ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn: For the Beauty of the Earth (UMH 92)
- Opening Prayer – Congregation
- Creed: Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada (UMH 883)
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Peace Prayer – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn: Kum Ba Yah (UMH 494)
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Message: Bitter Fruit – Rev. Val
- Hymn: Walk On, O People of God (Song Sheet)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Hymn: For the Bread Which You Have Broken (UMH 614)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95/Song Sheet)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scripture readings and the message. The majority of the other content (minus the message) is available through our weekly digital/email bulletin (you can sign up on our Contact Us page). Union Grove UMC began celebrating Holy Communion weekly as part of our regular worship service on July 17, 2022. You are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*All scriptures today are from the NRSV.
Amos 8:1-12 – This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit.
He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
Colossians 1:15-28 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Luke 10:38-42 – Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Bitter Fruit …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
God and Amos have a discussion. God uses a visual aid to help get the message across. Knowing Amos was a bit of a farmer himself, God brings this narrative in a way Amos could thoroughly understand it. “What do you see?” Amos says, “A basket of summer fruit.”
If you showed me a basket of summer fruits – the berries and other fruits that are tender enough they don’t keep long – I’m going to immediately go for the strawberries because y’all … strawberries! And then I’m going to sort them and figure out whether there’s enough of each to warrant canning or making jelly or fruit butter or prepping them to freeze – some way to make the summer fruit harvest last through the winter. Amos being a farmer, he was probably not only thinking about things like that, but about reminding whoever was going to do all that to save seeds while he simultaneously inspected the fruit and admired the quality of the produce.
While that’s the last we hear about the basket of fruit itself, God is making yet another point about the misbehavior of the people of Israel.
I know you’ve all probably had this experience. You buy a bag or box of some type of fresh fruit or vegetables, everything looks great, you take it home, put it away, come back a day or so later to use it and discover there was one bad one that you missed and now that one bad one is causing all the others touching it to rot as well. It’s where the saying, “one bad apple” comes from.
That’s what has God so angry at Israel. They had stopped following the laws and commandments he’d given them. The list of transgressions was clear. Trampling on the needy, bringing ruin on the poor, wishing the sabbath over so they can go back to selling grain, using doctored weights to measure the grain they’re selling, yet again exploiting the poor, and selling them the poorest grain they swept up off the floor.
A theocratic argument for the actions of people in power is Romans 13:1-6 – “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”
I don’t have a problem with the passage from Romans. I have a problem with how it’s used because it’s invariably misused. It gets drug out and used about people who are clearly exploiting the poor and needy, but you don’t hear it referenced when whoever is in power takes a different position … a position that vows to support and care for the poor and the needy. It’s most often used about people in some kind of political office or rulers, but it can also be applied to those who run corporations, especially those corporations who tend to profit the most by exploiting the poorest among us.
This passage from Amos is about God placing his judgment on those Old Testament “corporate giants and other powers” who are taking advantage of the needy and the poor, and who cannot wait for another work week to begin so that they can continue to overcharge the people and cheat them out of their rightful earnings.
The scriptures recognize that we have to live in systems where some people are placed in positions of authority over us, but God expects the kings and presidents and rulers of this world – whether they be captains of industry or politicians – to govern justly, for the good of the people. He expected this of the Old Testament rulers, he expected it of the New Testament rulers, and he expects it of rulers today, as well.
In the passage from Colossians, Paul tells us that in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1)
There was a time when the Church “spiritualized” the words “thrones and dominions and rulers and powers” and even said those things were the spiritual powers in heaven – like ranks of angels, but that’s not what Paul is talking about in this passage. When Paul says, “thrones and dominions and rulers and powers” that’s exactly what he means. The thrones of earthly kings. Dominions like nation states. Rulers like those who lord it over people. And the “powers that be” who seem to control everything in this world!
Paul reminds us that those things exist, all right, and that God accepts that, but they are supposed to serve God for the benefit of the people! Not to oppress and take advantage of the people for their own well-being! When they do – in Old Testament times or today – they stand under the judgment of God!
In our world today, we seem to have more bad fruit than good fruit, don’t we? It’s like we’re sinking into some black abyss and there’s no clear way out anymore. All those bad apples from the time of Amos are back in full force and, like Amaziah in last week’s passage, too many theocrats are convincing their flocks that it’s all God’s will because God put these folks in charge.
We even get caught up in the busyness of the worldly stuff just like Martha in the passage from Luke to such a degree that, in a way, we buy into our journey to the abyss. After all, Martha was just taking care of business and we have business to take care of, too. But … Martha was not just taking care of business. She was distracted by her busyness and complaining about her sister for not helping her out! Maybe we can all sympathize with that, but the point of the story was that Mary was the one who recognized that she was in the presence of the very Word of God in Jesus, and nothing was going to keep her from paying attention to that Word.
When Martha complained to Jesus about it, he gently rebuked her, saying, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part…”.
So how do we fix this. How do we get up out of the abyss and back on track?
In a piece he wrote for Dancing Faith, Rev. Stephen Paul Kliewer, says …
there are it seems
two ways (thank you Matthew Fox, Aquinas and others))
First, there is the via negativa
The way of darkness and the dark night of the soul
The way of emptying or “nothingness”
This is the way of kenosis
The way of the cross
The way of letting go
For Jesus this way was voluntary (Philippians 2)
as he entered fully into the human experience
for some “nothingness” is not a choice
it is imposed
Slaves tasted nothingness
Their descendants in Jim Crow times tasted it.
They are getting a taste again
having their culture ripped from them tasted it.
Women taste it on a regular basis
So do people who are LGBTQI
So (in the land of the filthy rich) do the poor
Many Americans are now tasting it
as we the greedy and power hungry destroy our democracy in front of our eyes.
We are called
All of us
To walk this path with those who suffer
We have to see and feel, and enter into the pain of
The oppressed, the poor
Even the planet
We have to “be with”
on the via negative where, perhaps, God feels absent
But we also have to embrace
the via positiva
Meister Eckhart says “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Thomas Aquinas says that the essence of real religion is: Gratitude.
The via positiva is the way of affirmation
God is good
We go down to rise up
We die to live
We let go to receive
It is the odd mystery of the Gospel
Kenosis is not quitting
What is emptied is filled
That is why (as Steven Charleton puts it)
“We are a wild bunch of believers”
Who are unwilling to let “resignation be our best shot”
Having let go
We find we have the Spirit
Rocking and rolling in our souls
Which is why the via negativa leads to the via positiva
And this is why “We will not pretend. We will not give up, go away or be quiet
We will remain here standing in the way of the victory parade, spoiling the photo op,
embarrassing the guests at the penthouse party” (Charleston, Ladder to the Light)
We will resist
not hopelessly but hopefully
not despondently but expectantly
not hatefully but lovingly
we will stand
against oppression and injustice
our journey inward
our way of emptying
will lead us back into the world
for as long as it takes
there will be times when emptying looks like losing
just as the cross looked like losing
But take note! forces of domination and greed
we are here
and we are not going away
What Kliewer describes as via negativa, the way of darkness, is the bitter fruit and there are times when we have no choice but to taste it in order to understand what those we’re called to serve are going through. We have no choice but to taste it because that’s the only way we can understand it and it’s critical that we understand it in the same way that those we serve are having to eat a steady diet of it.
Kliewer points out that there is also a via positiva that we can seek once we’ve tasted the bitter fruit. That way comes when we remember to be grateful for the sweet fruit we are given and then go to work standing up for those who are receiving only the bitter fruit.
The thing is, we have to guard ourselves against being distracted in that abyss and losing track of the via positiva. If we get too distracted from hearing and paying attention to what God is trying to tell us, if we miss hearing it, for most of us, the damage will be done to ourselves, our families, and those we’re called to serve.
Going back to Amos, God didn’t see just ripe fruit in that basket. God saw fruit that was on its way to being rotten. This fruit didn’t have long before it began to be no good, and God likens this scenario to the people of Israel. God is receiving what the people are giving. God sees the injustice; God sees the oppression; God sees the inequality; and God sees the economic injustice. God unfolds for Amos the plan of judgment.
This is not a God we often encounter in the newspaper or in the media today. Today, God is being thrown in the middle of political wars, religious rivalries, and philosophical theories. When our leaders listen to this kind of corruption of God, the results can be devastating. People suffer. Some … even many people die.
God always raises up a prophet to represent God’s refusal to go along with oppressive behavior, though. In Amos, we are able to refute any arguments that God is not a God of the oppressed. God takes a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. He takes a man that is not seminary trained, has not been commissioned or ordained, and who does not have a license to preach, and he gives him an enormous job: give a message to my people that they won’t want to hear. Quite frankly, he has the kind of job that can get him killed.
If it seems like there’s a shortage of prophets today, it may be that the same danger … a fear of being at minimum outcast … still exists. In fact, it may be an even greater danger than being killed outright. There’s always the danger of being called a troublemaker, making people uncomfortable, especially when you do these things, well—from the margins … from standing with those being given only a diet of bitter fruit.
The question then is this … and you’ll need to search your souls to decide how you answer it … are you ready and willing to be the prophets this world needs? I pray that I am and ask that before you answer, you too spend time in prayer.
- All works cited within the text above.
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