Preached on 14 October 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23 Year B (Thematic track)
“Let us have no fear in approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace when we are in need of help.” Hebrews 4:16
Why? Because Jesus knows us, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes. Jesus knows what we’re going through; knows our weakness; knows our suffering; knows of what we are made. Jesus has compassion for us; he suffers along with us.
That seems like a good place to start with this set of readings. They’re hard, demanding, convicting. Who can hear them without feeling, well, not up-to-the-task. And if you’re hoping that I’m going to tell you how to interpret them so that you can feel good and still keep all your wealth and power and privilege, well, I’m not.
I will tell you the Good News, however. In these readings, we see into the heart of God and there we find powerful, good news. Because, you see, God passionately and fiercely loves the poor and the vulnerable. God fights for justice.
We see it most clearly in Amos. Now Amos is not a professional prophet, but God calls him to go up to the northern kingdom and prophesy to them, to speak God’s word to them. He lists their crimes of injustice and the punishment that awaits them, city by city. He goes on and on, page after page, for three chapters.
In today’s passage, we hear him accuse them of turning justice to wormwood and taking bribes, of trampling the poor and cheating them. And because of their crimes, they will be driven from their homes.
But he also offers a remedy; what they might do to avoid the conquest and exile that await them.
“Seek the Lord and live … [if you] Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord … will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Amos 5:6, 15
This is the heart of our God; the God whose holy desire is for justice, the God who fights for the poor and needy and demands the same of us. You see, the poor suffer when there is injustice.
God’s concern, through the words of Amos, is with the health of the whole people, the whole society. When there is injustice, everyone is sick. He speaks of justice at the gate; the place of commerce and the courts. The injustice manifests in corruption through the whole of society.
I have always heard Amos as speaking directly to us today. How do you hear his words and see it playing out in our world today? In our community? In our own homes?
We see the heart of God in our gospel reading today, as well. For several weeks, now we’ve been hearing Jesus teach about the how crucial it is to care for the vulnerable, and that continues today.
The wealthy, young man kneels before him, asking how to inherit eternal life. After discussing the demands of the law, Mark writes, Jesus looked at him and was filled with love for him. “you must sell what you own and give it to the poor,” he says, “then come and follow me.”
Jesus is still teaching about caring for the poor and the vulnerable. He is revealing the heart of God: this heart of God that fiercely and passionately loves us – especially in our frailty and poverty and vulnerability.
Jesus shows us the heart of God that invites us to partner with God in the fight for justice, to participate in the care of the poor and needy. It is the heart of God who says, “Sell everything you own and give it to the poor,” and enter into eternal life. How will we partner with God to care for the vulnerable? How will we battle injustice?
Following Jesus is hard and Mark doesn’t sugar-coat it. The demands of discipleship seem impossible. We hear it in Peter’s frustrated cry, “we have left everything to follow you.” And we hear it in the desperate question, “Then who can be saved?”
“For mortals, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible,” Jesus tells them. It is God who saves us, not our perfection in following Jesus. It is the God whose heart Jesus, and Amos reveal to us.
The heart of God that fiercely and passionately loves the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable; that fiercely and passionately loves you and me.
And so, “Let us have no fear in approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace when we are in need of help.”
And that is Good News.