Preaching in Omaha

I thought I had posted this on November 8th only to discover today (December 6) that I had not! So, here it is - yes, it says November 8th - but those of you who have been checking my Blog know that it is new today! I can't fool you!

Sermon Preached on November 6, 2005 - Year A, Proper 27
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church (The Rev. Grant Wiseman, Rector (and, incidentally, Seabury alum))
Omaha, Nebraska

I think I can speak for all of us visiting from Seabury-Western and say that we have truly enjoyed our time here in Omaha. I especially appreciated experiencing the variety of worship here last week and this. And, at this service, I really enjoyed the musical gifts offered by the Son-Shine Singers, the Treble Choir, the Junior Choir, and the Senior Choir. And, then in comes the Prophet Amos to dampen my good mood:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts. . .
Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!
. . . .
I hate, I despise your festivals,
And I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
. . . .
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”

Well shoot – that throws a wet blanket on things! Amos challenges me; but I like a good challenge and I hope you do too! Amos was writing to the nation of Israel about 750 years before the birth of Jesus at a time when most of Israel was enjoying great material wealth and prosperity. The Israelites attributed this accumulation of wealth to God; in their view, God was blessing them with these great riches. To thank God, their worship of God intensified. Unfortunately, what they seemed to have lost sight of was that their accumulation of wealth had come at the expense of others – especially the poor in their community and, in the eyes of the Prophet Amos, this made their worship a sham. So Amos took an image which was familiar to the people of Israel and turned it on its head. That image is the Day of the Lord.

Many of you may be familiar with C. S. Lewis’s book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There are actually seven books in the series. The central character throughout is Aslan – a “huge and real, golden Lion.” Most readers agree that this Lion represents God or Christ in the stories. In the last book of the series - called The Last Battle - Lewis describes the Day of the Lord; the moment in which all the creatures come to stand before Aslan. Lewis writes, as all the creatures came before Aslan they looked:

“straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly – it was fear and hatred. . . . And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow. . . . I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.”

For these “a great joy put everything else out of [their] head[s].”

In the Day of the Lord God will return in judgment to punish sin and set things right. The people of Israel longed for this day. They were sure it would mean judgment on their enemies, blessing for Israel and, above all, vindication for themselves. The prophet Amos, however, was certain that unless the Israelites changed their ways The Day of the Lord would be darkness, not light. In Lewis’ The Last Battle, as the creatures passed through the Door to the Great Lion’s right and looked back, they saw, “With a thrill of wonder (and there was some terror in it too) . . . [a] spreading blackness [that] was not a cloud. . . it was simply emptiness.” On the Day of the Lord, you don’t want to be on the side of darkness, isolation, and emptiness.

But, there is Good News, my brothers and sisters in Christ: Being human means making choices. We can choose to live in sin or we can choose to live the life that Christ sets before us by turning our hearts and our lives over to God. Being chosen by God entails more than just showing up. Being a child of God comes with responsibilities. Amos reminds the Israelites of this at the conclusion of today’s Old Testament reading: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” And we acknowledge this each time we renew our baptismal vows promising to continue in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; promising to persevere in resisting evil; promising to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons; and promising to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

During the past week, I’ve visited the Nearly New Shop, I’ve heard about mission trips to Pine Ridge and the Dominican Republic, I’ve participated in study groups grappling with some of life’s big questions: Responsibility, Sin, Trust; and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of you and listen to the passion with which you discuss the ministries of St. Andrew’s and Holy Family. I’ve seen firsthand the ways that you are a resource to the surrounding community. This place IS committed, YOU are committed to ensuring that “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” So you might “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world” (BCP, 861). “Encourage one another with these words.”