Scripture - Selections from Amos 5
Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!
The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name,
who makes destruction flash out against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
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.
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.
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
In all the squares there shall be wailing;
and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!”
They shall call the farmers to mourning,
and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;
in all the vineyards there shall be wailing,
for I will pass through the midst of you,
says the Lord.
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
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.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
“There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
This is a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written in 1963. He wrote this letter in response to a statement named “A Call for Unity” made by eight white clergymen in Alabama - a statement that expressed awareness that social injustices existed, but argued that the battle for justice should be fought through the courts and not taken to the streets.
I want to share a portion of this letter (you can find the whole text online https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html or tune in tomorrow to a reading sponsored by the BTS Center) - because in it, there is a lot that addresses the church - and the white church in particular. I believe his plea for action resonates today as our nation faces a continued struggle with Christian nationalism, white supremacy, and economic justice. This video is from Park Community Church in Chicago, IL.
As you listen and watch, I invite you to find a word or phrase or image that strikes you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXVdKdgetK4 - Park Community Church, Chicago, IL
What did you find that resonated with you?
I share this in hopes that we might find a renewed commitment in our own lives - and in our life together as a church - to not remain silent on these issues. What we’ve seen over these past weeks - and months - is not a new reality, but one that has been revealed; not a creation of tension, but one that has existed for generations that can not be ignored. We may wonder what our place might be in the struggle for racial justice, as many of us can feel helpless, unsure, timid, or even far removed and wonder what impact any of our actions could have. And yet - hate has its adherents in every corner of our country. Even while we work on our own personal preferences and prejudices, we’ve seen that that is only one piece in a wider system engineered to disenfranchise our Black siblings.
My prayer for us is that we carry these convictions and not just leave them as personal ones - but that we find ways to engage in the struggle, whether that’s jumping in to our book study with Gloria on Sunday afternoons, or by sending a letter to our elected officials about your concerns, or by planting seeds in conversations with friends or family. There’s always a place to start, whether you are new to anti-racism work or are a seasoned advocate.
It’s only together that we can help be a witness to and create together a community where we can be extremists for love in the way of Jesus - Jesus who had this radical, persistent, unwavering message of love of God and others that was so powerful it threatened the very fabric of empire. It is that relentless pursuit of love that will turn the church once again into a thermostat transforming the mores of society - so that we might be reflections of God’s beloved kingdom here in this place and wherever we might find ourselves. In Jesus’ Name, this I pray. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.