Worshipping With Our Eyes Open

November 12, 2017

Proper 27A          Worshipping With Our Eyes Open           Nov 12, 2017

“Cupertino suffers from incredible prosperity.” These were the words of one of the Cupertino City Planning Commission last week, who met with a small group of St Jude’s parishioners as part of the PACT local organizing group. This is part of the ongoing steps from our parish PACT listening campaign that identified affordable housing as the most pressing issue in our community, that people wanted to do something about.

Our work with PACT is part of putting our Mission Covenant into action, by focusing on local issues in Cupertino and the San Jose/Silicon Valley area. The pilot Safe Park program we did was a part of the Research phase, what we called practical research, and we are taking steps to do it again, as the cold weather approaches and the number of unhoused people in Cupertino and the San Jose/Silicon Valley area continues to increase.  Stay tuned, and read those communications people work hard to produce!

Why did the Commissioner say those words?  “Cupertino suffers from incredible prosperity.”  When people are financially well off and do not rub shoulders with real people in real need with real stories of hardship, there is little awareness of needs and compassion can be lacking. Yes there are plenty of people who do fantastic work, think of Rotary and West Valley Community Services and our St Jude’s participation in their efforts. Yet Cupertino has no homeless shelters, and developers use a technical loophole to pay the city rather than include low income housing units as part of their projects. Recent senior housing efforts that took many years to bring to the table, asked for nineteen units rather than the thirty units it was possible to ask for, in order to ensure the resolution passed.

The readers of the prophet Amos were similar. What did you think of that reading?  Look at it again. Amos had harsh words to say to the people of God. Was he speaking with his own rage, or about the rage of God? How do we reconcile his harsh words saying God hates, despises their religious practices, their offerings and sacrifices?  Where is the good news and grace?

Amos was an 8th century BCE migrant farm worker who spoke in the tradition of the Israelite prophets, calling out the sharp divisions in society at that time, reminding people in colorful language of the expectations of their covenant relationship with God. At that time, Israel enjoyed peace, prosperity, international prestige and a confidence in its own military capabilities. This was accompanied by a growing gap between rich and poor people, excessive wealth of the leisured upper classes, and by the exploitation of the poor and defenseless by the rich and the powerful. There was a breakdown in the delivery of justice to the citizenry. Sound familiar? I’m talking about Israel in the 8th century BCE, Before the Common Era.

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts …Take away from me the noise of your songs” –  what is Amos saying?  He is not saying, don’t worship. He is urging people not to focus on ritual and liturgy and music, as the source of well-being, or worship in sacred spaces, but to focus on the practice of justice and righteousness, rushing strongly through their community like floodwaters, continuously, as a way of life.

Does Amos sound political to you? His words are about injustice and oppression, rich and poor, and a God who seems harsh. The day of the Lord the Israelites were waiting for with expectation and hope was not about light but gloom with no brightness in it, like a terrible surprise. Like someone who fled from a lion and then met a bear! Or rested inside and was bitten by a snake!

The problem was about how they lived while waiting for the Messiah. They waited with lack of awareness, apathetic and uncaring about the unjust society in which they lived. They did nothing to lessen the gap between rich and poor, nothing to champion the rights of others, nothing to challenge the injustice of the courts. Sounds political!

Many people say that religion and politics do not mix, or that we shouldn’t talk about politics in church. It depends what one means by the word politics –  it’s never about party or partisan politics, but what the Greek root words polis or polites mean, ‘city or public forum’ or, ‘of or relating to citizens’. Matters of cities or communities or citizens who live in them. It’s a broad meaning, not specific to one party or another, and has everything to do with preaching the good news of God’s love and justice.

The message of Amos and much of the message of the prophets, of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith and of Scripture, is that religion and politics, justice and righteousness, are inextricably linked. God condemns worship that is not confirmed by a reverential attitude to the rights of others. “Walk the talk, with consistency.” 

It’s about morality not about party politics.  It’s about the gospel and our faith tradition, and it is the task of the church to preach it and live it. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, the invitation is to sit in discomfort and ask the Holy Spirit to give insight as to why, and how to respond, what is to be done. Because the task of the church is not only to bring comfort to the afflicted but also to afflict the comfortable.  It’s a both/and.

 <<<<a figure of speech from the world of journalism, brought into the realm of religion by Martin Marty in 1987. So just to be clear, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible and it wasn’t even coined by a preacher or theologian. But the concept of God comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted is thoroughly Biblical.  See Psalm 18:27.)>>>

We too easily become comfortable and complacent in our faith and life, like the Israelites, content with all our possessions and comfort, and resistant to leaving our comfort zones to care for the plight or rights of others. Scriptures like Amos and the prophet call us out of our comfort zones and make us uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing!

Amos calls us to worship with our eyes open. To become aware – of our own position and privilege in society, our privilege and wealth relative to  much of the rest of the world. Our achievements and positions, or our possessions like our cell phones, the chocolate we eat, that are often built on the sweat and suffering of someone elsewhere in the world. 

Aware that what we throw away on our plates, or the plastic knives and forks and spoons we use, are vital to someone else’s struggle to survive just one more day and stay alive.  Worshiping with our eyes open means being open to having our lifestyles challenged, being called to account for our choices, the way we spend our time, our money, our resources.

Worshiping with our eyes open means that the Church has responsibility to help its people think through the ethics and morality of so many social issues – from immigration that is currently separating families at a great rate, targeting especially the Vietnamese community in this area at the moment, to  gun violence and the regulation of gun ownership, or the availability of healthcare to all,  or response to sexual harassment and increasing allegations of sexual abuse, rape and non consensual sex.  None of it is simple or comfortable but we do it together and with the help of the Holy Spirit. This life  of ours is hard, messy, haphazard, untidy, yet beautiful and grace-filled.

All those who are deeply involved in speaking out on morality and ethics, and working for peace and justice, share a common understanding, that both the inner and outer world are essential. From Archbishop Desmond Tutu <<<to MLK Jr>>>  to the Dalai Lama <<<to Br Roger of Taize>>>,  to Dorothy Day <<<to Dorothy Soelle >>> to Sr Simone Campbell and more.  Contemplation AND action.  Mysticism AND politics. Our prayer and meditation leads us inward then outwards, to walk the talk. Our action leads us to realize we burn out if we do not drink from the well of our faith, from the source of the sacred. Both/And.  Religion AND Politics.

It’s not about dualistic, binary debates that separate people into Left or Right, liberal or conservative. It is about rooting all our words, our practices, our dialogues, our understandings in the flow of God’s love, and starting from that point. Critiquing both left and right, praying for wisdom to see through the lens of God’s love, through the eyes of Christ, with the love of Jesus, with the insight of the Holy Spirit.

Sr Simone Campbell is a Catholic sister who lobbies for the poor and disenfranchised on Capitol Hill  <<<through the organization NETWORK (check)>>>. 

She says that they care for the common good, which means the 100%, not the 1% or the 99%, but the 100%.  Her meditation practice led her to see that God is alive in all and no-one can be left our of their care.

 “Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other's faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light a fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”   Dorothy Day.

The only option we do not have is to remain unaware, see nothing, do nothing, remain silent.  “...morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Eli Wiesel, writing from a German concentration camp, said “ For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing…We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”  

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

Finally, where is the grace in all of this? That when we are challenged with the prophets of Scripture or the prophets of today, we give time to listen, to pray, to ask forgiveness, to discern our response and how we will act.

To renew our spiritual practices whether it’s like Dorothy Day who said “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms. ”  Or whether it is yoga or music or contemplative prayer or meditation or exercise.

To come once again to the eucharist and receive the bread of life that strengthens us for service and justice and worship.  To receive grace, forgiveness, peace, strength, and to pass it on to others. To be renewed in our connection to the human community, to pray with renewed energy and work towards the human race becoming the human family.  That’s the challenge of Amos for us today. May we each hear and respond as the Spirit guides us. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.