While in some communities summer is a major season for attendance, in others, like mine, we are blessed with a faithful remnant. Many of our parishioners live in cottages for the summer, so attend church services there. Several stay behind with us. Others, still, are visiting family and friends in our area and drop in for a visit. All this means that, for the most part, our summer visitors are church goers. For us, our first time folks come in the fall with the start of our new programs, or leading up to Christmas.
Which actually makes summer a great time to tackle those topics that we may stay away from at other times of the year because newcomers may find them confusing or even threatening. If this is true for you, then this Sunday’s readings give a full context on the subject of God’s judgement.
As Christians we desperately lean on the grace of God to be forgiven of our sins. But grace does not excuse us from being judged. In fact, God’s love would mean very little to anyone of the pain we inflict on one another were simply dismissed. It is not dismissed, it is judged. In our reading from Amos, the judgement is the people of Israel will be in exile. The evidence of their guilt is their treatment of the most vulnerable among them.
Amos is classified as a minor prophet, but his words are powerful and urgent. We spend two Sundays in Amos, followed by two Sundays in Hosea. These would make a great preaching series looking at two fascinating prophecies on the people of Israel.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a powerful, difficult and challenging text, and I must admit reducing this to a simple story of random acts of kindness I hear so often in sermons and, especially, children’s talks drives me to distraction. The question of the lawyer is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Despite our commonly expressed belief that there is nothing we can do, simply that we must believe, Jesus gives the lawyer an example of what he must do. He must follow the example of a man (Samaritan) who he has always been taught was to be avoided, to go above and beyond, break purity laws in order to assist a dying man.
Again, Paul’s letter to the Colossians points the evidence of their faith for eternal life. We sometimes talk about the First Testament and the New Testament as if they are talking about two different gods, that once Christ came, God no longer judged our actions. Yet, Paul and Jesus both point to the actions of faithful Christians and churches as open to God’s judgement.
Taking advantage of these seasons to deal with intense topics such as judgement helps open up the questions of Christians in our churches. When we do not talk about judgement, we choose one of two extremes: so afraid of it we cripple our relationship with Christ or avoid it and justify ourselves outside of God’s judgement.
How will you be working with these challenging readings this Sunday?