Has anyone ever accused you of being blunt: perhaps even a bit too blunt? Well, I suspect we could accuse the writers of today’s readings, especially Amos and Matthew, of being blunt, stark and to the point. And, their subject matter is not a nice wishy washy one for what they are talking about is judgement, ultimate judgement.
In the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids it is made clear that not everyone will be welcomed to the eternal banquet; not even those who say ‘Lord, Lord.’ In the reading from the prophet Amos we hear that God ‘despises’ the people’s religious ‘festivals’ and ‘solemn assemblies.’ These are hard words, blunt words. It is an incredible thought, is it not, that God may despise our worship? We need to unpack this because worship is an integral part of our life and witness as a church. We are a church because we are a worshipping community.
So, what on earth are these passages about? I think that they are about God’s priorities and about learning the art of Godly living. They are about integrity and the throwing off hypocrisy. They are about the values that we bring to worship; values that are tried and tested not in church but through our daily living. And of course the values that we should prize above all others are God’s values, or kingdom values. We do after all pray the words ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’ So what values are we talking about?
For the prophet Amos, justice was the biggy. Amongst the prophets Amos towers as the defender of the downtrodden and poor. He also accuses the powerful and rich of using God’s very name to legitimize their sin. In many ways Amos is an angry prophet. But his anger in the face of the abuse of power is both righteous and just. Maybe we, as a church, should appropriate a little of Amos’ anger?
Jesus always exercised compassion towards the poor, the sick, and the excluded. He always sought out the outsider and integrated them. There is an absolute consistency between the prophetic words of Amos and the life of Jesus. You would expect there to be given that Jesus is the ‘the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.’
If we are serious about holiness, we the church need to offer the hand of friendship and love to all. We need to be fired up by notions of justice. We need to be as angry as Amos in the face of injustice. We need to be seen to be deeply committed to God’s values.
In 1991 the then Bishop of Kingston, Peter Selby, challenged the church with this question: ‘What is the shape of the community of women and men that you long for, and for which the Church is a preparation? ‘ He was writing just ahead of the vote to opening up the priesthood to men and women alike. But, his question can also be used more generally. We must always ask ourselves what should the church look like in this town especially to the poor and the marginalised? What values are we living out? And we should do so in the sure and certain knowledge that the church here on earth, is nothing other than a preparation for the church perfect in heaven. Saying ‘Lord, Lord’ is never enough. Seeking to live lives of holiness animated through a commitment to the rules of love, justice, hospitality and equality, by contrast, will always be enough. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown