Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 27A  ~  November 7, 2008

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar


Let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream



lthough the First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church year, we anticipate it starting today. At least from the lectionary themes, All Saints’ Sunday seems to me to be the culmination, and today we shift to looking towards the future, in a short season of two or three Sundays that might be called “pre-Advent.” Anyway, the kalendar works particularly well in these latitudes, when mid-November has a decidedly expectant quality. Anything can happen, and it is clear that things are about to change.

          Amos, the oldest of the prophets, reminds us that the change may not be entirely to our liking. The Day of the Lord is darkness, not light. Paul’s first Epistle tries to comfort people who were worried about those who had died before the Lord’s return, in a famous passage that became one of the bses of the 19th Century “rapture” fantasy. But, read together, these two passages sound to me more like a rebuke of the Hagees and Lands and Dobsons of the our time ~ people who look eagerly toward the End, imagining that they are going to like it. Well, don’t be so sure, warns Amos.

          And the message was pretty rough: forget about your sacrifices and your solemn assemblies. They are no better than the idolatries of the pagans ~ abominations unless they are undergirded by social justice. Without real equality and mutual aid, ritual sacrifice is hypocritical, and incense an abomination. This was written in the early part of the 8th Century B.C., before Confucius and Lao Tzu, before Zoroaster and Buddha. And it is a most unusual communiqué. Unique, in fact. From the Holy Prophet Amos and his successors, we have learned that pretty much the only thing God wants from us is social justice. Individual purity and holiness, by itself, is not enough. In fact it is worthless.

Remember that the Foolish Maidens were virgins too, just like the Wise ones. They were just as pure, just as holy. But that kind of individual sanctity is not the issue. Nor is the parable an evangelical version of the children’s fable about the Little Red Hen, enjoining prudence and thrifty. No, in juxtaposition with Amos, the Oil of Vigilance is the same oil that runneth down the beard of Aaron even unto the hem of his garment, that good and pleasant thing: brothers dwelling together in unity. In other words, the Oil of Vigilance is careful attention to the demands of justice on society.

Social injustice is sin. God is merciful and indulgent towards our individual failings, but all the individual purity we can muster will not turn aside divine wrath against systemic heartlessness and those who are content to prophet from the misery of others.

For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek:

The “rapture” they look forward to will be an unpleasant surprise ~ darkness and not light.

          Because God has come ~ and is coming ~ in the words of the Collect to destroy the works of the devil: not merely the foolish disobedience of Adam and our foolish recapitulation of it, but the murderous envy of Cain, who would not be his brother’s keeper, and the resulting deformity of human society. Humanity has brought a curse on itself and creation, and God is coming to undo that, to deliver us and the world form our folly, not by scooping us up out of the world (that Pauline image is intended for the encouragement of desperate people worried about their dead loved ones), but by making us once again the children of God, and making human society throughout the world into the beloved community of brothers and sisters that Cain destroyed.

          The works of the Devil that He comes to destroy is the alienation of human beings from one another and from the world. He is coming to “make us like Him in his eternal and glorious kingdom.” That is, to make human society a reflection of his own personal life in the Divine Society of the most Holy Trinity. Our divinization, our transfiguration into His image and likeness, is not a purely individual process, but a corporate one. It is our participation in the recreation of the cosmos, in which “the Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our God, and of His Christ.”