I’m sharing this sermon preached at Joy Mennonite Church on October 13, 2013. I’m proud to say that I found ways to mention Private Manning and Edward Snowden in this message.

Sermon on Amos 5 and the challenge of sustainable activism (Audio Download – AAC Format)

Sermon on Amos 5 and the challenge of sustainable activism (PDF Download)

Here are two excerpts from the message…

Amos 5 has three key themes. The first theme is that Israel is condemned because it has failed to live up to the community standards of social justice (as articulated by the Torah). As discussed earlier, Amos 5 (particularly in its third pericope) speaks clearly and specifically about the social sins of Israel. These sins are not abstract in nature but rather are grounded in the basic shema principles22 that were supposed to undergird the covenant relationship of the children of Israel with each other and with God.
The second theme is that the LORD will bring destruction to Israel for its failure to practice justice. This coming destruction is both and horrible. There is hope that God might be gracious to a remnant23 but the time is long past for God to show mercy on the nation as a whole. The horrors of captivity are near.24

The final theme of the chapter is that the LORD hates rituals and sacrifice that are divorced from righteous living; it is better for the nation to neglect the rituals (as Amos said the nation did during its wilderness wanderings) than to neglect basic justice to the poor.

Excerpt #2…

1. How are we treating radical truthtellers and whistleblowers? Are we prosecuting those who tell us painful truth or are we listening to them? Why is Private Manning in prison? And why is Edward Snowden in exile?
2. How are we treating the poor? Are they receiving fare wages for their labor? Do they have access to basic health services? Are the schools in poor neighborhoods as good as those in rich neighborhoods? These are all questions we must ask.
3. What about justice system? How are people treated? Is it fair? Do poor people get the same access to legal services that rich people and corporations get?


I wrote this for a discussion in one of my online classes at AMBS. I thought I would go ahead and share it here:

I do not believe in a literal hell. My reasons for this are as follows:

1. Heaven and hell are completely absent as concepts in the Old Testament. The only clear understanding of the afterlife was that when you died you went to Sheol (the grave). – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol

2. Ideas about heaven and hell became popular in Judaism long after the captivity (most likely being borrowed from the Greeks). I think the popularity of this concept came because it served the purpose of explaining the mystery of why God let evil nations conquer Judah and destroy the temple, with the explanation being that things will be made right in the afterlife.

3. I think Jesus used the popular ideas of Heaven and Hell as metaphors. By the time of Jesus most of the common people had adopted the Phariseean idea of the afterlife (in contrast with the Saddcean idea that the only life is this present one), but I do not think they were the main focus of his life and ministry. Rather he was very grounded in the earthy and messy here and now.

4. It is possible that hell might be a valid metaphor to explain the idea of separation from God or to describe the hell we put ourselves into when we do evil (or others around us do evil), but I do not think it can describe a literal place of eternal torment.

5. Jesus teaches us to forgive no matter what, however, traditional ideas of heaven and hell seem to teach that God loves only conditionally, in that God only is willing to forgive us if we are “saved.” I don’t understand why God would hold human beings to a standard that God does not abide by Godself.

6. It is incomprehensible to me to believe that God would condemn righteous Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or even atheists who live lives of integrity. A god who would do this would not be worthy of respect and worship.