Live Like God is Your Best Friend – October 10

A sermon based on Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 10, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

I want to start by noting that at this church you do not have to check your brain at the door. You are free to think for yourself. This sermon may be one that some disagree with. I have given it a lot of thought and prayer in preparing it.. I hope you do the same and draw conclusions with our still speaking God.

Listening to the lesson Tom just read, it seems pretty obvious that Amos was not one to beat around the bush. He’s not a subtle prophet. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible in The Message captures the direct nature of Amos’ message:

“You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend. Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen. Hate evil and love good, then work it out in the public square.”

Live like God is your best friend. How? Hate evil. Love good. That’s actually the heart of the Bible’s message. “Live like God is your best friend.” How? Hate evil. Love good.

People in Amos’ day were talking the talk of following God, going through worship rituals and claiming to be on the side of God, but not acting as God wanted. As the reading puts it they’d “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” They’d “bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down. “Justice was not their action, injustice was. And so, Amos lets loose with righteous indignation and righteous anger, with rather righteous warnings. “Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar and stomp righteousness into the mud.”

And Amos is not shy about pointing out the cosmic repercussions that ripples of injustice and unrighteousness cause:

“Do you realize where you are? You’re in a COSMOS star-flung with constellations by God, a world God wakes up each morning and puts to bed each night. God dips water from the ocean and gives the land a drink. God, God-revealed, does all this. And [God] can destroy it as easily as make it. [God] can turn this vast wonder into total waste.”

I like those lines because I understand creation to have been set up by God so that there are cosmic effects to injustices by human creatures is clear . . . and not because it can be heard to mean God’s going to lash out at us; but because it can be heard to mean the effects of unjust and unrighteous conduct have repercussions– consequences. They can set off tsunamis in the natural order of things. Not only do the victims of injustices suffer but we all do, including the perpetrators as waves of wrongdoing threaten to drown us.

In Amos’ time, some people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel would “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” They’d “bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.” The social fabric of the culture was weakened as a result– and not because God wanted it, but because what God wanted was not followed. Human creatures in the Creator’s creation destabilized it.

Oppressing the poor and righteous, and taking bribes, and other lack-love misdeeds, led to Israel’s ruin due to human misdeeds in the world God made. Assyria came along in 722 B.C. and conquered the weakened country and forced many of its citizens into exile, leading to the famous ten lost tribes of Israel. God did not cause that result as punishment it was a result of the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s culture not hating evil and not loving good, as well as a result of Assyria’s own oppressive culture and failure to not hate evil and not love good. They were not living like God was their best friend.

Amos prophesied that perpetrators of wrongs will suffer with, as the lesson puts it, “nothing to show for your life, but a pile of ashes, a house burned to the ground.” This was not popular or agreed with by a lot of folks when Amos uttered it. It is not popular or likely agreed with by a lot of folks today. We can still find secular and religious elites who “run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths.” We can find them “bully[ing] right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.” And we can see our culture weakened by it. We have economic injustices. We have sexist injustices. We have heterosexist injustices. We have racial injustices. We have environmental injustices. We have access to health care injustices. We have pandemic related injustices. All those injustices affect all of us. And I know many of us have worked on bringing justice about in one, or more of those areas.

An example of injustice that probably leaps out at all of us these days are pandemic related injustices. They certainly leap out at me. I want to focus on a pandemic issue that’s been in the news a lot lately: The unjust harassment going on toward those trying to live right and save lives with Covid safety measures. It’s in the news a lot– especially at local government meetings and retails stores, but elsewhere too. Right living by simply setting up Covid safeguards often creates a nightmare; in the words of the lesson from Amos, people are “bully[ing] right-living people.” There’s been a lot of unjust conduct toward those advocating for health care justice– that we take care of ourselves and each other by wearing masks and getting vaccinations.

To use a Biblical metaphor, through the blessing of science God’s provided the means for humankind’s exodus out of this Covid wilderness. But many who are trying to lead us on the exodus are being bullied.

Way back near the start of the pandemic, as a whole, we could have slowed it down and saved many lives if we’d all applied the basic Godsend of science and washed, masked and social distanced. A lot of us did so, but not enough. Even now we can still hinder Covid with those measures. Plus, we’ve been given another gift from God, vaccines which beyond a reasonable doubt save lives, prevent hospitalizations– and could very likely end the pandemic if used by more people. Wash, mask, distance and vaccinate. Simple and simply Divine answers. Doable good acts. A path to well-being.

The consequences of forces that have caused so much resistance to getting on that God-given path to well-being has had repercussions. We are still all in the pandemic. There’s been substantial economic and health costs. In our nation hundreds of thousands dead– millions more world-wide. None of those costs are due to God retaliating. They are natural consequences of forces in our culture that have created a divisive atmosphere of misinformation, distrust, and resistance to the God given gift of science to stymy and halt the disease. Those forces caused the protection of others and ourselves be a divisive issue.

Evil means opposing the will of God. God’s will is we love others and ourselves. Forces that make the protection of others and ourselves divisive is not love, nor is bullying right living people. I am not . . . NOT . . .  saying individual anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are evil. I am not . . .  NOT . . . saying individuals who don’t wear masks and don’t get vaccines are evil.

I AM saying that the cultural forces making taking care with masks and vaccines a divisive issue are evil– AND so too is “bully[ing] right-living people.” I am also saying that acting like God’s best friend means we choose good over evil.

Reason suggests that good is following God’s exodus route out of the pandemic. Forces that make that route seem wrong, bullying those who help others to get on it, and the ripple effects of those wrongs are not God’s fault. They do not exist because God wants them, but because what God wants is not followed.

We need to live like God is our best friend. Hate evil. Love good. Wash. Mask. Distance. Vaccinate. May it be so. AMEN.