Something has to change. Something. Has. To. Change.
Have you ever thought that? Have you ever felt that in your life?
That how things are not working anymore. Or maybe it never worked, but now you can see it. Or now you have the courage to speak to it. Maybe a spectacularly bruising election season has left us all exhausted. Maybe you’re discovering that retirement isn’t as fulfilling as you had hoped.
Something has to change. And that, I believe, is the word that the Lord has for us in both Amos and Matthew. But it’s hard to hear the urgent call for change because there is so much anger in these readings. Amos is telling me, and you, and all of us, that sometimes anger is a legitimate expression of not being heard. And Matthew is telling us that when anger comes from fear of not being enough, not having enough, not doing enough, that where Jesus is concerned, who we are as children of God is always enough. Put together, what we are being invited to hear is that being a child of God comes from knowing that God has poured out God’s justice, and God’s righteousness, on me and on you in abundance so that we can be attuned, always, to people who are lacking in those blessings. So that we can care about the world being a healthy and loving place for everyone, not just for us.
Particularly in the South, you and I have been taught that anger is unhealthy. That it’s not good to be angry, much less to express that anger. I’ve even been told, and I suspect that you have too, that anger is somehow not Christian, not appropriate for a person of faith who follows Jesus. That might be one reason that it’s so disturbing and disruptive to read of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. But the Bible is running over with examples, not only of people of strong and persistent faith getting angry, and expressing their anger, but of God’s anger. God’s wrath. And that’s good.
To experience anger is to be so deeply invested in a relationship that I want that relationship to work. To get angry is to care passionately about someone and to want better for that someone. Now those are broad statements, and not all anger is equal. But particularly in these readings, I invite us to sit with the anger and to hear where it comes from and what it has to say to me and to you this day.
Some of the anger in these readings comes from not being heard, possibly the most frustrating experience of all.
The story is told of a child of five or six who has a hard time learning not to interrupt. One afternoon, his mom thinks she has found a perfect teaching moment. She’s playing bridge with three friends, and they are deep into the hand when her concentration is broken.
Her child is standing by the card table, saying, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom!” When flat-out ignoring him isn’t working, she finally says, “You’ll have to wait a minute until Mom finishes this hand.”
She tunes out all the wiggling, sighing, and hand-waving, and at long last the hand is complete. Feeling very pleased with her parenting, Mom turns and says sweetly, “Now. What is it you’d like to say?”
With perfect aplomb, the boy says: “The kitchen’s on fire.”
I believe that few things in life frustrate any of us more than not being heard. And the Bible consistently calls me, and you, and all of us, to hear other people – particularly people whose voices tend to get silenced and overlooked. The widow, the sojourner, the orphan, people who are poor, people who are powerless.
When a passage, like this one in Amos, shows God’s anger, that is a clear invitation to slow down and listen.
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
God is angry. What good is worship, Amos is asking, if it’s not going to change your life? What good is worship, if it’s not going to change your neighbor’s life? What good is worship, Amos is asking, if it does not invite you and me to understand that God has poured down justice and righteousness on us so that we can hear the voices of our sisters and brothers who do not share in those gifts?
Worship, Amos would say, is not worship if it doesn’t change you, spur you into action, make you just uncomfortable enough to do something. Something has to change.
Are you listening to the ways you are suffering? Do not dismiss it. It matters to God. Am I listening to the ways my neighbors are suffering? I must not dismiss that. It matters to God. Something has to change.
And now we come to this parable. Everyone in this parable is angry, or at least frustrated. Five of the bridesmaids brought extra oil, planning ahead. Five did not, and it turns out that the bridegroom is late, so that the others go off to get more oil. As the saying goes, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
But who ever said the bridegroom wouldn’t let you in if you ran out of oil? All of the bridesmaids were concerned about oil. Even the wise ones. They were worried that if they shared, all of them would run out of oil, and all of them would then be rejected by the bridegroom.
You see, I don’t think this is about oil. I think it’s about trusting the bridegroom. Trusting that the bridegroom will have enough light and oil to spare, even when others do not. Jesus is the light of the world and so are you, he says. But when your light grows dim and tired and exhausted and weary and you cannot see the road ahead, his light will guide the way. It will shine in the darkness. The bridegroom comes at night! In the dark. And he goes to meet you there. But if you run off thinking you need to be someone else for Jesus – that he will not accept you as you are – then the real you will miss the love that Jesus has for you. You will not, you cannot experience the kingdom of God here and now while trying to be someone else.
And that goes for everyone, which brings us back to Amos. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
You and I have been bathed in the love of God from before our birth. We have been drowned in the waters of baptism and invited to walk through our days still marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. So worship, yes. Make offerings, absolutely. And do so not with the bridesmaids’ fear that there is a limited supply and we might run out. Instead, we celebrate that the waters are abundant, that the stream is ever flowing, and we journey through our days and our encounters and our relationships making sure that everyone has enough. Because what God provides is always more than enough.