The Incarnation and Justice

The Incarnation and Justice

By: Seminarian Nick Silvey

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 | First Sunday of Christmas, Year B

John 1:1-5 | Amos 5:13-15, 19-24

First Presbyterian Church Vancouver, WA

Sermon audio link: http://www.1stpresvanc.org/content.cfm?id=213&download_id=70

Note: I edited my manuscript when I was preaching, so some of the text of the sermon did not end up being preached due to time or relevancy. 


Biblical Text (NRSV):

Amos 5:13-15, 19-24

13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

19   as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.


Sermon manuscript:

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of [our] hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, [our] rock and [our] redeemer. Amen.

Hi You All, it is good to be back amongst you again! My grandpa Bud is here today after being in and out different medical facilities for the last month. He is a living miracle. Today is usually the Sunday that a lot of pastors across the country take off, so today is pulpit supply Sunday! Or you could call it seminarian Sunday – a few of my classmates are preaching today as well. Before I start my sermon I have a few things to say. First off, thank you all for your prayers and support thus far for me being at Princeton Theological Seminary. I have enjoyed receiving notes and cards from those of you who have sent me them to me. Also I have enjoyed being in contact as well with those of you on Facebook, thanks for support that way as well! My first semester of seminary has been an intense one. I especially want to thank Presbyterian Women for all of their support as well. All the support I have gotten thus far has definitely helped me both spiritually and mentally. The classroom, chapel, and meals times have all be great learning experiences for me. It has taken time to adjust to east coast living but I have adjusted. And I have also adjusted to dorm living as well since I lived right across the parking lot at home during undergraduate preparation. The classes I took during fall semester were Introduction to Evangelism, Orientation to the Old Testament, Early and Medieval Church History, speech, and Musical Resources for the congregation. All my classes have went well but we will see how well when I get my grades. This coming semester I will be taking Systematic Theology, Introduction to the New Testament with two well known NT scholars Clifton Black and Dale C Allison, God in The Old Testament with Dr. Seow, Old Testament Theology of Community, speech, and Collaborative Preparation for Worship with our Music Director. Now let us move on to the sermon.

The two passages of scripture from Amos and John are passages that I chose to preach on myself, they are not Revised Common Lectionary texts for today. The themes I will be preaching on in this sermon are exactly what the title of the sermon is: the incarnation, God with and amongst us and justice and how those both are connected to one another. I chose to preach on these two subjects because of all the recent racial relations between police and citizens. What that is referring to is the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others. We at Princeton Theological Seminary have been following the events closely and our African American students and the whole student body have been passionate about this subject. On Monday December 9th, students, faculty, staff, and even our President Craig Barnes and the Right Reverend William H. Stokes the Episcopal bishop of NJ, Dr. Darrell Guder who coined the term missional church and founder of the movement, and others associated with the seminary participated in a peaceful protest lead and organized by students. We marched from the seminary all the way to Nassau Street in front of the University. We chanted things like BlackLivesMatter, Black Bodies Matter, and No Justice, No peace while marching. We did a die in for 4 ½ minutes in downtown Princeton to represent the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body laid on the street four hours after being shot by a police officer. We took up two city blocks. This is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement was started. All lives, including Black Lives, matter! God created all of us in God’s image and God’s likeness so when any life is treated the way, like the way Michael Brown and Eric Garner were treated, that is defiling God’s image. No matter what the circumstances were surrounding both cases and no matter what side you are in this manner, you would have to agree with me that all life matters, right? With the two police officer being not indicted, this shows how broken our justice system is where some are above the law and some are not no matter what the situation is. This is not how justice works in the eyes of God. All are created equal by God, since we are created in the image of God. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, professor at PTS states: “If theological education is silent in the face of injustice, then it’s no surprise when the Church is silent.”[1] This is why my seminary did a protest to show that we will not stay silent in times of injustice. Furthermore from Dr. Pierce who is Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature, and Director of the Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary says, worship is also a form of protest as church history shows throughout time.[2] So let worship always lead to justice, that is one themes in Amos chapter 5.

Princeton Theological Seminary Minister of the Chapel Jan Ammon stated to the community before we marched and that was printed in a local newspaper: “Today we gather as a seminary community at a critical time, a time when black men and women and youth are losing their lives at the hands of those who are to protect them,” said Janice Smith Ammon, the minister of the Princeton Seminary Chapel “It is a critical time, and it is a despairing time, for we thought we were much farther regarding this issue of race than we actually are. It’s a time when we need to ask with all of our hearts how God wants us as people of faith and leaders of Christ’s church to respond. We may not all land at the same place when we ask this question. But for those who gather here today, it is clear that it is a time to speak out — to speak out against political systems and power structures that are causing destruction. It’s time to stand with individuals of color in our nation, and in our seminary community, for there are many right here standing next to us who, just about every day, feel invisible, unheard and sometimes unsafe. We need to tell truths and we need to continue to work hard for change.”[3] Ponder those words and think what you can do to work hard for change. Let us as Christians help those who feel invisible, on the margins of society, unheard, and those feel unsafe to feel the exact opposite by showing the love that God presents in the Old Testament and that Jesus embodies in the New Testament. Jesus is the embodiment of the word because he is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the prime example of how to carry out justice. He did it in love. And that is what we are called to do is to carry out justice the way Jesus did.

What will you do today or in the coming months to work hard for change in our unjust society? What will you do to help reconcile all to God? How will for work for justice? What will you do to stop the endless cycle of racism no matter how that manifests itself, both directly and indirectly? As the prophet Micah states: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And always remember, “Anti-racism work requires structural change, systematic change.”[4] And also remember from the Confession of 1967: “In [God’s] reconciling love, [God] overcomes the barriers between all and breaks down every form of discrimination”

Justice and worship within the biblical world are inseparable because the secular and the religious were the same thing. Hence all the kings of Israel always had a prophet to keep them in check because the kingship was divinely ordained. Amos’ oracles “took place in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, possibly during cultic celebrations at Bethel.”[5] Amos’ oracles also “mainly condemned the ruling classes in the north for their oppressive treatment of the poor and needy members of society, and threatened Israel would be punished by God.”[6] Furthermore, Amos “announces to the people of Israel that, because of their social injustice and religious arrogance”[7] the Lord will destroy them. This turning away from their destructive ways would have been to reverse these economic injustices. In this book “he concentrates on the treatment of one section of society by another.”[8] In this book Amos has a profound message of the need for social justice. If Israel does not turn away from evil, divine punishment will come. Within this book, we see some covenantal language in regards to the relationship between Israel and God. In essence, the people of Israel are breaking their sacred bond with their God due to arrogance and greed. A constant theme throughout Amos 5 comes in verse 14 and 15 where it says seek the good and not evil so you may live! Furthermore, “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice at the gate…” The Israelites were not seeking the good, instead they were seeking evil by their sins and not worshipping the Lord. In addition, they were loving evil and hating good and they were not establishing justice at the gate. More on the city gate: “Besides being part of a city’s protection against invaders, city gates were places of central activity in biblical times. It was at the city gates that important business transactions were made, court was convened, and public announcements were heralded.”[9] In essence, the Israelites were not in right living with the Torah by not loving good, seeking justice, seeking God, and so forth.

In commentary notes on Amos 5:21-24 it states: “Amos regards sacrifices offered to the LORD as wholly unacceptable so long as the people who offer them are morally polluted.”[10] So in essence, when the people of God worship impurely, their worship is not accepted by the Lord. In order to worship the Lord, they must be morally pure and in right relationship with God and one another. Furthermore, “Amos frequently speaks of justice and righteousness in tandem”[11] which the Israelites were not doing due to their moral impurities. When you have right worship with the Lord and in right relationship with one another, then justice should lead to righteousness, which leads to right worship. And from worship, justice and righteousness should come out like an ever-flowing stream. Worship, when done rightly, should always lead the people to do and live out the Torah.

In a sermon on Micah, Dr. Carol Dempsey states: “For Micah and for all the prophets, the heart of life was right relationship—right relationship with God, with humankind, and with all communities of life.”[12] That was not happening in the book of Amos, nor was it happening in Amos 5. Since they were not in right relationship with God nor with each other, God was going to bring judgment upon them. When the people are not in right relationship with God or one-another, they are not worshipping correctly nor will justice happen, since the relationships have been cut off. Consequently, “The people seem to have forgotten their ‘story’ and in doing so, have forgotten their saving God. Thus, the reason why the people have fallen out of ‘right’ relationship with their God and consequently with one another is because of a lack of mindfulness.”[13] Amos is trying to bring back to people that they should seek the Lord and live! Further, they should hate evil and love good. Since they were not doing any of that, they fall out of relationship with the Lord and one another. Like Carol Dempsey states, the Israelites in chapter 5 have forgotten their story and whose they belong to and whom they should be worshipping. In order for them not to be destroyed, they need to remember their story and turn back to the Lord.

God, throughout, the Old Testament narrative is constantly bringing the people of Israel back to right relationship with God and they constantly violate that relationship God is seeking with them. They are not living out what God commanded them on how to live and treat one another and how to live in community with one another. Also the Torah is about living in right relationship with God. The prophets, both major and minor, throughout the Old Testament are constantly telling the people of Israel and the nations to seek good and not evil, that you may live; and to hate evil and love good, and establish justice as Amos says in chapter 5. This is what God calls God’s people to do. We are all to love God and neighbor, hate evil, do good, do justice, walk humbly with God, to love kindness, and as Deut. 6 states: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And as Jesus expands Deut. 6 in Matthew 22: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In our society we totally miss these imperatives in scripture stated earlier.

Now how does this all apply to John 1:1-5? Well that passage is about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us and about light and darkness. The Word becoming flesh is Jesus Christ who is Emmanuel, God with us or as James Kugel : God amongst us[14] – which is the incarnation. (Emmanuel can be spelled with an I or an E, all depends on if the passage is from Isaiah or the New Testament. E= Biblical Hebrew, I=Koine Greek.) Jesus was the embodiment of the Word and he is the fulfillment of the Word. Christ is the Incarnation because: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” So according to that passage all life come into being through the Christ and without Christ nothing comes in to being. And as Genesis states in the first creation story: “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness.” Like I stated above that all life is created in the image of God no matter where you come from or what color of skin you are blessed with. All are created from God and in the image of God. And we are also created in the likeness of God. All life also reflects the likeness of God. So when you say that a black life does not matter you are denying the life that is in them that was created by God. As Dr. Yolanda Pierce states: “Affirming we’re made in the image and likeness of God, despite the lies we are told otherwise, is always a radical act.”[15]

Jesus gave all people his light so that we can shine in the darkness. We Christians should be a light wherever we are and whomever we are with. And as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:  “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” So we should show that light everywhere. That light that we should show to the world is the love of God in Christ Jesus. We are called to be the kingdom of God and apart of that kingdom is show our light to the world. Part of showing our light to the world is showing what true justice is. In preparing for this sermon I asked my Old Testament professor Dr. Denis Olson on how I could connect John 1 and Amos 5 together, here is what he told me in an email: “In John 1, it speaks of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, bringing light into the darkness, the light of all people.  In a similar way, Amos as a human prophet brought God’s Word into a particular time and place in his society.  Amos shone a light on the darkness that many in his society did not see—the plight of the widow, orphan and poor.  Amos warned of a judgment that would come before a time of restoration and thereby testified to the light of God’s truth and God’s grace.” As the Belhar Confession states: “God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.”[16] And as Dr. Yolanda Pierce states: “If your theology isn’t speaking about justice, for this present age, your theology is meaningless.”[17] So let your theology speak justice!

In closing, I would like to share a statement from the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) in response to the Ferguson case: “This decision calls the whole church to reflect seriously about the communities and the racial climate we have created in this country. We need a society where everyone is treated with dignity and valued, where there is no fear of walking down the street. We hope for lessons learned, lives changed, and inequitable systems across the United States dismantled in order to bring about the kind of world God has called us to co-create.”[18] So let us also carry our what our Stated Clerk has challenged the church to do!

And let us remember and take this to heart from the President of Union Seminary in New York: “The brutality of racism and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenant of our Christian faith—indeed, the tenants of all the world’s major religions. Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being”[19] Finally,  “The Gospel is a very dangerous idea. We have to see how much of that dangerous idea we can perform in our own lives. There is nothing [innocent] or safe about the Gospel. Jesus did not get crucified because he was a nice man.”[20]

[1] <https://twitter.com/YNPierce/status/540262282752970753&gt;

[2] <https://twitter.com/YNPierce/status/541273454830710785&gt;

[3] <http://planetprinceton.com/2014/12/08/princeton-seminary-students-and-staff-turn-out-in-force-to-march-for-racial-justice/&gt;

[4] https://twitter.com/YNPierce/status/541775782264463360

[5] Burton, John. “Amos.” In The New Interpreters Study Bible, 1279. Nashville: Abingdon, 2003.

[6] Ibid 1279

[7] Ibid 1279

[8] Ibid 1279

[9] <http://www.gotquestions.org/city-gate.html#ixzz3N7hnJeD3&gt; Note: city gates are a very important concept in the Old Testament.

[10] Burton, John. “Amos.” In The New Interpreters Study Bible, 1287. Nashville: Abingdon, 2003.

[11] Dearman, J. Andrew, and Gene Tucker. “Amos.” In The HarperCollins Study Bible, 1224. New York: HaperOne, 2006.

[12] Dempsey, Carol. “Sermon on Micah 6:1-8.” Keynote speech, Presbytery of the Cascades Stated Meeting from Presbytery of the Cascades, Portland, OR, November 8, 2008.

[13] Ibid

[14] He states this in his book How to Read The Bible in a chapter on Isaiah. This was the main secondary textbook for my Old Testament class. This is the #1 book on Amazon selling in the Old Testament Biographies category.

[15] <https://twitter.com/YNPierce/status/545806872989933571&gt;

[16] <https://www.rca.org/resources/confession-belhar&gt;. This confession is up for debate to be accepted by ¾ of the presbyteries and may be adopted in 2016 at the General Assembly meeting in Portland, OR.

[17] <https://twitter.com/YNPierce/status/540262282752970753&gt;

[18] <https://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/11/24/pcusa-stated-clerk-responds-ferguson-grand-jury/&gt;

[19] <http://www.utsnyc.edu/pages-primary/institutes–initiatives/institutes–initiatives—ferguson-statement&gt;

[20] <https://medium.com/theology-of-ferguson/models-and-authorizations-an-interview-with-walter-brueggemann-3ab5ecd96c20&gt;

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