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Sermon 9/23
January 16, 2008, 3:01 am
Filed under: Sermons

Sermon 9/23

Amos 8:4-7

          As I come into this new community in Rockford, I am learning from others what seasonal joys Rockford holds. What do I hear? Edwards Apple Orchard.In Pastor’s Bible study this Thursday, folks spoke of it with a discernable twinkle of joy in their eyes. Kathy and Mark have described for me a vision of fall joy: they and the youth, hanging out together, sharing steaming cider and piping hot apple donuts, bees excitedly buzzing around, drawn by the fresh sweetness. This afternoon, I’m hoping to join in on this celebration of the fruits of the fall harvest.            Harvest time has always been a joyful time. It is a time when all the bounty of the earth, the life-giving fruit earned in a spring and summer of hard work, is collected, counted, stored and sold. It is a time to celebrate.           When harvest is brought in, or our paycheck arrives in the mail, what is our first thought…is it relief or joy that there is sustenance for us and our family- knowledge that we will have food for our next dinners? Is it a remembrance of the hard work we have done to earn this wage? Is it gratitude to God for providing us with a harvest, with a way to earn our living? Or perhaps it is dreaming of what might come next- what our money can buy for us.            Brad recently lent me the book, “When Peace Like a River”. At one point, it recounts a story of the young protagonist,  and his first job. His father is ill and the family is slipping into poverty. The kindly dimestore owner hires Rueben to tear down a rotting corn crib that has been sitting unused. So one bitterly cold winter day, Rueben heads over to work. His crowbar isn’t bent quite right, so he strains and strains, sweat pouring off his jacket-clad body. Finally, after a long morning’s work, one rotten bar pops off. He works hard to tear the old crib down. Every piece removed is paid for by great exertion. After a few days, he has accomplished his task. He receives a crisp $25 dollars in reward for his hard work. He proudly sits with his little sister, dreaming of all $25 could buy. His dreams are for fun and extravagant gifts for himself. It takes him a while to recognize that his wealth needs to be shared with his family, so that they can have food again.             What we work hard to create, to grow, to earn, we think we deserve all. Philosopher John Locke’s idea of property was that whatever we mixed our sweat and blood, our labor, into- this belonged to us. It reminds me of a little kid, marker in hand, writing his name on each of his toys, declaring, “this is mine”. This is mine, I created it, I worked for it, I earned it, it belongs to me.            In Amos’ world, the people had certain religious regulations that were supposed to help them let go of possessiveness. The Sabbath was a sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, whole day of rest, for everyone. Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Slaves, and even donkeys were not supposed to work at all. Do you think this was a rule to make sure that the richest folk had yet another day of leisure? No, it was rather the poor and the overworked who needed the protection and rest of the Sabbath.           The poor were further protected by regulations that when farmers harvested their fields, the corners and missed stalks were to be left so that the poor could later come through the fields to collect wheat so they could have bread for their families.            Is it implicit in God’s commands to provide for the poor that God intends there to always be poor folks? In creating these regulations, does God say, “I created humanity to live in a system in which there will be some rich and some poor and so I also instituted these regulations about harvest and Sabbath just to throw a bit of charity in?”.            The tone of Amos’ prophecy condemns a society in which the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown. Is this so different than our own world? We hear about the fading of our middle class, even when most Americans consider themselves to be middle class. We hear that only a very few people control most of the wealth in the world. In the age of globalization, we are learning more about how the relative wealth of our country is a factor in the poverty of one small family on the other side of the world. Even among us, gathered today to participate in the Word of God, we know that we each have different resources and needs.            Here in this church, we confess, “I believe in God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth”. We tell each other that God is the source of all life, all being, and the One who sustains our existence. It is God who makes the seed with the capacity to grow into a fruit-laden tree. It is God who creates in us a desire to nurture the tree so that there is a bountiful harvest.           So when it comes time to collect and count the harvest, remember who is Lord of the harvest. The fresh ripe apple is a gift from God.            God gives us all we have- life, resources, love- and it is meant to be sufficient for all people. Jesus goes ahead of us, declaring the dishonesty and greed of our world, crushing down our economically-motivated barriers. You are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom today. You are invited to join in the meal that is prepared and hosted by Jesus. A meal that neither excludes one person nor promotes another. Jesus invites each of us, calling us brothers and sisters, equals in His eyes. Come and share in this feast, God has given God’s only Son so that we might banquet together.  



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