Sermon Seeds: Summer Fruit
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)
Amos 8:1–12 and Psalm 52
Genesis 18:1–10a and Psalm 15
In and With: A Plumb Line (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
Like last week, our focus text begins with a vision. This time, Amos sees a basket of summer fruit. I imagine a large basket full of the colors of ripeness–oranges, reds, greens, purples–found in peaches, pears, and plums with a little citrus thrown in. Observing them evokes the other senses involved in experiencing them. We can remember the taste of particular sweetness, feel the textures of skin and flesh, and smell the perfumed aroma of fruit matured under the warmth and nurture of the sun. Summer fruit is special and anticipated.
But what happens when a basket of all that magnificence is left unattended?
If you have ever overbought produce and placed them in a basket or bowl on a kitchen counter, you may have experienced what happens to fruit when it is off the vine and unused. Ripened fruit begins to decay visibly within days. It begins with a few spots but eventually the entire fruit turns to rot.
Maybe that’s the vision presented to Amos–fresh, beautiful, summer fruit turned to decay.
The vision is placed in its natural habitat: a primitive, pre-rational world where magical slippages between corpses and fruit can be expected. At the same time it is rationalized as part of a ‘natural’ and logical argument and God is described (in the commentator’s own image perhaps) as gentle lecturer, careful tutor. The vision is part of a series, a Book of Visions, a narrative plotted with beginning, middle and end. And as the visions progress through the seasons (so the argument goes), so the God-tutor’s argument matures, develops and ripens to a conclusion. Yet no discourse of naturalness can ease the friction of the union between summer fruit and mass carnage, and the idea of a ‘wordplay vision’ merely transposes the oxymoron to another plane.Yvonne Sherwood
God is not happy with the people. Following the vision, God speaks of impending doom. The verbal vision reeks of death and decay. This is no lush garden; it is a desolate space devoid of hope, peace, and the freshness of new life. This place is full of horror, fear, and destruction. There is no comfort, only the promise of agony and terror…and judgment:
While many texts speak of a compassionate God who is always willing to transform his punitive plans into blessings, several others, particularly those describing the imminent fall of Samaria in 721 BC or the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, present God differently. In these texts, God is perceived to be so angry with his people that he actively seeks to ensure their punishment.Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer
The Holy One is not acting capriciously or callously. This is what they deserve. They have earned the rotten and rotting fruit, the disappearing sun, and the mourning to come. And, God our Righteousness is determined to give the people what they deserve.
The prophet does not speak other than to respond to the question confirming that he has seen the vision God presented. This is not a dialogue or even a message that God is delivering first to the prophet, who in turn is expected to share as a warning. A dialogue gives the opportunity to intercede; warnings present the opportunity to change. This is a sentence rendered after judgment has taken place.
Yet, the God who judges also suffers with those recipients of divine judgment:
In portraying God as forbidding intercession, several biblical authors describe him as a God who can be overcome by his own compassion. In fact, as we shall discover, we receive a picture of a God who has to protect himself from the voices of intercession, because he cannot be sure that he will not be swayed by them….Thus, it seems that God was expected to take the prophet’s intercession into consideration when making decisions. Moreover, God was understood to be both just and compassionate, with a constant tension between these two characteristics. Indeed, it was assumed that God would let justice rule his decisions, but, at the same time, that he would delegate to the prophet the task of reminding him about his compassion. In this way, God kept the door open to change if the prophet, as the people’s advocate, presented a convincing-enough case, then God would uphold his right to change his mind.Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer
With few exceptions, I have rarely held onto anger, resentment, or bitterness for long. I’m not sure why that is but I know that has been my reality since childhood. I can remember being so angry with a friend for reasons I cannot remember. I do recall wanting to hold onto that anger but knowing myself enough to know that I would not. So, I wrote myself a note to stay mad with XXX. I laugh about it now, but at the time, I meant it and did not want to forget how that person made me feel even after the feeling passed.
I think of that story–my story–as I read God declare, “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” Maybe the promises of destruction are made from the place of a God who is deeply hurt by a people enamored by the kingdoms of this world who reject the kindom of our God. The judgment comes from the righteousness of God, but there is conflict in the heart of God who suffers from the actions of the people but also knows they will suffer with the condition of the people. We find a Loving God trying to shield themselves from more heartache from this rebellious and willful people. We scan the text to the end to find the promise of redemption accompanying repentance. It’s usually there but not this time. This time, the ominous decree concludes the passage: “They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”
I am tempted to find the positive news in this passage…to end as so many prophetic pericopes do with the promise of restoration. I want to point to Jesus and the manifestation of God’s compassion and revelation in the world. I want to declare that, despite what God said, God changed God’s mind. When we seek God, we find God. I gravitate toward that positive perspective because it makes me comfortable. But in embracing my own comfort, I negate God’s pain. I treat God as a detached observer or disinterested party instead of an intimate Companion who deserves faithfulness at best or sincere contrition and amends at worst.
Before God says anything, God asks Amos, “What do you see?” Amos responds, “Summer fruit.” Thinking this through, God probably showed Amos the best fruit–ripe and juicy with just the right amount of sweetness. Certainly, when we consider the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–God always shows us their best. Jesus was and is and will ever be the embodiment of all that fruit at its best.
Maybe Amos does not have the opportunity to speak because God knows that the prophet will use his words to plead for his people, his community, and his kin. The prophet will not turn to God and ask the same question, “What do you see?” The Holy One answers the unasked question, however, and reveals God’s vision of the deserved consequences of a people who break God’s heart over and over again. Further, by doing so in such stark terms, God reveals God’s grief, despair, anger, hurt, and betrayal.
Summer fruit is not meant to stay in a basket and reserved for our convenience and pleasure, it is to be consumed, enjoyed, and shared. When we don’t attend to the fruit, we wound God. When the fruit of the Spirit is allowed to rot in and among us, we break God’s heart. When we only turn to God to alleviate our discomfort, we mock the abiding and abundant love and life that God gives us freely.
The sentence was harsh and severe. God was determined to render judgment, hold the people accountable, and to prevent intercession. Still, God is compassionate. The Sovereign One apparently cannot help it. This vision featured summer fruit.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“When Great Trees Fall
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”
― Maya Angelou
For further reflection
“For there is merely bad luck in not being loved; there is misfortune in not loving. All of us, today, are dying of this misfortune. For violence and hatred dry up the heart itself; the long fight for justice exhausts the love that nevertheless gave birth to it. In the clamor in which we live, love is impossible and justice does not suffice. This is why Europe hates daylight and is only able to set injustice up against injustice. But in order to keep justice from shriveling up like a beautiful orange fruit containing nothing but a bitter, dry pulp, I discovered once more at Tipasa that one must keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice, and return to combat having won that light. Here I recaptured the former beauty, a young sky, and I measured my luck, realizing at last that in the worst years of our madness the memory of that sky had never left me. This was what in the end had kept me from despairing. I had always known that the ruins of Tipasa were younger than our new constructions or our bomb damage. There the world began over again every day in an ever new light. O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.” — Helen Keller
“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe…” — Evelyn Waugh
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Sherwood, Yvonne. “Of Fruit and Corpses and Wordplay Visions: Picturing Amos 8.1-3.”
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25, no. 92 (March 2001): 5–27.
Tiemeyer, Lena-Sofia. “God’s Hidden Compassion.” Tyndale Bulletin 57, no. 2 (2006): 191–213.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Amos 8:1–12 and Psalm 52
Genesis 18:1–10a and Psalm 15
8 This is what the Lord GOD showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me,
“The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
says the Lord GOD;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!”
4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
9 On that day, says the Lord GOD,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
but they shall not find it.
1 Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long 2 you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
3 You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah
4 You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
5 But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6 The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
7 “See the one who would not take
refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
and sought refuge in wealth!”
8 But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
18 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the LORD;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”