I am at Hankins UMC this Sunday. (Location of Hankins – the church is just past the intersection of NY 97 and NY Co 94 (on church road)) The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.
This has been edited since it was first posted (among other things, I forgot what time the service started). 🙂
I grew up as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball team. I can’t tell you exactly why that it is but I suppose that it has a lot to do with my roots being deep in the Midwest and especially St. Louis. Then again, I remember nights back in 1963 and 1964 when we were living in Denver, Colorado, and my father would set up his Hallicrafters radio receiver and stretch the antenna across the family room so that we could pick up KMOX radio. Back then, there were no baseball teams other than the Cardinals between the Mississippi River and the Rockies and if you could pick up KMOX, you listened to the Cardinals’ broadcast.
I would listen as Harry Caray and Jack Buck described the exploits of the team, especially and probably during the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. When we moved to the St. Louis area in 1965, I even got a chance to go to a couple of games. And it was interesting to do so, because if you listened to the game as Harry Caray described it while you were watching it, you sometimes wondered if you and he were watching the same game. Later, when we moved to Memphis and I listenedd to Jack Eaton broadcast the Memphis State Tigers basketball games on radio, I got the same feeling; that he saw an entirely different game than the one that was being played.
It isn’t that Harry Caray and Jack Eaton were bad announcers but rather that they were loyal to the teams whose games they announced. Loyalty is fine and I don’t want an announcer to be rooting against a particular team but, at the same time, I want to make decisions about the game myself.
I say this because, when I read the words of the Old Testament for today and the words of the prophets and I contrast them with the words of many today who profess to believe in the Bible, I wonder if we are reading the same words and looking at the same world.
When you read the words of the prophets, to a man they point out the fallacies of a society that favors the rich and ignores the poor. Despite what those who say that God wants everyone to be rich, provided, of course, that they send the minister the proper amount of seed money, the theme of the Old and New Testament is our relationship with people and more emphasis is given to the needs of the old, the infirmed, the helpless, the poor, and the oppressed.
In the passage from Amos for today, God spoke of those “Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing, who say, "When’s my next paycheck coming so I can go out and live it up? How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?" Who give little and take much, and never do an honest day’s work. You exploit the poor, using them — and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.”
But what I see in this world today is such a world, a world in which the poor are exploited by the rich; where those who have so much care so little for those who have nothing. I see a world in which many so-called Christians care little for their fellow man and think that any expression of help is an expression of secularism or governmental interference or some “bleeding heart liberals.”
And it is a world where if one speaks out against the system, calls for compassion and repentance, of changing the values of society, they are apt to be called a socialist or some sort of secular humanist or ever worse.
Such a person is Jim Wallis. He has been writing and speaking out against the direction this country has been headed for many years now. He was asked to present a message to a Christian-based youth gathering in Wisconsin the other day. But from the screams and the outcry from some of the ministers in Wisconsin, you would have thought the devil himself had been invited.
I read the words of Jim Wallis and they ring true for me. Perhaps it is because I understand through my own life what he is describing. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you look around the world and ask yourself, “if there truly is a God, why then is there such hatred, violence, poverty, and despair in the world.” It is a question that demands an answer but it is a question that causes many people to turn away from the church because they see the church as either supporting the status quo or hiding from the reality of the world.
If I understand history and especially the history of the church and Methodism, even John Wesley asked that question. But John Wesley also saw in the Gospel message a promise of hope and renewal. It was the same message that I came to understand when I began to seek answers to the same questions.
But certain ministers in Wisconsin would tell you that Jim Wallis’ words and his thoughts are an expression of secular humanism and the youth of Wisconsin, who he was to speak to, would be in great “spiritual peril” if he was allowed to speak. I would think, as did others, that our youth should hear these words and begin to make up their own mind. The ones in peril are those who would deny individuals the opportunity to decide for themselves.
What I found most interesting in all of this was that this organized outcry against Jim Wallis and the “threat” that he posed to the youth of the state of Wisconsin was an echo of the very thing that they said he represented.
But the threat to the youth is not in denying them the right or preventing them from hearing someone like Jim Wallis speak; it is in the attitude that says that those who are in power know the answers and they will determine what answers will be given and what the people will know. And those who present this attitude also, in my mind, say that free thought and creative thought is not acceptable.
I shall make the assumption that many of those who wanted to deny Jim Wallis the opportunity to speak also openly oppose the teaching of evolution in the science classroom and argue for the inclusion of supposedly alternative theories for the process of life on this planet.
But these arguments are not based on the scientific process and amount to nothing more than (and I wish there was an easier way to say this) mind control. The theory of evolution is treated as a threat to Christianity and can only be opposed by limiting what is said or taught in today’s public classrooms. And while those who seek acceptance of their ideas decry the attempts of others to limit the publication of their ideas, they fail to mention the number of times that they have limited those who oppose them.
Now, I will also state that those who feel that religion is a threat to society are just as wrong as their counterparts who feel evolution is a threat. It is proper and permissible to oppose something that runs counter to what you think and what you believe but opposition through oppression is wrong, no matter what is being discussed. If we do not prepare ourselves and our children to think critically and creatively, then we will quickly find ourselves incapable of having visions. And people without a vision will perish.
And it should be noted that when Jim Wallis challenged his critics to explain why he was wrong, where in the Gospel his words contradicted Jesus or the prophets, but they could not respond or would not respond.
Despite the pressure and threats of those who opposed Jim Wallis and to their credit, the organizers who invited Jim Wallis to speak at their event did not rescind the invitation and Reverend Wallis was allowed to speak.
In the end, the pressure to keep Jim Wallis out of Wisconsin failed and he presented a message of hope and reconciliation to the youth of the state. But the ministers and the churches who argued that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak pulled their support for this Christian festival. (http://blog.sojo.net/2010/07/15/controversy-in-wisconsin/)
What Jim Wallis speaks and writes about is called in today’s society “social justice.” I came to know it as the social gospel, a way to live in today’s society that mirrors the words and actions of the people of the Old and New Testaments. Now, I will admit that what I first saw in the social gospel was the act of speaking out against injustice and oppression and of doing good works in life as a way through the door to heaven. In reality, it is the path that one walks after accepting Christ. There is a big difference and it is one that many people today still do not understand.
But those who oppose this message do so for one reason and one reason alone, selfishness. Oh, they couch their opposition in many different ways but it always comes down to the fact that they are unwilling to share the rewards of life with others. They think it is perfectly alright to take as much as one can and then take some more and not leave anything for the rest of the world. We are reminded that in the Book of Ruth that the people were commanded to leave parts of the harvest so that others would be able to have sustenance.
We live in a world today where we think it is perfectly alright for CEOs to earn more money in a year than many people could even dream of earning in their lifetime. We are more fascinated by the salary negotiations of sport superstars than we are the salaries of the teachers and coaches in high school who taught the superstars how to play the game. And someone needs to explain to me why it is permissible to allow the very rich to keep their tax cuts while the unemployed lose their benefits.
There are those who oppose what has become known as social justice, saying that it takes from the productive and gives to the unproductive. But what happened in the 40s and 50s when blacks sought to earn a livelihood and were denied the opportunity solely because of the color of their skin? What happened when women sought opportunities outside the home and in the traditional classroom? In the world of chemistry and physics, how many women (such as Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, and Lisa Meitner) made discoveries that changed the world but were met with opposition because of their gender?
Justice is demanded when laws are passed to maintain a system that maintains inequalities and injustice. (My thanks to “Liz” whose comment in response to the story at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/07/christian-radio-station-jim-wallis-promotes-secularism-unholy-government-alliance/, assisted me in these thoughts.)
Is a message that speaks of justice for all and hope for all only for a select few, chosen by individuals here on earth or is it for everyone? Is a message which warns of danger if we do not treat everyone equally and fairly, if we do not give everyone an opportunity not an echo of the words of Amos and the other prophets, of Jesus and the Gospel?
Can we in this world even begin to think that these words should be denied or hidden? It has seemed to me for a long, long time that that those who do not want this message out into the world, who would seek to control what we can hear, what we can say, and what we think are the ones who would have agreed with Martha.
Martha was upset with her sister sitting in the living room listening to Jesus. From one standpoint, she had a right to be upset; considering the number of people who were probably visiting their place that day, she needed the help. But Jesus had begun his ministry by not limiting it and by going beyond the standards of the time. He ate with sinners; He broke countless religious-based medical and dietary laws; He treated everyone who sought Him with respect and courtesy. The traditional standards of society were replaced by a greater set of standards, equality in the eyes of God. If Mary wanted to be in the living room, that was her right and privilege in God’s Kingdom.
Too many people are like Martha in that they see each person they encounter as having a proper place in life. And they define what that proper place is. They see Martha’s place as in the kitchen and they want Mary to be there as well.
Now, and don’t get me wrong on this point, there are those whose ministry in this world is in the kitchen. They take the skills that enable them to prepare dinner for 20 or 30 or even 500 people and make sure that people who do not have a meal are fed. We should be encouraging them, not limiting them. But by the same token, when you say that someone’s place is only in the kitchen, then you have placed limits on them that shouldn’t exist. I have had the opportunity this week to hear and read about others who refused to let society’s restriction stop them from them from beginning ministries that reach out and touch the lives of countless people.
Social justice may not be the proper term but it speaks to the desires of each human to reach their potential. Anything done to limit that potential represents the worst that civilization has to offer.
If we see this life as a game, we have to realize that under the present rules it is a game that we are destined to lose. And some people, who understand this, see the only way to change the outcome is to control the players because they cannot control the game.
And the prophet’s words still echo throughout history; that those who control the players will suffer the greatest loss – go back and read the Old Testament reading again and tell me that Amos wasn’t speaking to the doom that faced the powerful and the greedy if they did not change their ways.
Go back and read Paul’s words to the Colossians again. Hear the words of promise and hope of renewal that come through Christ. It is not that we are watching the same game but, rather we are all participants in the game. And through Christ, the outcome of the game has changed.
I don’t want to just be watching the game nor do I want to be denied the opportunity to play in the game. In Christ, I have the chance and the opportunity to be in the game, even when others will deny me that right and that opportunity. The opportunity comes today to accept Christ as one’s personal Savior. The opportunity comes today to allow the Holy Spirit to empower your life and let you be a presence in the world.