God and Weasels

“God and Weasels”

July 10, 2016

By John Partridge*


Scripture: Luke 10:25-37              Colossians 1:1-14                  Amos 5:7-17


Do you watch the news at all?

Does this year’s political fiasco stir up any questions for you or for your friends?

I suspect that it has, and I think that it should.

Here are some politically charged questions that are often asked by the followers of Jesus Christ as well as your average person on the street.  And, while they are politically charged questions, they deserve thoughtful, theological, answers.

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?

Why are there people, that no matter what they do, nothing bad ever seems to ever happen to them?

Why do these same people manipulate the media so that the people don’t ever hear the truth?

The funny thing about these questions is that, while I have put them into a 21st century context by the way that I worded them, I wasn’t referring specifically to the Bushes, Cheneys, Clintons, or anyone else.  In fact, I drew these questions from a story in the Bible from almost three thousand years ago.  (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

Amos was just a guy herding sheep in the middle of nowhere until God called him to take a message to the people of Israel.  But when he did, the priest at the nation’s most important place of worship, the place where the king would have sacrificed and worshipped, Bethel, sends a message to King Jeroboam that Amos is trying to undermine his authority and destroy Israel.  In our terminology, he is conspiring to control the news cycle and stifle free speech, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear the truth, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear message from God that Amos is preaching.

Amaziah the priest goes on to tell Amos to go home and not to bother coming to bring God’s words to the king, to the capital city, and to the nation’s most prominent place of worship.  But Amos’s answer is this: If God has called me to bring a message to Israel then I will bring a message to Israel.  And if you want to stop me, then God has a message of disaster for you as well.

King Jeroboam didn’t like bad news and he didn’t like his people to hear bad news either.  In fact, he had been manipulating the news for so long that he didn’t want the people to hear the truth at all.  On top of that, the church, along with the nation’s most important priest, was one of his leading coconspirators. Together, they had been building something that God says doesn’t measure up, a nation, and policies, morals and ethics, that don’t match God’s standards.  And the message that Amos brought was that God himself was coming with his plumb line, his measuring stick, to see what is built to standard, to see what is straight, to find what is crooked, to test them, to measure them, and everything, and everyone, that didn’t measure up would be destroyed.

Perhaps one of the most important messages that we learn from Amos is that while God’s justice may not always be immediate, or as fast as we would hope it would be, God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.  Ignoring God does not make God, or God’s justice, go away and ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them no matter how wealthy or important (or unimportant) you may be.

Nearly eight hundred years later, in the time of Jesus, people haven’t changed.  Leaders of the nation and of the church are still trying to manipulate and misinterpret the words of God for their own benefit but Jesus isn’t having any of it.  (Luke 10:25-37)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This man, who is described as an expert in Jewish law, comes to Jesus and seems confused by the meaning of one of the two fundamental laws of God, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He accepts that this is a fundamental law of God, and he accepts that he is commanded to love his neighbor, but when it comes time to decide who his neighbor might be, he wants to play fast and loose with the definition.

He knew that he wasn’t loving and so, because “he wanted to justify himself” he tries to get Jesus to give him a definition of “neighbor” that will allow him to weasel out of loving people that he doesn’t like.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that noise.

Jesus tells him a story, in which the hero of the story, the most loving, and most godly character, is a man that every Jew has been raised and trained to hate with every fiber of his being, an enemy that they disliked more than they hated the Romans, a Samaritan.  In the end, the teacher of the law admits that it was his enemy that showed mercy, but even then he can’t bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” out loud.

Jesus wants us to know that just like it was in the time of Amos, we can’t change God’s rules just because we don’t like them.  Redefining words, or misinterpreting scripture, to make ourselves look good is not acceptable.

We cannot follow the way of the weasel.

There is another way.

As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae, he begins by complimenting them because the things that they have been doing have people all over talking about them. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The faith of the church in Colossae, their love, and their ministry, is bearing fruit and people are talking about them so much that Paul keeps hearing about them as he travels on his missionary journeys.  And so, Paul, and his travelling companions, are continually in prayer for the Colossian church so that God would continue the good work there, strengthen them, and give them great endurance and patience so that the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ might continue to grow throughout the world.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to obey his teaching.  But the followers of Jesus Christ are called to do things his way and not to redefine words, reinterpret, and misinterpret scripture so that we make the gospel message into something it isn’t just so that we can look good.

Instead, we are reminded of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 30:9-10 where it says, “The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

God’s justice may not always come as fast as we would hope it would but God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.

Ignoring God does not make God go away.

Ignoring God does not make God’s justice go away.

Ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them.

We are called to follow the way of Jesus Christ… and not the way of the weasel.

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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