In 1908, a mining disaster in Monogah, West Virginia claimed the lives of 361 men.
250 of those men were fathers and nearly one thousand children in the area were suddenly fatherless.
And along comes Grace Golden Clayton, a Methodist, who had recently lost her own father.
She felt a call to do something, to say something… and so the first observance of “Father’s Day” was held at her church, the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South on July 5, 1908.
Ordinary people are sometimes called to speak extraordinary things.
There were, in the time of Amos, professional prophets who lived in bands and studied with one another in guilds. They would often lift up apprentices, like Elijah did with Elisha, and sometimes the trade was passed from one generation to the next. Often, they found their place near power… much like the prophets of Baal in the court of Ahab and Jezebel.
Amos was not one of these professionals. As we hear loud and clear in our scripture this morning: “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son: I am a shepherd and a trimmer of sycamore trees.” Amos 7: 14
And yet he is called by God to go toe-to-toe with the royal priest Amaziah. He is called to speak uncomfortable truths to those with power. There is no community at his back, just him and God’s word.
And it is not an easy word. Everything is hunky-dory for the elite and powerful of Israel. Life is good.
And that is precisely the problem.
In the words God speaks to Amos: I won’t hold back punishment, because they have sold the innocent for silver, and those in need for a pair of sandals. They crush the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and pus the afflicted out of the way.” (Amos 2: 6-7).
All of their wealth and comfort has come at the expense of the poor and afflicted.
They are fat and happy as cows, lounging around on couches, singing idle songs, drinking wine and buying expensive oils for their bodies… and they couldn’t care less about the suffering of others. (Amos 6:1-7)
Plague after plague was sent upon Israel… God’s way of gently pushing the people back onto the right path… Over and over God was calling the people to return and they refused. They were too comfortable right where they were.
We live in a world of reality television, Netflix binging, and crowded airwaves. We live in a time of consumer pleasure where everything can be bought for a price. We live in an era of slacktivism… where we think that signing our name to an online petition or sharing an article on social media means that we are changing the world. In spite of our own personal struggles, compared with the world… compared with history… we are fat and happy as cows, too.
The world of Amos was not all that different from ours.
One of the powerful images given to Amos in his vision in our scripture this morning is that of a plumb line. As we demonstrated with the children this morning, the plumb line shows where adjustments need to be made. The plumb line shows where things are out of whack. The plumb line shows whether or not our foundations will be strong and lasting.
God was building a nation out of the people of Israel – a nation that would show the world how to live.
God wanted Israel to be a people who cared for the poor and oppressed.
God wanted Israel to let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
And just because Israel is set-apart and called to be God’s people doesn’t mean they are immune from judgement.
God desires true community and justice for ALL peoples, not just Israel, and holds all nations accountable to that same standard… but perhaps there is no greater disappointment than when the one whom you love the best, the one you’ve chosen lets you down.
The walls of Israel are out of alignment. The structure will no longer hold. And so it needs to be torn down so that it can be rebuilt.
Sometimes, when we think about the Old Testament, we think of it as the collection of laws and judgment and so we write it off, because we have the New Testament… which is full of love and grace.
But that is to misunderstand both judgment and grace.
Both are acts of love.
They are two sides of the same coin.
Judgement helps you to have an accurate picture of where you are and where you should be and grace is the transformative power that moves you from here to there.
Tearing down the walls so that they can be rebuilt… better, stronger, more faithfully, is an act of love.
An act of love both towards the wayward elite who are full of sin and pride…. AND an act of love towards all of those whom they have trampled on in their climb to the top.
The world of Amos was not that different from ours. And a plumb line is being held up in our midst, too.
I’m going to be completely honest that I stand in this pulpit today with a little bit of fear and trembling in my heart.
Much like how Grace Golden Clayton, who was very shy must have felt when she approached her pastor about starting a Father’s Day Commemoration.
Much like Amos must have felt when God sent him to the royal court of Jeroboam in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
I am not a prophet.
I’m a pastor… which ironically comes from the Latin… meaning shepherd.
So I resonate with Amos.
When Amaziah threatens him and sends him away for speaking a word against the king, Amos answers:
“I am not a prophet… I’m a shepherd… but the Lord took me from shepherding the flock and the Lord said to me, God, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Friends, I am not a prophet. I don’t want to be a prophet.
I have felt a call all of my life to be someone who stands firmly in the middle to help bring ALL of the sheep into the fold. Black sheep, white sheep, grey sheep, brown sheep… they are all precious children of God and I have felt a call to care for them… to care for you.
At various points in my life, I have been the type of leader who finds a way for every voice to be heard, who finds a middle way in the midst of difference, and who seeks to keep everyone engaged and involved.
Yet, as a shepherd, as a pastor, I also am keenly aware that there are sheep who have left the flock… who have wandered away… or who have been scared away by the other sheep.
Last week as we gathered for worship, I didn’t yet know about the tragedy that had taken place in the night in Orlando. Even as we worshipped that morning, more names, more lives were added to the death toll.
And all week, my heart has been broken by this massacre… by the taking of so many young, vibrant, lives.
But I think one of the things that has truly broken my heart is that I wonder if they knew that God loved them.
You’ve heard me talk about how we are called to love all people many many many times from this pulpit. And so maybe you know that when I say that, I mean the lives of gay and lesbian, trans and queer, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, intersex… the whole alphabet of our lives, too. But if you didn’t, I’m saying it. God loves you, too.
But I have watched as friends I love have left the church because they were not accepted for who they were. I have watched colleagues have to hide who they are in fear… and I’ve watched them come out and claim their identity… even if it means that they might lose their credentials.
Yesterday, one of my friends posted on facebook that a fourteen year old trans* child in her last congregation took their life.
Several researchers have found that faith is associated with a lower chance of risky behavior and suicide among youth. Religious teenagers are less likely to kill themselves than their peers… unless they are gay.
If they are LGBT+ and religious, they are actually more likely to take their own life.
And its because too often, they feel rejected, at the core of who they are, by their faith families.
As we have learned as the week went on that the perpetrator of this act of hate and terror was likely also someone who wrestled with his own sexuality and took out his pain and hatred on the lives of innocent people, I can’t help but think about that statistic.
This past week, I’ve been forced to hold up a plumb line to how we, as people of faith, truly welcome LGBT+ folks.
Do our sons and daughters, grandchildren and neighbors know that God loves them? Are they welcome here, in this place, in this sanctuary?
Monday, I came here in the sanctuary to pray and to cry and to grieve for the loss sustained last weekend… to grieve for them and their families… the moms and the dads whose children were taken from them…. For the ones whose own parents didn’t know that they gay… who didn’t know that there in the dance club was the only safe place they could be themselves.
And I was struck by how this tragedy also lived at the intersection of color and sexuality and how violence disproportionally impacts people of color. And I was struck by how the lives lost on that morning are only a fraction of the lives taken because of homophobia and hatred. And I heard the call to reach out to my friends and colleagues, my family, my neighbors and to simply say these words: I love you. I see you. I care about you. You are beautiful and beloved by God. You are worthy. You are not alone. If you need me, I’ll be here.
Too often, acts of violence and tragedy come and go with the news cycle in our nation. We say a prayer and then turn our attention back to something more entertaining.
And in that we are absolutely no different than the people of Israel in the time of Amos. We turn our backs on the downtrodden and the marginalized. We say all the right words and then go right back to doing what we have always done and nothing ever changes.
Stephen Colbert, in his opening monologue on Monday night talked about how we accept that script and become paralyzed by despair, but then he said these words, which I leave us with today:
Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.
We hold up the plumb line today and I can’t help but wonder if changing the script means to tear down the walls built on hate, injustice and oppression… tearing them down and starting over as a people who share the love of God with every single person… who create a wide space in this church, in this building for all of God’s people.
Amen and Amen.