, family or political life, the life and message of Jesus can be eclipsed by fear, panic, and anxiety. A drowning victim may very well strangle and drown the lifeguard trying to save them. We may grasp and grab when we feel like we are drowning in culture too. It is very tempting to listen to the conventional wisdom that we have to fight fire with fire, darkness with darkness.  An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. The other side is manipulative, slanderous, underhanded, cunning, loose with the truth. They are selective and anecdotal, hunting down the worst examples from those they paint as enemies. They take snippets, snapshots and words out of context to shape an image of those whom they oppose. Never mind that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens or documented immigrants, Never mind that a majority of citizens understand the need for a reasonable immigration policy. Never mind that whites use drugs at a higher rate than blacks. No, they have to be nasty and stir up fear and hate based policy highlighting the bad hombres that remove the context and humanity from those judged guilty. Never mind that there is a man who also committed adultery with the woman dragged before Jesus. Never mind that those dragging her before Jesus have a laundry list of sins too. She is guilty. Should we not stone her?

In times of difficulty and strife, when we feel things slipping, we too are tempted to do unto others as they do to us, rather than as we would have them do to us. Rather than staying enlightened and focused on how God would have us speak and act, we let the behavior of the opposition eclipse the light of God and determine how we speak and act.

Now for Paul and the early Christians, Christians are suffering as a minority religion that won’t pledge allegiance to the national gods and emperor and therefore run afoul of the majority of citizens who don’t like their difference and lack of patriotism. Rumors are spread about them, propaganda runs against them, mobs sometimes threaten and harm them, they are at certain times and places even under the threat of the law, prison, torture and death. Even within the church there are factions getting nasty with each other. Now Paul doesn’t claim righteousness on his own. On the other hand, by the grace of God through Christ, we are called to stand strong as Christians. Rather than having the behavior of others determine how we are going to act, Paul says in II Cor 4

[1] Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
[2] We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

[3] And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.
[4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.
[5] For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
[6] For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
[7] But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.
[8] We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
[9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
[10] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.