Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Sun goes down at noon!

by Peter Lockhart
A sermon on Amos 8

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.

When I first read the readings for this week I automatically shied away from Amos with his harsh words of

prophecy as they made little sense to me and I have not really given time for myself to enter into the Old Testament deeply enough.

What the heck does the image of this basket of summer fruit signify? It was a complete mystery.

The other readings set down from Luke with the story of Mary and Martha and the wonderful images of Jesus in Colossians as the eternal Word of God in who the whole world finds its meaning were rich troves from which to preach.

Then by chance I decided to return and read Amos, I read the whole book of the prophet and then a commentary about Amos and suddenly a new light dawned.

I learnt that in the Hebrew language the word for summer fruit is a word play with the word end. They sound the same, to use the technical term they are homonyms.

So the imagery of the basket of fruit is somewhat meaningless because the Hebrew writer is using a poetic device to emphasise the word end.

Confronted by this new learning I was drawn to consider the rest of the passage more closely and found myself feeling somewhat judged by the words towards the end of the passage in verse 11:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

As a preacher I am deeply troubled with my struggle to hear God. I long for a direct revelation and clear and concise words to speak of the hope that I have found in Jesus Christ, whom I count as my Lord and Saviour.

Yet whilst I have had my moments of insight and comfort much of the time the deep silence of God’s vastness and mystery confronts me.

So as the prophet suggests I wander:

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

I delve deep into books on theology and church history and spirituality. I go to my supervisor and spiritual director and seek out mentors – I run to and fro seeking the word of the Lord for in the din of this secular age of the West there are so many distractions and idolatries.

Yet in the midst of all of this struggle with the silence on reflection it was the moment in which I first walked up the three steps of the pulpit in St Andrews Church of Bundaberg to preach that I discovered what it meant to be home – for I had arrived to be at home with God, where our true home lies. Up until this point in my life I had always felt a sense of homelessness as if I had nowhere to belong. But at this moment Jesus embrace enfolded my life in purpose.

It is this experience alongside the knowledge that that first sermon would have been consider a basic heresy of the early church that has kept me going in ministry. Despite my error I continue to believe and be reassured that God was in that moment not simply for me but for the congregation as well and that somehow in the power of the Holy Spirit God’s eternal Word Jesus Christ was present as he was proclaimed.

Faith is a mix of doubt and unknowing as much as it is about assurance and certainty.

And so week by week we gather to listen again for the most important message and hope in this culture of despair in which we live.

A culture in which for most of us our wealth blinds us to the abject need of the world and of the immense problems associated with our economic structures, with our use of energy and resources and our irreparable impact on the environment.

Amos declared to his people the threat of the darkness to come, a time of great angst:

On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

I heard a story which involved fear of such descending darkness recently.

In conversation with a minister from the Solomon Islands I was describing the Australian context in which less than 10% of Australians attend church regularly and whilst many still claim belief in God it is an ambiguous belief at best. Atheism is on the rise and they are seeking converts!

The response of the minister from the Solomon Islands was a plea not to tell his people about the unbelief of Australians. White people bought us the gospel, don’t tell us that they have stopped believing! It struck me then and there the irony that the enlightenment has brought such darkness of unbelief in the West. This minister feared the impact of such a darkness descending on his people – the sun going down at noon!

What confidence can we offer to him and his people? What faith can they offer us?

Surely the message of the crucified risen son of God present now in our midst, which can stand against the very gates of hell, can prevail against the onslaught of the bright fluorescent and neon lights of our progressive enlightened era.

The sun goes down at noon... this event has occurred. I read from Luke 23:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

But this as we know is not the last word on the matter of descending darkness. For the Jesus who died on the cross, the wisdom teacher before whom Mary sat listening, the man who walked the roads of Galilee is at one and the same time God who walks amongst us, the light sent into the world. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

In the face of darkness new life springs forth, hope transcending our attempts in the West to domesticate God or even worse to pronounce his eulogy and lay him to rest as if God never was.

Jesus has come into the world and like Mary we can sit at his feet and learn about who God is from God himself, in God’s own words. The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ is in you, the hope of glory sustains us because we know that God loves us in this transitory existence as we await the fullness of Jesus return to make all things new.

As Paul wrote to the Romans for now we see through a glass darkly but then we shall see face to face yet what wondrous images of hope do we glimpse though that glass and witness to by God’s actions in and through our lives – justice flowing like a river, the blind seeing, prisoners set free, the poor blessed, people reconciled with God and with one another... peace!

So like Mary let us sit in silence now before our Master teacher and listen for his word to each of us on this day.

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