I was away this Sunday and Pastor Dick Dahl stood in for me–he has given us a wonderful homily! Thank you Dick! –Pastor Kathy
I want to speak with you about three interrelated issues. The first relates is what Pastor Kathy said last week. She spoke of our needing to have hope, but the reason for that hope is, in her words, “so that we can do what God is calling us to in our lives as Christians.”
So the first issue is do you have a sense of “being called”? It is common to think of a vocation, that is, being called to a way of life, when a person is young, a teenager or in their 20s. Do you think that a vocation, a calling, only happens when one is young? Or does the Spirit speak to us, call us, at different times in our life, in the differing circumstances in which we find ourselves—such as right now? It’s not necessarily something we want or choose. It is a calling of the Spirit that we become aware of, recognize, accept and respond to.
This week’s first reading describes a man named Amos who lived in the 700s before Christ. Amos kept insisting he wasn’t called to be a prophet. He said he was just a man who cared for livestock and orchards. Nevertheless Yahweh called him to prophesy in the northern Kingdom of Israel. That was where the poorer classes of peasants suffered greatly under the unjust treatment of the ruling and elite classes who lived lives of leisure and luxury.
Amos responded to this dangerous and unpleasant calling—to speak truth to power. Five times Amos repeated Yahweh’s warning to the King. He so infuriated the authorities as he repeatedly pointed out how they would be punished for abusing the poor and helpless, that the priest at the holy site of Bethel, where Amos preached, kicked him out. Those in power never listened. The Assyrians came, conquered the land and scattered the people in exile.
The first theme: are we being called as Amos was, or does that seem preposterous?
The second theme today also stems from something Pastor Kathy said last week, namely, “In our present time,” she said, “I believe it is true to say that many of us feel disillusioned over where our country seems headed and ill-equipped to do what is needed to make the changes that will fix this dilemma.” Are we, perhaps like Amos, feeling powerless to bring about the changes that seem necessary?
Let’s reflect on what it means to feel or be powerless. Father Richard Rohr writes, “Christianity is a bit embarrassed by the powerless one, Jesus. We’ve made his obvious defeat into a glorious victory. Let’s face it, we feel more comfortable with power than with powerlessness and poverty. Who wants to be like Jesus on the cross? It just doesn’t look like … a way that’s going to make any difference in the world. We worship this naked, homeless, bleeding loser, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, but we want to be winners . . ..”
Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” In another letter to them he described how he came to accept, “When I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.”
Now we have come to today’s third theme—politics. Separation of church and state is important to safeguard freedom of religion and ensure that governments are not dominated by a single religion’s interests. But Father Rohr insists that does not mean people of faith should not participate in politics. How, he asks, can one read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.
Father Rohr strong states that there is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something — in other words that the status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on. As humans we can’t help but be political whether we recognize it or not—so let’s learn how to participate in the public forum as God’s image and likeness!
Like it or not, politics (civic engagement) is one of our primary means of addressing poverty and other justice issues. Our knowledge of the power wielded by big money can accelerate our retreat from politics, discouraging us from being the participants that democracy demands and reducing us to mere spectators of a political game being played exclusively by “them.”
Bill Moyers has said, “The antidote, the only antidote, to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people.” We must bring as much passion to our cause as do those who call for building walls. But our job is to tear down walls and build bridges. We have the capacity to grow beyond ego and nationalism into a new identity, one that holds space for everyone to belong and be loved.”
However, this doesn’t mean partisan politics. To be a faith leader is to connect the inner and outer worlds. In the United States’ not-so-distant-past, Christians were at the forefront of political and justice movements to abolish slavery, support women’s suffrage, protect civil rights.
Jesus and other great spiritual teachers emphasize that we must first seek transformation by the Spirit of love to use the gift of critical thinking without immersing ourselves in negativity and arrogance. We must learn to collaborate in a non-partisan way. We must avoid idolizing anything that preserves our own privilege and status quo, while neglecting to ask, “What effect is this having on others?”
The Apostles in today’s Gospel were called to put into action the powers and authority Jesus had given them. We are called to do the same.