Go Seek

Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24 – Go Seek (November 12, 2017)

1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2 And he said: The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.

5:14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 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 of Joseph.

5:21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The church is dying. Did you know that? I sat in a room with other pastors last week for yet another presentation about the church needing to change or die. And while this was not news to me, it became clear to me that plenty of pastors in the room were just beginning to realize that something is up. One got up to defend her job as pastor, saying that too much change would threaten her job. Another got up to say they didn’t understand this new millennial culture and, frankly, didn’t want to understand it or learn the new language. Another stood up and said, “wow, I need to learn.” The reactions, as you can see, were all over the board.

One of the presenters talked about stopping the Sunday school program at their suburban church and put numbers up on the screen that looked just like ours when we stopped doing traditional Sunday school. I gasped, they were so familiar.  In the fall, great numbers. But by November, the numbers were less than half with a bump in December for the Christmas program. January to April they were small and getting smaller. One of their elementary kids saw a graph of these statistics over the years brought home by a parent and did the math, figuring out they had about 6 years left of Sunday school.

I am grateful to be part of a church that had to face this music at the beginning of our existence. An outsider came to our town, to our church, and told us we had to do it differently. The consultation we had was hard. It was hard to hear that we couldn’t just do church like we’d always known it to be done. That we couldn’t rely on a structure of committees to be a successful church. That a building was not the answer to being church. That a youth program would not be the silver bullet. We lost people when we moved from worship at Vineyard Methodist church, with a proper sanctuary, to come here. We lost people when a proper church council was not taking shape. We lost people when 2 worship services with different styles were not implemented. We’ve lost people because we do not do Sunday school or weekly confirmation.  It all sounds bad, doesn’t it?

Amos was an outsider. He was from the southern kingdom, sent to the northern kingdom to tell them they had to do it differently: The Lord roars from Zion (the southern kingdom where the temple was), and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.

You’ve got to do this differently, he’s saying. Seek good and not evil, that you may live. Because what were they doing? People were being sold into slavery for their debts and then refused legal representation. Their lives were over.

Sexual immorality, especially exploitation of girls, was a common problem.

And the worship of small-g gods – the gods of weather and war – was creating the haves and the have nots, undergirded by overwhelming apathy for the have nots.

What good is worship, Amos is asking, if it’s not gonna change your life?

What good is worship, Amos is asking, if it’s not gonna change your neighbor’s life?

What good is worship, Amos is asking, if it does not involve God’s justice and righteousness?

Well, according to Amos, it’s not good. It’s not worth a thing. It is empty. It is hypocritical.

5:21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Worship, Amos would say, is not worship if it doesn’t involve God’s righteousness and justice. Worship, Amos would say, is not worship if it doesn’t change you, spur you into action, make you just uncomfortable enough to do something. Worship is about change. Transformation.

This outsider is saying their worship doesn’t matter if it isn’t part of their lives after worship. This outsider is saying their worship is empty if it isn’t helping the neighbor.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you. The cry for action to be taken after mass shootings is getting louder. People are tiring of elected official’s well-meaning but empty “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families while doing nothing to curtail our nation’s worship of guns.

The cry for attention and action in the wake of the #metoo campaign on social media has finally reached its tipping point as harassment, assault, and violence against women are seeing actual ramifications.

You see, God’s justice and righteousness means things don’t stay the same. God’s righteousness, God making our relationships with one another right? That means shifting sand, that means the foundation is absolutely changed. That means we stand on totally different ground that has us eye to eye, with no one suffering at the hands of another. That means it’s God’s foundation, not ours. God’s justice means hard, systemic, foundational change so that we are standing on that same ground. It’s not about a great reversal – that the poor become rich and the rich become poor. It’s a leveling. It’s a transformation. It’s new life.

And to say that we are disconnected from that? To say that our worship is not connected to the needs of the other? That is not worship of God – that is worship of our own selves, our own comfort, our own privilege.

Amos calls us to look outside our worship and to see how it connects to our daily lives.

Amos calls us to look outside our worship community and to see who will bring us a new word, a new perspective, a new way to live into being the people of God.

There are lots of reasons the church is dying. But instead of getting into a history lesson, let me just say this. If you don’t feel connected to a community and to a faith that changes your life? Well, I wouldn’t want to be part of it either. If having faith in Jesus seems totally disconnected to your life? Then yah, why make worship important? Why be part of a community? Why give money to a community you don’t value? I think many see the church as totally set apart from impacting the rest of the world. I think many see the church as apathetic to the hurts of the world, better than the world.

It took an outsider to come to us and tell us we were doing it wrong. And those hard changes we made? Certainly, people left. But new people came. People not all that familiar with church. People who had been disillusioned with church. We are bucking the trend, folks. We continue to grow, one person at a time. Not because we are good but because God is. Not because we’ve got it figured out but because we have been building a foundation for this church that is based on God’s faithfulness to us, God’s mercy for us, God’s forgiveness of us. And we’ve been learning that there is no limit to who “us” is. It’s like this river is not ours but is an ever-flowing stream of God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s righteousness.

Isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard?!

Thanks be to God.

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