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Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy
(Part 1: Neighborly Division?)
By Pastor John Partridge
There’s a word that we have been using more in the last few years than we have in the last few decades. That word is…
There are divisions between races, between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption, as well as the ongoing division within our denomination. And within those divisions, everyone thinks that they are right, that they have exclusive access to the truth and that any information that disagrees with their viewpoint is part of a conspiracy of some kind. I’ve seen internet memes about Supreme Court conspiracies, presidential election conspiracies (from at least two entirely different points of view), gun control conspiracies, tax conspiracies, gasoline conspiracies, pandemic conspiracies of all sorts, and there were even a few flat earth and faked moon-landing conspiracies throw in.
I’m not going to even try to wade into that mess except to say that psychologically speaking, it’s easier to say that something is a conspiracy, than it is to admit that we simply don’t understand how something could, or did, happen. Instead, this morning I want to look at where the followers of Jesus Christ should be, what position we should take, when everyone around us is drawing lines in the sand and taking sides. We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Amos. I think the words of Amos sound particularly relevant and familiar to the twenty-first century world that we see in the news every day. You see, Amos was a sheep herder and a tree trimmer who was called by God to speak the truth to a nation, a church, a government, and a king that didn’t want to hear the truth. And in Amos 7:7-17 we hear these words:
7 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. 8 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.
9 “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 pagancountry.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
The first thing we hear is God showing Amos a plumb line. Not everyone may be familiar with this simple device, but masons, carpenters, and builders of all kinds use these things to make sure that what they are building is straight and not curved, bent, angled, or warped. God’s patience has limits and God has had enough of the corruption of his church, his priests, his people, and even Israel’s king and says that he is going to measure them all and see who is built the right way.
Once Amos begins to deliver this message from God, Amaziah the priest, who is supposed to be a representative of God, tells the king that Amos is spreading fake news and is raising a conspiracy against the king. Amaziah continues by telling Amos to go home and make money prophesying somewhere else. Amos, of course, isn’t paid to preach. Contrary to Amaziah’s assumptions, Amos isn’t on the government payroll, he isn’t on the take, and he doesn’t prophecy for profit. But Amaziah, although he is a priest, obviously works for the king and for the government, but not for the truth and not for God. And, because he wears the robes and vestments of the priesthood, but shills for the government and tells God’s prophet to shut up and go away, God levies a particularly nasty judgement and curse against him.
And again, as we live in a world where preachers are accused of being “in it for the money,” where every politician claims that God is on their side, where everyone lays claim to their own individual brand of truth, and where every voice of opposition is labeled as a conspiracy, the words of Amos sound eerily familiar. But what should we do about it? What truth should we believe?
A part of our answer for today comes from Jesus’ encounter with a church theologian who specialized in interpreting the Law of Moses. As we will see, he didn’t come to Jesus because he didn’t know the answer, he came because he wanted Jesus to agree with him and validate his opinion. We hear these words in 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 is a theological lawyer. His expertise and experience are likely in interpreting and applying the Law of Moses to modern society and court cases though he is not described as a magistrate or a judge. And so, as I said, we might best understand his work as both a theologian and a lawyer. In any case, he didn’t just want an answer, because he understood the scriptures well enough to find the answer for himself, what he really wanted was for Jesus to tell him that he was right. Our scripture says that “he wanted to justify himself.” He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was right, his interpretation was right, that his life was right, and that he didn’t need to change anything to gain eternal life. That’s what he wanted.
And doesn’t that sound familiar in our twenty-first century world? How often do we do that as individuals, or see it done by politicians, members of Congress, or even in the church? How often do we only listen to the echo chambers of social media, or biased news, so that we can hear opinions that agree with our own and confirm that we’re “just fine” the way we are? It happens constantly. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t do what the lawyer wanted. Jesus is not an echo chamber. Rather than validate the man’s opinion, Jesus exposes his bias and challenges him to examine an entirely disturbing way of looking at things.
In the traditional scriptural interpretation, your neighbor was any other descendant of Abraham, Israelite, or Jew. Gentiles, backsliders, sinners and the unclean were not neighbors. But Jesus creates a story in which an enemy of Israel was the hero of the story who sacrificed his time, his money, and his convenience to show compassion to a Jew and likely to save his life. In Jesus’ opinion, your neighbor isn’t the person who looks like you, or who goes to church with you, who believes like you, or who even comes from the same country as you. Jesus turns the rules and the law on its head by saying that our neighbors aren’t even people who like us, but instead are all the people of the world up to, and including, our fiercest enemies. And folks, if you haven’t already figured it out, the reason that this turns the culture of Jesus’ day on its head, and why it still turns our twenty-first century culture on its head, is that this is not the expected answer and not the way that any of us usually think about the world and our place in it.
This conversation with Jesus started with a statement of law, “‘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.’” But if my sworn enemy is my neighbor, if my boss that hates me is my neighbor, if the guy that lets his dog poop in my yard is my neighbor, if abortionists and pro-lifers, black lives matter and the Ku Klux Klan, Iranian, Iraqis, Russians, Ukrainians, Muslims, atheists, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Global Methodists and everything in between are all my neighbors, then my life just got a lot more complicated because Jesus wants me to treat them, and love them, the way that I love myself.
That’s about as far as we’re going to go today, but we will resume, continue, and hopefully conclude, this topic next week. But for today, let me leave you with these thoughts:
All our divisions, whether they are between political parties, divisions over guns, abortion, supreme court justices, election results, inflation, corporate greed, government corruption or the ongoing division within our denomination, all look a lot different if, and when, we remember that all the people on the “other side” are our neighbors. And because Jesus says that they are our neighbors, and because we are commanded to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, it completely re-frames how we treat them and refocuses everything that we do, and how we live our lives.
We live in a nation, and a world, which is filled with division, but we are commanded to love as if it isn’t.
Read the rest of this two-part message, “Truth, Conspiracy, and Living Worthy: What *is* a Worthy Life?” here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2022/07/17/truth-conspiracy-and-living-worthy-part-2/
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.