Readings: Amos 7: 7-15; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke10:25-37
It is a question of the way we are to live.
Some of the most disturbing people who ever lived were the prophets. Their inspiration brought the Bible into being. Their condemnations cut to the quick and their dream is our refuge in distress. Their voice and vision renews and sustains our faith.
The task, in coming to church week after week and listening to the Scriptures, is to understand better what we see rather than to see what we already know. The great Rabbi and Philosopher, Abraham Heschel, said, `The one who thinks they can see the same object twice has never seen.` When I stand here and preach to you I am never saying things that you don`t already see.
The prophet Amos lived in Palestine at a time when there were still two Jewish Kingdoms, Israel and Judah. It was during the first half of the eighth century BCE. Amos was a herdsman and a horticulturalist. Reading Amos you realise that it is educated writing.
What was Amos on about? His vision focused on Yahweh, the Hebrew God, and the kind of community that this God wanted. When Amos looked at the Kingdom of Israel he did not see God`s community, therefore he spoke against Israel. The Jewish priest, Amaziah, saw this herdsman from Judea as treasonous. But the insight of Amos was that God will build a more just Israel. It is a question of the way we are to live. Injustice brings downfall, Amos looked at unjust Israel to see beyond the downfall, beyond the heartbreak, it is God who will renew the community. And God will no longer be so much the `God of armies` (God of Hosts) but rather `the Lord your God.`
Colossai was about 130km east of Ephesus on the Turkish coast. The Colossian congregation was mainly gentile. Paul did not know members of the Colossian congregation, so what he had to say to them he had to say to all. Paul`s opening greeting to them is a prayer - a thanksgiving prayer. Paul is grateful to God for their faith, their love and care for each other and for the hope on which their faith and love was based. His prayer turns to intercession; that the Colossians learn to know God`s will, that they lead lives worthy of Jesus because it is through Christ that we come to see God`s own self. Paul prays that the congregation be strong and persevering in their faith and love and hope. That it be like a restored and renewed Israel itself. All this is a question of the way we people, moved by faith in God in Christ, are to live.
In Luke 10:25-37 we are still on topic, Jesus the Son who knows and sees the Father is asked about what to do to inherit eternal life. One who knows the law puts Jesus to the test. The lawyer tests Jesus, not about which is the most important law (as in Matthew`s Gospel) but about the Mosaic law itself. Jesus asks him, `What is written in the law? What do you read there?` The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. Two basic vocations for human life: aim to know God and love God with all your being and pull out all the stops to love your neighbour as you love and care for yourself. And `who is my neighbour?` asks the lawyer.
Remember that this section in Luke is called, `The Journey to Jerusalem`. Jesus is on the road to his death and here, as the hike commences through Samaria, the land of the apostates, foreigners, Jesus the Jew, is teaching all of us that it is a half-breed, an irreligious Samaritan, that has done what Yahweh wills in the TORAH (Law). It is a question of the way we are to live. In Leviticus, Yahweh says to the people, `Follow the practices and laws that I am giving you and you will save your life by doing so`. (Lev 18: 5) Life and salvation is the promised future of the People of the Covenant. But it is the Samaritan, not the priest, not the Levite, who has done what is written in the law and proved himself the neighbour.
What a stirrer Jesus was, what a prophet. What a confronting vision. Jesus is, indeed, on the road to Jerusalem. It is a question of the way we are to live, and each one of us has his or her own road to Jerusalem.
Now I`d like you to keep in mind Amos who looked around his society and saw neither love nor respect for both God and neighbour; keep in mind Paul who encouraged and prayed for a small Colossian community which loved and honoured God in Christ and cared for each other; keep in mind Jesus who saw in the Mosaic Law the inseparable unity of love of God and love of neighbour.
With this in mind I want to speak briefly about three people of deep integrity who lived the truth and staked their lives on this inseparable bond between love of God and love of neighbour.
First, Socrates. Socrates was a citizen of Athens. He observed the religious practices of the time but he was also a critic of both religious and civic authorities. He encouraged everyone, especially the young, to think for themselves and to question. He was charged by the politicians with heresy and as a corrupter of youth. Socrates said that we should be like (the Athenian) god as much as possible (Symposium 210a-212b). He believed in the immortality of the soul, using the phrase `on the other side of being`; he spoke of the basic forms: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. He said that our souls are tied to these forms. The form of the Good is above all other forms. It is the Good which gives all souls intelligibility, just like the sun gives visibility. The godhead is like a magnet drawing souls to it by the power of their goodness. Socrates is known by his most famous line, `The unexamined life is not worth living` and indeed he died affirming his beliefs about the supreme Good and about the value of each immortal soul. For his heresies and for the perversion of Athenian youth, Socrates was forced to take poison.
Second, Sophie Scholl (22) together with her brother, Hans, and their friend Christl Probst were students at the University of Munich during World War II. Sophie and Hans came from a practising Lutheran family. In 1942 they distributed anti-Nazi leaflets at the university. They were arrested for this crime and brought before the notorious Nazi judge, Roland Freisler. During the trial the interrogator, Robert Mohr, an active Nazi, tried to get Sophie to distance herself from the actions of her brother. He said afterwards, `I tried with all the powers of persuasion I knew to explain to her that she had relied on her brother and followed him without thinking of the consequences of her actions. Sophie Scholl saw right away what I was trying to do and decisively rejected such an assertion. This would have been in fact the only way to save her life. When Robert Mohr tried to explain the National Socialist `world view` to her and pointed to the accomplishments of Hitler, Sophie replied, `You`re wrong. I would do it all over again. You have the wrong world view`.
The three young students were found guilty of treason by Judge Roland Freisler and guillotined at 5.00pm that afternoon in February 1943. Today in Germany there are hundreds of streets, squares and parks named after Sophie Scholl.
Third, Elie Wiesel who died this week aged 84 years, Eleazer ben Shlomo grew up in a loving Romanian Orthodox Jewish household. At fifteen years of age Elie was in Auschwitz where most Jewish people were murdered on arrival. Those deemed more fit were sent to the slave work camp of Buchenwald. His mother and sister were murdered, Elie and his father went to Buchenwald. His father died just weeks before the camps were liberated in April 1945, Elie was 17 years old. For all of his life from the age of 15 Elie Wiesel questioned. `So many questions obsessed me`, he said. All the arguments justifying God in the face of evil are not only inadequate, they are diabolical. No answers came come from human beings.
`I will never forget those moments which murdered my god and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. I did not deny God`s existence but I doubted God`s absolute justice`. That doubt led to lifelong questions with every answer pathetically inadequate. If only Wiesel had denied God`s existence and have done with it. And yet, this denial would have made all the questioning, not only unanswerable but pointless. Without God there is no reason to expect a reasonable answer. The human predicament is: it is within God`s existence that the questions can be asked. This is why Elie Wiesel`s whole life was a searing questioning of God standing within faith and not without it. `I will never stop wondering what happened … but I will sleep quietly, as long as when I awake, I watch to see that there is never another Holocaust, and I pray to God that whatever the reason for the first one, there will never be a second`.
Dare I say that men and women like Sophie Scholl, twenty-two years old, and Elie Wiesel, eighty-four years old, came, in their lifetime, closer to God and closer to a true knowledge of what it means to be both a true human being and a genuine neighbour than most of us will ever dream of.
Yet, when it comes down to it, for all of us it`s a question of the way we are to live.