Conservative Values

The Rev. Joseph Winston July 12, 2009

Sermon
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Bumper stickers tend to fall into two separate groups when we elect a president. Last year’s election certainly followed this well-established pattern. John McCain headed up the Republican slate. One could find his slogan on the back of many cars and trucks. It read, “Reform, Prosperity, and Peace.” On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats had their man. Obama’s bumper stickers simply had the word “Change” or the longer version, “Change you can believe in.” Hearing phrases such as “Reform, Prosperity, and Peace” or “Change” quickly splits the house into two separate parties. On the one side, we have all those men and women who loyally supported their candidate. These individuals stood behind the simple slogan and gave it life. They talked with their undecided friends and
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
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neighbors and carefully explained why they were voting for their man. They went to the primaries and handed out fliers for their candidate. Finally, they voted their conscience. The opposition makes up the second group. These concerned people worked tirelessly to show the obvious problems with the competition’s bumper sticker. They sat down with anyone who would listen to them and outlined why they supported their candidate. They also gave away literature at the polls that said to vote for their man. You certainly could count on their vote on Election Day. The division between the two sides runs very deep. First of all, the two different phrases obviously identify political parties. The Republicans supported McCain and the Democrats Obama. More importantly, the slogans try to capture the essence of the party. “Reform, Prosperity, and Peace” might make you think of all the “conservative” values that Republicans support. Reform – Take away the burden that the government gives you. Prosperity – Let business operate without interference. Peace – Protect the country. In the same way, the catchphrase “Change” leads you to recall the “liberal” ideals. Change – Make health care affordable for everyone. Change – Give everyone good jobs with good pay. Change – Make America competitive again. The two political parties have trained us well. When we see a bumper sticker, we can quickly identify the political leanings of the driver. A McCain sticker tells you that the occupants are Republicans. The word “Change” or the letter “O” means a car full of Democrats. Sound bites now serve the same purpose. “Tough on terror” – Republicans. “Compassionate” – Democrats. Different careers might be another way to identify either Republicans or Democrats. We might think that 2

an officer in the Army must be a Republican since that party supports a strong defense. By the same logic, many of us would assume any social worker must be a Democrat because that party is compassionate. We could play the exact same game with Amos. Is this prophet that told the people that God wants never ending justice for the poor and the oppressed a conservative or a liberal?2 Would you say that wanting to regulate business practices makes Amos a Republican or a Democrat?3 Does harsh judgment for the rich sound like a campaign promise a Republican or a Democrat would make?4 If you agree with the standard definition that a conservative is one who upholds traditional values, then you will have to admit that the prophet is the most conservative person that you can think of. For the prophet is the one who calls the people and their leaders back to the old way of doing things.5 All of these questions previously asked about Amos are issues that the prophet addressed. Very early in his ministry, Amos told the people that they should know better than taking advantage of the poor and the oppressed. Amos continues to preach this message by pointing out specific problems that need to change. Business people need to stop adjusting the scales and manipulating the currency to insure a profit. Justice requires the rich must not forgetting about the needs of the poor. Look at how Amos goes back to the traditional way of doing things. The first
Amos 2:6; 4:1; 5:11-12; 5:24. Amos 8:3-6. 4 Amos 6:1-7. 5 Terence E. Fretheim, ‘The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda’, Word & World, 28 Spring (2008):2, p. 159.
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example from Amos of helping the poor and oppressed is nothing more than following the great commandment to love God and our neighbors. The second illustration of Amos’ plea to regulate businesses is an admission that we all want to get ahead in this life. Sometimes people make a little on the side at the expense of the less fortunate. In other words, stealing occasionally happens when people think that they can get away with it. Amos also knows how easy it is for some of us to become wrapped up in our possessions and in doing do not even worry how our neighbors will make it through the next day. This is the last example. This attitude forgets the sacrifice that God made for each of us. It might seem that Amos does nothing more than continually reminding us that we must live a traditional life. This should really excite us because this is the image we present to the world. Look outside for but one example. Our architecture with its white exterior, steeple, and stained glass looks just like a classic country church. Inside it is the same story. We sing the timeless songs we learned while growing up. We use the liturgy passed down to us. I wear the time-honored garments used by a pastor. We read the same Bible that our parents and grandparents used. But if you are like me, this Word of God from the prophet Amos challenges me to move out of my conservative lifestyle more than I like. By the world’s standards, I am rich. I have a place to sleep. I know where my next meal is coming from. I have water to drink whenever I am thirsty. Business works well enough for me. I am paid for what I do and I can purchase what I need. God knows I have enough problems of my own. I do not want to worry 4

about everyone else. In today’s Old Testament lesson, Amos tells us that God is placing a plumbline in the middle of the people. The illustration should make us recall an inspector going out on the job to see how everything is going. That is God’s job. He wants to know if we stand up to the tasks set before us. God first notices the poor and oppressed just a few blocks from my door. In my world, they are largely the underemployed. Standing on the street corners, they make about ten cents when they sell a daily paper and twenty-five cents for each Sunday paper. After pulling out the plumb-line, God sees that I have failed to live up to His tradition of taking care of the less fortunate. God then walks to each business that I use, carefully looks through their the books, and asks these questions, while holding out this strict measuring device. Are the prices fair for everyone? Do all the employees receive enough money to purchase what is necessary for life? More often than not, I am silent when these businesses shortchange either their customers or their employees. I am quiet because I am getting a good deal. My way of life falls woefully short of God’s care for all of creation. God finally sees how soon I fall asleep at night. When my head hits the pillow, I quickly fall asleep and do not worry about our neighbors finances. One again, I do not measure up to God’s plumb-line. God is very concerned about everyone’s lives. My undisturbed sleep proves that their problems do not bother me at all. For far too long, pastors have not spoken of the requirements that God places on the churches and their members. We have become like the priest in today’s Old 5

Testament lesson. We have decided that you cannot bear to hear the Word. This is wrong. We must take care of the poor in our neighborhoods. We must ensure that the businesses that we deal with are fair for everyone. We must ensure that everyone knows God’s demands on their lives. This work, spoken so eloquently by the prophet Amos, is not something done only by conservatives or liberals. The orders that God gives us are not restricted to either Republicans or Democrat. This is what God’s people do. We follow God’s Law with out question. The Law since its beginning has told us that we are obligated to help the poor and the oppressed. For all time, God’s Word obviously informs us on how businesses should operate. The Bible has always clearly stated the duties of the rich. There are a million excuses why we do not do this. Here are but a few. We already pay taxes. Let the government help the poor. There is “separation” of church and state in this country. Legally, we cannot tell business how they should run. No one wants to hear about what God wants, so we are not going to tell them. The prophets clearly spell out the consequences of listening to any of our explanations rather than following God’s law. We are punished. The soonest that this discipline on our land and our church will end is when we ask God to forgive us for what we have left undone. God has given us another chance to change our mind. That is why we are here today. We should thank Him for this gift of grace and try to change our ways. Doing the difficult work of caring for all of God’s creation, has other benefits that we normally forget. God blesses our community when we follow the Law. 6

Think about it. Everyone of our works has the possibility of doing more good than we can ever imagine. Our actions might put food on a hungry child’s table. It is conceivable that our efforts answer a parent’s prayers. God could even take our deeds and bring someone to faith. There is another bumper sticker that reads, “If you are not upset, then you are not paying attention.” This is the conservative’s prophet’s motto. The people of God have forget ten the poor and the oppressed. The church refuses to set limits on what business can and cannot do. No one is holding the people accountable. These behaviors are wrong and they must stop. The God that has already saved us from the death expects that we go right outside these doors and help save others. This is the work of the church. Go and change the world. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”6

References
Fretheim, Terence E., ‘The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda’, Word & World, 28 Spring (2008):2, pp. 159–168.

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Philippians 4:7.

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