Monday, July 22, 2013

When the preacher speaks, maybe it's God calling

Most people come to church for comfort, not discomfort.

I like to preach messages of comfort, not ones of discomfort, because I would rather people like me than dislike me for what I have to say. 

But sometimes God has other plans for me and my sermon on Sunday.

Yesterday, I preached on Amos 8.1-12. Amos was a Hebrew prophet who spoke to the powerful in the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos was unpopular because he spoke God's truth. Many prophets were stoned to death for telling the truth, which people didn't want to hear.

Since Amos's time, eight centuries before the birth of Jesus, prophets have fared little better. Jesus, God himself with us, was crucified for telling the truth.

In the text yesterday, Amos speaks for God, rebuking the powerful in Israel for abandoning him and committing injustice and oppressing the poor and the needy. 

Here is some of what Amos says: "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land....(who) practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat....I will never forget any of their deeds...."

In my sermon yesterday, I spoke about Amos and his context, and then I applied the text, which is what seminaries teach students to do when they preach. Few people are bothered by sermons about "then," but lots of people are bothered by sermons about "now."

I spoke about what many people considered a recent injustice--the U.S. House of Representatives' eliminating food stamps from the farm bill. I mentioned the Tennessee congressman who had quoted St. Paul, that if you don't work, you don't eat. I said the congressman had misinterpreted the apostle.

I cited the evidence that most people who received food stamps were not "parasites," as another congressman once said, but the elderly, the disabled, the chronically unemployed, children. 

I said that nearly 60 percent of public school students in Springfield were receiving free or discounted school lunches because they were suffering from "food insecurity."

In the prophetic tradition, I issued a call to action, making a few suggestions about how we, the followers of God's mercy and compassion, Jesus Christ, might act for justice. 

You can hear the sermon for yourself at 

Several people disagreed with what I had said from the pulpit, even viscerally,  telling me so directly or indirectly. They said I had politicized the pulpit, that I had divided people. I am sure that many others also disagreed with me. Many people did agree with what I had to say; they told me so.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the sermon yesterday, thank you for listening.

To everyone who gathers at Christ Church faithfully from week to week to receive God's Word made flesh in the sermon and in the sacrament,  I say:

Thank God that we preachers in the Episcopal Church are free to speak from the heart--from our own hearts and from God's heart about those great ultimate themes of love, mercy, compassion, freedom, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, love. 

Thank God, in our church, we are are free to agree or disagree.

And, if you find yourself disagreeing with a sermon (yes, I have disagreed with sermons),  you might just listen for that Voice beneath the other voices of anger, frustration, guilt, perhaps.

When I have done so, I have found that beneath the voices of my discomfort God was often speaking to me. He was telling me something that I didn't  want to hear, but that he wanted me to hear--and embrace in faith--for deeper life in Christ. 

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