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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, November 6, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Ddedicated dedicated to dedicated to the Rev. Ronald Botts in thanksgiving for 35 years of ordained ministry, to my wife, Susan Sitler in thanksgiving for 20 years of marriage, to "all the saints of God" who have died unto the Lord in the last year and always to the glory of God!
The Saints of God
Amos 5:18-24 and Matthew 25:1-13

He was a herdsman from the wild country of Tekoa. He tended sheep and goats. Most of his days were spent in silence in the wild hill country. But, one day, he received a visit from the Lord God Almighty, King of the Universe, who called him to be a prophet - for just a few weeks.

When the Lord appeared to Amos, the shepherd of Tekoa reminded the Lord that he stammered when he spoke. He said, "Lord, I am not the man for your job. You need a trained professional prophet, like the ones down in the city." God disagreed. God wasn't looking for a pro. God was seeking a prophet. The Lord responded (with your pastor paraphrasing):

Amos, those prophets are not preaching my Word. They are preaching what the people want to hear. I have a message to give through them, but they won't deliver it. They are infected and infested with the same affliction with which the people are afflicted. They are afflicted with the prosperity Gospel. The prosperity of the land has made even the prophets live for greed and wealth. There aren't any more down there who have not been consumed by greed. So Amos, it has to be you. You are the last, uninfected man of Israel. You may be a stutterer, you may be a simple man, but up here in this wild country, you are untouched by greed. It has to be you, Amos. You must go and tell them that they will be destroyed, because, honestly, it is too late to save them!

Very reluctantly, Amos left his flocks for a few weeks. He went to the city. He passed on the bad news of the peoples' coming destruction. No one wanted to hear that they were worshiping false images and making sacrifices to foreign gods. No one wanted to rest from making money. No one wanted to be questioned. Many appeared were lazy and indifferent, as if they had lost all feeling and faith.

By Amos 5:18-24, the stammering herdsman of Tekoa found words needed to clear the air on the people's injustices and unrighteousness. Drawing from Eugene Peterson's The Message listen to God's words in today's prophetic text:

I can't stand your religious meetings. I am fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religious projects and your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and your image making. I've had my fill of your noisy, ego-centric music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice - unending justice - flowing like rivers out of the mountains! And I want fairness - unbridled rivers of fairness. That's what I want. That is all I want!

After this frontal assault, Amos (whose name means "Burden Bearer"), returned to his flocks in the hill country of Tekoa. Except for that brief period, he never returned to the prophecy business. Yet, his prophecy was written down and is more relevant today than in any time in history. It is as if this simple shepherd, and the God of all ages, is reaching into our times and saying, "When will you wake up and do what is right, O my people?"

A fountain outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama contains hundreds of names of those who were lynched and murdered working for the cause of civil and human rights in this country. The monument is a flat, black, circular granite table with names carved in stone. The words of Amos 5:24 are on the wall behind the fountain - "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Fast-moving water flows across the names of the righteous ones and then cascades to the ground. Through the flowing water, you can read the names of the martyrs. You can touch their names if you dare to be saturated by the waters of justice. If ever you are there, close your eyes and with your fingers, trace the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.(or others who are heroes in the cause). It is a powerful experience to reach into the water and feel the flow of righteousness and justice wash you clean. Amos calls us to be soldiers in the contemporary battles for justice and righteousness.

This past year, we have been washed by the waters of death. Being washed by the waters of death, have a way of cleansing us and humbling us anew. Sitting by a bedside when your beloved dies, making the first calls to others and speaking the words that your beloved is dead, standing as sentinels while receiving friends and family as they pay their last respects, passing through the ritual of funerals and memorial services, and the time of burial is exhausting and humbling, to say the least. But, the time of grieving beyond the grave always bears elements of sadness, emptiness, confusion, fatigue, challenge and loneliness. The empty chair, the missing place in the bed, the phone number which doesn't ring to their answering voice anymore, the stories which bring smiles to our faces but lack any more resolution now, the silence where laughter and love once reigned - all of this makes for such imbalance. We miss them so. We miss their presence, their goodness, their love. Sometimes we ache for them. Sometimes we stir in silence.

On this day when Amos calls us across time to be soldiers in the battle for justice and righteousness, we pause to remember those whom we have loved who now rest in peace - the peace of the Lord. May we remember the goodness of each one of their lives. May these memories inspire us to live well.

I will forever remember Paul Sr.'s laughter, his love for this land, especially the land within the borders we know as " OHIO," and his love for one certain island. I will forever remember Ben's honesty and candor, his quiet, clear sense of faith and what was right and wrong in this world. I will forever remember Betty's loving embrace and her ability to draw all people to her with acceptance and love. I will forever remember Jane's absolute delight in beauty and her ability to see what was beautiful in every person she encountered (She was the party!). I will forever remember Ruth's zany happiness and her love and acceptance of me as her pastor and teacher (even though she often disagreed with the teachings). I will forever remember Mary's delight in the music of First Church and her U.C.C. faith - that is Unitarians Considering Christ theology - which made her feel at home here. I will forever remember Grace's eyes, her smile, her intelligence, her grace in difficult days which lingered long and in the end the beams of Love's true light shined through her. I will forever remember Bob's ability to help me take myself less seriously by holding up a mirror to my soul and allowing me to laugh at myself. I will forever remember Herb's kindness, his loving support for my ministry (our ministry), and his quoting Chal Coe when deliberating an answer to a question - "I will take it to the silences," he would say. But, his silences were never overly-extended. I will forever remember Jim - his passionate vision for a better church and society - his work to get there and his enjoyment on the journey. I will forever remember Marguerite who loved to quote my sermons to me, asked me detailed questions about the Trustees investments (25 years after serving with them!), and loved her nephews and nieces more fully than many people love their children. I will forever remember Virginia's quite and quite private ways and her smile that could light up this sanctuary on any dark day. I will forever remember Lucille's clear, direct discourse and her loving heart of gold that showed through her every time she smiled and laughed. I will forever remember Paul's love of this place, our music, and these organs. I will forever remember these men and women who lived, loved, and shared their passion and compassion for more than 1100 years of lifetime - much of it shared in the grace and space of this congregation. Thanks be to God for these saints of God and for the goodness of all their lives.

We turn now to the place of memory and hope, where our Savior calls us again to "remember him." So, in the spirit of memory and hope, let us turn our hearts and minds to the table of Grace set before us by our Savior. Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church