Homily

Reading from the Book of Amos 2:6-8, 3:10, 8:4-6, 9:11-14
“… They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals, they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way – My people have forgotten how to do right,” Says the Lord. “Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence.” Listen to this, you who rob the poor and trample down the needy! You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over and the religious festivals to end so you can get back to cheating the helpless. You measure out grain with dishonest measures and cheat the buyer with dishonest terms. – The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the tread-er of grapes the one who sows the seed, the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them.”

The Collect:
Oh Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of all creation. And grant that we may perceive and know peace in times of trouble, justice in days of discord, and that we may have the grace and strength to faithfully fulfill the same within our own hearts and communities. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, amen.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O’Lord, our rock, and our redeemer.

While we continue our sermon series this summer, working our way through the prophets… I’m not entirely convinced that it was happenstance or coincidence that we’ve given the book of Amos to the new guy…

Nevertheless such it is…

Here we are this morning, gathered in this sanctuary, families together, just one week after working through Jephthah executing his own daughter as a burnt sacrifice, and we are gob-smacked with trampling the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth, we come face to face with the exhortation that our people have utterly forgotten how to do right… And here I am to proclaim the good news…

Well… Perhaps more than any other work within our Cannon, Amos directly holds people accountable for their manipulation and abuse of other people… Amos methodically levees charges against Judah, Israel, her neighbors, and ultimately not only the politicians and leaders, but the communities that have either stood as accessory to the atrocity around him, or have by their own hand and through their own measure cheated the helpless, sullied the Sabbath, and measured grain with dishonest means and ways.
For context, we must first hear Amos in Amos’ own place… In a nation weighted with the bitter harvest of wealth sowed and reaped upon the backs of impoverished communities… Amos is living, imagine if you can, in a nation that is busting at the seams with wealth for some, while for others the struggle to just put food on the table is a daily chore… Amos levees complaints that reflect the brutality and perversion of the justice system he is witnessing around him… A system of law where those who were entrusted with the administration of justice and daily peace made nothing of selling a righteous man or a righteous cause when it came to be tried before them for a piece of silver… A system of justice where sentence was passed not according to the merits of the cause or action, but the weight of the bribe… And oh how the bribe would always turn the scale… Judgement was set to sale by auction to the highest bidder. Amos was surrounded by a culture and a community that would sell the life and livelihood of a poor man for a pair of shoes… For the least advantage to themselves that could be proposed to them… Amos was actively witnessing how the system of law and governance would offer unto itself but a pair of shoes and the cause of a poor man who could not give them as much as that, would be betrayed and left at the mercy of those that will have no mercy.

It is hard sometimes… For us, here, in the heart of the metropole of modern colonialism and empire building to imagine how surely justice and law could be swayed… Perhaps it is difficult for us here, in the land of justice, in the seat of global peace and prosperity to comprehend what it would be like to go before a judge, and be asked to offer up all you have, even sell your shoes for counsel, only to be hung out to dry by the power and wealth of corporate law and demolished by the weight of the powers that be…

Imagine if you will, a young man… 29 years young. A young man who spent his life back and forth from one institution to another… Diagnosed with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety issues… A young man who spent the last couple years of his life bouncing from state to state, from reservation to native community, looking for work, looking for acceptance, looking for space… And one early summer night this young man was kicked off a southbound bus. Passengers had complained about him, surely he was intoxicated… And so at midnight on a Saturday night, he sets out on his own…

By 3:50 pm the next afternoon this young man finds himself on road called Center street… And police are called, the reports is that there is a man licking windows outside of a Wax Salon… Police arrive, offer the young man water and ask him if he wants to go to a shelter… Dehydrated and off his meds… Why would he go to a shelter? He’s not homeless… And he becomes agitated… According to the officers report he appears to be under the influence of drugs or mentally ill, and having no reason to detain him… The officers leave…

Now by 10:28 pm that night a mother’s son has not reached home… And calling police station to police station on her sons bus route in the major city between his place of departure and his home of record police report is filed on a missing person who has schizophrenia and is bipolar.
That same night by midnight… 12:36 am to be exact… Police arrive at a gas station… The young man refuses to leave… Has nowhere to go… 2 days off medication, 2 days alone on the streets, 2 days of memory, dreams, fear, wondering a community not his own… And at 12:40 am an officer arrives to find this young man, as the report states, Dancing in front of the store… With garbled speech, and per the official report, displaying signs of impairment, when asked for identification at exactly 12:41 am the young man is put into handcuffs without incident.

Now four minutes later at 12:54 am the young man is placed, again, without incident, in the back of a cruiser… He will stay there for the next 36 minutes….

At 1:03 am, 9 minutes after being placed in the cruiser, police call the young man’s mother, talk with her for 23 minutes, requesting first that he be put in a crisis center.. But somewhere in this 23 minute phone call the decision is instead made to drop him back off at the bus station.

1:30 am… Officers open the cruiser door to put a seat belt on the young man… When the door was opened the young man gets out and starts to walk away… Still in handcuffs mind you.

Three officers, three, attempt to control him from walking away, and the young man is thrown into an outdoor display of bottled water in front of the gas station.

1:32am the three police officers on site, after throwing one handcuffed man onto the ground request for back up.

1:35am, another officer arrives… The now four officers try to move the young man back to a cruiser…

A struggle ensues.

Each officer takes a limb, in attempt to carry him back to the cruiser, but they drop him… He makes it to his feet, dazed confused, still with hands bound behind his back… The young man is wrestled to the ground… Again four officer cannot contain him, the cries, the shouts, Taser, Taser, Taser… The young man is electrocuted multiple times… Probes dug into the young man’s abdomen and thigh, he is young though, and not incapacitated…

The young man’s long black native hair, braided in a ponytail is clenched by an officer, another takes him by his arms, attempting to drag him by his hair back to the cruiser, Taser probes still attached, Taser, Taser, Taser, this round of electricity seems to subdue the young man…

And for exactly one minute and forty five seconds the young man lays on the warm concrete, propped up against the rear tire of the cruiser, in that one minute and forty five seconds of incapacitation and non-resistance he is shocked, unprovoked, three more times… The final of the three seems to have the opposite effect and the young man frees his left hand from the handcuff, and rises to swing his arms and kick, then he is struck in the back of the head, placed in a neck hold, and while brought down to the ground, where he is continually beaten… while on the ground again, with one officer on his chest striking him in the face, he is tased again, and again… all in all 12 times……

Within 9 minutes an ambulance arrives… The time is now 1:49 am… Handcuffed to a gurney medics advice the police that the young man has stopped breathing… And has no pulse…

Within 20 some odd minutes, by 2:16 am the young man is pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

CPR ends.

And so too does his life breath.
The young man has a name… Zachary Bear Heels.

The gas station has a location… It sits on the corner of 60th and Center… In our own beloved city.

I say again… The righteous in their acts can and are being sold out for silver…

And a pair of sandals the price for the poor…

Now I’ve heard it said that God is surely an infinite eternal Spirit; but, when the truth of God is upheld by idolatry that truth changes into a lie, all god’s other truths are in danger of being so changed likewise’

Amos in Hebrew literally means, “A Burdon.”

Amos asks us if we shall we prostitute justice for the merest trifle?

Amos asks us if moral corruption blinds our power of discernment… Amos calls us to see that this is not a simple intellectual ignorance, rather the defect lay in the heart and in the will.

Amos asks us if Zachary Bear Heels shall be our story. Shall the price of life be severance pay and dismissal from a job? Perhaps Zachary Bear Heels was not sold on our streets for a pair of shoes… Perhaps that happened years ago when a young native man was diagnosed and set aside… But we must ask ourselves if his last name wasn’t Bear Heels, and maybe it was Wilhelm, or Johnston, or some other placid name of anglo-privilege, would he have been tased to death on our streets?

I stop at the corner of 60th and Center street regularly… I live just a mile north… There are no flowers there, there is no memorial… Gas continues to be sold. Goods and services are rendered… And life goes about its way… Yet on that ground a young man was murdered. On that corner a beacon of injustice will forever burn, seen or unseen by those who drive by…

So Zachary’s story must become our own… Amos’ reflections are as relevant then as they are today…

In words of Walter Brueggemann in his opening preface to the revised edition of prophetic imagination…

He suggested that the old way, the old definition of prophet vs king, has become increasingly outmoded and hard to pull off.

Brueggemann suggests rather that the work of the prophet today is a work of providing an alternative witness to the broken realities that the world currently sees…

A friend of mine who I studied in Seminary with just last week preached these words at the UCC general conference… He, not I, noted that in light of Brueggemann’s suggestions regarding prophecy we must come in line with this tradition of being an alternative witness to brokenness… My seminary colleague reminded us that there is a midrash that speaks to us about a river of water that followed the prophets, and so too we must be a river of water, we must provide an alternative reality to the desert of despair we find ourselves in..

So, I offer to you that one of those leaders, one of these prophets of or time can be you… For this matter of servant hood is critical for us to engage, it is paramount that we must do more than talk amongst ourselves about the atrocities around us…

My seminary colleague preached how, Dr. John Goldingay, the Professor of Old Testament at Fuller, suggests to us that leadership is actually a divine conceit against human sinfulness… For Dr. Goldingay suggests that what god requires is not some group of people set aside to make rules for others… Rather god desires direct contact with other people, god desires to abide directly with gods people, and rather than leadership god desires servanthood… This is in Brueggemann’s way is an alternative witness… Rather than the commonly held understandings of what it means to be a leader… We must find service in hearing, for many of us believe that prophecy is about public speech and witness, nevertheless and increasingly we must understand that prophecy is actually about the engagement we have with other people… Engagements when we find ourselves at the bedsides of loved ones, in the dining rooms of friends distraught by the veracity of life, engagements when we come into contact with a wondering stranger at a bucky’s gas station…

I argue that we must develop a perennial understanding of prophecy that is servanthood…

In the verbatim words of this friend of mine who I have been speaking of , the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, we must invite our church to catch up with the work of God…

We stand aghast of atrocities that have taken place historically… We are eager to discuss the 16th street church bombing… The massacre at Wounded Knee… The civil rights movement of days past, the broken theology that was attempted to be forced upon this very congregation when it was willing to stand up to truth to power…

But are we willing to say Zachary BearHeels name… Are we willing to drive by the ground he was murdered on and call it our own…

But more importantly, are we willing to redefine what it means to be a prophet… What it means to live into leadership…

The prophecy of Amos is surely as powerful today as it was then, surely as relevant today as it was in Amos’ own time…

But none of us here are Amos… None of us here have our names etched for eternity into the dogmatic and journals that comprise our faith tradition…

But our names can be etched into the lives of those in need… Our names can be remembered as prophets of peace for those who so desperately needed advocacy…

Let our prophecy be that we have not gone gentle into this great night that has been cast upon us…
Let our prophecy be that we will serve. Not only when it is convenient… But when the last breath of Zachary BearHeels makes its way before your own eyes… In the form of a stranger lost, confused, and reluctant…

The good news today is that we can redefine what it means to be a prophet. We can live into the renewal of our community. We can have the courage to say Zachary BearHeels name… And commit ourselves to never allowing it to happen in our city, on our streets again…

Family, on this day and forevermore… The prophet must now be you.

And for that, we together say… Amen.