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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1265

July 17, 2016 Luke 10:25-37

Dr. Ed Pettus Amos 7:10-17

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

 

“Breaking Silence”

 

  • A Silent Majority?

 

The deepest theology I have seen on Facebook this past week was a sign that appeared posted in someone’s yard that said “Turn off the ‘news’ and love your neighbor.” Most of you know I’m not a fan of news programming, particularly the national media. I think the sentiment of this neighborly sign is that the news media is stirring up more discord in our country than the events that initially started problems. They throw fuel on the fire rather than seek to simply report what has happened and what is being done to rectify any given situation. I’m not advocating that we be uninformed about the news of issues facing our lives and nation, but what I am saying is we cannot base our knowledge simply on what we get from news outlets who have an agenda to present no matter whether they lean to the left or right. I suppose in this area I am a wait and see what fact come forth over time and I also tend to read more people who take the time to reflect more deeply than the few minutes given on news programming. I would say that we at least need to consider the thought of turning off the “news” so that we might better be able to love our neighbor because the news media apparently wants us to distrust our neighbors. Enough on that!

Shortly after I saw that sign for neighborliness, a friend posted a sermon by my former professor, Walter Brueggemann, titled, “When Truth Sounds Like Treason”. https://hbclouisville.org/2016/07/10/july-10-truth-sounds-like-treason-walter-brueggemann/

Dr. Brueggemann preached from Amos 7 and Luke 10 and it reminded me of that sign about news and loving neighbor because the news wants to present a particular picture of the world that holds little truth and certainly does not want to spread the word of neighborly love. Stories of loving neighbor do not make money, nor are they likely to become sensationalized like stories of death and threat and fear. Those kinds of stories about loving neighbor remain silent from the media. If they get any attention, it is a last 30 second feel good story to end the nightly news. But by then they have filled our minds with terror and fear or hunger or covetousness for something advertized 3-4 times in the first 29 minutes. We are presented every day with a disproportionate amount of bad news or agenda driven news. Everyday. For most Americans, I would imagine we watch 30-60 minutes daily. We might skip Friday to Sunday, so let’s average four hours a week, very conservatively. That’s not to count the possible hours on the 24/7 availability in cable or satellite news. All this is to say that this is a lot of influence on our perceptions of our lives and national attitudes. It might even be more influence than our time spent in scripture or prayer if we took time to compare the two, news vs. spiritual disciplines. I hope not, at least, I hope that is none of us. I hope we spent more time with God in his word and prayer than we do with our favorite news anchors.

I think that the disproportionate amount of news stories builds a narrative that silences Christians and Christianity, or at least tries to. How many times have you felt utterly hopeless after hearing about a shooting by a police officer or hopeless after the rule of law gets trampled upon or hopeless with a terrorist event reported? I know I do sometimes. When we feel hopeless we also tend to go silent because we don’t know what to do or say about any given situation. Sometimes we use the term “silent majority” in hopes that there is a larger group like us who will one day rise up and retake the nation or reestablish common sense or reclaim the core identity of our being a Christian nation. If there is a silent majority, it is remaining silent far too long or perhaps it has lost all energy and has been effectively silenced by the progressive narrative that will not tolerate any intolerance.

Having said all this, let’s talk about some news from the prophet Amos and the attempts to silence him, and how that might be reflected in the news of the day.

 

 

  • Amos, Woes, Silence, and Treason

 

Woes of Amos 5:18-6:7

 

Let's set the scene. Amos has been pronouncing various woes to Israel because Israel had not been seeking God. Amos 5:18 – the woe, the warning, is to not seek the day of the Lord, because that day would not be good for Israel in their present condition. Amos 6:1 – woe to those at ease, or verse 4, woe to those who are comfortable. The warnings are strong and accusative and they cut to the heart of the religious leaders and the people who think they are faithful but they are empty of faith.

 

This practice of prophecy leads to a confrontation with people of power, both religious and political. The priest accuses Amos of conspiring against the king because he spoke a word of prophecy against the king. The priest tells Amos to go away, in essence, to be silent. Go south, preach somewhere else, but you cannot speak against the king in his own sanctuary. Be quiet. Do not speak a word against the king. You see, power people will not tolerate a critical word. It's my way or the highway. If you speak against the king you have indeed committed treason. Amos speaks the truth of God but he is accused of conspiring against the king.

Amos' word comes against all who have been living apart from God, against those who are going through the motions of religious life, and have been living in the way they think is right by their own sight. Amos is not really a prophet, or so he says, but he has a word from God and what the powers that be cannot do and cannot understand is that God's truth cannot be silenced.

 

  • Jesus, Woes, Silence, and Treason

 

Jesus had a very similar pattern in Luke’s gospel of woes, silence, and treason.

 

Woes of Jesus Luke 6:20-26 Jesus is like Amos in that he has brought to the world a series of woes.

 

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

This is a critique of those in power who do not look out for the poor and the hungry and those who grieve and those who say what the powerful want to hear about their leadership and policies. Jesus and Amos stand against the powers that be who do not fear God but seek to silence the truth for an alternative narrative like we see even to this day. I read this past week an interesting article from a catholic cardinal* who lays out a lot of truth telling and one phrase that stuck with me was the “new global ethic”. It is not a good ethic, but one born out of humanism or secularism or some other false thought. His particular point was the problems that political powers and progressives profess to help are actually going to destroy the people they claim to protect. He was speaking about a particular issue of sexuality but his point could be noted for any political excess and abuse of power. We have seen the issues of sexuality and gender and tolerance and political correctness and so forth as government and media influences that seek to create a particular false ethic disguised as what is best for everyone. Without getting in to specific policies and ideologies, one thing they are all designed to do is silence the truth tellers. His critique goes beyond political powers, that is more than just the errors of kings and presidents, but also against the errors of the church. The cardinal says, "While Christians are dying for their faith and their fidelity to Jesus, in the West, men of the Church are trying to reduce the requirements of the Gospel to a minimum." I would take that a step further to say that some in the church are reducing the requirements of the Gospel to absolutely nothing. What they are preaching is no gospel at all.

 

I think Amos and Jesus speak words of woe today to the dominant powers who are trying to promote a global ethic of lies that are presented as truth but have not basis in the Truth of the gospel. Jesus stood before the politics and religious of his time on earth and spoke a truth they did not want to hear. Amos did the same in his time. Now, we are called upon as the church to speak the truth to power, political and religious.

Jesus confronted the people of power, religious and political, with things like Luke 10:25-37. Jesus preached loving our neighbors, that is, being a neighbor. This truth limits the power of governments and religious leaders who thrive on discord among people because discord allows them to promote policies that promise good things, but really just prosper the ones who make policy.

Jesus was a threat to the powers of politic and religiosity. Just as Amos was told to be silent, to go away, so too was Jesus told to go away thus silencing his message and actions. After Jesus had driven out the demons from the Gerasene demoniac in Luke and sent the demons into the pigs who ran to their death in the lake, the people asked Jesus to leave! (Luke 8:37)

When Jesus later appears before the religious leaders and then before the political leadership, he is accused of misleading and stirring up the people. (Luke 22:66-23:5) The religious want the political to silence Jesus on the grounds of treason for that is the only way to get Jesus out of their way. Jesus was killed, from their perspective because, they had to silence the truth teller.

 

Amos and Jesus warn with words of truth. When that truth becomes a threat the powers attempt to silence them. They are both accused of treason against the nation. How close does that pattern fit our context today?

 

  • Turning Off the “News” Narrative

 

“Turn off the ‘news’ and love your neighbor.” The news narrative seems to be the political narrative, the entertainment narrative, and what Walter Brueggemann calls the dominant opinion makers. They all work together to create a dominant narrative of fear, that we must have more government and less freedom, more tolerance and less Christianity. These forces of dominant narrative want to silence all the voices that speak out against the secular dominant narrative – the dominant opinion makers who want to silence the Truth. They want to silence the Truth because the Truth sets people free. Dominant opinion makers and dominant power people want us silent. They want Amos silent. They want Jesus silent. They want the Truth tellers to remain silent or they will force the silence by accusing us of conspiracy or stirring the people or preaching a message that does not correspond to the new global ethic. They want to keep us in control, slaves to the narratives of tolerance, equality, political correctness, climate change, gun control, and governmental dependance. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theory alarmist, but when I read the text of Amos and Luke, it appears to me that the government of the world have always sought to silence the Truth. It is the same narrative from Amos to Jesus to the church. The powers of this world have always sought to silence the truth of God ever since sin entered the world. Such silencing is done through news media, politics, entertainment, and all factors that make up the dominant narratives of secular ideologies. It may also be done soon enough through law and public opposition to Christian thought. The end of America as we have once known it will come if we continue to deny the Truth of Jesus Christ.

 

  • Turning On the Gospel Narrative

 

Amos has a word for America. Jesus has a word for America. The Evangelical Church has a word for America. That word includes the truth that we cannot be silenced. The Truth will be spoken. The gospel will always speak against the lies of dominant voices of power. What we must do is continue to let the gospel serve as our dominant narrative through which we filter all our “news”, through which we filter our stories, and through which we filter our lives. We resist the evils of the world and the devil by adhering to the truth that sets us free. We must also continue to speak the truth without apology. Amos could not be silenced, nor could Jesus. Their words of truth have lived way beyond the kingdoms of the world that sought to silence them and our words of gospel truth will also live well beyond the kingdoms we know today. Will America turn back to the truth? Only time will tell. But the church will be here to tell the truth, for not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. Amen.

 

 

* https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/cardinal-sarah-decries-attempt-to-make-homosexuality-the-cornerstone-of-a-n