Pentecost 25 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24 November 14, 2021
“THE BURDENED AND THE PRIVILEGED”
Is it fair to say that this society in which we live is divided??
• Republicans ... Democrats ... and Independents.
• Red States ... Blue States and Purple States.
• Globalists ... Nationalists ... and Localists.
• Progressives ... Centrists ... and Populists.
We’re divided about a whole lot of things right now ... are we not???
But ... if I may be so bold ... I’d venture to guess that the subject over which we’re MOST divided ... MOST conflicted ... is that of ‘Justice’.
Seriously ... even within this room ... this room filled with you amazingly erudite, intelligent, faithful, great-looking, wise and gifted people ...
We would be hard pressed to define what ‘justice’ ... real ‘justice’ ... is.
You see ... when we hear the word ‘justice’ ...
• Some of us think it means doing what it is RIGHT ... and others think it means doing what is GOOD.
• Some of us think it’s about protecting individuals against a misguided community ... and some that it’s about protecting the community against misguided individuals.
• Some think it’s about facilitating good behaviors ... others that it’s about eliminating bad ones.
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That being said ... let’s take a look at this morning’s lesson from the book of Amos ... the fifth chapter.
And specifically that place wherein the prophet is talking about justice.
What was it that Amos said?
“Hate evil ... love good ... and establish justice in the gate” and again
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Let’s not pussyfoot around it ... folks. Those words are pretty pointed. GOD DESIRES JUSTICE!
• But what does the prophet Amos mean when the prophet Amos speaks about ‘justice’???
• And what does the Bible mean when the Bible talks about ‘justice’???
• And what does God mean when God speaks about ‘justice’???
What does it mean for justice to “roll down like waters”?
And ... for that matter ...
What might it look like if justice were really truly “established in the gate”?
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Maybe the first thing we need to say about “justice” ... honest-to-goodness biblical “justice” of the sort that Amos was talking about ... is that justice is something that people DO.
It’s not an idea as much as it is an action and an act.
You see ... in the Western world ... “justice” is a static idea ... a concept ... a noun.
So ... when we portray justice ... we picture a woman ... blindfolded ... holding a set of balances before her ... weighing out the truth.
But to Amos’ way of thinking ... that isn’t what justice is at all.
You see ... for Amos ...
• Justice is dynamic ... not static ...
• Justice isn’t so much an idea as it is an action ...
• Justice isn’t so much a noun as it is a verb.
When Amos pictures “justice” ... he doesn’t see a blindfolded woman weighing out the truth ... in search of fairness and equity and balance ...as much as he sees a surging, churning cleansing stream that washes away all the schmutz that has accumulated since the last big storm.
Imagine a front-loading washing machines with the window in the door ...
When Amos imagines justice ... THAT’S the picture that he sees.
A surging ... churning ... cleansing commotion wherein the dirt is actively being washed away.
Lives being scrubbed clean.
Because justice is ... first and foremost ... something to be experienced.
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Secondly ... the reason God’s people are expected to DO justice is precisely because that is what God has done for them.
Because God has dealt with us ‘justly’ ... we are expected to deal with others ‘justly’.
We Christians are fond of saying ... in keeping with 1 John ... that love because God loved us.
That we forgive because God has forgiven us.
That we care because God has cared for us.
That’s all well and good ... to be sure ... but Amos is calling us to add another thing to that list.
That we deal with people justly because God has dealt justly with us.
Note that we’re called NOT to deal ‘fairly’ with people because God has dealt ‘fairly’ with us ...because if God did deal ‘fairly’ with us we’d be in a whole lot of trouble ....
But rather that we work for justice for others precisely because God has worked for justice for us.
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But what does this “justice” that Amos and the Bible and God are talking about ... this justice that we are called to DO ... this justice stuff that we are called to work for ... actually look like?
Actually ... maybe ... we could think about it this way:
Four or five years ago now ... out on the Bay ... on a brisk but clear Sunday afternoon ... a 25,000-pound powerboat ran into ... and over ... a sailboat.
• The powerboat was a 40 footer ... with a top speed of about 40 knots.
• The sailboat was all of 26 feet ... and at the time was doing about 6 or 7 knots.
It’s not too hard to imagine who came out on top in that collision.
The powerboat hit the sailboat right smack in the middle and pretty well smashed it to pieces.
Thankfully ... the two who were crewing the sailboat were thrown into the relative safety of the water and were quickly rescued.
And curiously ... the operator of the powerboat stated that he had not seen the sailboat ... as if you’d actually have a hard time NOT seeing a sailboat with a 35-foot mast and raised sails!
It was a clear case of what sailors would say is a “burdened” vessel beating up on a “privileged” one.
You see ... when you’re out and about on the waters of the Bay ... or any waterway around the world for that matter ... there’s this set of ‘right-of-way’ rules that come into play.
No matter what the situation ... no matter where the location ... every time the course of one boat puts it into potential proximity of another boat ... these right-of-way rules come into play.
And the question every skipper has to ask themselves as soon as they become aware of that potentially encounter is “Which boat is burdened and which boat is privileged?”
• The privileged boat is the one that has the right of way ... the right to maintain one’s present heading and speed.
• The burdened boat is the one that does not have the right of way ... but rather has to make way.
The basic rule being that it is always the responsibility of ‘burdened’ vessels to stay out of the way of ‘privileged’ ones.
So ... for instance ...
• Boats that are ‘restricted’ ... because they’re working their crab pots or are being pushed by a tugboat ... always have privileges over a boat that is ‘maneuverable’ ...
• And motorboats must yield the right of way to sailboats under sail ... which apparently the skipper of that powerboat forgot on that Sunday afternoon on the Bay.
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Anyhow ... though I’m not sure that Amos spent much time on boats ... and I’m pretty sure that Amos didn’t use the terms ‘burdened’ and ‘privileged’ in their nautical sense ...
But Amos ... like Jesus after him ... knew all about privileges and burdens.
And Amos ... again like Jesus after him ... noticed:
• privileged people beating up on burdened ones ... and
• privileged people abusing burdened ones ... and
• privileged people taking advantage of burdened ones ....
And when he did ... he got downright livid.
It’s kind of like they take those time honored nautical terms “burdened” and “privileged” and stand them on their head!
You see ... on the water ... a burdened vessel must serve the interests of and pay respect to the privileged vessel.
But “justice” says it is the other way around!
• The privileged in life must serve the interests of the burdened.
• It is the responsibility of the privileged to watch out for ... and be attentive to the needs of ... the burdened.
• At the very least ... the privileged must never do anything to increase the burden of those already burdened.
Justice ... biblical justice ... Amos’ justice ... is done when privileged vessels do whatever they can to assist burdened ones.
And it is NOT done by insisting on privileges and demanding respect for their right-of-way.
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Think back on that story of that crash on the Bay.
It happened because the operator of the powerboat said he “didn’t see” the sailboat ... right???
It kind of leaves me wondering what it is that I ... that we ... “don’t see” while we’re racing about in our lives.
It’s not enough that we pat ourselves on the back when we charitably pull out of the water those who have been cast into it by our own foolish behaviors.
Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t ram our boats into their boats in the first place???
What does this “justice” that Amos is talking about ... this justice that we are called to DO ... this justice stuff that we are called to work for ... actually look like?
Is it not about us learning to obey the divine rules of navigation ... which call for privileged people to give the right of way to burdened ones???
Is it not about BOTH looking out for the burdened vessels around us ... AND doing what we can to assist them???
Is it not about remembering what Jesus said when he declared: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted”???