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Sermon, 19 March 2017, St Paul’s Cambridge

St Paul’s, Cambridge – 19th March 2017

 

Reading – Luke 4:14-30

 

Thanks for inviting me – St. Paul’s has been a great support to Amos and it’s good to look back with thanks over 30 years since the founding of Amos.

It makes me think, what is Amos’ manifesto – what is our foundation?  Amos started in a practical way to enable me to visit places like Poland in the communist years; Mathari Valley, Kenya; Uganda – and I would come back and tell the stories to churches, colleges, anywhere that asked.

After a time of developing friendships the Amos Trustees decided to make an ongoing link with some of the places and to work with them as partners – supporting small projects. Those relationships proved to be very important and have helped to guide the development of Amos over the last 30 years.

 

But what has been the Amos manifesto and the guiding principles – there are certain passages of the Bible we particularly turn to.

There is an old synagogue, now a church in Nazareth we visit on trips to the Holy Land – this is the place or extremely close to the place where Jesus spoke the words from Luke 4, so there we read the passage Luke 4:18-19 – often called the Nazareth Manifesto – it has a powerful effect and it is a foundation for Amos.

 

This is an important passage not only for what it has in it but also for what Jesus leaves out.

 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the

captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

 

This is right at the start of the ministry of Jesus and he is outlining his priorities, which reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. In his preaching he will mainly point people to the Kingdom of God.  How does Jesus redefine the idea of Kingdom? He deliberately uses a political word – but this kingdom is not about empire building, domination, it is not a kingdom that excludes. Right at the start of His ministry Jesus is setting out his manifesto and straightaway we learn that this kingdom/community is one that will bring good news to the poor, set free the oppressed. Bring healing – bring liberation. He is outlining a community of just values – in Christ the barriers come down.

 

What is the context in which Jesus spoke these Luke 4 words? It is straight after the temptations in the wilderness and Jesus has rejected the temptations of empire, power and domination. The temptations suggest this is the way of the devil. Perhaps we would put it differently and say it is the way that rejects community; it rejects the way of “love your neighbour”; it rejects the way of equal human rights; it is power to the few or the one percent.

 

And for organisations such as Amos, that’s a challenge for us – we know that even NGOs can dominate. It can be hard for NGOs, to be humble; but we know we must listen and learn and we must not dominate.

 

In this passage Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 61:1,2 – it’s a very close quote except he leaves out the words about the “day of vengeance of our God”, which is very interesting. With Jesus it is not a revolution of vengeance, but one that seems to suggest the permanent Year of Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favour which is made visible when justice is brought to people, community values, forgiveness of debts, sharing the land – so Jesus sees himself as bringing a revolution of justice. But not violence or vengeance.

 

Everything about Jesus, his actions, his sayings, and even his birth give us huge clues – born in simplicity and vulnerability, soon a refugee, his family fleeing for their lives – so the “God with us” that we meet in the birth story is God of the refugee, God of the asylum seeker, God of the oppressed, God of the poor, God of the street child, God of non-violence – God of a revolution of love.

 

We are called to be part of the community that brings down the mountains of oppression and lifts up the valleys of justice so that the pathways are made straight – the uneven ground becomes level, as Martin Luther King was so fond of quoting from Isaiah 40:4.

 

The words justice and peace often go together, but sometimes people try to reach peace before there is justice, or even reconciliation before there is justice. Beware of Balance!  Prophecy is often silenced with “Balance”. The temptation to be “even-handed” or “balanced” is a danger. These terms are used when we would prefer to endorse the status quo – “balance” keeps things as they are. Isaiah 40:4 shows us the way to justice. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  This is the way that makes justice visible.

 

And being the Amos Trust, a key verse we look to is Amos 5:24, “Let Justice roll down like water and right living like an ever flowing stream.”

 

The only place where music is criticised in the Bible – quite possibly the music of religion because verse 21 says, “I hate, I despise your festivals, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Why is God not accepting the offerings or the music?  Because “they trample on the head of the poor, they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.”  But God wants, verse 24, “Justice to roll down like water and right living like an ever flowing stream.”  So in what we’ve done through the years, Amos has tried to reflect along with our partners the values of the kingdom of God.

 

The empires will all pass; but the gentle community of non-violence, of peace-making, and love of neighbour – of equality – knows how to carry on and what to do; how to be prophetic when we spot our government doing deeds that so clearly go against the way of Jesus. The mistreatments of refugees, splitting up families by throwing one member out of the country; making the poor pay and go the route of austerity while the rich have their tax breaks – the kingdom of God speaks with a prophetic voice and prophetic actions.

 

At Amos have seen the example of this in action through our partners. It is interesting to note that all our partners are in countries with a colonial background, a background of domination by a western power and yet they have struggled to find their own liberation through theology, through the words and life of Jesus – this is a very real, tangible, liberating theology.

Pastor and peacemaker from Nicaragua, a mentor to me, Gustavo Parajon, said this, “The Christian faith impels us to seek justice. We see this especially in Jesus’ ministry, and in the message of the prophets, and so it is very clear that God loves justice. It is an integral part of the gospel. This is what Jesus did — ministering to the people that were marginalized and oppressed — ministering to the people that didn’t count in his time.”

 

Naim Ateek says, “We need a living theology… that changes us – a justice theology rooted in the way and teachings of Jesus and in the Hebrew prophets. Justice is mentioned more times in the Bible than we often realise – it just gets clouded by the way it is translated.” He points out that the word “righteousness” in the Bible would be better translated “justice” in many instances, both in the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. We usually understand righteousness as having an individual personal aspect, whereas the meaning is social and political, not only personal. It identifies how we should live and care for one another in society. So when we think about the words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be filled,” the use of “justice” adds a different understanding and challenge – it sets those words alight.

 

For us at Amos it has been and still is the listening to our partners, allowing them to guide us in how we can best work with them… And we learn from them.  Our partners in their experiences help us as to how to live – that’s why relationships are so important for us. And we have found communities that liberate, spirituality that liberates, and the God who liberates.  And this challenges us to prophetic actions.

 

That’s why Amos does home rebuilding which Chris has brought in – that’s a prophetic action, it affirms the community and it is a protest – and the Just Walk to Jerusalem a huge prophetic action to challenge the ongoing pain of the Balfour Declaration.

 

The Nazareth Manifesto and similar passages is what Amos has bee built on and this is what it continues to take forward under Chris’ Directorship – it continues to forge friendships, to do deeds that are prophetic – to support and listen, and they are active – marathons, cycling, jumping out of planes, and this extends our constituency.

 

Archbishop Tutu talks of Ubuntu which he calls “a tender network of interdependence.”  We need other human beings in order to be human. We are made for togetherness, we are made for family, for fellowship, to exist in a tender network of interdependence. That is why apartheid and all those systems are so fundamentally evil, for they declare that we are made for separation, for enmity, for alienation, and for apartness.

Go forth, says Tutu, conscious that everybody is to be revered. Go forth to make the world a better place where you can make a difference.

 

Song:

I didn’t speak up

When they came for the Communist

I never said a word

I’m not a Communist so I pretend I never heard

When they came for the Jew

I was not there

I’m not a Jew so why should I care?

 

Oh I didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up

No one heard my voice

‘Cause I didn’t speak up

But when they came for me

No one heard me call

There was no one left

Who could speak for me at all

 

Hear them calling from the prison cell

Hear them calling from the place of sanctuary

 

When they came for the Unionist I never said a word

I’m not a Unionist so I pretend I never heard

When they came for the Catholic I was not there

I’m not a Catholic so why should I care?

 

Oh I didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up,

No one heard my voice cause I didn’t speak up

But when they came for me no one heard me call

There was no one left who could speak for me at all

 

Hear them calling from the prison cell

Hear them calling from the place of sanctuary

 

You can be the voice

For those who cannot speak

You can be the eyes

For those who cannot see

You can speak the words

Of their unspoken cries

You can take the pain

And you can right their lives

 

Hear them calling from the prison cell

Hear them calling from the place of sanctuary

 

When they came for the Muslim I never said a word

I’m not a Muslim I so I pretend I never heard

When they came for the Palestinian I was not there

I’m not a Palestinian so why should I care?

 

Oh I didn’t speak up oh I didn’t speak up

No one heard my voice cause I didn’t speak up

When they came for me no one heard me call

There was no one left who could speak for me at all

 

Hear them calling…

Hear them calling…

Hear them calling…

Hear them calling…

 

 

 

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© Garth Hewitt

for permission to copy 

please contact GHF

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‘Singing hymns of liberation

As we journey on the road

Let justice roll – let freedom come

With deeds of love and liberation’

Garth Hewitt

Hymns of Liberation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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