Scripture Readings: Proverbs 21:13-15, Matthew 23:23-25
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15)
Justice and mercy and faithfulness—these you ought to have done. (Matthew 23:23b)
From the beginning the Book of Proverbs sets out to provide wisdom and instruction in “wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (1:2). Throughout its oracles of wisdom, the call to act justly and to pursue righteousness is a constant refrain, relentlessly shared and affirmed as more acceptable to God than sacrifice. In a one-sentence pearl of wisdom, the speaker testifies that the righteous rejoice when justice is done. But justice upsets the workers of iniquity. As Christians, across our separations, we should be united in joy when justice is done, and prepared to stand together when this justice brings opposition.
When we do what the Creator requires and dare to pursue justice, we may find ourselves in unrestrained resistance and opposition to any attempt to make things right for the most vulnerable among us.
Those who benefit from the systems and structures strengthened by white supremacy and other oppressive ideologies such as “casteism” and patriarchy will seek to delay and deny justice, often violently. But to seek justice is to strike at the heart of the powers, making space for God’s just ordering and enduring wisdom in a world all too often unmoved by suffering.
And yet, there is joy in doing what is right. There is joy in affirming that “Black Lives Matter” in the pursuit of justice for God’s oppressed, dominated, and exploited beloved. There is joy in observing Thursdays in Black – the movement in which we say a big No to gender-based sexual violence.
There is joy in seeking reconciliation with other Christians so that we may better serve the proclamation of the Reign of God. Let that joy manifest itself through our shared experiences of God’s presence in community in the known and unknown spaces where God journeys with us toward healing, reconciliation, and unity in Christ.
Christian Unity Challenge: How can we as members churches of the World Communion of Reformed Churches support one another to withstand the opposition that may follow from doing justice?
by Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu
Executive Minister – Church in Mission Unit – The United Church of Canada
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
With these familiar words, the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus Christ – the son of God who will be with us (Matthew 1:23) and take away the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:28). As Christians, we all know and have internalized the essence of this theological and practical truth – that as a result of man’s sin, and our “missing the mark” of God’s desire for us, God himself, out of an abundance of love for us his people, sent his son Jesus Christ to be incarnate with us. His Son suffered all of the indignities, and ultimately, death on a cross for the sake of bringing us closer, and restoring us to full relationship with God the Father. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s coming, and exult in the joy of this incarnation.
The dilemma – Finding Hope in the midst of Sin
And yet, we still live in a sinful, fallen world. Though Christ came to save us, there are many elements and circumstances of this creation that we cannot control. But there are other things for which we are asked to take responsibility. This latter category concerns Jesus’ commands to us even as he was being taken back to the Father after his crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus reminds us that the Greatest Command is to love God, and to love each other as we love ourselves.
We live in the reality of a world and a people for which Christ gave his life, and yet, we still suffer many of the afflictions of living in a world broken by sin. Christ came to give us hope – and we are called to live in the reality of this hope, and be a light pointing to him that the rest of the world can see. This is the call of the church – this is the reality in which we are commanded by God to live daily.
Over the last several months I have had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of these truths and the seeming polarities that they reference. Hope and love come from Christ, and these exist amid the sin, destruction, and ongoing hate that inhabit the world. Chances are, in whatever geography you live or whatever call God has placed on your life, you’re still faced with this polarity. Christ calls us to hope, and to love – and yet, the world often shows us a daily diet of hate and destruction. What are we to make of this?
Our Response – Praise and Worship
I believe the Bible gives us many stories and images with the appropriate response to this dilemma. In the midst of our circumstance, in the midst of our pain, even as we live in the reality of conflict, we are called to worship and to praise God. This was true from the time when the early Israelites were delivered from captivity in Egypt through the present day.
The first task given to the early Israelites was not to confront their enemies, but they were commanded to embrace God through worship. At God’s direction, they built the tabernacle and created a culture and a process by which God will be remembered and worshiped day by day. As I’ve heard many a preacher say in the midst of our pain – we must “praise God anyhow, for he is worthy to be praised.” As we do this, we live in the reality of the hope that Christ provides. This hope, inspired by the Holy Spirit, dwells within us, and allows us to do great things even in spite of ourselves. This hope allows us to live in this sinful world while yet showing that there is a better way. This better way is different, it is the way of Christ, the way of love – the way that directs our path even as we anticipate God’s perfecting second coming of Christ.
Wherever you are this Christmas season, know that you are never alone, and God is never far from you. You can live in the reality of this truth even as you worship and praise God – praising him anyhow regardless of your circumstances.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of traveling across several states and internationally to visit family members and friends, and I’ve been struck by one thing. Wherever I’ve gone, there is an excitement about preparing for Christmas – about preparing to celebrate what God has done in showing his love for us. So whether we celebrate Christmas in a location that has copious amounts of snow, or just a bit of cold, or in tropical climates, the one thing that stays the same is this truth – that Christ came to restore all of us, his children, and to give us the opportunity to call on his name in prayer, in worship and in life. God calls on us, not only to live in the hope that he provides, but he calls on us to live in such a way that makes our hope evident to all. Our hope must reflect who we are through the power of the Holy Spirit – our hope must empower us to do what God has commanded us to do. Our hope must empower us to love God, and to love each other deeply.
Prayers for the World
There are many conflicts and tragedies within our world today. It can be argued that every major conflict that faces our world was begun because of the sinful premise held by some that their people – tribe, race, country,or nationality – are superior to those upon whom they wish to impose their will, dominate, or subjugate. If everyone who claims to be a child of God acted accordingly, and treated each other as if we are equally children of God, maybe healing could begin.
Would that we could all face and live in the reality that we are all created in the image of God – we are all Imago Dei. This is our Christmas Hope.
So let us pray for ourselves, for our families, and for the world. Pray for the needs of those suffering in North America, the Caribbean, and in the rest of the world. May we, the church, project Christ’s hope – A Christmas Hope – so, as Jesus prayed in his final high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, “that the world may know”that we are his children.
May it be so – Amen.
Colin P. Watson Sr.
Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA)
“….encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are doing.” —1 Thessalonians 5:11
When these weekly posts began, none of us could have imagined that our world would still be locked in. Locked in a struggle with an ever evolving virus. Locked in a struggle for resources. Locked in a struggle for vaccines. Locked in a struggle with the tremendous and extant oppression of colonialism and greed the pandemic has made painfully obvious.
But here we are in Christmastide of 2021. And Christ is born. Christ has died. And Christ is risen. So, those of us who believe, are not locked in. We have the abundance of the Spirit and the shared community in Jesus’ global church to sustain and supply us.
However, we are weary. Bone weary in many ways. Spirit weary in our human spirits. And wondering, with varying degrees of hope - depending on the day - what will happen next to call on us to dig deeper into the reserves that our faith provides.
For many weeks and months, there have been dozens of CANAAC members who have contributed thoughtful, theological and hopeful words of encouragement from the “front lines.” As one of those who has organized the publication calendar, I want to say a sincere word of thanks for the efforts of laypersons, clergy, students and educators who have taken precious time and talent to write. Many thanks, too for the help of Phil Tanis in organizing the translations and postings. And to those who have translated from Spanish to English and English to Spanish - many thanks.
It now feels like the time for something to change in the way we meet one another. Hopefully, we have gotten to know one another more through our weekly postings. Perhaps it is time to build upon this fledgling relationship to dig a bit deeper into things that we need to build one another up. True things. Things that may fill us with joy and encouragement. But also the hard, historical, ecological, climatalogical and theological things that exist among us. The question is, how can we best “build up one another in love” ?
CANAAC Moderator Angela Martins and I have talked very briefly about some possible answers to that question. And in the new year expect to hear a bit more from her about what will come next for CANAAC.
For now, we will suspend the weekly posts. But this is not the suspension of our connection and encouragement.
May Christmastide and 2022 be filled with all good things.
Peace to you and love.
Rev. Anne Weirich is retired from pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA. She lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and is a member of the Federated Church (UCC) of Orleans, MA and the Presbytery of Southern New England. She serves as a volunteer administrator for CANAAC and on the PCUSA General Assembly Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relationships.
I concluded the last devotion I wrote with these words Joseph Drexler-Dreis’s Decolonial
Love, “Decolonizing is thus a fundamentally different project than ‘opening’ particular disciplines or ‘diversifying’ Western thought systems; the goal in projects of decolonization is to transcend Western thought systems. This requires a different eschatological imagination.” I was wondering what a new thought system might look like when I came across Paget Henry’s book, Caliban’s Reason.
In it he writes, “With the continuing production of new forms of poverty, new forms of liminal othering, spiritual and ecological crises of major proportions, it looks more and more as though the project of Western humanity is founded on the blind pursuit of a bad infinity. In the words of Adorno, it is “self-assertion gone wild.”…Foucault sees the reassembling of the mythic forces that will contain this pursuit and correct its hubris.”
Henry’s book is an attempt to ask why, even in the works of Caribbean thinkers and activists, are African and Indigenous ways of knowing downplayed or ignored? Why do non-Western pursuits still base their thought in a Western reason that is responsible for so much (neo-)colonial destruction and racist othering? Henry, too, recommends a “different eschatological imagination,” a “return of the gods” that will change the way we look at the world and at one another.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Psalm 82 and its vision of the Most High in the divine council, in the midst of “the gods.” We learn that they are “children of the Most High” and they are failing miserably in the task that the Most High has given them to do; judging unjustly and showing partiality to the wicked rather than giving “justice to the weak and the orphan” and maintaining “the right of the lowly and the destitute.”
The story goes like this: as humanity was growing in its hubris, striving to make a name for themselves (self-assertion gone wild!), the Most High saw fit to scatter them abroad, “Come let us go down and confuse their language.” So, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says that the “when the Most High apportioned the nations,” God did so “according to the number of the gods.” (NRSV; your Bible might say ‘sons of Israel’ but that doesn’t make sense). The Most High, the Lord, “fixed the boundaries of the peoples,” took Israel for his own, and delegated the nations to the gods, the “children of the Most High.” Sadly, these gods lead humanity astray and the prophets see how “all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god” (Micah 4:4).
I believe that Luke has all of this in mind as he tells the story of Jesus’s birth, putting in the angel’s mouth this announcement: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” For Luke, the Most High “made all the nations…allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the place where they would live” (Acts 17:26). But, there was an underlying desire here: that these same nations “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17:27), fulfilling the words of the prophets that “many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… he shall judge between many peoples…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’” (Micah 4:2-3). For Luke, the Most High has “fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).
Acknowledging the presence of “the gods” is a “different eschatological imagination” for many people (and an uncomfortable one). But, here’s the difference it makes: it reveals to us that each ethnic/national identity, every people, that is trying to assert itself cannot claim to be serving Christ. What sets the Most High apart from the gods, what makes the Lord “God of gods” is a fervent desire to “execute justice from the orphan and the widow, who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” (Deut. 10:17-18). What makes Jesus unique among the “children of the Most High” is not a self-focused assertion, but an other-focused compassion that brings “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And, when Christ returns to judge in righteousness and the nations are gathered before him, the criteria for judgment is clear: rescue the weak and the needy (the “least of these”?); deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:4)
The history of colonialism is a history of one ethnic/national group seeking to assert itself over and against another; nation lifting up sword against nation. It is a history of “self-assertion gone wild” as Western European peoples sought to make a name for themselves, trampling over land and people, claiming them all as property. Western theology asserted a singular sovereignty to justify their exploitation. This history of dehumanization and destructive extraction was carried out in the name of Christ, but a different eschatological imagination leaves us wondering if all the peoples were actually walking in the name of their own god. Still today our (neo-)colonial hubris leads us in a “blind pursuit of a bad infinity.” Simply put, a decolonization that transcends Western thought will lead us away from a self-focused assertion and toward an other-focused compassion. We know that we will have found the Most High, that our search will be complete, that we will have become children of the Most High, when we are found to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). Then, and only then, will we be walking in the name of the Lord our God.
Let’s pray for a more transcendent Advent this season: Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! – Psalm 82:8
Rev. Peter TeWinkle is a pastor for Oakdale Park Church (CRC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He is also a partner and a parent who is inspired by the prophets and is studying what it means to decolonize Reformed Christianity at Claremont School of Theology
(World Council of Churches Conference on Word Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania, 2018)
I greet you in the name of the one who has called us to the life of discipleship!
Animating the Arusha Call
Some persons who are reading this reflection would have been present at the gathering of some 1000 persons which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, from March 18 to 20, 2018. The participants were drawn from persons engaged in mission and evangelism representing many Christian denominations from across the world.
Some of you may not have been there physically and some may not have heard about the conference at all. It is therefore my pleasure to spend a few minutes reflecting on a small aspect of the Arusha Call (the full document is to be found at https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/the-arusha-call-to-discipleship). The link to the Arusha Call has been provided so that you may either begin or continue to study and live out the call in your journey of discipleship.
We who have been with Christ have elected to be disciples. We have been called into a life that is both a ‘gift and a calling.’ We now have an active role to play in changing the world; in transforming the world. We no longer have an option to stand by as idle, helpless, hapless onlookers on the sidelines. The Arusha Call tells us in part that “We are called to follow the way of the cross, which challenges elitism, privilege and personal and structural power.”
“Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. “ (Luke 9:23)
Jesus spoke to ‘them all.’ Jesus spoke and speaks to us. We are disciples once we accept the call to discipleship. Attending the conference gave me the opportunity to consider discipleship more deeply and my own place in this company. I looked again at the meaning of We. I am called; we are called. Defining We, Merriam Webster notes: “I and the rest of a group that includes me: you and I : you and I and another or others : I and another or others not including you —used as pronoun of the first person plural.”
We are composed of a collection of us. I am called upon to isolate and to own my call to discipleship and then further to commit my life in total surrender to Christ and even further to become an active part of the movement of discipleship. This thought makes me a little dizzy but I know that Christ has called me; has called me to a major task of challenging many ills so that others may have a taste of the fullness of life for which Christ came. In a similar vein Christ calls all disciples.
Being a disciple is by definition to be a follower of Christ. Christ left us in no doubt that to follow Him calls us into the work of mission and evangelism. As odd as this may sound to some, we who are disciples are duty bound to align our full life and work to mission and evangelism. This claim has a ring of idealism to it, yet it is or calling.
May you, may we all surrender to the call.
Jennifer P Martin
Education in Mission Secretary
Caribbean and North America council formation
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. --John 17:20-21
On Thursday, October 28, I joined (virtually) with denominational leaders, mission agency executives and senior administrators at institutions of higher education for the Evangelical of Canada’s Presidents Day. For years, I have been the ecumenical observer to this body on behalf of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. This year, I had the added task of representing the PCC as the Moderator of the 146th General Assembly in June of 2021.
There were two items that caught my attention.
The first was hidden in the middle of survey material presented by Rick Hiemstra, the Director of Research for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Results were presented of surveys conducted in September of over 3,000 Canadian adults from a wide demographic.
The statistics related to church attendance before and during the pandemic were as expected. That is, there was a marked decline in church attendance across all Christian traditions, including Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and mainline affiliations. At first glance, one might conjecture that this did not include online attendance. But it did. While there was a significant number of people that joined their faith community virtually, all Christian traditions experienced significant disengagement—in person and online.
The surprise was that the so-called “Generation Z” was the least affected by this trend. Young people, it seemed, were less likely to check out from church. This is promising. Perhaps this was because of their familiarity with online streaming options. Whatever the reason, our young people logged in to virtual church. That’s encouraging.
The second was a report from the newly installed General Secretary & CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher. The WEA is an organization that claims over 600 million members. Dr. Schirrmacher made observations on the church across the continents and noted that a number of churches from the Caribbean recently moved their affiliation from the World Council of Churches to the World Evangelical Alliance.
Why? The issue of inclusion of LGBTQI believers in the WCC.
Dr. Schirrmacher did not seem particularly pleased with this growth in association with the large organization he leads. He recognized that the church universal is dealing with difficult decisions related to full inclusion.
I get it.
My church, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, recently changed its definition of marriage to allow two separate and equal definitions of marriage: between a man and a woman or between two adults. It also allowed for the ordination of LGBTQI persons (married or single). Although congregations are granted liberty of conscience, not all are happy. And yet, the PCC attempted to find a way for all to remain in fellowship. Time will tell. Indeed, even now, some on both sides of the fence are looking for new homes.
In the midst of these challenges affecting the church of Christ, Christ’s prayer for unity, which was made in the midst of growth and decline, is still pertinent: “that they may be one…”
May we pray the same today.
The Reverend Dr. Daniel D. Scott is the minister at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ontario, Canada, and an Associate Professor at Tyndale University in Toronto. He is the Moderator of the 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
As I write this, there is a climate conference in Glasgow in Scotland, and circumstances where I am in Trinidad and Tobago seem grim: as the global pandemic of Covid19 continues, I am watching invasions of locusts and giant snails devastate fields which are obscured by the ‘vog’ (a term I hadn’t heard until a few days ago- it means volcanic dust and smog) which is mixed with Sahara dust and suspended in the heavy humidity.
The year is drawing to a close and previous ideas about planning for Advent, Christmas, New Year’s and the future in general seem to have been eclipsed by doubt, worry and fear about whether plans can ever be made and kept.
The approach of Advent speaks to us in the midst all our challenges to remind us that we are recipients of “good news of great joy” from the Lord with whom “nothing is impossible.” Christ does not replace pain with pleasure but points us to a different pathway here and hereafter. When we think about the history and development of Advent, we can perhaps reflect on our own lives and our journeys.
Years ago, Christmas and Easter became popular celebrations in the early Church, and some weeks were set aside for introspection, repentance and fasting before the feasts. Lent (meaning “springtime”) denoted the weeks approaching Easter. Advent (meaning “coming”) designated the weeks before Christmas. Advent was commemorated since around the time of the Council of Sargossa (A.D. 380). The first Sunday of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas Day) is the beginning of the liturgical calendar. This year for Advent, here are some ways we can mark this sacred season, and some questions we can ask ourselves:
The Christian life can be symbolized by Advent because it is the time of both the “now” and the “not yet” as we watch and wait as we embark on our Advent adventure. Disasters continue in the world but we proclaim and exemplify the divine remedy. Let us work as we wait. Let us watch and pray as we actively incarnate the presence and power of God on earth.
Rev. Sieunarine is the Principal of St Andrew's Theological College of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago.
He attended universities in Trinidad, Canada, the USA, Israel and England, and embarked on vocations in the Church as well as in law, government, commerce and education. He is a Barrister of England and Wales and an attorney of Trinidad and Tobago
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven (James 5:13-15, NRSV).
My country, Grenada, recently experienced what was called its first Covid-19 wave. With no community spread, we had no local deaths for all of 2020; however, between August to October 2021, the country succumbed to the Delta variant which left over 190 persons dead, and hundreds hospitalised. At the height of the recent unprecedented cases of morbidity and mortality, the churches and the Government of Grenada called for two days of national prayer. Although I support prayer to God at all times, I was convinced that God had already provided the answer to our prayers, and what we needed was not supplication but compliance and responsible human action.
When we pray to God, how do we expect God to respond? Do we expect God to come down, Godself and wipe away the virus? No, God works in and through that which God has created and placed at our disposal in nature. This is the case in the account we have in James 5.
James says if we are in trouble, we should pray. There is a lot in this passage that needs unpacking which we cannot do here now, like, for instance, “is the prayer of elders more efficacious than those of other believers?” and how do we understand the phrase “this prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, ….” There is a lot that is assumed in the passage, though not expressed. I do want to focus on verse 14 where James said, “Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:14).
This passage in James shows how the church combined the medicinal and the religious. The elders of the Church represented the religious, and the olive oil represented the medicinal. Olive oil was part of every aspect of the lives of the people in biblical Israel. According to the authors of Life in Biblical Israel, King and Stager, Olive Oil was used as “a dietary staple, medicine, and fuel for ceramic lamps; as a base for cosmetics, perfumes, and oils; and in ritual contexts such as the anointing of kings at their coronation, as libation offerings, and as fuel for sanctuary lamps.”
Thomas Lancaster in a piece entitled “Anointing with Oil” said that “In the medicinal lore of the Talmud, an application of olive oil is recommended for a whole host of disorders. Anointing with oil was a common, homeopathic remedy, [and] Olive oil was thought to have a medicinal effect on wounds, to be a cure for invalids, Sickness, and even bowel problems …. Anointing with oil provides general health benefits to its users.”
Oil was used in a medicinal manner to aid in the recovery of the sick, and it was applied by the religious leaders of the community. The Covid-19 vaccine is a prophylaxis provided through God-given knowledge and elements found in nature. I concede that in some cases, the vaccine does not prevent sickness, but it does reduce morbidity and decreases the possibility of mortality. Religious leaders have the responsibility to bring to bear both the spiritual and other resources available for healing. To do otherwise is to renege on our responsibility to care for the whole person.
It is unfortunate that some have seen accepting the efficacy of the vaccine and participating in the national vaccination drive as compromising their faith. May God give us all wisdom and patience as we work together, church and civil authorities, to do what is in the best interest of all for God’s glory and the good of His people.
 Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001. P. 97.
 D. Thomas Lancaster. Anointing with Oil: Is anointing the sick with oil supposed to be a spiritual/ritual act? Anointing with Oil | Discover | First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org)
The Rev. Dr. R. Osbert James, OBE, is the minister and moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Grenada. He is married to Anna, and the father of Jonathan and Chrystal
“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many your offences are and how great your sins are. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” —Amos 5:10-15
One of the Lectionary offerings for this week, Amos 5:10-15, has remained a most provocative text. The Shepherd of Tekoa’s harsh words have become even more poignant as humanity struggles with the dis-ease caused not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but by the levels of pain, marginalization, and injustice that still exist. Truth has become elusive and conditional, in fact, truth has been twisted and trampled (v 7), the innocent remain oppressed, bribery and corruption stalk the hallways, and those with the privilege of voice, in the name of prudence, remain silent because the proverbial times are evil.
Amos was not a typical or career prophet, but he received a peculiar message for the people of the Northern Kingdom. His onslaught of words in Bethel addressed not only the people of Israel but challenged the neighbouring nations. His words were penetrative and tough to hear as his soul got angry because of the constant oppression and dehumanization of the poor and dispossessed. Amos recognized and condemned the many crimes of war, and he was strident in denouncing the atrocities and suffering of the people as nations ravished each other. The images of fire, ripped open pregnant women, the enslavement of people, the killing of relatives, and the general gruesomeness seem harsh for our ears and imagination today.
However, some of these realities dwell within the underbelly of who we are as Caribbean and North American people. Deeds of evil allow for the dispossession, racism, discrimination, and disparity which mar our societies. For a long time, people have been suffocating under the weight of oppressive systems that prevent access to good health care, proper housing, equal educational and employment opportunities, and the enjoyment of life in its fulness. These have all become magnified in the current time.
The Prophet warned the people of Israel that they would be chastised as they worshipped false gods, yet they expected Yahweh to protect them. Israel and Samaria would suffer great devastation unless there was repentance. Spiritual poverty echoed in the words ‘The Lord has said that they don’t even know how to do right’ may still be our challenge today. Unfortunately, even when all was in decay and sorrow abound because the people did not know how to do right, they still rejected God.
Can the Prophet speak to us?
It was from this dark place that Amos called the people into a right relationship with God. The call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’ belong in our hearing and midst today. More persons need to purpose in their hearts to seek good. Simply put ‘ if you want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right’. Collectively, we must decry the actions of evil and cease the folly of denial and own the call to love good and maintain justice. Our souls must yearn for that which is good!
In your daily walk seek to do good, help to transform the darkness, announce works of hope, seek peace and pursue, provide a safe place for those in need, share table with the poor, welcome the stranger, embrace those who come empty and fill them with good things, support the weak kneed, and lift up the bowed down. Then and only then will we begin to glimpse Amos’ call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Noble-Bloomfield is a Deputy General Secretary in the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. She has responsibilities for the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council.
“And he said to them ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:11)
There are things we wish Jesus never said. Like this. Our churches are full of people who have experienced divorce, and this doesn’t sound like good news. And yet this year Jesus teaching on divorce was the lectionary passage for the first Sunday in October – World Communion Sunday.
Of course preachers have to put such teachings in context. In Jesus time women were in an extremely vulnerable position. If a man divorced a woman, she could not hold property. She might have to beg on the streets or worse to stay alive. So Jesus strong words here need to be understood as being about the wellbeing of women, for they were the ones most affected by divorce.
More than that, this passage is paired with Jesus welcoming the children. Jesus points that unless we become like children (aware of our dependency) we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Again Jesus is lifting up the most vulnerable, for children had very little power or status in Jesus time.
Jesus is also contrasting attitudes. The Pharisees who come to Jesus want to trap him with a legal question about whether divorce is permitted. Jesus basically says that attitude of legality won’t get you a good life. What is permitted isn’t always the same as what helps human community flourish.
We live at times so aware of our essential unity, the very thing we celebrate on World Communion Sunday. We experience beauty in nature – a heron rises from marshland and flies in front of us. We look into someone’s eyes and feel deep connection. Other times the newspaper and our common life in the church remind us of the brokenness in which we live. It can be so disillusioning, the human capacity to take sides and separate from one another.
Every year World Communion comes around and every year we are reminded we have much to learn. How it is more important to value relationship than to be right. How our egos cling to things that only serve to separate us from one another. And how the grace and love of God for all creatures, all people is offered to us. Again and again.
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” We hear these words as “wedding words” but Jesus was speaking his theology here. We are all joined together, interdependent. We have so much to learn about how this is so, and what is asked of us that we might reflect God’s desire for us – for us to claim and live this essential unity.
“And people will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God” In a world of such brokenness, we live in hope.
Reverend Dr. Helen Nablo is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in both the PC(USA) and the UCC, and is currently Interim Pastor at Pilgrim Church in Harwich Port, Massachusetts. She lives by the ocean in Plymouth Massachusetts, where she walks and gives thanks for living in such a beautiful place.