Hope Is About What We Do
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Amos 5:18-24
The prophet Amos lived during the height of prosperity in ancient Israel. The people had been growing in splendor since David and Solomon. They had as much land as they would ever have. They had as much wealth as they would ever have. They were surrounded by huge military powers but they were keeping those threats at bay. The exile that would shatter their nation was still 150 years away.
Times were good. Really good. Well, sort of.
There was prosperity, but there was also huge wealth inequality. Agriculture was the major economic force, and the wealthy had created systems of debt and credit that took advantage of small farmers, often forcing them off land they’d had for generations and even enslaving them as a way to pay back their debts.
Amos was one of those small farmers and also a shepherd. And he was angry. He wasn’t just angry that people were being mistreated, though I’m sure that was part of it. He was angry because, as far as he could tell, the people of Israel were not living the values their God called them to—the God they sacrificed their animals and grain to, who they sang and played music for, who they claimed in worship to be faithful to.
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Amos was angry that the people of Israel worshiped God on the weekend, making a performance of their praise and faithfulness, and then spent the rest of the week exploiting their neighbors. He was angry that worshiping God wasn’t leading to a life in God.
Amos was trying to point out the difference between religion and faithfulness. Religion is how we intentionally practice seeing God in our lives. It’s gathering here or—hopefully someday soon—in the church to sing and reflect on scripture and to take communion together. It’s taking a half hour every morning or night to read the Bible or pray or reflect. It’s whatever time we set aside—as a community and as individuals—to center God in our lives.
Religion is important. It helps us to recognize what a life in God looks like, feels like. We sing songs to recognize the feeling of God’s righteousness in us, we participate in sacraments to understand what Christ feels like in our bodies.
Worship, prayer, or whatever our spiritual practices look like, they’re the start, not the end. Religion is a means, not an end. Communion is a means, not an end. Worship is the start, not the culmination.
Faithfulness is what we carry from our religious practices into the rest of our lives. If we worship a God of justice and righteousness on Sundays but don’t live justice and righteousness the rest of the week, then our worship is meaningless.
That’s what Amos was angry about. And that anger is enshrined in our scriptures. And you know why? Because Amos’s anger is based in hope. He truly believes his people can do better.
I imagine after this week, after this long, drawn-out, contentious election, we’re all feeling a lot of ways right now.
Maybe you feel elated. Maybe you feel discouraged. Maybe you feel as angry as Amos. And maybe you feel some combination of all the above.
Let me say this: whatever you’re feeling right now is valid. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think any feeling we’re having right now is rooted in the hope we have for our country. We truly believe that our people can do better.
But hope is made manifest in what we do, not just how we feel. Just as our faith is made manifest in how we live, not just how we worship.
We don’t just hope things get better. We act in the ways that will create the world we want. We don’t just hope our church community thrives. We act in ways that will create a thriving community. Which is exactly what stewardship is.
And I gotta say, honestly I don’t think Amos would be able to come down too hard on this St. Luke’s community. These past eight months, we could have drifted apart, we could have doubled down on fear. Instead, we have doubled down on each other.
And with my apologies to Amos, I’m going to talk about worship. Because we can’t take worship for granted right now. I know Zoom worship isn’t the same. I know this isn’t satisfying. This is not how we want to be together. It’s not how I want to be together. But it’s how we can be together.
And you show up. Our readers show up and share the scripture. Our musicians show up so we can sing the best we can together. You show up, and we see your face or name, and we know that the Body of Christ is gathered, despite how hard it is.
But worship is only the start for us. Nearly every day, I hear from one of you about how someone has reached out to you, gone on a walk with you, gone to the dog park with you, talked you through baking a particular recipe. You’ve been there for each other.
You have gathered around the sick and hurting among us to give them comfort and support, not just with your words but with your actions. You have created groups to continue to be in relationship together, either outside or on Zoom, to talk about hard things, to pray, to laugh. You have shown up to tend to our church building, to weed the yard, to take care of our trees. Our finance team has kept our books in good order and helped us to make decisions about how to use our resources. Our church leaders have come together to make hard decisions to keep us all safe.
And yes, I’m going to talk about money. So far, over 10 months into a very hard year, you have given 100% of what you’ve pledged. That is astonishing. It’s unheard of. And we’ve taken care of each other in this area, too. This year, some have had to understandably pull back because their situation has changed. But others have stepped in to fill the gap.
Are there ways we can continue to grow in love of our neighbor beyond our St. Luke’s community? Of course, and I have no doubt that we will. Because that’s what this little part of the Body of Christ in Gresham does.
It’s been a tough year, but this community has not folded, we have not grasped tight to what we have. We have expanded, we have opened our hands and hearts to the people around us.
This community has not acted out of fear in this time. We have acted out of hope. We have not acted out of scarcity in this time. We have acted out of abundance.
I think this community has honored God’s call to us through the prophet Amos: you have used your religion as fuel to live your faith. May we continue to do so. Amen.