Ripe for the Picking

482186065image courtesy of Seb Oliver, gettyimages.com …. sermon for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Amos 8:1-12, Luke 10:38-42 …. This year, our family vacation started out in west Michigan. When I’m near the water, I don’t need much. I’m happy sleeping in my beach chair under the sunshade with my stainless steel cooler beside me. But, if you have adult children who are newly married, you have to do a little more to entice them to travel with you. So, for the second year in a row, we rented a house: a nice inland lake in front of us with kayaks, canoe, and rowboat. Out back, beyond the fire pit and through the woods, you walked over the dune to Lake Michigan.

You may know that Michigan is a major producer of fruit, especially along the so-called “fruit belt.” While we were there, strawberry harvest was near the end, cherries were available, blueberries were just beginning to ripen. We went to the Spring Lake farmer’s market, and there were pies.

Some of you may remember the episode of the TV show “Seinfeld” where Jerry and George dream of a trip to upstate New York. Their dialogue goes like this:

“That’s pie country. They do a lot of baking up there.”

“They sell them by the side of the road. Blueberry blackberry.”

“Blackberry boysenberry.”

“Boysenberry huckleberry.”

“Huckleberry raspberry.”

“Raspberry strawberry.”

“Strawberry cranberry.”

“Peach.”

I share their excitement. Of all the things you can make with the fruit of God’s creation, I believe a blueberry pie is certainly one of the best.

In today’s reading from the prophet, Amos, too, is dreaming of summer fruit.  But, for Amos, a dream of fruit is more complicated than a desire for sweet desserts. For Amos, fruit carries a powerful symbolism that can be better understood by describing a bit of the historical context surrounding his dream.

In the eighth century B.C.E., things had changed since the golden years of David and Solomon.  Political rivalries had split God’s people into northern and southern branches, and economic turbulence had brought about a widening gap between rich and poor.  Those who lived on the edges saw the military threat posed by Assyria, watching for weakness, and waiting for the right moment to storm across the border.

Last week, we were introduced to Amos as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, more comfortable in God’s creation than in courts of power.  In terms of politics, he might be described as a populist who understands the world in which common people live, the world of sheep and farms and fruit trees.

The Word of God comes to Amos in a series of seven visions. Amos’ visions are met with increasing resistance from Amaziah, who is the chief priest at Bethel, which is the center of worship for the northern kingdom.  Amos interprets this resistance as evidence that the religious establishment has “sold out” to King Jereboam, that it has compromised its integrity through an unholy alliance with an immoral king who administers immoral policies.

In the eighth chapter, which records Amos’ fourth vision, a shift in emphasis may be observed. Earlier, Amos begs for God’s merciful intervention.  But now, there seems to be no possibility of mercy. The image that God places before Amos, the symbol that God’s patience is coming to an end, is a basket of ripe summer fruit.  There’s a play on words going on here.  In Hebrew the word for “summer fruit” (qayits) sounds similar to the word for “end” (qets).

Even in English translation, the image of summer fruit holds a lesson about the limits of patience.

Imagine a table set with such fruit – strawberries, peaches, and raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and blueberries, with all the textures, smells, and flavors of such fruit at its summer peak.  God creates each fruit in its own time, with a certain window of opportunity for consuming it.  Wait too long, and it all turns rotten.  You have to eat it when the fruit is ripe, when the time is ripe.

The lectionary schedule for today pairs Amos’ vision with Luke’s brief account of the sisters Mary and Martha.  Many of us empathize with Martha, who seems trapped doing all the work of hosting guests, and complains about Mary’s laziness.  Jesus’ unexpected response that Mary “has chosen the better part” demonstrates that she is attuned to the true spiritual importance of this moment.  Mary understands that the time is ripe, that there will be many occasions to do household chores, but few opportunities to sit at the feet of the Master.

The texts from Amos and Luke suggest to me God’s warning about caught up in habit, and trapped in repetition.  Sometimes, we assume that things will always remain the same, or ignore the probability that the world tomorrow will look much different than the world does today.  The prophets challenge us to look for the signs of the season.

When I think of listening with care for the Word of the Lord, I really do associate it with the journey of our congregation toward a new facility. It’s been a long journey, and I hope you will appreciate with me how rare and beautiful the conclusion of this journey will be. I’m grateful to be part of a group that has so patiently discerned the path forward that will provide a functional, efficient, aesthetically pleasing house of worship, education, mission, and ministry for the next generation of Presbyterians in this community.

On Tuesday, the session will hold a special session meeting to review the work of the Holland-Hurford design-build team on phase three – design development. If the work is determined to be satisfactory, then the session will act to approve beginning phase 4 – construction drawings, which will keep us on track for construction in year 2017. The session also will review the costs associated with moving and storage. If all goes well, then the session will act to approve a moving/storage firm to assist us, a process that begins in earnest after Christmas. We have 468 days until our first scheduled service in the new building, 39 Sundays left in this building. So, right now, these are some of the projects coming to fruition, “summer fruit” to notice and harvest now, while the fruit is ripe for the picking.

My former Old Testament professor Patrick Miller has suggested that to engage in true prophetic ministry, one must practice not only truth-telling, but also hope-telling.[1]  A close reading of the prophet Amos reveals the hope that in God’s realm, change is possible – redemptive, life-giving change is possible.  The hopeful Word of the Lord is what I intended to symbolize when I created the “countdown to construction completion.”  You’ll see a link to that on the back page of your worship bulletin (www.itsalm.st/#timeforchurch).  If you type that address into your web browser, even the one on your mobile phone, you find that it counts you down to sunrise on Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2017.  That moment will mark a new dawn for this congregation. The hopeful Word of the Lord is this: through our actions we are making a positive difference right now for future mission and ministry in the Edwardsville – Glen Carbon community. We are ensuring a future for the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, right now, while the time is ripe.

[1] Patrick D. Miller, “The Prophets’ Sons and Daughters, The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Vol. XXII No. 3., pp. 279-284.

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~ by JohnH1962 on July 17, 2016.