God’s justice is mercy (Sunday 32A, 9 November 2014)

Readings
Amos 5.18–24 (using the alternative, ‘complementary’ first reading)
1 Thessalonians 4.13–18
Matthew 25.1–13

The world’s in a mess. When I went on leave a couple of months ago, I made a decision not to try too hard to keep up with the news while I was on leave. It was getting me down, reading and hearing about

  • The Ebola epidemic
  • ISIS and the catastrophe of the Middle East
  • The environmental crisis we are in—what world will our grandchildren inherit from us?
  • Mr Abbott threatening to ‘shirtfront’ Mr Putin
  • Youth unemployment
  • Children who are kept in detention centres for indefinite periods
  • And last but not least: the richest 1% of the world’s population own almost 50% of its wealth. And they aren’t going to let go or even share in a hurry.

I felt that I needed to have a season in which I could let that fade a bit from my mind.

But now I’m back on deck, and nothing’s changed. The world’s still in a mess. I’m in a pretty good position, really. I don’t have Ebola, I’m not under threat by ISIS, I have a happy vocation. I can choose to let these things fade from my mind—for a while—though I can’t let them fade completely if I’m going to be true to my vocation.

But sometimes, when I follow the news closely, I start to lose hope. What I need is to follow the news with a sense of hope. Where can I find the hope I need?

Can I find hope in our reading from Amos? The people are looking forward to the Day of the Lord, the great day when the the Lord will come to bring justice to earth. But God says,

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light…

It’s like escaping a lion and breathing a huge sigh of relief—only to be met by a bear. It’s like reaching the safety of your home, only to find a snake waiting for you. The people worship God, they have beautiful liturgies, they go to church every Sunday, but God says

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

What would make God take delight in their worship services? Better hymns, more modern songs, throwing liturgical dress away, using a different version of the Bible? No, not one of these things would change God’s mind.

This is what God wants:

let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos makes it clear what justice means. Judgement comes on those who cheat the poor, and it comes upon men who exploit women. (ch. 2.6–8)

God shows us what God wants, and therefore we can have hope. God wants justice. God wants us to take sides.

That’s where our hope is. Our hope is in a coming day, a day that Amos called the Day of the Lord, a day that Jesus also looked forward to. There’s a day coming, when the Kingdom of God will be here on earth and God’s will shall be done. We pray for that day to come all the time:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.

Not everything is God’s will. A mother in the USA said just this week that it was God’s will that her five year old son shot her two year old daughter with the family’s gun. No it wasn’t. Someone else recently said that climate change is God’s will. No it’s not.

Not everything that happens on earth right now is the will of God. You know, because the Church of Jesus Christ believes this it can be a real pain in the backside to the powers that be.

Our hope is found in actively taking God’s side.

Will ‘The Day of the Lord’ be a joy or a disaster?

Our Gospel reading is the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew 25. It assures us that the best is yet to come. Jesus compares The Day of the Lord to a wedding banquet. The Day of the Lord—the day that justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream—will be a day of joy.

Yet it’s a joyful day that we need to be prepared for. The young women who ran out of oil were unprepared for joy.

Are we prepared for joy, for the joy of being in God’s presence? I wonder.

Amos would say that we find the joy of the Lord in a life of compassion and mercy, a life of kindness and care for others. Amos calls it justice, but listen carefully: what God calls justice looks awfully like what we call pity and compassion. God’s justice is seen in God’s mercy; God’s justice is mercy.

In the parable of the ten young women, it’s simply about keeping oil in our lamps. You could fill that in for yourself in a number of ways—the oil of spending time with God in prayer and reading the Scripture, the oil of gathering with God’s people in worship and the life of the church, the oil of loving God and our neighbour as ourselves. In the end, though, it’s the oil of justice seen in acts of compassion.

As we exercise our faith, our hope and our love, as we share in God’s compassionate justice, our lamp stays full of oil. When we are aware that we are part of this larger picture, we never run out of the oil of the Spirit.

The world is in a mess! God is calling us to join in the work of bringing God’s just mercy to the people of the world; and to the earth as it groans under the weight of climate change. God is calling us to find joy in that work, a joy that will be amplified beyond our imagining when we see the Lord face to face.

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