First Lesson: Amos 8: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 52
Second Lesson: Colossians 1: 15-28
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 38-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was such a desperate feeling to want to discharge the uncertainty and scarcity. Then it dawned on me that this is the exact drive that fueled what’s happening right now.
Instead of feeling hurt we act out our hurt. Rather than acknowledging our pain, we inflict it on others. Neither hate nor blame will lead to the justice and peace that we all want- it will only move us further apart. But we can’t forget that hate and blame are seductive. Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability. When we choose instant relief in the form of rage, we’re in many ways choosing permanent grief for the world.” -Brene Brown.
“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”-Amos 5:24.
This morning, I want to tell you the story of a prophet who lived in uncertain times such as these. I want to tell you the story of the prophet Amos. Amos’ story begins with an unlikely path to the ministry. Amos began his life working as a migrant farm worker. Amos’ job was to puncture sycamore trees. Sycamore trees would require someone to puncture their fruit to make them edible. Sycamore trees produced the fruit of the poor. Amos hardly made any money in that job, so Amos then worked the second job of herding sheep. Amos had no formal religious education. Amos’ ministry was during the time of Israel’s division into two kingdoms of north and south. Amos was from the south, but he preached in the enemy territory of the north.
Telling people uncomfortable truths would mark Amos’ ministry. Much of Amos’ ministry would seek to address the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Amos’ greatest moment in courage was when he went to Bethel at a time when people were gathering to worship the Golden Calf rather than the God of Israel. Amos’ then made a prediction that such worship would soon bring about Israel’s collapse as a nation.
Amos ‘prediction would come true within a couple generations. The reaction to Amos’ words was such that he ends up being deported and seeing his career as Israel’s preacher come to an end.
Amos’ lived in a time where the standard of living for the people of Israel was like none they had ever known, yet society still kept decaying. People liked when Amos would preach against Israel’s enemies, but they would resist Amos when he would speak the truth about their people.
The central theme of Amos’ ministry was the shape of Justice in the world. Amos’ most famous words about “Justice rolling down like mighty waters” would be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech over 2500 years later.
As we consider the course of the life of Amos and the calls for Justice in the world, let us consider three points in regards to Justice.
Point One: Justice is never easy.
Let me tell a story, Last season- My Dad and I were at a Vikings game against the Seahawks. One of the drawbacks of being at TCF Stadium is we were sitting on metal bleachers. When the weather is seven degrees below zero, and everyone has several layers, the row is a tight squeeze. So on the left side of me were a couple of Seahawks fans, both much bigger than me. The man probably weighed twice what I weighed. He would stand up every time the Seahawks made a play and made noise. The reaction to these Seahawk fans cheering from our section of Vikings fans was predictable. On this day, being the smallest one in the row, the Seahawks fans kept squeezing me “tighter” and “tighter” until my Dad whispers into my ear. “Stand your ground!”
How does standing your ground in the world look? Standing my ground “physically” would only end up with me getting hurt trying to confront someone much bigger than me. Perhaps standing your ground means something different than we often think it to be.
The events of the past weeks brought me back to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. King had all sorts of things going against him from the history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to resentment to people throughout the land. When people were protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, they knew that anger would merely produce a backlash. People would speak their voice through the power of silent action dressed in their Sunday best clothes. When people marched, they were subject to all sorts of nasty names and threats, yet they did not lose resolve. The Civil Rights Movement sought out with a seemingly impossible dream of bringing people who saw the world in entirely different ways to be able to achieve common ground. For when “police officers” or minority groups are automatically assumed to be “guilty,” we can never reach common ground. Finding common ground is never going to be easy because it causes us to admit that our way of viewing the world might have blind spots. Confessing the imperfection or our knowledge or sin is “never easy.” Justice not being easy, leads us into point two.
Point Two: Justice can’t be about settling scores.
My Grandma has a brother named Frank. Frank has lived in Kansas City ever since he graduated from college in the late 1950’s. Frank got into the banking business down there. Frank played a role working with the Truman Sports Complex where both the Royals and Chiefs play. Frank eventually becomes the President of a bank and does quite well for himself. Now when you do well, people tend to ask you for money. The thing about Grandma is she’s not afraid to ask anyone for anything. So Grandma asks Frank for $20,000. In fairness, Grandma has asked nearly everyone she knows for $20,000 at some point in time. Grandma doesn’t think “small.” Frank’s patience with the constant requests for money on this day ran out.
Frank tells Grandma “no,” Grandma tells Frank a not so nice place where he can go. Grandma and Frank haven’t talked to each other in the five years because of both their stubbornness. Making amends is often thought to be an act of weakness. So people like Grandma and Frank go through life never wanting to be left holding onto the somewhat shorter ends of the stick.
Here’s why this is a problem. At the end of World War I, emotion was running high. These feelings led to one of the most unjust events in all of human history in the German Holocaust. After the Germans lose World War I, the sides begin to try to chart out a way forward. For Britain, France, and Russia the way out was easy blame Germany for everything. Put together the Treaty of Versailles with Germany not in the room. Make Germany admit they’re the only ones responsible for the war. Make Germany pay all the costs in reparations. Annex German land into neighboring countries, turning the citizenry into captives.
President Woodrow Wilson feared this would be a terrible idea for a lasting peace. The results were horrifying. Germany goes into financial ruin because of war-related inflation. In the Mid 1920’s a war hero named Adolf Hitler begins his rise to power as an outspoken critic of the Treaty of Versailles. For as awful as Hitler was, he never rises to power if not for the terms of Versailles. There shall be no Justice in this world if people maintain the belief that Justice must come according to your exact terms. There is potentially another way forward.
Point number three: Justice must be about hope.
A quote from Martin Luther: “The sin underneath all our sin is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.
One thing that I often notice about Christian people is that they fail to differentiate judgment from Justice.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”-Matthew 7:1
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”- John 7:24.
Judgment unto itself is a not a bad thing. Judgment is what acknowledges the condition of the world in its brokenness. Judgment is a conduit for the proclamation of grace. Judgment without hope is what is a bad thing.
My sister Anne as many of you know just graduated law school. Anne worked during law school in the public defender’s office. I will talk to Anne about the legal system as it relates to its problems for today: one theme keeps coming up again and again is the problem of armchair lawyers. Armchair lawyers who claim to know all about a case from what they can pick up via media narrative. The problem with these armchair lawyers is they are quick to come to judgment and to condemn. Armchair lawyers often fail to view “justice” in relation to hope.
Armchair lawyering is part of a bigger problem in how we view crime as a nation. People keep demanding harsher and harsher sentences all the time. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of Americans residing in prison. America has the highest rate of criminal incarceration rate in the world, yet this hasn’t brought about any more peace.
Let me propose something this morning as it relates justice to hope. What if there was another way forward. As Lutherans our entire faith is centered on the twin concepts of Law and Gospel. The Law tells us all the ways that the world ain’t quite right, whereas the Gospel tells us that there is indeed hope out there in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Criminal Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to understand and believe that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if someone tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them; they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.”
Stevenson’s words hit upon the reason that we must center all talk about Justice upon hope. I came across a story of a prison in Norway. The prison’s philosophy is a bit different than we're used to. The prison does not run by revenge for crimes, but rather the hope of redemption. This Norwegian prison has inmates upon release re-offend at a rate unheard of within American prisons. What if we don’t change by people by the power and misery but rather grace and mercy?
While the harshest of criminals might only respond to the judgment, grace will ultimately be the means to bring about “true hope.”
“Jesus dropped the charges against us.” Jesus dropped them on the cross. Our God brings about Justice that Amos longed for by way of mercy. God brings about Justice by way of forgiveness. All we can merely do in this broken world is listen and hope to piece it all together once again. For today, might not be the day of justice. Tomorrow might not be the day of justice. But one day, people from all of God’s Kingdom shall gather together at the River to celebrate hope becoming real in the person of Jesus Christ.
 The following quote came from Brown’s Facebook and Instagram page on July 8, 2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Doyle-Nelson, Theresa. “A Dresser of Sycamore Trees.” Bible Saints.Blogspot. 28.Oct.2011. Web. July.11.2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Amos 5:5-7
 August 28,1963 at the March on Washington.
 This story is told in John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s Compelling People on pages 50-51.
 This quote was found on the Gnesio Facebook page on July 11th, 2016.
 Stevenson, Bryan. “We need to talk about an injustice.” Ted Talks (www.ted.com). 2012. Mar. Web. July.8.2016.
 Heijmen, R.J. “ You Don’t Change People by Power: Grace in a Norwegian Prison”. MBIRD (Mockingbird). 26. Feb.2013. Web. July.11.2016.
 This comes from a comment made by Bryan J. in the “You Don’t Change People by Power” article.