Weekly Seeds: Summer Fruit

Sunday, July 17, 2022
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost | Year C
Proper 11

Focus Theme:
Summer Fruit

Focus Prayer:
Visionary God, reveal what is before us in new ways and make known your creative acts. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Amos 8:1–12
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.

All readings for this Sunday:
Amos 8:1–12 and Psalm 52
Genesis 18:1–10a and Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15–28
Luke 10:38–42

Focus Questions:
1. What is your favorite fruit?
2. What do you associate with the image of a basket of summer fruit?
3. What other images or experiences do you associate with a changing season?
4. What do you look forward to experiencing when seasons change? What do you dread?
5. How do you cope with the challenges and struggles found in a new season?

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.

Seasons change.

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
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
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

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.