Our Amos Moment
July 10, 2016
All Saints Episcopal Church
It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? Just as my facebook feed returned to pictures of cute puppies and silly cats, this week happened – a week marked by violence, retribution, accusation, racism, fear.
Just three weeks ago, Bonnie stood here days after the massacre in Orlando and asked if we were willing to work on this “cancer of hate and violence, racism and homophobia prayerfully, tenaciously, steadfastly, and relentlessly.” (The Rev. Bonnie A. Perry, Sermon, June 19, 2016) I would imagine that many of us thought – Yes, yes, we will with God’s help.
And here we are again, when we thought it couldn’t get any worse… more lives lost, more hate spewed. An endless stream of news, video, facebook posts coming at us relentlessly. And while in the weeks since Orlando, our horror may have diminished at the capacity of humans to mow one another down in hate and fear, the violence never really stopped, did it? What Bishop Gene Sutton of Maryland calls the unholy trinity of poverty, racism, and violence – that unholy trinity continues to wreak havoc and pain on a world, a nation, a city that I believe, has lost its way, that is no longer “plumb.”
And the Lord said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “a plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people, Israel; I will never again pass them by.”
The Book of Amos begins with God’s indictment on Israel’s neighbors – Syria, Canaan, Moab – for their injustice against the people of Israel. Then this prophet from Judah turns his attention to Israel and pronounces God’s judgment on a nation that has lost its way – where economic injustice, greed, indifference, and neglect of the poor abound; in a time where self-satisfaction and a believe that God is on their side rules the day.
“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people….”
A plumb line is a tool used by builders and masons since the time of Ancient Egypt. It’s quite simple – a string attached to a triangular weight – that is used to ensure that new construction is upright or that an existing structure is square. (I’m sure this tool was used quite often by Ron Young and his team during our recent renovation) You can’t just eyeball a structure to determine if it’s plumb. Being out of square or not fully plumb may not be readily apparent.
And once you determine that something is out of plumb, you have several options.
A plumb line finds what can be a fatal flaw in a wall or a building. And as we discovered with our actual walls, you can’t prop up (at least in the long-term) what is not square or upright, you must create a new foundation and rebuild.
“I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people.” God has set the plumb line in our midst and we are not plumb. As a people, as a nation, we are in an Amos moment
Like Amaziah, priest of Bethel, we may not want to hear these words. “Go away,” Amaziah says to Amos, go somewhere else, to another land, go back home, anywhere but here! It’s easy for those of with privilege, with comfort to say no to the one calling us to accountability.
And what I know and experience about us here at All Saints is that as uncomfortable as it might make us, we are willing to acknowledge our place in an unjust system, a structure that is deeply flawed, that needs to be taken down and rebuilt.
Amos’s words are meant to disrupt us, to shake us, to tell us the truth. The truth that in our country of 320 million people, there are more guns than residents; the truth that the deeply violent founding and growth of this nation was marked by subjugation, oppression and slavery; the truth that present day bigotry and racism infects us all; and the truth that police brutality (especially directed at African-Americans) results in little or no justice for the perpetrators.
And this past week, and the week before that, and the months and years before that continue to point to these ugly and sinful truths. And while our natural inclination might be to look away from the pain, to cross to the other side of the road, to ignore the wall that is leaning right in front of us, to shut out the voices/the prophets in our midst calling for change, our readings this morning call us to stop, to pay attention, to offer healing, and to get involved.
So what might that look like? I offer three ideas….
- We must continue to name the evils in our midst – system racism, white supremacy, unfettered access to guns, murder, callous disregard for human life, corrupt systems. And we must name these evils not just here but in our workplaces, our schools; at the playground and in the boardroom; in the coffee shop and in the halls of power.
- We can continue to offer space for healing and naming of the deep pain and fear that is in our world, in our city. Soon after the Orlando shootings, my dear friend Katie, who happens to be straight, sent me a message. She said that as she was reading all the stories that came out after Orlando –stories of homophobia, violence against LGBTQ folks – she realized she had never asked me about my experience, what was it like for me as a lesbian; had I ever experienced the type of violence and hatred that people were sharing online. And she invited me to share my story but importantly also acknowledged that I might not want to do that. And in Katie’s act of care and concern for me, offering presence and a healing balm, I realized that I rarely have offered that healing space to my friends of color in times like this week or to those who may be in law enforcement. We cannot heal all of the pain and the grief will continue, yet our presence may make a difference.
- We can acknowledge our connection to one another. There’s a scientific theory called quantum entanglement that I think illustrates this idea beautifully. The idea of entanglement is just the idea that two things that are separated in space can still be the same thing. And the particles within these objects remain connected even though they are physically apart – they are entangled. What excites one, excites the other. What moves one moves the other. What hurts one, hurts the other. (National Public Radio, Invisibilia, January 30, 2015) Scientific evidence for empathy. And when we become entangled, we are changed. When we are entangled, we are neighbors.
The lawyer testing Jesus, asking “who is my neighbor,” is trying to politely ask, “who is NOT my neighbor,” argues New Testament scholar Amy Jill Levine. “Who does not deserve my love, whose needs can I ignore, whom can I hate?” (Levine, Amy Jill, Short Stories by Jesus, p. 85) To which Jesus simply answers, no one. No one. We are all entangled – science proves it and Jesus commands it.
It is too easy to believe that the world in which we live today is the world we are destined to have. It can seem too hard to imagine something different. Yet as people who proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to shape an alternative vision of the world we inhabit, one in which structures of hate and division are torn down and foundations of love and justice are put in their place; one in which we see each other – all of us – as deeply connected, entangled as neighbors – in which the longing to be in relationship, the longing for love is more powerful than the forces of hate and fear.
UCC pastor, Acting Executive Director of the UCC Justice and Wellness Ministries, and Black Lives Matter activist, Traci Blackmon, wrote this past week, “Ultimately, the guns used to kill 5 police officers and wound six more and one civilian, and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Reykia Boyd, Michael Brown, Amadous Diallos, 49 mostly Black and Latinx LGBTQ people at Pulse in Orlando, 9 in Bible study in Charleston, and 312 in Chicago to date this year were loaded by the common enemies of fear and hate… not matter who pulled the trigger. We are all connected. We must mourn it all. And we must all love ourselves out of this. Murder is a byproduct of people who have lost their love. Love is our only hope.” (Rev. Traci Blackmon , July 8, 2016)
The promise of Jesus’s resurrection, after suffering a brutal death at the hands of the state, is that LOVE wins. The love that is much more than a feeling or a hallmark movie, but the love that tells those who lost their lives this past week that they will not be forgotten and their deaths not in vain. The love that fulfills a mother’s agonized plea that her black son be able to live in a world in which he can breathe and run and make mistakes that won’t cost him his life.
In the statement this community developed and wrote on race last year, we vowed “with God’s help, to claim our responsibilities to overturn, step-by-step, systems of racial inequality…”( All Saints Chicago, Race Matters) Will we work to tear down the our of plumb structures of hate and injustice so that we might together build a new community – the beloved community of God? Will we seize our Amos moment?