Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Greetings, Broadneck Blogosphere! It's a joy to be coming alongside of you in this conversation around our worship scriptures, and a joy to gather with many of you each week as we explore God's oh-so-simple-but-so-bafflingly-complicated Word for our lives together in community. I believe that every time we authentically seek to encounter God's Word, we cannot help but be formed and transformed by engage this blog with hope, yet proceed with a proper dose of holy caution:)

Our main scriptures for consideration this week are Amos 7:7-17 and Luke 10:25-37. At first glance, it's hard to imagine two more divergent passages to bring into conversation with one another. The latter, after all, is a passage--the story of the Good Samaritan--so culturally well-known that many states have laws named after it to protect the rights of those who stop to aid stranded motorists. It's one of the handful of biblical stories where even marginal churchgoers could provide you with its high points without the benefit of a text in front of them. The former, meanwhile, is an obscure episode from a prophet so unknown that his words are included in a measly 5 of the 156 weeks of the Revised Common Lectionary (and only on two occasions--this week and next!--is it the primary text rather than an "alternate"). Ask even the most fervent churchgoer to tell you something about Amos, and most would give you a blank stare. Apart from Jonah and his whale, the so-called "Minor Prophets" (the technical name for those whose writings are found between the Old Testament books of Hosea and Malachi) seem aptly named...their writings, filled with archaic language of judgment and doom, are so minor as to not merit much of our attention, in church or in culture.

So why not ditch Amos (and the cavalcade of Minor Prophets we'll encounter over the next few weeks) and just focus on Luke? Well, there are a couple of strong reasons to keep Amos' words in play.

First, this may seem obvious, but the Old Testament prophets did not just speak to societies past; their words, though set in a particular context, still ring true today, because it is the role of the prophet to direct the hearer's attention to the bigger picture. As Craig Smith and Mark Buckley explain in their intro to The Inclusive Hebrew Scriptures, "prophets revive our capacity to feel and draw our attention to what we would rather not see." Prophets, with their sometimes uncomfortable rhetoric, speak to our hardened hearts and reveal our well-cultivated blind spots. Amos does this so beautifully but painfully in today's passage. The kindgom of Israel, which everyone thought was doing SO well, is in actuality a kingdom that has fallen out of step with the plumb line God intended for its design, becoming a curse to its neighbors rather than the blessing to all nations it was intended to be. Such words are painful, but the sort of truth-speaking that is needed even when it causes us to lash back like Amaziah in hopes that these are words we can ignore.

Second, I think we should hold on to Amos because his message is not as far from Luke's as it may seem. Sure, Amos speaks of judgment while Jesus tells a tale of mercy; Amos speaks in strange, almost indecipherable metaphor, while Jesus speaks of people and places with whom the inquisitive lawyer would have been intimately familiar. But in reality, Amos and Luke are both speaking of matters very close to home: matters of what it means to live by the first law given God's people, the declaration that we are to love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Luke and Amos, though separated by time, context, and popularity, together give us a tale of two neighborhoods--one headed for disaster because of its failure to live by God's standards of justice and faithfulness, and one for whom there is still hope if they can realize their neighborhood is far bigger than they'd ever imagined. Both are stories intended to reform, form, and transform their hearers by revealing the heart of God--a heart that seeks to see the divided people God created learn to live in fellowship with one another and their Maker.

These two tales are ones we in the church need to matter how familiar or unfamiliar they are, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. I hope you'll join us Sunday as we continue the conversation!


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