Ayr: St Columba Church

Sunday 26 July 2020

Many thanks to our Associate Minister David for this week’s Sermon

Amos 8: 1 – 10  /Matthew 13:  31 – 35

          We are certainly living in difficult and uncertain times.  Who knows when things will ever return to normal.  Perhaps we will have to get used to a new normal.  Covid 19 has devastated families, businesses and our economy is in a parlous state with the government having to borrow unprecedented amounts of money.  We are facing unemployment on a huge scale with all the consequences that will follow, and Brexit is just around the corner.

          I feel sorry for politicians.  No matter what they do, or say or propose or support, someone will come out and impugn their motives.  They do not have a crystal ball and I honestly believe that they are doing their best to steer our country through this unparalled situation.  Yes, they will get things wrong, but so do we all.  I feel we should support our elected representatives in their efforts to control the virus and to make our country, indeed our world, a better and safer place for us all.  One of the qualities they need to have is courage – courage to stand up for their convictions and courage to take a stand which might make them unpopular but which they believe to be right.  We all seem to have a desire to be popular – to do the things we know will please others.  Yet often, not only politicians, but all of us, have to take a stand do what we believe to be right because the issues are too great.

          Such a man was Amos.  Poor old Amos – a mere country lad – not sophisticated in any way.  The intelligentsia of the day could have probable run rings around him – bought and sold him a dozen times.  He was a simple herdsman from Tekoa, used to struggling hard against nature just to scrape a livelihood.  As his religion demanded, he went on a pilgrimage to Bethel and was shocked by what he saw there.  He saw men going through the motions of worshipping God – of even acting as if God was their private benefactor and guardian.  And while they offered sacrifices and performed the rituals, their lives outside spoke of injustice, oppression and deceit.  Amos realized that God was being mocked and couldn’t keep quiet.  He had to speak.  “Such practices cannot go on” he proclaimed, “these men will be destroyed, and with them the sanctuary they frequent and the house of the king Jeroboam, who allows such things to happen.”   Brave words – almost treasonable words and they instantly made Amos hundreds of enemies especially among the rich trading classes, the Temple personnel and the Royal Household.  But he persisted in his denunciations and prophecies.  Something within him would not allow him to take the easy way out, be silent and withdraw.

          It is obvious one of the qualities Amos had was courage and I believe it is something, which not only politicians should exhibit, but we all should.  As Christians we should not only have the courage of our convictions, but display in action what we believe Christ demands of us.  We should have to courage to condemn and denounce what we know to be wrong, and to take action where we can.  This can at times bring us into conflict with others, but surely as Christians we do not have a choice.  I am sure we all know people who have been given a raw deal or who desperately need our help and support and we should, the church should, be there for them.  Sometimes we feel totally inadequate, or do not want to get involved and we make all sorts of excuses.  We can if we are willing make a huge difference to the lives of others.

          It is amazing what one person fired with zeal and completely dedicated can do.  That is what we read about in the parable of the mustard seed.  The mustard seed is not strictly speaking the smallest of seeds, but in the East it is proverbial for smallness, and in Palestine this little grain of seed does grow into something very much like a tree.  The parable is a parable of hope.  How small the seed of Christianity was – a baby born into a harsh world – a teacher on a hillside – a condemned man on a shameful cross – an empty grave – a handful of men believing in him – what a tiny seed in such a vast alien field.  John Steinback in his novel  “Grapes of Wrath” has one of his characters, a preacher called Casey, say, “One person with their mind made up can shove a lot of folks around”.   That is true in every realm.  In the first century, a few people with their minds made up came into the whirlpool of Greek and Roman life, and as one of their leaders put it, “we have the mind of Christ”, and for twenty one centuries, we can see the divine shove on humanity and on the world.  We can see the tiny beginnings in Paul, journeying to Athens and Rome, face to

face with the overwhelming intellectual and political powers of his time – we see it in Calvin and Luther – we see it in John Woolman and William Wilberforce facing slavery – we can see it in Robert Morrison facing four hundred million non-Christians in China.

          Let me tell you a story Prof. Barclay used.  It is the story of Telemachus.  Telemachus was a hermit who lived in the desert, but one day he felt a compulsion to go to Rome.  Rome in those days was nominally Christian, but even in Christian Rome gladiatorial games went on, in which men fought each other usually to the death, and the crowds roared with the lust for blood.  Telemachus found his way to the games.  Eighty thousand people were there to spectate.  He was horrified.  Were these men who were slaughtering each other not also children of God?  He leapt from his seat, right into the arena, and stood between the gladiators.  He was tossed aside.  He came back.  The crowds were angry.  They began to stone him and still he struggled back between the gladiators.  Then the Prefects command rang out.  A sword flashed in the sunlight, and Telemachus was dead.  And then suddenly there was a hush – the crowd realized what had happened – a holy man lay dead.  Something happened that day to Rome for there were never any Gladiatorial Games any more.  The one man by his death let loose something that cleansed an Empire of a heinous evil – one man.

          Someone must begin a reformation – history bristles with examples of this.  It is a challenge for us all.  What impact are we as individual Christians making in our daily lives with those we meet and work with, or within our community?  Should we all not ask the question, “What am I doing for Christ?”   Remember one thing – if Christ want something done for mankind, he has to get a man or woman to do it – and that person must have the courage and dedication of Amos and not be discouraged by the seeming uselessness or immensity of the task. 

          May we all keep safe and well during this testing period.