November 14th, 2021
Acknowledging the Territory
Each week at this time we take a moment to recognize land upon which we gather is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. But I would like us to remember that this is not simply a polite acknowledgement of this fact, it is an issue of justice and as we express our gratitude for this land, we need to, not only ask the Creator to help us use and share it wisely but we need to commit ourselves to doing our part to live out this acknowledgement.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to allow that light shine through us to all God’s children everywhere.
This Sunday is the Sunday that we traditionally mark as Children’s Sunday. This is in recognition of World or Universal Children’s Day which is held on November 20th each year to commemorate the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child and to build awareness of the realities in which many children live. It also aims to promote dialogue and action that will help build a better world for children everywhere. And so, on this Children’s Sunday, let us join in our call to worship.
Call to Worship
This is the day we gather to celebrate the sacredness of children.
We come thanking God for all children and longing to keep our young brothers and sisters safe.
This is the day we rejoice together as God’s children.
Some of us are young. Some of us are older. But we all are children of the same Creator God.
Together, young and old, we can listen, learn from, support and encourage one another.
Together we can worship our loving Parent God!
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Our opening prayer today is taken from a 2016 United Church of Canada resource titled Bread Not Stones.
Creator God, you have made each of us in your image, and yet we often fail to reflect your love and justice. You have created every child in your image, and yet we don’t treat every child as a precious reflection of you. We see some children as valued treasures, and others as lost causes. We invest our time, money, and hopes in some children, while we squander the great potential of others. Open our eyes, we pray, to see that every child is made in your image and belongs to you. Help us to love, protect, and nurture all children. We pray these things in the name of the One who came to us as a child. Amen.
Gift of Music O Christian Love #594
Scripture Readings Amos 1:1-2 Amos 5:10-15, 21- 24
Last week we heard about the prophet Elijah who challenged the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to return to God, because they were worship of the Canaanite god, Baal. This week we move ahead approximately one hundred years to the prophet Amos. Amos speaks in a time of relative prosperity, but also of great inequality. Amos challenges the people not so much on their religious practices as on the social injustices that often seem to be supported by religion.
These are the words of Amos, a shepherd from the town of Tekoa. Two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel, God revealed to Amos all these things about Israel. Amos said, “The Lord roars from Mount Zion; his voice thunders from Jerusalem. The pastures dry up, and the grass on Mount Carmel turns brown.”
You people hate anyone who challenges injustice and speaks the whole truth in court. You have oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain. And so you will not live in the fine stone houses you build or drink wine from the beautiful vineyards you plant. I know how terrible your sins are and how many crimes you have committed. You persecute good people, take bribes, and prevent the poor from getting justice in the courts. And so, keeping quiet in such evil times is the smart thing to do! Make it your aim to do what is right, not what is evil, so that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty really will be with you, as you claim he is. Hate what is evil, love what is right, and see that justice prevails in the courts. Perhaps the Lord will be merciful to the people of this nation who are still left alive.
The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.
Justice and Righteousness
Last week we heard the story of Elijah, how he called the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to give up their worship of the god Baal and return to the God of Israel. Through the warnings of Elijah and those who came after him, the people did return to the traditional worship practices of their ancestors. And the Northern Kingdom of Israel prospered, or at least the wealthy of the Northern Kingdom did.
Much of the wealth that was enjoyed by the upper class of the time was earned on the backs of the poor. The gape between the wealthy and the poor was immense. In a passage we did not read this morning, we are told, “The people of Israel have sinned again and again … They sell into slavery honest people who cannot pay their debts, the poor who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals. They trample down the weak and helpless and push the poor out of the way. At every place of worship people sleep on clothing that they have taken from the poor as security for debts. In the temple of their God, they drink wine which they have taken from those who owe them money.”
This was the situation into which the prophet Amos arrived. We are told that Amos was not a wealthy man from the priestly tradition. He was a shepherd, a common labourer and he was not from the Northern Kingdom but from the Southern Kingdom, from a small town south of Jerusalem near Bethlehem. But Amos was called by God to go to the Northern Kingdom to warn the people of God’s displeasure over their behaviour.
Now you can imagine how well that would have gone over. In the passage we read this morning, Amos begins by saying, The Lord roars from Mount Zion; his voice thunders from Jerusalem. The pastures dry up, and the grass on Mount Carmel turns brown.”
The problem is that Mount Zion and Jerusalem, from where God’s ‘roar’ apparently originated, were in the Southern Kingdom but the pastures that would dry up were on Mount Carmel which is in the Northern Kingdom. Basically, Amos is an outsider, a stranger from ‘away’ who is telling the local population that they need to change their ways or God is going to punish them. He is seen as one of “them” telling “us” what to do.
Not only that, but as I said before, Amos was not from the wealthy, priestly tradition. He was not a man who would have been consider to have any power or authority. Amos was a member of the common people, the lower class, the very people who would have been most adversely affected by the abuses of wealth and power that had led to the immense inequality to begin with.
I’m sure there were many who dismissed Amos as an angry malcontent just out to cause problems or as someone who simply did not know his proper place. But Amos doesn’t pull any punches and he certainly doesn’t seem to care what other people will think of him. You … hate anyone who challenges injustice and speaks the whole truth … You have oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain … You persecute good people, take bribes, and prevent the poor from getting justice in the courts.
I remember hearing a preacher say once, “If you like the prophet Amos, you don’t understand him!” Amos is not a likable character. He is loud, demanding and very condemning in the way he speaks, especially condemning of the upper class. He challenges the people to face the injustices in their world and to recognize the ways in which they have benefited from those injustices.
Worst of all, Amos warns that the reason they must listen to what he is saying is not because he himself has any authority or power, but because their behaviour has angered God. The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings.”
To be told that their sacrifices were not acceptable to God was one of the worst possible disasters. They were prosperous and successful because they followed all the religious laws and that meant that God was pleased with them and that they would continue to prosper. If God was unhappy with them, there was a risk that all their wealth and prosperity might be taken away.
But the truth is that even the sacrifices themselves were unjust. Only the wealthy could afford the extravagant sacrifices that were recommended by the scriptures. The poor could not even afford the minimum sacrifice required on the special holy days or in order to cleanse them under the Hebrew laws when they became ritually unclean. And this is why Amos tells the people that their sacrifices were not acceptable. It was not because the sacrifice itself was unfit, but because of the inequality and injustice that that sacrifice represented.
So, Amos called upon the people of the Northern Kingdom to Hate what is evil, love what is right, and see that justice prevails in the courts. He called on the people to let go of the privileges that wealth had given them and to stop taking advantage of the poor and those who could not defend themselves. He called for justice. But there was even more to Amos’s message than justice. In the closing line of this morning’s reading, we hear this, “Let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.”
Justice is about calling to account those who have committed wrongs and those who have been guilty of abuses. It is about recognizing the corruption that has caused others to suffer and about making reparation for the wrongs done. Justice is about correcting a wrong that has already been committed and we are told that justice is to flow as freely as a stream. Anything that gets in the way of justice is to be washed away.
But Amos also calls for righteousness. Righteousness is more that just justice. It’s about making things right. It’s about establishing something so new and different that there will be no need to call people to account or to demand reparation because, in a system where things are truly right for all people, there will be no abuse or inequality. There will be no need to seek justice.
Rather than simply demanding that the injustices and inequality of the time be addressed, Amos is demanding a complete and total transformation of the society. It is not enough to ‘make amends’. Society and the relationships within that society, need to be put right.
And if you are not feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable right now, you are not really listening to what Amos is saying. The inequality and injustice in our own society today are every bit as blatant as they were in Amos’s time. Today we may have a social safety net, and we may not see poverty as a punishment from God, but the inequalities our society today prove that things are still far from right.
On November 24th 1989, The House of Commons passed an All-Party Resolution, stating that, “This House “seek(s) to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000”.” On December 9th 2020, more than 30 years after it began, Campaign 2000 reported that over 1,330,000 children in Canada live in poverty. Although the national child poverty rate has decreased from 22 per cent to 18.6 per cent over the past 30 years, at the current rate, it would take another 155 years for the government to eliminate child poverty. Today, nearly 1 in 5 Canadian children continues to experience the harsh long-term consequences that poverty and discrimination have on social, mental and physical health and well-being. This is not ‘right’
Since May of this year, more than 1,308 unmarked graves have been found near former Indian Residential Schools sites. To date, The Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented 4,118 children who died at residential schools, but less that one fifth of available records have actually been examined. Because the records are so fragmented and because they are spread across so many different organizations and institutions, it is difficult to say how many records even exist. The center continues to go through over four million records and 7,000 witness statements in order to fill in missing information. This is not ‘right’.
In Israel and Palestine, between 150 and 445 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained each month and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is throwing stones. Children are often restrained and blindfolded for hours on end, interrogated, deprived of sleep, food and washroom facilities, all of which contravene UN regulations regarding the treatment of children in custody. This is not ‘right’.
According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, there are an estimated 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 who are not in school. 15 million will likely never enter a classroom in their entire lifetime. In many countries it is still considered improper to educate women, and girls are frequently married off at a very young age. In poorer countries families can often not afford school fees and uniforms for all their children so boys are sent to school while girls are kept home to help with household chores which can include walking for hours every day just to retrieve water for their families. In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that more than 83% of young women are illiterate. This is not ‘right’.
Like it or not, Amos’s call for justice and righteousness is as relevant today as it ever has been. You … hate anyone who challenges injustice and speaks the whole truth … You have oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain … You persecute good people, take bribes, and prevent the poor from getting justice.
But Amos does not leave the people of the Northern Kingdom without hope. Nor does he leave us without hope.
Make it your aim to do what is right, not what is evil … Hate what is evil, love what is right, and see that justice prevails … let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.
Amos tells us to ‘aim’ for these things and promises that when we do, Perhaps the Lord will be merciful to the people of this nation. I pray that we will all learn to heed the words of the prophet Amos and aim for true justice and righteousness not only in our own country but around the world. Amen.
Gift of Music Like a Healing Stream MV#144
We Offer Our Gifts
And now let us bring before God our offerings. Our offerings to this church may be placed on the offering plates in the church entrance, offered through PAR or online. But we always need to remember that financial contributions are only one of the many ways that we can give. We can offer our time, our talents, our commitments and our prayers and these gifts are just as important and values as money. So, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, bless the gifts that we offer you today that through your spirit they may not only be blessed but may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Holy Mystery, you speak to us in so many ways, through the song of a bird, through the gentle breeze, through the clap of thunder, through the voice of a friend and through the prophets of old and the prophets of today. You speak words of comfort and reassurance, but you also speak words of integrity and challenge.
Your words are often powerful, demanding and often subversive. Your words overturn the structures in which we live and challenge us to see thing, not from a human point of view, but from the point of view of an ideal world. Such words and such challenge are often confusing and difficult for us to understand or to follow. Yet you continue to call.
You call us in the voices of children and of adults caught in the cycles of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and disability. You call us to fight against the system, the situations and attitudes that reinforce these cycles and that benefit from their existence.
You call us in the voices of sorrow for those whose lives have been lost to abuse, intolerance, prejudice or simple lack of concern and consideration. You call us to recognize past mistakes and to commit ourselves to a different way forward.
You call us through the voices of those caught in the terrible reality of war, the voice of those fighting on both sides as well as the voice of the innocent victims caught between. You call us to acknowledge the senselessness of war and to find new ways to resolve the difficult issues of our world that do not involve killing.
You call us through the voices of those who are sick, who are lonely, who are hurting and those who feel helpless and hopeless. You call us to reach out to one another with caring and love.
You call us through the voices of the natural world and challenge us to care for and protect the wonder, beauty and diversity of creation.
And you call to us through those around us who offer us your love, your comfort, your support and your guidance.
Open our hearts, our minds and our lives to hear and answer your call wherever and whenever you call. Amen
Closing Hymn When I Needed a Neighbour VU#600
And so, we go out from here … not in shame and despair … but in hope … determined to do our part to help make this world a more just and equitable place. And the reason we have hope is because we know that we are not called to do this alone. The One who calls us, goes with us, Christ’s example shows us how to live and the Spirit empowers and enables us each step of the way. And so, we go … with God.