Accepting Correction

Heritage Presbyterian Church

July 17, 2022
6th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings – Amos 7:7-17; 8:1-12

Today we continue with a sermon series on the “Prophets of the Old Testament.” The prophet Amos brings a warning from the Lord to Israel at the height of its profile, power, and prestige.

I am convinced that most of the sins that are committed by human beings find their root in the sin of pride.  I will confess that I may be totally wrong about this opinion, but look at the evidence:

  • Thou shalt not steal; we envy what someone else has, or we convince ourselves that we need it…we DESERVE it somehow, so we take it.
  • Bearing false witness; in a court of law, we would swear that someone was guilty when – in fact – we knew they were not.  We make up our testimony, we change some facts, we LIE in other words.  Why?  Because we want to seem important?  Because we want to bring someone else down?  Because we don’t want to wait for the Lord to exact vengeance (as the Lord promised)?
  • We are boastful; we brag about our country, our state, our city, our church so that we won’t look bad when compared to others.  We want to outshine others so that our status rises.  We would rather believe the boast than look hard within and see real problems that need solutions…and not just big words.

I could go on, but I won’t.  It’s enough to declare that pride has something to do with a whole lotta sins.

So, when we let the sin of pride interfere with our clear observations, our honest opinions, our common sense (that used to be really commonly available), we run the risk of believing the things that we either say or hear about ourselves and our situation, country, state, city, or even church.

Now imagine that someone much lower than us on the social ladder…much more common than most of us…much more pitiful when noticed in the streets…imagine that someone telling us clearly and distinctly how wrong we are and what is going to happen next.

When I began working on this sermon, in my mind I began to imagine that I was up here behind the pulpit, dressed in my best preacher robe, with my shoes shined, my hair brushed, and my tie tied properly; then all of a sudden, just as I get going on my weekly sermon, suddenly a smelly, dirty homeless man dressed in rags walks boldly into the ballroom, walks up to the front, and begins telling me and all of us how WRONG we are, how DISTRACTED we are from seeing the truth, how BAD it’s going to be when the Lord finally comes in judgment. 

As I imagined this, I also imagined your faces.  It might have worked, but at what price?  Would you have ever listened to anything else I had to say?

And what if it really happened?

Lots of things wrong with this scene:

  1.  We would be offended by anyone – homeless or not – being that rude during our worship service.  Yes, we welcome anyone and everyone, but rudeness is not part of that invitation.
  2. We might also be offended by the fact that a homeless man was the one doing the condemning.  Be honest… search your heart…you know it could be true.  It’s not just the message that offends in this case; it’s also the offender.
  3. We would immediately wonder if this so-called messenger was sent by someone else with a hidden agenda who was looking to cause trouble in our church.  For you conspiracy folks, this one leaps into your thoughts more quickly than the first two points.

And why do I choose a homeless man for my example?  Because in the Old Testament days, the harsh reality was that shepherds were considered the absolute lowest of the lower rungs in Jewish society. They were right there with lepers, who at least came from good folks before they got infected.  Shepherds were known as liars, so much so that their word was never taken in a court of law; they could not be witnesses in a trial because everyone knew they lied all the time.  They were feared, hated, mistrusted, and were thieves too.

Every society has a group that is looked down upon.  In the old Ottoman Empire, it was the Armenians; in Egypt, it is the Coptic Christians, who can usually get no better job than garbage men; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jews; throughout Europe, it was the gypsies or the Roma people as they are known today; in New Jersey, it is the Bennies, who are the people from other states who come to the Jersey Shore and leave a mess everywhere!

Every society has a group they look down upon.  Imagine if the Lord, in his quirky sense of humor, chose one of “those people” to come and bring that message straight from him.  If we don’t want to hear the message because it’s a harsh one, that’s one thing; if it comes from someone so lowly in our eyes, that makes it even harder to listen – even if the message is straight from God.

Amos minces no words and does not try to be more than he is.  He doesn’t hide the fact that he is a shepherd.  Instead, he owns it and tells the high priest and the officials who confront him that he already knows he is a shepherd, but it was given the task by the Lord – and he is going to fulfill that task, no matter what.

It’s almost as if the message is to be delivered in such a way that the people will ignore it until it comes true, and it’s too late to repent.  The lesson will be for the next generation IF they can humble themselves to listen and learn from it.

The same can be said of us too.  

Are there messages that we are supposed to listen to?

Are there messages that we just can’t bear to hear because the messages offend us?

Are there messages that are hard to hear because of who is delivering them?

Do we also have a problem with our pride – because we just can’t admit that we don’t have it all together?

Amos’ two analogies are a plumb line and basket of fruit.

I don’t want to be compared to either of those things.

The plumb line implied that I have been measured and found lacking.

The basket of fruit implies that I look really good – just right for the plucking and tearing down.

How’s that for your country, your state, your city, your church, or your family?  Hurts, doesn’t it?  Stings, doesn’t it?  Don’t want to hear it, do you?

And you sure don’t want to hear it from some…PERSON like that!

But let’s all remember a few other things from the Bible:

  • When Israel needed a king, who did the Lord choose?  David the shepherd.
  • What did Jesus compare himself to when he described caring for the people who loved and trusted him?  The Good Shepherd.
  • Exactly who was it the angels appeared to and announced the birth and location of baby Jesus? Those shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night.   
  • And what did Jesus say to Peter when they were talking together at the end of John’s Gospel?  Three times, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”  Three times, Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Then three times Jesus told Peter, “Take care of my sheep.”

So, the whole business of shepherds being the worst group from which to choose a messenger is not how God sees them.

So, maybe Amos the shepherd has something for us to hear also.

If we are going to accept correction, the first thing we need to do is to get over the source that brings it.  

If we can do that, here are four steps that might be of use:

  1.  Accept correction with a grace-filled heart.
  2. Resist becoming instantly defensive.  All you do then is to wait for your turn to talk.
  3. Lean in and learn something.  A kernel of truth just might be in there somewhere. 
  4. Lead even in correction.  If you can accept correction, you can also set a uniquely powerful example in your family and your community as one who can lead but who is also not perfect, doesn’t have all the answers, and needs the support and input  – and maybe even the love of the surrounding community.

After all, we correct our children to make them better people someday.  Is it too hard to imagine that the Lord does the same thing for us?